The National AfterSchool Association is the leading voice of the afterschool profession dedicated to development, education, and care of children and youth during their out of school hours.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Vans, Buses, and Airplanes

Dr. Paul G. Young
NAA President & CEO

If you've ever followed the growth of any rock band, you should be able to relate to the following development analogy. Rock bands start out connecting with their fans by traveling to neighborhood performances using vans. Then, as they attract a following beyond their neighborhoods, they upgrade to buses. After they've hit their stride with loyal fans, they need airplanes to cover the distances to their performances.

Like musicians, afterschool professionals begin their leadership journey connecting with stakeholders within their neighborhoods. But as their passion for learning and leading increases on the way to achieving success, they recognize that they must move from city to city for the newest ideas, knowledge, and expansion of their influence. Eventually, their quest for originality and continuous improvement requires movement from city and state by airplane. Ultimately, the very best expand their horizons and travel to other continents in search of what is the latest and best practice in their field.

Where are you in this continuum of travel? As the leader of your afterschool program, you must recognize the importance of building a strong base of influence in your local community. You'll go nowhere without it. But in furthering your influence, you must also recognize the benefits of listening to others and sharing your performance skills in other cities. Get involved in your state organizations. Attend their conferences. Give a presentation. Connect with others in person and via social media. Perform. You will learn and grow as a professional when you do. And while you are busy performing and building relationships, you will increase your capacity to expand and sustain your program.

But don't stop there. Our states aren't even big enough to sustain the quest for knowledge that we all must pursue. Afterschool professionals who want to absorb knowledge and participate in the shaping of a profession that is rapidly transforming must routinely travel from city to city and state to state across the nation in search of the next best thing. Restricting your observation and purview of how others in your profession are performing is certain to limit your professional growth and the eventual sustainability of your work. A professional network among a diversity of leaders with dozens of different viewpoints inspires us to learn. We are strengthened by our connections.  

The afterschool profession needs legions of leaders who are comfortable in airplanes and who are seasoned frequent fliers.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Working with the Right People

Anyone who knows even a little bit about horse racing can probably visualize the truth in the following  statement:  “You can’t win the Kentucky Derby while riding a mule.” Seems quite obvious, right?  Most people recognize the apples and oranges comparison. Horses and mules don’t possess like abilities. And no matter how much you feed a mule, train it, pamper or coddle it, a mule is still a mule. No one would ever consider pitting a mule against the elite race horses in the Derby. And even if you were a mule with aspirations, despite how hard we might wish, some things can’t be changed.

Now for an analogy. For success in the field afterschool education, we must work with the right people. If we expect to attain results, we must invest in people who have the capability to run with the same kind of speed and finesse of horses, not mules. Nothing against mules. But mules don’t belong in important races. Horses do. We must employ the fittest professionals with the requisite capacity and abilities to carry our kids to success in afterschool.

And now here’s the problem -- if we are really honest with ourselves. We’ve all probably supervised, worked with, or known someone working in an afterschool program that, despite lots of encouragement from you and your coworkers, still performed like a mule. Against our better judgment, and unfairly to those involved, we’ve created apples and oranges comparisons by allowing incapable workers to enter our profession. I hope these people are few and far between in afterschool, but they populate all facets of education. You know it if you ever sat through a class taught by a mule or recognized that your own child was placed in a mule’s classroom. And here’s the bottom line – despite the common acknowledgement that we share among ourselves that these few individuals will never, ever be capable of performance better than a mule, we often keep these people on staff. For various reasons, we rationalize that it’s easier to tolerate and keep our mules rather than dismiss them. Rather than face the facts, we continue attempts to train them to no avail. And then, when the pressure mounts to become something they can never be, a few morph into wolves, create terror, and heighten fear among our staffs.

Let’s bite the bullet get rid of the mules and wolves. It’s tough work, but for the sake of our kids, and to propel our profession forward at speeds we must go, we have to employ and work with the right people.

Dismissing incapable workers isn’t fun, but necessary. Be honest, fair, and swift. And remember this: Don’t wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty, and the pig will like it!