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Beth Miller, senior research advisor to the National Institute for Out-of-School Time (NIOST), and Ellen Gannett, codirector of NIOST, discuss the characteristics of the after school workforce.

What are the characteristics of the after school workforce?

A comprehensive picture of the after school workforce does not yet exist because most existing surveys look at one sector of the field, such as 21st CCLC programs or licensed school-age child care programs. We do know that one of the primary characteristics of the after school workforce, unlike other human services workforces, is its predominantly part-time nature. Because after school “wraps around” a 6-hour school day, most workers do not receive the benefits or earnings associated with a full-time job.

A second and related characteristic of the after school workforce is its overall lack of identity as a profession. Many people enter after school with little or no preparation for it, since there exists little educational infrastructure to prepare workers for jobs in the field. Although some full-time directors or coordinators in the school-age care sector see after school work as their primary profession and make a long-term commitment to the field, many others come to the field as a “pass through” or supplemental job opportunity. Some programs rely heavily on college students looking for part-time work, others utilize paraprofessionals and teachers who have full-time jobs in schools, and still others hire individuals such as artists or morning preschool workers in need of part-time positions. Few of these workers see after school as a career, and they often move on to other positions when opportunities arise.

What are the implications of these characteristics for professional development?

People who work in after school have diverse prior experience and work in diverse settings. This makes “standardizing” professional development challenging. Until recently, we have tried to tailor training to the particular program setting, but there is now a growing movement to build some consensus about a set of core skills that all after school workers should have.

The out-of-school time workforce is comprised of three interrelated workforces—after school workers, youth workers, and credentialed teachers, such as those working in 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Although each of these workforces has its own training needs, initiatives like Achieve Boston¹ aim to build a professional development infrastructure for all members of the out-of-school time field.

In this underresourced field, who pays for training? Many after school programs lack the financial capacity for extensive training. The logistics of training a part-time staff pose further challenges. When do you schedule training if the staff have other jobs? How will staff get to the training if it does not take place on site?

Another consideration is the focus of professional development. Do you invest limited professional development resources in training transient, part-time line staff, or do you invest in the leadership of the program, who tend to be full-time and with a longer job tenure?

Given these challenges, what are some promising strategies for professional development in after school?

  • Coaching and on-site technical assistance. Depending on the organizational context and content of the professional development, coaching can be provided by external experts, such as in the Literacy Coaching Initiative in Boston,² or by specialists within the organization. Line staff can benefit from strong coaching and modeling within the program without attending off-site trainings. A strong orientation program and ongoing supervision can help ensure the benefits of coaching are maintained over the long run.

     

  • Evidence of concrete change. When we looked at initiatives where programs had received grants that they could apply toward physical, tangible changes to their program environments in addition to training and technical assistance, we saw that staff buy-in to the program improvement effort increased.

     

  • Engage young people in staff development efforts. An often-overlooked strategy for professional development is to ask young people themselves what they would like in the program and to use their answers to shape professional development efforts. The most successful training model is one that goes vertically up the through the organization so that all program stakeholders, including youth, are engaged in the professional development process.

     

  • An organizational mindset that values and supports professional development. An organization committed to sustained professional growth values all stakeholders in the process. Successful administrators make a significant investment in the growth and development of their people and their program. Training and technical assistance alone will not contribute to continuous program improvement, unless staff feel valued, appreciated, and respected. Within a climate of teambuilding and shared decision-making, everyone should feel that they are making a positive difference for young people and their families.

¹ Achieve Boston is a collaborative effort to help after school and youth workers develop their professional skills and knowledge, advance their careers, and ultimately better serve children, youth, and families.
² Information on the Literacy Coaching Initiative is available at: http://www.mass2020.org/projects.lci.html.

Priscilla Little, Associate Director, HFRP

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