Using Unstructured Time Wisely

As a track lead for our Adopt a School program, most of my preparation for a school visit involves scheduling a lesson plan and preparing the other employees with the material. However, it is important to keep in mind that this program is not just about teaching kids. It is about engaging the kids as well as ourselves in a fun after-school environment.

Key takeaways:

  • Our primary goal as a track is not to teach the kids, but to engage them
  • It is easy to fall into the trap of focusing only on putting together a lesson plan, and the worst time to do this is during unstructured time with the kids
  • Track leaders should encourage their track to fully engage with a student or a small group of students before the lesson begins: ask questions about their day, mood, and homework
  • Learning more about the students will add value to the program as well as to the classes themselves, because teachers who understand their students will have a better idea of how to teach them

If all of our energy as a track is focused on preparing and teaching a curriculum, then the program itself will be dry. When we arrive at the school, we normally have at least 45 minutes before our lesson starts, and we’ve made the mistake in the past of using this time to prepare for the lesson. This unstructured time is at least as important as the class itself. It is an opportunity for the employees to interact one-on-one with students. This time should be used to ask about how their day was at school, what homework they may need help with, etc. My hope is that by the end of the program, we can ask the students about things at home and they’ll feel comfortable talking with us.

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As Next Jumpers, we go to the school once a month. It is impossible as an individual to build a bond with all of the kids at such an infrequent pace. However, I think it’s important to encourage the employees to interact with kids during the unstructured time. As a track lead, I want to make sure that the employees in my track are on first name basis with several kids apiece after 2 or 3 classes. I want to see bonds forming that can be meaningful to both the kids and the employees.

Using unstructured time to learn about the kids will also add value to the class itself. Coming to teach a class of 30 kids you know nothing about is difficult. It’s easy to fall into the trap of only interacting with the most engaged kids with the loudest voices. However, it’s important to manage this and make the class meaningful for all of the students. If each Next Jumper spends time before class speaking with the kids and learning about them, it will be much easier for us to engage the right kids in the right way. We will be able to identify which kids want to participate but are slow with the material, which kids don’t speak English well, which kids have had a bad day, etc.

It is up to me as a track lead to encourage the Next Jumpers to engage with the kids in this manner. I make sure to pair Next Jumpers with the same kids each time so they can get to know each other. I also make sure to lead by example and chat with the kids at any opportunity I get. Now that we’ve been to the school twice as a track, I will encourage everyone to converse for several minutes with 2 kids apiece. We only get to go to the school once a month, and in order to add value to the program in such a short time, we must make sure to engage with the kids.

Luke Geneslaw

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