School chaplains and youth workers can struggle to present a professional image. Yet having fun is important to building relationships with young people.

In these jobs, it can be easy for others to think you spend all your time playing rather than working. What it comes down to is how you portray yourself as a professional. It’s about communicating the purpose of your role to the adults who work around you.

This article tackles the importance of being professional while having an appealing approach. The goal is to work in a way that doesn’t earn you the tag of being “king of the kids”.

Being a professional youth worker is about having both style and substance.

Developing style and substance

Youth work can be a juggle between being approachable to young people, while coming across as a person of substance to other adults. Some people lean one way more than the other.

To be a good youth worker or school chaplain, you need to find a happy medium between the two.

Respect comes when the fun relates to your role rather than your personality. While professionalism is more of a character trait. If you’re having trouble convincing people that you’re a grown up, then it’s time to work on being more professional.

How to be more professsional

It’s often the little things that communicate the most about you. If you’re wanting to project a more professional image, then try these things:

  • Be on time to work
  • Get organised and keep your workspace and materials tidy
  • Dress in a manner that fits in but still lets you do what you need to do – it’s fine to wear shorts and joggers on sports days, but don’t do that every day
  • Tick all the policy boxes and have a clear understanding of your responsibilities
  • Be a resource for others
  • Use the same language they do, especially the technical words
  • Think about what you say to your coworkers and start linking what you do to theory
  • Don’t downplay your own knowledge and skills

What you can do to ditch the “king of the kids” tag

If you’ve been at the game of youth work for a while, you may already have developed a reputation for being the “king of the kids”. That tag could mean you get overlooked for tasks because you’re not seen as having the right skills or qualities to perform them.

So, here are five ideas to show those around you that there’s an awful lot more to the games you play than just being a kid:

  1. Brush up on your theory and knowledge of youth work. People respect youth workers who are intentional in their work. So have a good understanding of the theory that underpins your approach. Have a look at my free eBook, Thrive, if it’s been a while since you studied and your knowledge is a little rusty.
  2. Get some training in some targeted programs. Don’t just go to any old course, but think about the needs of your community and the young people you work with. What training, particularly in specific programs, could you do to set up a new program for them? This isn’t about doing lots of programs, but using one program to put a new spin on your skills and knowledge.
  3. Do a presentation on an aspect of your work that looks like fun. Ask if you can share at a staff meeting about what the fun means and the theory behind it. If your supervisors aren’t keen on this, do up a flyer and deliver it to each staff member. If someone makes a joke about you always playing games, don’t just laugh along but be clear why you do that. You need to be your own publicist!
  4. Make sure you’re doing all the things a professional would do. Look at the list above about how to be more professional. If you’ve let some of those things slip, be intentional about doing them again.
  5. Ask a more experienced youth worker to mentor you. Look for someone around you who does come across as a professional. Find out how they built their reputation and learning what they do everyday to keep it.

Being the “king of the kids” isn’t a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t restrict you to just playing games all the time. Being a youth worker or school chaplain is far more than it looks. So put some thought into what you can do to portray a more professional image that people will warm to and trust. It’s not a fast process though, so be patient.

If you want to take your youth work to a higher level, get the free eBook, Thrive!

What helps you portray a professional image while still relating to young people? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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