Meeting Professional Development Needs of the Afterschool Community
Once seen as places where students could safely blow off a little steam after the bell rang, afterschool programs are now charged with offering enrichment activities that can lead to improved student achievement during the school day. Afterschool also now refers to all kinds of expanded learning opportunities outside of the traditional K–12 school day. Program formats may vary and take place in different time frames—before and after school, Saturday school, summer learning, extended school years, and others—but they all can give students opportunities to develop skills and knowledge that will enhance their success in school.
In 2008, SEDL afterschool staff delivered high-quality programming through face-to-face training, professional development guides, and SEDL's online Virtual Academy for Afterschool. The training and professional development resources were all based on the National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning's 5-year study, during which researchers visited promising afterschool programs, collected data, and identified best practices in expanded learning instruction.
Summer Professional Development
Between June and September 2008, staff from all the organizations that form the National Partnership provided 18 professional development sessions to leaders from 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) afterschool programs across the United States. The sessions focused on showing participants how to use the Afterschool Training Toolkit, a free online professional development resource developed by National Partnership staff. They also showed participants how to provide afterschool academic enrichment for the toolkit content areas: literacy, mathematics, science, the arts, technology, and homework help.
Catherine Jordan, SEDL program manager
For professional development sessions, National Partnership staff focused on a "train the trainer" approach, because time and budget constraints prevent most afterschool programs from sending all of their staff to attend conferences or from hiring consultants to provide on-site professional development. "One of the most effective ways SEDL can support afterschool leaders is by showing them how to deliver high-quality professional development to their staff," says program manager Catherine Jordan. "We demonstrated how to use the Afterschool Training Toolkit, but we also showed them how to use their own expertise and share that with their staff."
Learn more about the Toolkit
Cathleen Silver Sheets, 21st CCLC and Volunteer Coordinator for Delaware City Schools in Ohio, has used what she learned about the toolkit as well as the professional development strategies with her colleagues. "I returned from the training with the National Partnership, and I was asked to give a presentation to 45 people, literally the very next day. The techniques they showed me really work," she says. Sheets says that she used the toolkit to demonstrate and reinforce effective instructional strategies for her staff. She also incorporated the professional development model that she learned at the summer training: create awareness; build understanding and skills; make decisions, plan, and prepare; and reflect and refine. Sheets has shared the model with her colleagues, and now they all use it when they provide any type of professional development.
Afterschool Training Toolkit Guides
In 2008, the National Partnership was able to meet another demand from the afterschool field: a request for professional development print materials. "The online Afterschool Training Toolkit has been popular and well received since the National Partnership introduced it in 2005," says Jordan, "but people kept asking us for the 'book' to use with the toolkit." Last year, the National Partnership was able to meet that demand.
The National Partnership produced 12 books for afterschool professionals. Offerings include professional development and instructor's guides to be used with the Afterschool Training Toolkit. They also published a third edition of SEDL's popular A Resource Guide for Planning and Operating Afterschool Programs, which includes information about resources related to developing afterschool programs and activities, and organizing, managing, and sustaining afterschool programs.
Like the online toolkit, the professional development and instructor's guides provide overviews of best practices in academic enrichment for the toolkit's six content areas. The professional development guides contain detailed plans for staff development activities that afterschool program directors and site coordinators can use with their staff. The instructor's guides can be used by an individual afterschool instructor, or a program leader can use them for a group professional development activity.
Kathy Dick, who is a co-author of one of the toolkit instructor's guides and field coordinator for the Oklahoma Technical Assistance Center, which conducts evaluations for Oklahoma 21st CCLCs, thinks that one of the benefits of the guides is that they are customized for afterschool programs. "In Oklahoma, at least three of the professional development sessions that 21st CCLC programs offer staff must be specifically about afterschool. The toolkit guides help 21st CCLCs meet that requirement."
The National Partnership shipped some 85,000 professional development guides to more than 3,700 21st CCLC programs across the United States. Staff followed up with free webinars to show afterschool leaders how to use the guides in their programs. Afterschool and expanded learning professionals enthusiastically responded that the guides were a "tremendous resource," to quote one recipient; and afterschool staff still receive requests for additional copies of the toolkit guides.
Virtual Academy for Afterschool
SEDL also explored high-tech ways to help expanded learning programs deliver professional development. To do this, staff partnered with Learning Sciences International (LSI), an e-learning company that specializes in online professional development for educators. The two organizations created the Virtual Academy for Afterschool. This new online resource consists of five self-paced professional development modules that extend the original Afterschool Training Toolkit. The Virtual Academy includes new features that allow program directors to track staff progress and run data reports for monitoring, accountability, and program evaluation purposes. There is also a tuition-based university credit option. Finally, the modules also provide opportunities for afterschool professionals to interact through live chats and online discussion groups.
Expanded learning professionals have found that the Virtual Academy allows staff to have a shared professional development experience at the convenience of their own schedule. "Providing consistent and ongoing professional development through online courses enables afterschool programs to sustain the common language and instructional gains over the years, even with staff turnover," says Michael Toth, CEO of LSI.
As the role of expanded learning programs continues to change, SEDL staff use their research and firsthand experience to create staff development resources to help expanded learning professionals meet the changing demands of their field.