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Program Management: An Introduction

In this course, you will learn about what program management means for a school-age staff member and about the roles and responsibilities you can assume that contribute to the overall quality of your program.

  • Reflect on what program management means for a school-age staff member.
  • Describe roles and responsibilities that are associated with program management.
  • Describe the significance of program management for program quality.



"Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus." - Alexander Graham Bell

In our daily lives, we all do things, assume roles, or participate in experiences that require management skills. Consider all the different activities you or your loved ones engage in on a day-to-day basis that reflect managing some kind of experience or event. These can include deciding what ingredients you need to gather for a recipe and preparing for a trip to the grocery store, managing busy family schedules, and planning vacations or family gatherings. Take a moment and think about a few things that come to mind from your daily life that involve some type of management.

Now, think about what enables you to do these things well. Is it the fact that you plan ahead? Or that you write down a set of steps or tasks that you need to follow? Is it perhaps that you work with others to get what you need done? Or that you take into consideration what is meaningful for the situation you are in? All of your reflections and thoughts offer a window into your sense of management.

Consider the following definitions that the Merriam-Webster Dictionaries website provides about management: “the act of looking after and making decisions about something,” and “the people who look after and make decisions about something.” How do these definitions compare to your own definitions or ideas about management?

In this course, you will learn about what program management means for a school-age staff member and about the roles and responsibilities you can assume that contribute to the overall quality of your program. Program management encompasses a variety of tasks: establishing and maintaining relationships with school-age children, youth, and their families, collaborating with others, planning and implementing activities, and evaluating program quality. This lesson provides a general overview of program management for school-age staff members.

What does Program Management Mean for School-Age Staff Members?

As a school-age staff member, you may not see yourself as a manager. Your program probably has a manager or director who engages in management tasks like hiring, scheduling, managing budgets, ordering materials and equipment, or providing needed support to staff. Nevertheless, you and your fellow school-age staff members are also managers as you assume significant roles that impact those in your care and at the same time contribute to program quality. For example, you manage the day-to-day organizing of experiences and activities that meet the needs of each school-age child or youth in your group, as well as the planning of meaningful and intellectually stimulating environments that promote learning and growth. You initiate and manage the development of relationships between yourself and children, families, and coworkers in your program. With the guidance of Training and Curriculum Specialists (T&CSs), Program Managers, or other mentors, you can strive to ensure high-quality developmentally appropriate practices that support positive experiences for all school-age children and families. When doing that, you also contribute to your program's success and growth.

In your daily work, your greatest commitment is to create the best possible experiences for school-age children and their families. Children's growth takes place over time, and each experience affects development. Who children become has everything to do with the experiences they have throughout their lives, including the experiences they have while they are in your care. Optimum development is strengthened when children and youth engage in meaningful interactions with adults who adhere to high-quality professional standards. Remember that your words and actions should reflect your program's mission when it comes to serving school-age children and their families.

Think about some of the experiences you participate in in your daily work, such as:

  • Interacting with school-age children and their families
  • Planning and implementing experiences and activities
  • Interacting with supervisors and managers
  • Collaborating with fellow staff members
  • Engaging with community partners
  • Reflecting on your progress to continually develop the necessary skills, knowledge, and approaches to achieve the best outcomes for children
  • Contributing to program success and quality

Establishing and maintaining high-quality practices is essential for every task you accomplish every day. This process continues to evolve and develop as you encounter new situations and as you become more experienced. This course will help you understand how your own management of these practices contributes to the growth and development of school-age children and families that in turn contributes to overall program quality.

Relationship-Based Care

Program management means that all members of a team have specific roles and responsibilities within the program. It is important to build relationships with fellow staff members, T&CSs, and Program Managers, so that there is an underlying basis of trust. Your relationship with your T&CS or Program Manager is critical for your own professional growth. Within these relationships, you can receive advice and constructive feedback about your practice and guidance and support when you have difficulties. Building strong relationships with your T&CS and Program Manager also facilitates the support you can provide children and families. When there is open and honest communication, you can easily strategize together the best ways to support children and families, especially when children and families face challenges. You also recognize that you, the T&CS, and the Program Manager have different roles and responsibilities in working together to support children and families, but that you complement each other’s efforts, and you value and recognize what each person brings to the team. You will learn more about working with others in upcoming lessons.

Establishing and nurturing relationships should be at the core of your practice with school-age children, families, colleagues, and supervisors in your program. When you build warm, trusting relationships with children and their families, you lay the foundation for healthy development. You build this trust by taking the time to get to know each family and child in your care, honoring and incorporating their customs and culture in your classroom, and inviting their input when planning activities and experiences.

Along the same lines, when you establish trusting professional relationships with colleagues, T&CSs, and Program Managers, you set the stage for your own professional growth and development. Just as you focus on children’s strengths and talents, you should work with your T&CS to strengthen and nurture your own strengths and talents that will enable you to be the best you can be and to provide high-quality professional care that also contributes to your program’s quality. Part of relationship-based care in your professional relationships is being able to ask for assistance, and being prepared to accept and implement the guidance of your T&CS or Program Manager.

Culturally and Linguistically Sensitive Practices

As a school-age staff member, you are likely to encounter children, families, and coworkers from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences. As manager of your classroom, it is important for you to understand the significance of striving for high-quality practices while at the same time acknowledging diversity and individual differences. For example, a family member may not share the same beliefs as you when it comes to topics such as child guidance, physical activity, or nutrition. In your daily practice, you will need to be able to create welcoming, nurturing environments and provide school-age children and their families with culturally and developmentally sensitive care that will lay the foundation for their success. This success will also pave the way for your own classroom success and ultimately the quality of your program.

In your role you must seek to understand culture as an asset that helps connect children to learning. Students are more successful when teachers are supportive of families and communicate in ways that are appropriate for each family’s culture. It is important to recognize, honor, and promote each family’s unique knowledge by learning about each child and family through family engagement. As you learn about each child and family, you will be able to intentionally adapt and respond to every child’s strengths and needs.

Additionally, you will need to work with your colleagues, T&CSs, and Program Manager to learn about the cultural and linguistic practices of the children and families in your care and to access resources to assist you in working with culturally and linguistically diverse families. There are a variety of books, articles, and webinars that address cultural and linguistically sensitive practices with children and families. Being sensitive to cultural practices and language differences demonstrates an openness to learning about an individual’s knowledge and beliefs. It is always best to ask questions rather than assume or do nothing, and your T&CS can help facilitate that process.


Program Management: An Introduction

Watch this video to hear staff members share what program management means to them.


Take time to review the following examples that reflect a school-age staff member's management roles and responsibilities. In your daily work as a school-age staff member, you can be an effective manager by:

  • Getting to know each child, youth, and family member in your care; you should learn about their background, culture, language, interests, skills, and needs
  • Learning about a dynamic set of strong practices in school-age programs
  • Collaborating with others as a team (coworkers, family members, T&Cs, managers, community partners) to design and implement high-quality developmentally appropriate experiences for each school-age child and their family member in your care
  • Keeping ongoing information about each child's or youth's skills, changing interests, and experiences that might affect their learning and development
  • Using information and feedback from others to improve your practice and strengthen your program
  • Having a good attitude and being willing to learn new information that will help improve your practice

All these practices help make you a better decision-maker within your own classroom or program. They arm you with the information and strategies necessary to be a strong manager of the kinds of activities and experiences you want the children and families in your classroom and program to have. You should work with your T&CS or Program Manager, to ensure high-quality practices for school-age children and families in your care. By strengthening your professional growth, you will directly enhance the quality of the program for school-age children and families.

Completing this Course

For more information on what to expect in this course, the Program Management Competency Reflection, and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the School-Age Program Management Course Guide

Please note the References & Resources section at the end of each lesson outlines reference sources and resources to find additional information on the topics covered. As you complete lessons, you are not expected to review all the online references available. However, you are welcome to explore the resources further if you have interest, or at the request of your trainer, coach, or administrator.


What do you think makes a good leader? In the Being a Leader in your Classroom activity, read through the qualities of effective leaders and respond to the questions. Then, share and discuss your responses with trainer, coach or administrator.


In the Perspectives on Leadership activity, read the article and think about leadership in your program. Share your responses with your trainer, coach or administrator.


Which of the following is not an example of how you can be an effective manager:
You have several families in your school-age program from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences. Which of the following can help you address cultural and linguistic practices with school-age children and families?
A co-worker shares with you that she does not believe she has a very important role in your program. How do you respond?
References & Resources

Allred, K. W., & Hancock, C. L. (2015). Reconciling Leadership and Partnership: Strategies to empower professionals and families. Young Children, 70(2), 46-53.

Bloom, P. J., Hentschel, A., & Bella, J. (2013). Inspiring Peak Performance: Competence, commitment, and collaboration. The Director's Toolbox Management Series. Lake Forest, IL: New Horizons.

Derman-Sparks, L., Edwards, J. O., Goins, C. M. (2020). Anti-bias education for young children and ourselves. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Derman-Sparks, L., Nimmo, J. , & LeeKeenan, D. (2015). Leadership Matters: Creating anti-bias change in early childhood programs. Exchange, 37 (6), 8-12.

Division for Early Childhood. (2014). DEC Recommended Practices in Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education 2014

Feeney, S. (2012). Professionalism in Early Childhood Education: Doing our best for young children. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Jablon, J., Dombro, A. L., & Johnson, S. (2014). Coaching with Powerful Interactions: A guide for partnering with early childhood teachers. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2017). The Leadership Challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations (6h ed).  Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). NAEYC Standards for Early Childhood Professional Preparation: A position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2019).  Professional Standards and Competencies for Early Childhood Educators.

Neugebauer, R. (2015). Knowledge and Competence of Early Childhood Leaders: New insights from the National Academies of Science. Exchange, 37(6), 92-94.

Simon, F. (2015). Look Up and Out to Lead: 20/20 vision for effective leadership. Young Children, 70(2), 18-24.

Sullivan, D. R. (2010). Learning to Lead: Effective leadership skills for teachers of young children (2nd ed.). St. Paul MN: Redleaf Press.

Terrell, A. M. (2018). Graceful leadership in Early Childhood Education. St Paul MN: Redleaf Press.

Wisconsin Early Childhood Collaborating Partners. (2014). Wisconsin Core Competencies for Professionals Working with Young Children & Their Families.

ZERO To THREE. (2016). What is reflective leadership?