International Opinion

How to Infuse Global Learning Into Out-of-School-Time Staff Training

By Anthony Jackson — September 12, 2014 6 min read
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Getting started with global learning in out-of-school time programs can seem overwhelming. Today, Pam Suprenant shares some lessons learned from her YMCA’s first year of implmentation.

by Pam Suprenant

Let’s face it. We ask a lot of our underpaid, overworked afterschool program staff. We need them to keep children safe (while ensuring they have fun), provide a warm and welcoming environment (while ensuring they complete their homework), give participants an opportunity for physical activity (there’s never enough of that in the school day), not to mention manage snack time and 101 other educational activities. How do we train staff for this mammoth undertaking? And just as importantly, how do we intentionally fit global learning into the mix?

I’m not an expert. We don’t have it all figured out. However, we do have a few ideas to share. When YMCA leadership staff was introduced to global learning, we took a summer to get organized and implemented a global learning integration strategy in the 2013-2014 school year.

We’ve tried everything from high-level leadership trainings to introducing the concept of global learning to our CEO, COO, HR, and business office teams to hands-on workshops for staff to take existing curricula and specific activities and transform them into something more global. We’ve provided coaching sessions for program staff to better understand what being a globally competent young person looks like—and how to support that learning. From the macro-level of why global learning is important and necessary to the ultimate success of every young person to the micro-level of how we integrate global learning into existing programs and activities, we have just scratched the surface.

We learned a lot (we might have learned more than the children did) about what works and what doesn’t.

Start at the top
Getting program leadership staff on board is a simple but critical step and rushing to share ideas or implement strategies is tempting.

Resist temptation.

At our YMCA we intentionally introduced all of our school age child care, child care, and camp directors to the Expanding Horizons toolkit. While we didn’t have the luxury of a three-day intensive training for everyone, we were intentional about our message: this wasn’t another task to accomplish, a different curriculum, or a separate entity—it was a way of thinking about how (and why) we engage children in ALL their afterschool activities. Everyone was introduced to everything...and then we divided the work and assigned sections of the toolkit. For administrative staff the focus was Vision, Mission and Organization. For the program directors the focus was training and coaching, curricula, and program implementation.

While we didn’t have the luxury of time, it was important that leadership staff had the opportunity, through training and working with their supervisors one-on-one, to understand the connection between global learning and the day-to-day work they were already doing. They needed to see for themselves how it would fit into their programs. Because of the global learning training we were better able to articulate our goals around global competence. Directors spent time discussing the global leadership performance outcomes for youth and what these would look like with different age groups and with different activities. During our training, directors took existing lesson plans and program activities and assigned them to a domain of the global leadership performance outcomes and then discussed ways to reinforce and articulate those ideas and competencies. They also practiced taking an existing activity and “making it global.” Knowing this would be an expectation of program staff we introduced it to the directors first, giving them an opportunity to experiment before presenting it to program staff.

Make it personal
Our program staff are wells of information, experience, and knowledge that are often untapped. Traditionally, much of a staff person’s day is dictated by their supervisor, their program schedule, or their specific assignments. What global learning has done for us is to shift that thinking. While the structure and surface of the afternoon might be prescribed, the interactions, directions, and influencers can be wildly unique to each staff person. Giving staff the freedom to share themselves (their backgrounds, their talents, their own questions) with children during a program activity expands the scope of the entire interaction. Not only does it provide a richer context for learning, it sets a powerful example for children to share more of themselves. A great example came a week into the school year. During a literacy block, the site director chose the book Anansi the Spider, A Tale from the Ashanti by Gerald McDermott which is a folk tale from West Africa. A group leader, who is from Ghana but had never seen or read the book, became the leader for this activity. She connected with the story and was excited to share other details (the dance, the food, a piece of cloth mentioned in the book—kente) with the children. The activity went in a completely organic direction—because the staff person was personally connected to the material. We encourage staff to connect with any and all activities they can, and it has transformed our curriculum and our activity delivery method.

Be your own critic
How does the saying go? “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been?” I know you’re thinking you don’t have time for one more survey, assessment, or evaluation tool. However, for global learning to “stick” you need to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. And the only way to do that is to constantly ask yourselves, “Is this working?” or “How can I make this more impactful?”

After our first learning transfer with our leadership team we thought we nailed the training. So we used the same agenda, activities, and hand-outs for our next training with program directors and found a much different result. They felt rushed. They were confused. It was too high level and what they really needed was an overview about what global learning is and why it is important and what incorporating it into their specific programs would look like. So much of what they were already doing was global learning, however it either was not articulated well or it wasn’t an intentional approach to their program design or activities. Helping directors identify what was already global as well as places for incorporating global learning into the existing curricula was needed.

Reviewing and evaluating each training, coaching, and learning session has provided us with invaluable information on how to tailor the delivery and activities to individual interests and abilities. We surveyed the staff after each training asking basic questions (what was most/least helpful; how will you incorporate this into your daily work; what are your concerns; and what is most exciting).

This isn’t a recipe or a cautionary tale. What works or didn’t work for us might or might not work for you. The best advice is the simplest: just start. Start somewhere: with one staff person, one staff group, or one program. Just start—and don’t forget to share.

Pam is the Regional Associate Executive Director, Central Community Branch of the YMCA of Central Massachusetts. Follow the YMCA of Central Mass and Asia Society on Twitter.

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