Building Leaders in Out-of-School Time

Every role in OST indeed has the potential for leadership – from directors to site coordinators, teachers to assistant teachers, volunteers to youth enrolled in the programs. We often think of the leaders in OST as the program directors and administrators, the behind-the-scenes people. The 'bosses' as the students in my programs say (they always want to know who is in charge of who).

Being one of those directors I can tell you that we certainly do play an important leadership role. In my 21st CCLC programs, my fellow directors and I are responsible for ensuring grant compliance, forging strong community partnerships, and essentially keeping the doors open. We function as leaders in our community – and of a frontline staff team in our programs.

But the function of a good leader is not to single-handedly tackle everything. We would wear ourselves out if we tried to do that. The function of a good leader is to produce more leaders, not more followers. So what does this look like? For a director, this means not having all the answers (spoiler: we really don’t have all the answers). When a staff member comes to you with an issue, don’t try to solve it immediately. Create space for listening, for curiosity, for solutions to grow from the conversation. Be a guide and a facilitator, scaffolding their learning as a decision maker and leader. Provide resources --conferences, staff trainings, webinars, books, and articles --for your staff to further develop their skills as leaders.

When directors and administrators empower staff to be leaders and decision-makers in their own programs something wonderful happens: staff feel an increased sense of ownership and dedication. This can contribute to overall staff satisfaction and retention. When staff, in turn, support leadership development for youth they are producing more leaders. Youth are more confident, empowered, and likely to participate in decision-making to further their own learning -and that of their peers.

Whether you are in the role of director, frontline staff, or youth participating in a program --take a moment to ask yourself these questions: How am I a leader? How do I inspire leadership in others?