Purposeful training & a focus on core values make THINK Together’s model a standout among extended learning time program providers
CynDee Zanes, chief program officer
We have all heard the adage that you never have a second chance to make a first impression. That statement holds true for employers, especially those who hire young professionals who are in college or are recent graduates. How we treat our employees, the expectations we establish for their behavior and performance, and the training we provide them on the job helps to shape the careers – even the character and workplace ethics – of these young workers. As the state’s largest non-profit provider of extended learning time programs, THINK Together embraces this opportunity. To date, the organization employs 2,300 employees, many of whom are program leaders who are current college students or recent graduates.
The organizational culture, which is value-driven and stresses service above self, blossomed from the organization’s name. The acronym stands for Teaching, Helping, Inspiring and Nurturing Kids. The focus of all efforts is on ensuring that every student has a positive learning experience in a THINK Together program. For the past five years, THINK Together has purposefully worked on a structured on-boarding, training and professional development program to ensure that each and every program leader, who works directly with children and teens at schools across California, is equipped with the knowledge, skills and resources to provide students with a positive extended learning time experience.
Core values rule
In addition to the organizational core values that underpin decision-making and the workplace culture, THINK Together is a learning organization. Just as students are respected as individuals and are recognized as having their own, unique learning style, so too are employees prized for their individuality and talents. The organization makes efforts to challenge employees, giving them opportunities to try on new responsibilities within a culture that allows for failure and learning. Just as we Teach, Help, Inspire and Nurture students, we also see that we do the same for young employees. Our obligation is to support them in learning more about themselves, their gifts and the contributions they can make to the organization and the lives of the children and teens they touch.
Moreover, every full-time employee is certified in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People program. These principles frame every action and decision. Emphasis is placed on win-win, respect for self and others and collaboration.
From the first day of on-boarding, employees and students alike learn to use the KWL process – What do we KNOW? What do we WANT to know? What did we LEARN? This process recognizes that each person brings knowledge and skills to each learning situation. The KWL process celebrates teaming and is designed to bring out the best ideas and solutions whether that be from a group of new hires or from a group of students.
THINK Together also maintains a commitment to continuous quality improvement and is a data-driven, evaluation-based organization. Quality assurance coaches work alongside site coordinators and program leaders to ensure that daily lessons and academic enrichment activities align with each school district’s identified standards and learning goals. This commitment to assessment is an important life lesson for young employees. They learn, in a supportive culture, that ongoing assessment is essential for excellence. By being introduced to this concept early in their careers, they don’t fear it but embrace it with the understanding that assessment (self assessment, performance assessment, etc.) is critical to personal and professional growth and goal attainment. As a result, THINK Together’s programs are founded on a circular personnel and program evaluation process – which begins with goal setting and assessment, includes training and coaching, more assessment and goal refinement.
The ripple effect: win-win for all involved
School administrators, teachers, parents and students give THINK Together’s summer and extended learning time programs high marks for program satisfaction – both in terms of the quality of the program and in the professionalism of staff. THINK Together staff treat students with respect and model the organizational core values, and they model the same behavior with peers , district partners and parents. The more than 20 hours of purposeful, focused training for program leaders (and the ongoing education provided through a workplace learning portal) ensures that THINK Together provides quality academically-oriented programs in a caring culture that supports student success.
Learn more about THINK Together’s summer learning and extended learning time programs at www.THINKTogether.org