Taking Advantage of Leadership Opportunities in Out-of-School Time

I began my work in the OST (out-of-school time) field as a transition leader at the Boys & Girls Club of Manhattan, KS. Transition leaders were in charge of maintaining smooth shifts between activities and monitoring behaviors within grade groups. From that position, I was promoted to a program leader and eventually became a director of a first-year 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) program. Next, my role evolved into an area director, where I oversaw multiple afterschool programs (not just 21st CCLC) within the club. I currently work for the Kansas statewide afterschool network, the Kansas Enrichment Network. At the Network, I am expected to be a leader for the afterschool programs in our state. I am a provider of resources, professional development facilitator, and a connection maker. 

I have had multiple leadership roles in the OST field. Each role different than the other. Each position giving me more experience than the other. Early in my career, I wanted to immerse myself in OST. I started participating in trainings and professional development opportunities as soon as they were offered. I became an afterschool ambassador and spent time advocating to our state’s elected officials about the importance of OST. I networked with other professionals in the field. I wanted to get as much experience as I could so people would see me as a well-rounded, OST professional. As I gained experience, my confidence in my career grew.

I have been with the Network for two and a half years and I have been able to observe the different leadership roles in OST programs from an outside perspective. I have come to the conclusion that every role in OST is a leadership role –including youth participants. Afterschoolshould be time for people to focus and explore their sparks and passions (notice that I said “people” and not just “youth”). Program staff should be guiding youth to find their sparks and following their passions, but also sharing their passions with the youth. Program administration should be supporting the front line staff by providing them the tools and resources necessary to support the youth. Statewide networks should be leading the charge for advocacy and projects throughout the state to enhance the OST environment for all programs. Every OST program would benefit from being connected to their statewide network. Are you connected with your statewide afterschool network?Do you know your statewide network staff? If you answered “no” to either of these questions, your first step should be reaching out to your statewide network and discovering what resources they can provide.

Your role in the afterschool field should first and foremost be a leader, whether you are frontline staff, administrator, or even a support organization providing enrichment. You are leading youth and guiding their learning. Every person in every role in OST can be actively working on enhancing their leadership skills by participating in various professional development opportunities. Many national organizations, like the Afterschool Alliance, provide webinars and conference opportunities that can benefit all levels of staff. Here in Kansas, our network hosts two statewide afterschool conferences each year. Check out your local education or youth development organizations, and see if they provide any professional development opportunities!

If I could give any advice to staff in the OST field looking to enhance their leadership skills, it would be experienced as much as you can in this field. Begin by discovering what each role in OST is and what it takes to do that role successfully. Broaden your knowledge of enrichment, social-emotional learning, and overall youth development by reading books, checking out TED Talks that focus on leadership, participating in webinars, and attending conferences. Network with other professionals in the field. Learn about their experiences and share yours! Don’t become stagnant with your work.The OST field is an ever-changing and evolving and it needs ever changing and evolving (and passionate!) leaders to continue making it great.