The right staff in out-of-school time programs is a key pillar to success

 They are the heartbeat of the program leading youth and families both in their capacity as educators and role-models. Program staff that are knowledgeable and can manage a variety of individuals and groups in an engaging and positive manner, makes all the difference in a program that thrives and not just survives. The first step in having quality program staff starts with the right leadership. It is essential to have program goals, vision, and mission, job descriptions, and expectations communicated clearly to staff from recruitment through managing and retaining staff.

Recruitment

An amazing team starts with recruiting the best candidates. When advertising for and selecting staff, be that paid or volunteer, provide a job description that clearly defines duties, roles and responsibilities, any required status or certifications and other logistical information such as work hours, environment and technical or physical abilities. When selecting candidates, you’ll want to consider education, including any required degrees or certifications, job experience, knowledge and specialized skills. Also consider personality and fit within the program and organizational culture. Are the potential staff members able to engage a wide variety of different participants? Are they able to manage individuals and groups? How do they engage with participants, staff and stakeholders? Do they foster and model positive, open and respectful relationships?

Communicating with Staff

Communication from program leadership sets the tone for staff. It is essential to properly communicate program goals, vision, mission and staff expectations. Equally important is regularly communicating in a manner that is open and positive.

One standard way of regularly communicating are staff meetings. It is best if they are held at regular intervals, such as once monthly, and include a program agenda. Staff meetings can focus on sharing with your staff news, development and successes in different parts of your program. They can make staff aware of upcoming events or phases of a program. It is also a time to “steer the ship” communicating where the program is in progressing towards overall goals and mission and how staff have or will be contributing. Team building activities and recognizing employee achievements are also fun, moral-boosting elements to incorporate.

Setting expectations for staff in advance helps to provide clarity, avoid any miscommunication or mishaps and gives a baseline to refer back to if staff performance goes negatively. Staff expectations should be incorporated as a part of your regular on-going communications. However, laying out expectations in a formal written venue such as an employee handbooks, position agreements or contracts are also beneficial. The expectations included will vary depending on the program, but may include: roles and responsibilities, performance standards, who to communicate with in various situations such as when employees need to call out or HR related issues, pay, reporting time, dress code, inclement-weather procedures for reporting to work.

Fostering open and positive communication with staff is also vital. A culture where staff feel as though they can communicate ideas not only to leadership, but also to one another, makes for a stronger program.

Retention & Support

In order for any staff to excel, they must feel they have the adequate supports to carry out their job. Consider what staff will need and ensure they are receiving the tools necessary. This will vary by program but include things like having adequate materials, supplies, lessons and space. An appropriate staff-to-participant ratio safeguards against staff being spread too thin and against safety issues.

Retention & Support

In order for any staff to excel, they must feel they have the adequate supports to carry out their job. Consider what staff will need and ensure they are receiving the tools necessary. This will vary by program but include things like having adequate materials, supplies, lessons and space. An appropriate staff-to-participant ratio safeguards against staff being spread too thin and against safety issues.

Professional Development & Evaluations

Evaluation can make any employee nervous, but really the purpose is improvement through setting goals and analyzing the process of improvement, to make individual staff and the overall program stronger. An evaluation process should be in place that employees are aware of.

  1. Set Goals: The first step is to have staff set goals they are working towards for a determined amount of time, either short or long term. SMART goals are an excellent tool for goal setting. For more on SMART goals, including templates click here.
  2. Monitoring Progress: Once goals are set, it is important to treat them as living, breathing documents by regularly checking-in on progress. Observations and regularly scheduled meetings, such as supervision meetings, are two common ways supervisors or site-directors can hold staff accountable towards their progress. Observations can be both informal and formal. However, formal observation gives the structure to have a dialogue with an employee and is also great data collection. Supervision meetings allow the one-on-one time necessary to check-in on employee goals, provide guidance, as well as time for staff to communicate issues and concerns.
  3. Evaluations: Staff evaluations formally assess where employees have made progress. Evaluations are typically annual but can be set in closer increments if appropriate. Given the less frequent, but more serious nature of evaluations, it is important to use the former steps of goal setting and monitoring progress.

Professional Development goes hand-in-hand with evaluation, as it is a means for employees to work towards goals and strengthen them professionally. Employees that are educated and trained are more effective in creating a strong program and more likely to feel supported. Initial staff orientations should be provided. Generalized trainings that all staff receive, as well as individualized professional development opportunities, are appropriate. Professional Development covers a wide variety of topics but may include:

Subject-area expertise

Specific populations served such as Special Education or English Language Learners

Safety

Administrative such as reporting or goal setting

Technology

Interpersonal and communication-based

Mental health and trauma-informed