The Path toward Self-Awareness, Healthy Relationships, and Strong Groups 
Research & Action Report Fall/Winter 2003

 

The battle for afterschool care has evolved in the past 20 years from the urgent need to create safe, affordable programs to rising demands for good programs that use afterschool time strategically. Although increasing pressures from the nationwide curriculum reform and standardized testing movements push afterschool programs to focus on academic goals, the precious hours between classroom and family room need to include genuine relationships with caring adults outside the hierarchies of school or family, according to the leaders of the Bringing Yourself to Work (BYTW) program.

Good relationships between afterschool staff and children provide emotional support and interpersonal growth, which are key factors in academic and personal success, says project director Michelle Seligson. With associate director Patricia Jahoda Stahl, Seligson is launching an effort to put the development of social and emotional intelligence on par with study skills in afterschool programs. Their new book, Bringing Yourself to Work, and the related staff training program aim to broaden self-knowledge skills among caretakers so they can improve the social and emotional dynamics of their programs.

Great programs, Seligson and Stahl say, are built on trust, empathy, and connection between caretakers and children. When caregivers bring their own life stories, cultural experiences, and enthusiasms to work, they enhance the self-esteem, social confidence, and learning skills of the children in their care. Researchers have found that strong adult-to-child connections ultimately reduce the rate of teen pregnancy, school dropout, violence, and drug and alcohol use.

The Power of Self-Awareness

"Effective afterschool care is about more than improving test scores or keeping kids busy," says Stahl, an expert in developing innovative educational programs for girls and adolescents. "It's also about investing in the development of self-aware caregivers who 'bring themselves to work,' who understand that quality relationships are critical to successful learning, and who take their responsibility as role models seriously."

Caregivers who are self-aware can empathize through— and beyond—their own childhood experiences. They can also coach children to understand their own experiences in more depth. After a carnival at a Charleston, SC afterschool program, the staff and students who organized the event gathered to debrief. In the meeting, the staff leader prompted discussion by asking what went well, what didn't, and what could be better next time.

"Instead of just moving on, they used the process to understand how each child participated," Seligson said. "It worked well because the staff person was willing to talk about his own mistakes. Acknowledging that adults make mistakes and learn from those experiences is a great life lesson." Adults become role models on many levels when they are open and honest with children. When children see adults work cooperatively and resolve conflicts, they learn to resolve their own disputes. When adults share their cultures or tastes, children are encouraged to see their own interests and traits as part of a healthy whole.

Growing Emotional Intelligence

Building emotional intelligence, a goal of the new book and training program, is important for all children. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, estimates that this person-to-person intelligence accounts for some 80 percent of an individual's success in life. Afterschool caregivers may provide a rare opportunity for children from stressed families or communities to develop this strength in a safe environment.

Seligson, a pioneer in afterschool care quality standards and founder of WCW's National Institute on Out-of-School Time, says BYTW offers a new grounding for programs. "Self awareness, relationship development, and healthy group process ultimately lead to better social and emotional environments for children."

The Book
Bringing Yourself to Work: A Guide to Successful Staff Development in After- School Programs

Bringing Yourself to Work, newly published by Columbia University's Teachers College Press, documents a new vision of success in afterschool programs. Not only can children relax with other kids and strengthen academic skills, but they can also benefit in concrete ways from mentoring relationships with afterschool caregivers, according to authors Michelle Seligson and Patricia Jahoda Stahl.

The book presents the research basis for this new vision and the specific skills staff require to increase self awareness, sustain healthy relationships, and improve group dynamics. A growing body of research points to beneficial outcomes for children who have strong relationships with their adult caregivers. Increased academic success, better family relationships, and fewer problems with drugs and alcohol result when children and adolescents develop socialemotional skills in afterschool contexts. The book draws on the work of the Stone Center scholars who have observed that meaningful connections with others, authenticity in relationships, and mutual empathy promote the growth
of all people.

The book provides tools and guidance to help individuals enhance their relational abilities and increase their self-awareness. The tools help caretakers recognize factors in their own life experiences and perceptions that shape their responses to children in their care. For example, caregivers who were shy as children need to step beyond their own experiences to accurately judge whether a child who often plays alone is shy— and in need of help joining groups—or is introverted and simply enjoys self-directed activities.

The case studies in Bringing Yourself to Work illustrate the path toward being a better group member and building emotional intelligence, a newly acknowledged contributor to real-life success for children and adults. This book may be ordered from the WCW Publications Office at 781-283-2510 or via the online store.

The Training
A Fresh Step toward Better Afterschool Programs

What does it mean to have high emotional intelligence? Participants in Bringing Yourself to Work trainings explore that question as they learn how incorporating their personal perspectives into their work can transform a good afterschool program into a great one. The training,
conducted nationwide by Seligson and Stahl, provides a catalyst for improving both afterschool program quality and staff dynamics.

A recent training participant said the two-day workshop provided a fresh perspective. "The training helped me look at myself first to
create a good environment—not always easy in this field."

The training, which can be delivered as a two-day workshop or a modular series, transforms theoretical work in relational theory, emotional intelligence, and social emotional learning into practical exercises, direct tools, and self-assessments. Seligson and Stahl begin by establishing a supportive environment that helps participants articulate the motivations, experiences, and goals that each person brings to the workplace. Through exercises and discussions, they explore the components of emotional intelligence and ways to help children and adolescents gain these skills. The program designers hope that participants will spread these insights by training others in their field.

To learn more about training opportunities, contact Paricia Johada Stahl at 781-283-2531 or visit the website at www.bringingyourselftowork.com