After-school care advocates Michelle Seligson and Patricia Jahoda Stahl are the directors of Bringing Yourself to Work: Caregiving in After-School Environments, a ground-breaking new training model for after-school program staff that places unprecedented emphasis on the importance of self-awareness among caregivers.
As part of Bringing Yourself to Work, Seligson and Stahl have developed a set of tools to enable after-school caregivers to integrate self-knowledge and personal experience into their relationships with adults and children. The project components include a book and a staff training program and training manual that will be available to after-school programs across the country.
In addition to an extensive literature review and on-site research completed by Seligson and Stahl, Bringing Yourself to Work builds on insights from several disciplines including organizational behavior, youth development and relational/cultural theory, as well as research on the increasingly popular field of “emotional intelligence.”
Their two years of practical and theoretical research led Seligson and Stahl to one, incontrovertible fact: the quality of relationships among staff and children can make or break an after-school program.
“Whether we researched an after-school program in a suburb or in an urban environment, what mattered was the quality of the staff/child relationships,” says Seligson. “And that’s a major wake-up call. It tells us that the magic formula for quality doesn’t rest in curriculum alone but in the staff’s ability to relate to children as role models. And being a better role model means caregivers need to understand more about themselves and each other.”
The team’s research suggests that when caregivers are consciously aware of their life stories, cultural experiences, models of personal leadership and attitudes toward power, gender, diversity and sexuality, and they incorporate this awareness into their work, the children in their care have enhanced self-esteem, social competence and academic skills.
“Effective after-school care is about more than improving test scores or keeping kids busy,” says Stahl. “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.”