To wrap up National Principals Month, we interviewed Paul Young, PhD, author and former president and CEO of the National After School Association (NAA). Young also served as an elementary school principal in the late 90s as well as the president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) in 2002-2003. With his experience, Young provides a unique and valuable perspective to the relationship of principals and program directors.

To wrap up National Principals Month, we interviewed Paul Young, PhD, author and former president and CEO of the National After School Association (NAA).

Young also served as an elementary school principal in the late 90s as well as the president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) in 2002-2003. With his experience, Young provides a unique and valuable perspective to the relationship of principals and program directors.

In the following Q&A, Dr. Young shares insight from various training and roles to help program directors and staff establish a positive relationship with school principals and encourage them to be champions of after school.

Q1: As a former elementary school principal, what was your relationship with the school’s after school program provider?

The most important thing I could give was my time. There were always growing pains, doubts, disagreements and questions that I had to address, and as principal, could provide a definitive answer. I couldn’t let naysayers derail our vision. The program champions (who served as program and volunteer coordinators) and I met frequently focusing on our program vision.

Q2: From the principal’s perspective, what are the most important components of an after school program?

With the experience I had in developing after school programs as both a principal and an independent provider, I joined NAA and NAESP’s training programs to help principals and after school leaders align the leaning day.

During those training in dozens of states, we asked principals what they wanted to see in a program, but more specifically, what they expected of the program’s director. Consistently, their responses indicated that they wanted after school program leaders to:

  • Share the school’s mission and vision.
  • Be consistent with discipline expectations.
  • Provide program variety – avoid simply re-creating more “school.”
  • Be confident and feel empowered to handle day-to-day issues.
  • Be flexible.
  • Think like an administrator.

Obviously, principals expected a high-quality program, especially those housed in their schools. Principals recognized, however, that program quality was highly connected to the capacities of the program staff – particularly the program leader.

Q3: What expectations does a principal have for his/her school’s after school provider?

Principals want after school providers to be leaders. That’s why I wrote Lead the Way: 24 Leadership Lessons for After School Program Directors. All too often, leading an after school program is the first real leadership role for young directors, and many are at a loss as to what to do and how to act. But they can learn, and when they do, principals notice.

Q4: Conversely, what role does a principal play in the school’s designated after school program (expectations)?

So during those same trainings, we also asked after school program leaders to state what they wanted principals to know about their program and how they could provide support. The ten statements that follow represent a summary from numerous trainings across the country:

  • Have a full understanding of quality after school programs.
  • Help establish and clarify the vision.
  • Communicatthe e needs of the after school program to regular school staff.
  • Connect the after school program with the regular school day.
  • Be open-minded.
  • Be visible in the after school program.
  • Provide adequate space and eliminate turf issues.
  • Share authority.
  • Help with recruiting and hiring staff.
  • Meet with after school leaders regularly.

Q5: Why is it important for program directors and principals to establish a relationship?

To quote Dr. James Comer, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” Teachers do not obtain results with students without developing relationships with their students. Principals can’t lead unless they gain permission to do so from their staff. They attain that permission through developing relationships. Likewise, principals and after school leaders will never be able to achieve results if there are doubts about each other’s competence, commitment, or the quality of their relationships.

Q6: What are the most effective strategies for program directors to maintain an ongoing, collaborative relationship with the school principal?

Success comes from regular contact, open and honest communication, feedback, trust, and mutual support. It is impossible to collaborate without communicating, and I feel effective communication is best achieved in face-to-face settings rather than through email. To help principals and after school leaders engage with each other, I wrote Principal Matters, 101 Tips for Creating Collaborative Relationships Between After School Programs and School Leaders. The intent was to provide conversations starters about program vision, organization, infrastructure, advocacy, student learning, community engagement, personal care, professional development, and more. Where leaders have used the book, the tips and questions posed within it have led to deeper levels of understanding of each other’s roles and program growth.

We also developed a weekly 20-minute meeting format to help principals and after school focus on program development and intervention strategies.

Q7: What does it mean to be a champion of after school?

NAESP addressed this question and outlined what it means to be a champion for after school in their 2006 standards publication, Leading After School Learning Communities: What Principals Should Know and Be Able to Do. The association encouraged its members to:

  • Use their credibility to advocate for after school programs for all students.
  • Understand after school funding steams and policy issues.
  • Keep the public and policymakers focused on the need for a continuum of services that support students and families’ needs beyond the school day.
  • Promote and facilitate partnerships among schools, providers, and communities in order to acquire adequate and sustainable funding for after school programs.

My program champions followed these strategies and more. They were public relations experts, brought human resources to the program that I alone could not have leveraged, and spread by word-of-mouth the benefits of mentoring our school’s youth and providing opportunities for everyone in and out of school.

Q8: How can program directors garner support and encourage principals to be champions of after school?

I think it’s as simple as following the Golden Rule. Treat others as you want them to treat you. If you hide in your office and don’t solicit support, don’t criticize principals who fail to speak to you. If you stay out of sight, you will likely be out of mind. Demonstrate competence, confidence, cooperation, and commitment to the students and families in your care.

Principals will notice the good things that happen after school on your watch. They will champion your work as they would regular-day teachers who attain excellence in the classroom.

Champions don’t just appear, they are earned!