Learning how to manage the different environments in an afterschool program can be helpful when setting up behavior guidance and discipline systems. Let’s start by thinking about the many different environments in which your program operates. Obviously there is classroom space and usually multipurpose room space. There is also the hallway, the restrooms, the drinking fountains, playgrounds and asphalt or cement courts. Some programs are lucky enough to have access to gymnasiums, libraries, science labs, computer labs, and kitchens. No matter which environments you operate in, learning how to navigate in the space is important. Here are three tips for managing the environments you work in.
First, set agreements identifying expected behavior in each of these spaces. If your agreements are to Be Safe, Be Respectful, and Be Responsible, how will that look, sound and feel at the drinking fountain, or in the place where youth eat the snack? How will the behavior be the same or different inside a classroom during homework and outside playing Steal the Bacon? Helping youth think through the expectations of behavior in each environment is step one for managing that environment successfully.
Second, understanding the importance of your place in the space matters. Too often we think that the only place for the leader to be is at the front of the room or the line. Somehow we confuse location with authority. Actually one of the best things you can do is Manage By Walking Around. If you are speaking from the back or side of a classroom, young people will still be listening. Most likely they will follow you visually, turning in the chair to look at you. In real estate the mantra is “location, location, location.” This is true in afterschool only if you keep moving from one location and vantage point to another.
Third, it is important the you are vigilant in your space and constantly check to be aware of what is going on. Using visual and auditory scans is helpful. You are not looking or listening for the “normal” (whatever that is), but you are looking and listening for the abnormal. For instance, if the noise level in your room is generally a 4-5, abnormal would be a noise level of 1-2 or 7-8. Too loud or too soft isn’t the point, it is that the noise level is not within the range of normal. Same is true visually. It is important to remember that probably the first action drew your attention and what you will witness is the second action. Understanding that helps you deal more fairly with youth. You can also be on the lookout for dangerous items, remember to count heads every so often to be sure someone hasn’t wondered off, and enlist the help of youth to keep the environment safe for everyone.
Check out our video at C4K on The Environment as Your Ally.