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Notes from November 19, 2012 Networking Meeting--Youth as Staff: Training Young People to Work with Children

Sep 25, 2013  Anne Lawrence

The Robert Bowne Foundation’s survey of participants last winter and the evaluations from the networking meetings consistently surfaced topics related  to developing youth as staff, so for the first Networking meeting this fall the Foundation hosted Youth as Staff: Training Young People to Work with Children on November 19, 2012.    

Participants were welcomed to the session by Anne Lawrence, program officer for the Foundation.  She reiterated the purpose of the Networking meetings: to offer a forum for participants from across the city and a range of out-of-school-time programs to come together to share their work and to dialogue on important issues in the field.  She also described the structure as offering an opportunity to network with colleagues, hear ideas, discuss and share with others, and develop some new ideas for your own program. As the Foundation winds down, it is exploring how these forums and others such as “working groups” who come together to focus on particular topics over time, might continue to advance the work of the Foundation.  

Articulating the challenges of working with youth as staff

Participants took a few minutes to reflect and write on their own experiences of working with youth as staff and shared those thoughts first with partners at their tables and then with the whole group. They listed the important ideas and knowledge for youth staff to have, and the challenges that they encounter in developing youth as staff.

Most important “things” for your youth staff to know, learn and do:

  • The philosophy of the program or organization - what are the values and how do they look in action?
  • How to communicate effectively - with kids, with other staff, with families.
  • Their role within the program and organization and who can support them - what are they responsible for and who should they look to when they need help?
  • Professionalism - what does good OST programming look like?  It is more than just kid-sitting.  Also appropriate dress, use of technology, interactions with kids, families, and other staff. 
  • Accountability - what are they responsible for and how to handle mistakes.
  • Time management and organization - both personal and at work.
  • Advocacy - for themselves, for the kids, for the program.
  • Being aware of everything that is going on around them - aware of all kids and whole area.

Challenges you face developing youth as staff:

  • Preparation time and content - balancing the many things that youth need support with.
  • Catching the “teachable moments” - the day to day situations that present opportunities for teaching and learning.
  • Developing their stance with children - youth staff are not buddies to the children; youth staff need to learn how to establish boundaries and respect.
  • Technology - understanding the impact of social media and technology on themselves, their employment; when use of technology is appropriate and when not.
  • Evaluations and feedback - youth tend to take things very personally so it can be challenging to offer constructive criticism or to evaluate them.
  • Realistic expectations - we need to have realistic expectations of what youth know and how they work as well as what they need to develop.
  • Buy in - developing youth’s commitment to the program and organization because they believe in it.
  • Personal lives - some youth have many personal issues that can get in the way of their work and that they need support with.
  • Fear- youth can be afraid of what they don’t know.

It was noted that many of the items that appear on the “important to know, learn, and do” list also can present challenges and are also items that need to be developed with youth as they become staff. (In fact, the first list contains much that ALL staff needs to know, learn, and do.)  Participants commented on how many of the important items and challenges were held in common across a wide range of OST programs, but that some might be more prominent in certain circumstances or programs.  For example, some programs work with middle school students and the youth staff are very close in age to the children they are working with.  The advantage is they can develop close relationships with the children, but the disadvantage is that they can relate as buddies instead of responsible group leader.  

Current support for youth staff

Participants then worked in groups to discuss and list the many ways they currently support youth to work with children.  Each group rotated through the following categories and added to the items listed by other participants.

 Time and structures to train youth

A variety of regular meeting formats:

  • weekly “apprentice” meetings (different programs have different names for their youth staff from interns to apprentices, “ homework warriors” and those youth range from high school students, to college students, to young adults)
  • mandatory tutor meetings - for youth tutoring younger children
  • Friday meetings
  • supervisor meetings

A variety of training opportunities both formal and more informal:

  • bi-semester trainings
  • week of orientation before program starts
  • staff development sessions - with more experienced staff developing relevant training
  • trainings on school holidays
  • external professional development
  • modeling best practices for parallel processing
  • on-site supervisor meetings - “teachable moments”
  • manuals and lesson plans or curriculum shared

A variety of opportunities for feedback on the youth’s performance:

  • evaluations
  • observations and follow up
  • personalized attention - identifying individual’s needs and addressing them 1:1
  • reporting back to agency sending youth - interns or community service volunteers

Structures for collaboration - lead staff with youth staff, youth staff with other youth staff

The group discussed creating opportunities for youth staff to share with both their peers and with more experienced staff. This creates buy-in and gives them more sense of the culture and the philosophy of the program. It also creates forums for them to offer their knowledge, observations or ideas.  Participants stressed the need to have both small group collaborations and one-on-one collaborations.

  • weekly one-hour meetings between youth program manager and deputy director
  • weekly work readiness seminars
  • weekly meetings with site director and other staff
  • one-on-one meetings with site director or group leader
  • breakout groups within other meetings for youth leaders and youth staff
  • establishing senior staff members responsible for overseeing and mentoring youth staff
  • sharing of collaboration to create lesson plans, themes and/or activities
  • cross-site collaboration - when a program has more than one site, bringing youth staff together

Content of youth training 

Some nuts and bolts topics:

  • classroom management - including being aware of the area and all children, creating a conducive environment, managing difficult behaviors and different needs, effective consequences.
  • time management - for personal live and for being with children
  • curriculum - knowing what it is and possibly having some input
  • lesson planning - knowing what it is and what to expect
  • orientation - program mission, expectations, rules...
  • evaluation - what they are and how they work
  • child abuse indicators

Some topics that deal further with roles and responsibilities:

  • homework help - how to offer it in a way that supports the children in doing their own work
  • tutoring - what it looks like
  • communication with stake holders, other staff, children, teachers
  • importance of working with group
  • taking initiative - what are youth staff’s roles and responsibilities?  when do they step up and when do they seek support?
  • scenarios or role plays - to work on communication, dealing with challenging situations, conflict mediation, etc.
  • data collection - what it is and how youth staff can be involved
  • cultural awareness - supporting youth in being aware of both their own culture and that of the children they serve, to support broader understandings and communication.

Some broader topics relevant to the field and growing as OST leaders:

  • child development
  • assessing student needs
  • working with special needs children
  • discussing relationships between OST and public schools
  • art therapy

Addressing youth’s personal development issues

The group noted that youth are “youth” and as both teens and young adults they are still growing and developing themselves.  They can use support in working on their own personal development issues and this in turn supports them in being better leaders with the children they work with. 

  • mentoring - older staff to younger staff
  • assigning a social worker to the youth staff members
  • self-reflection training and sessions
  • weekly reflection or sharing circles
  • forums for dealing with feelings toward other staff and children - this could include role playing or scenarios 
  • art therapy for youth staff
  • goal setting - both personally, “professionally,” and as relates to their OST job

Some of participants’ ideas for addressing youth development needs had to do with developing their program or organization’s capacity.  They expressed interest and need to develop more experienced staff and supervisor’s abilities to work with youth staff.  For example:

  • training site supervisors or others overseeing youth to work with them, mentor them in support of their growth
  • research into youth development

Work time: Ideas and Inspirations

Next participants engaged in some brainstorming and planning to build on the many ideas and issues raised in the small group discussions.  Using a worksheet (see attached) to prompt their thinking, participants worked on their own, then shared and got feedback from the other participants at their table.   

Of note in their conversations were many ideas about how to engage youth staff.  For example, some discussed when to offer training as a large group activity, small group or one-on-one.  Others discussed how to use older or more experienced staff to mentor or support younger staff, noting that this required preparation for the more experienced staff as to how to do that work.  Participants commented on how many of their staff or they have never received training in how to mentor new or young staff. 

Many small group discussions noted the importance of role playing as a way of developing new ways of dealing with difficult or unfamiliar situations.  Having a facilitator stop the action in the role play at key moments to solicit other ideas or help from observers expanded everyone’s ideas and abilities to respond differently. 

In addition, participants spoke about ways they could elicit more feedback from youth staff.  That by asking them what youth were interested in and what they felt they needed, participating supervisors and mentors could better engage and support youth staff.  It was also suggested that youth staff would benefit from peer training and visiting other programs to expand their horizons and broaden the people that they received support and ideas from.  

Some participants also discussed the value and importance of giving youth staff “tools for life” or ways of conducting themselves that the young people can carry with them to other jobs, college and life.  In conjunction with the supports offered to youth staff, they felt that developing group accountability and a culture of all being involved would not only engage and include youth staff but engage all staff in working toward a common goal.

Next Steps

In conclusion, participants shared what they were excited about and thinking about trying:

  • offering youth staff training in both assessing children’s needs/abilities and in evaluation to get them engaged;
  • creating different ways or addressing personal development issues, for example through art therapy;
  • making sure more experienced staff is realistic about what they expect of youth staff;
  • celebrating the contribution of youth staff;
  • having time and a worksheet to think through what was most important for her program and where to start;
  • providing more support to youth staff on time management but also looking at the more experienced staff’s time management;
  • building some intermediate steps a few times during the year to support high school student interns get to a more successful evaluation where they understand the process and what is expected of them;
  • building collaborative relationships between youth staff and group leaders and site directors;
  • using the idea of “apprenticeship” where young staff get to learn alongside and by watching more experienced staff;
  • creating time for youth staff to reflect and process their experiences working with children;
  • developing a variety of means of communicating such as emails, bulletin boards, journals, etc. 
  • using the idea of “cross-site collaboration” to get youth staff talking to youth staff at different sites and mentoring each other;
  • creating forums for youth staff to share their challenges;
  • providing professional development for youth staff during school holidays when many of them are free too;
  • gathering ideas from youth staff about what they want and need and how they think program can improve;
  • creating informal learning spaces such as blogs to communicate with youth staff to model how to communicate and solve problems;
  • holding “orientations” that also allows youth staff to bring something of themselves and share with others, really get to know them;
  • expanding the idea of professional development to include “teachable moments” and one-on- one conversations and support;
  • making ourselves, as site and program supervisors, more available to youth staff;
  • sharing evaluations with youth staff so they know what is expected of them;
  • developing opportunities for youth staff to learn how to plan lessons and collaborate in that process sometimes;
  • making on-going training part of what is expected of youth staff.

Several participants remarked how helpful it was to have some time and space for themselves to think about their concerns about youth staff, to share them with others, and to reflect on next steps.   It is likely that future Networking meetings will build on this topic so that all have a chance to continue to reflect, share ideas and develop new next steps.    

Next Meetings

The next Robert Bowne Foundation Networking meeting will be January 17, 2013.  Look for an email from Anne Lawrence announcing it.


Anne will make a contact sheet available so that participants can connect with each other.