Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
April 1, 2001
Vol. 58
No. 7

Coaching the After-School Instructional Staff

Staff members at an after-school center in Lawrence, Kansas, study teaching techniques and theory to help them reach the students with whom they work.

Since the 19th century, schools have gone beyond classroom instruction to respond to the needs of families and communities. School nurse programs, evening classes for adults, and lunch programs, for example, were part of early education reforms designed to connect schools with their communities (Cremin, 1961).
A number of social and economic changes support the resurgence of schools as integral components of communities. Such conditions as increased numbers of single-parent homes and two-income homes have resulted in higher numbers of unsupervised students during after-school hours. More children have time to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use and criminal activity. Even if children and youth are not engaged in such behaviors, parents still worry about their children's safety. Further, too many children watch television between the end of the school day and the return of their parents from work.
To meet contemporary families' needs, after-school programs are proliferating in communities across the United States. Many of these programs rely on paid and unpaid staff members who, although enthusiastic, may have little experience working with young people—especially with at-risk students from diverse backgrounds. Providing staff training and development, therefore, is crucial to the success of many after-school programs.

The Central Project

The Lawrence Public School District in Lawrence, Kansas, has a three-site 21st Century Community Learning Center—The Central Project—that includes two elementary schools and one junior high school. Funding from the U.S. Department of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Centers program has financed similar projects in 3,600 rural and inner-city public schools in 903 communities in the United States. The Centers are usually collaborative efforts that involve school districts, higher education institutions, nonprofit agencies, local businesses, and other community organizations.
The Central Project provides a safe environment that offers academic, cultural, social, and recreational activities during after-school hours. Established by the school district, the University of Kansas, and community organizations, the Project received its funding in 1998, and by the end of its second year had served more than 300 students and their families. Approximately 53 percent of the students who regularly attend Project programs are students of color and 86 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Most of these students and their families do not have the resources to support their participation in after-school educational, recreational, and cultural programs. Most of the after-school classes meet at the students' schools, and any student enrolled at the school is eligible to participate.
The after-school teaching staff is crucial to the Project's success. Not only must staff members be able to work effectively with students, but they also must be able to communicate and interact with parents, teachers, administrators, and community members. University students, parents and other community members, teachers, nonteaching school staff (school nurses, counselors, janitorial staff, and paraprofessionals), and employees of various community agencies with whom the Central Project has formed partnerships staff the programs. Ninety percent of the staff members are paid and the others are volunteers. The staff members represent a wide range of ages, educational backgrounds, interests, and experiences working with students from diverse ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Given the diversity of its staff members, the Central Project offers a wide range of learning opportunities, including homework help, bicycle repair, conflict resolution training, quilting, Native American beading, and dance lessons. Staff members suggest courses on the basis of their interests and expertise. The only caveat is that all courses support, enhance, and enrich school-day experiences or contribute to the growth and development of students. For example, Web design and video production courses enhance junior high school students' problem-solving abilities while they learn the benefits of teamwork. Studying philosophy in film at the junior high level and movie reviews at the elementary level enhances students' analytical skills and their ability to communicate their thoughts. Smart Girls and the Sisterhood Club provide opportunities for elementary and junior high school girls to develop interpersonal skills that increase their ability to solve problems that might otherwise interfere with school success. Students can compete in table tennis tournaments, participate in TaeBo courses, and take private voice or instrument lessons. During the 1999–2000 school year, 66 after-school courses were offered.

Initial Staff Training

Staff members receive training to ensure that they possess the appropriate skills and knowledge to work effectively in after-school environments. An initial training session included staff members who had been working with the Project for at least two months and who had limited experience working in K–12 school environments. During this session, we asked participants to reflect on the joys of teaching and to write on their name tags a one-sentence summary of what they enjoyed most about teaching. Many participants had previously expressed frustration in their attempts to teach the students in the program, but they now focused on the joys of interacting with and positively influencing young people. Participants wore their badges throughout the training to remind them why they wanted to be part of the Project.
Next, we asked the participants to reflect individually on the most challenging situations they had encountered since they began teaching in the program. Working in small groups, participants organized their individual responses into themes—for example, consistency when disciplining students, getting students interested in what you are teaching, and encouraging students to respect themselves and others. We then categorized the themes into three skill areas—teaching mechanics, learning-environment management, and interpersonal relations and communication. Although these categories did not address every concern, this structure allowed us to focus on building skills and attitudes that we believed would alleviate some of the staff members' frustration.
We wanted the staff members to recognize that many of the concerns and issues that they expressed could be addressed through implementing specific skills; we did not want them to believe that the situations that they were facing were unalterable and endemic to after-school programs and the student population. At the same time, we wanted to help them understand that their experiences reflected the social, economic, and demographic realities of today's school populations. We wanted them to know that many of the issues that emerged from their group discussions were issues that professional teachers face every day.
Given the diverse backgrounds of the staff in education, experience, and culture, we grounded our training in theory, taking care not to overwhelm participants with unfamiliar terminology. We focused on the practical application of theoretical concepts and were able to address Jean Piaget's and Lev Vygotsky's theories about development; Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences; motivation and culture; classroom discipline; learning styles; culturally mediated instruction; school-family relations; and culture and communication.
One hurdle we faced was that our after-school staff members' expectations for teaching and learning were grounded in their memories of what school was like when they were students. They tended to imitate practices of teachers from their pasts and to expect similar student reactions and performances. Our goal was to plant two dispositional seeds that might grow as staff continued to work with diverse student populations. First, we wanted staff members to recognize that the ways they were taught do not necessarily align with the skills needed to teach students in today's learning environments. Second, we wanted them to consider the possibility that many of the situations they experienced as challenges could more clearly be understood and addressed with an increased understanding of their students' cultural contexts and communities (Delpit, 1995).
An evaluation conducted at the end of the session revealed that 91 percent of the staff members either agreed or strongly agreed that the session would help them be better instructors. Eighty-seven percent agreed or strongly agreed that the strategies they had learned addressed their teaching situations. Participants noted that the most helpful training addressed cultural differences, explored how cultural backgrounds affect students' outlooks and attitudes, explained learning styles, and offered techniques for reaching different students. Participants requested more information on how to address cultural differences and more specific information on cultures, races, and genders.

Making Connections to Practice

Before attending the workshop, many staff members believed that negative student behavior, such as rebellion against authority or inattentiveness, meant that the students did not like the staff person or the subject that he or she was teaching.
After the workshop, the staff members appeared more relaxed and open to developing relationships with their students. They used positive reinforcement more often and punishment less often; they seemed more comfortable giving students choices. Many staff members understood the importance of designing teaching plans ahead of time to ensure that their lessons were age-appropriate. Staff members began to think of ways to make lessons more inviting to students with different learning styles and to take multiple intelligences into account in their lesson plans. For many staff members, the ideas and concepts that they learned during training presented new ways of thinking about teaching, learning, and interacting with students. We know that the extent to which staff will consistently use these strategies will depend on support through continued staff development.

Lessons Learned

To remind our staff members about what they had learned during the workshop, we distributed a teacher checklist of effective strategies for working with diverse student populations (see fig.). The research-based checklist represents a combination of attitudes, skills, and knowledge considered to be effective with diverse student populations. At the same time, we presented it in practical terms, making it accessible to staff with a wide range of educational backgrounds and experiences.
Teacher Checklist

Teacher Checklist

When students say, "I can't do that!" make sure that . . .

  • The activity is appropriate for the students' age.

  • The activity is authentic and relevant to the students' experience.

  • You have used cooperative strategies to help learners accomplish the activity.

  • You have explored alternate ways to complete the task.

  • You have modeled completion of the task.

  • You have used verbal persuasion to increase students' sense that they can succeed.

  • You have praised students for completion of the task or some portion of the task.


We are fortunate that the list of people interested in teaching students enrolled in the Central Project is long and growing. Although many of these instructors have little experience working with diverse students, we know that training can help them become effective teachers.
Students who attend after-school programs need to work with adults who care about them and care that they are learning. We look for adults who are willing to share a passion, to learn about the students they teach, and to learn how to best teach those students. Witnessing the concentration of special-needs children as they work with an elder on a beading project, the joy on a junior high student's face during a private guitar lesson, and a young girl's growing belief that she can make the honor roll because of homework help are the best arguments for developing and training school staff.

Cremin, L. (1961). The transformation of the school. New York: Vintage Books.

Delpit, L. (1995). I just want to be myself: Discovering what students bring to school "in their blood." In W. Ayers (Ed.), To become a teacher: Making a difference in children's lives (pp. 34–48). New York: Teacher's College Press.

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
Discover ASCD's Professional Learning Services
From our issue
Product cover image 101036.jpg
Beyond Class Time
Go To Publication