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January 24, 2019

Happy new year! Chances are, you already have several program activities, meetings, appointments, deadlines and to-do lists on your new calendar. Before all the blank space is filled, here’s a reminder: Don’t forget to put yourself on the calendar! Taking time for personal and professional renewal is important to your success and well-being. Here’s some advice:

Look both ways. As a child, you probably heard this line often from the crossing guard and from Mom as you approached busy intersections. It’s also good advice for crossing into the new year. First, look back at the past year, and reflect: What went well? What didn’t? Which habits, activities and goals do you want to keep? Which will you ditch? Then look forward and consider what you’d like to have, do and be in the coming year. What habits, activities and goals will get you there? A SWOT analysis can help you “look both ways” and consider your options. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Put on your own oxygen mask first. This pre-takeoff advice from flight attendants reminds us we can’t help others if we ignore our own needs. Sure, you’d love to spark students’ interest in reading and math, and help them prepare for successful college and career experiences. But maybe you first need to build your skills through training and tools in those areas. The links in this paragraph can help. See Y4Y’s professionalization resources for other ideas you can use to build your skills and your resume.

Keep your balance. The examples above focus on professional renewal, but time for personal goals and interests is equally important. Maybe you love nature photography or trips with family or friends but haven’t taken a photo or a trip for months. Or maybe you daydream about an afternoon of downtime. Decide what you need, and put yourself on the calendar. Seeking work-life balance and taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. It’s essential.



December 11, 2018

Dedicated 21st CCLC practitioners like you have three things on their wish list for the coming year:

✔ Activities that target student needs.

✔ Activities that advance program goals.

✔ Activities that students love.

Fortunately, a magic wand called “data” can help you make these wishes come true. You can use data to assess where you are versus where you want to be and make targeted changes. It doesn’t have to be painful or time consuming. Here’s a fun way to do it as the calendar year winds down:

Make a red wand:

  • Gather your program team around the fireplace and provide hot cocoa.
  • Pull out the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound) goals you set earlier for your program and for specific activities.
  • Review the goals and, together, rate your success in reaching them.
  • For each goal you didn’t reach, ask the team, “What’s one thing can we do differently in the coming year to reach this goal?” If you did reach a goal, decide whether to set a new one.
  • Write your red-hot ideas on red paper, and wrap the paper around a stick. You can use this “data wand” in future planning meetings.

Make a green wand:

  • Survey students and families on what they liked about the fall session and what they want in the future.
  • Review the responses with your team, and put results in categories like “student choice,” “outdoor activities” and “social skills.”
  • Write your green-for-growth ideas on green paper, and wrap the paper around a stick. Use this “data wand” along with the red one as you plan your spring activity schedule.

You can pull out your data wands in the coming months to remind the team of their findings and conclusions. This “data magic” can help them focus their talents and efforts on making a positive difference for students. Best wishes in making your 21st CCLC wish list reality in the coming year!

P.S. Consider setting a date in January for Y4Y’s Training to Go, Identifying and Addressing Program Strengths and Weaknesses. This customizable training can take your team deeper into program improvement.



August 21, 2018

The start of the program year always brings a mad scramble to get staff. You know you need the right number of people and the right qualifications to be successful. But what does “right” mean? You may be tempted to hire anyone who is interested, so you have enough adults for the number of students you plan to serve. However, many program directors would advise you to take time to be selective. If you truly get the right people, you will have a higher quality of programming and fewer turnover issues.

Define the Job and the Qualifications

Do you have job descriptions for every position in your program? If not, don’t worry; job descriptions don’t have to be long and complicated. Sit down with your planning team and discuss what you need for each role you want to fill. If you need an algebra tutor, your ideal candidate would most likely be a math teacher. For a gardening class, teacher certification is not vital; this person needs to know how to connect with young people and grow plants. Be sure to describe any work outside of the actual program. For example, does the position require creating lesson plans? Be very clear about the schedule and time commitment. Explain how long each class or program day is, how many days per week are needed, and how many weeks the commitment will last. If all staff are required to attend weekly staff meetings, spell that out. Being clear and specific in your description makes it more likely you will find the right person.

Look Beyond the School for Candidates

When you have defined qualifications, think outside the box about where to look for staff. If the math teachers in your school are not interested in algebra tutoring, think about other teachers. Is there a science or special education teacher with experience teaching algebra? Because your position is different from what they do all day, they might enjoy the change. A retired math teacher would know the content and how to work with students, and might enjoy a fun, part-time connection with youth. For a gardening position, ask around the school for avid gardeners, check with families about their gardening skills, or talk to a local Extension agent. The math teacher who turned down the algebra tutoring might love to lead a gardening club. Explore hobbies and other interests to discover new ways school staff can engage with students. High school and college students are other great resources. While not all students can create lesson plans, many can implement existing curriculum and bring fresh excitement and energy to activities. An education or math major might be a great fit for that algebra position.

Consider Motivation and Engagement Style

You want your staff to have skills that match your needs but you don’t want the extra money they will make to be their sole motivation. You want people who are excited to engage with your students and will contribute to a positive program culture. To get a feel for fit, many programs use scenario-based interviewing. Ask an applicant how they would respond to situations that occur in an out-of-school time setting. You might ask about managing behavior, engaging with families, or teaching a specific topic. Think about your program values and how you want staff to engage with students. If the program emphasizes project-based learning, ask the candidate to describe how they would design a project. Some programs will have an applicant volunteer for a day or two to see how they interact with students and other staff, or will observe them during a school-day position.

While being intentional with your staff recruitment takes some time, you will be rewarded with great staff who provide high-quality learning experiences, engage positively with your youth, and are committed to your program. To learn more about intentional staff recruitment, check out the Y4Y course on Managing Your 21st CCLC Program. The course tools include a Sample Human Resources Packet that contains sample job descriptions, interview question examples, ideas about recruiting staff and much more!