Learning Never Exhausts the Mind: Tips for Effective Staff Training

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

– Henry Ford

Just because it is orientation and training time with your staff does not mean training must be hours long, covering organization rules, standards and camp bureaucracy in a classroom setting. At some point in our camping careers, many of us have experienced how unpleasant it was sitting in a closed room listening to the director regurgitate verbatim ‘all things camp’ from a planner or manual. This does not have to be the case when hosting your training. I want to offer advice and tips you can use for different methods and techniques in teaching your staff to learn about their responsibilities and the intricacies of your camp. Staff training is the most significant period before the arrival of campers, parents and families, and it can also serve as an opportunity to find the best solutions for teaching most staff about the most rewarding job they will ever experience in their lives. Here are tips for getting the most out of your staff during training.

Types of Staff Training

Depending on the length of your camp season, staff training will vary from either a couple of days to well over a week depending on the type of program you offer (day, residential, retreats, after/out of-school, trip/travel etc..). In addition, in-session training can be performed in-person, online or at later dates in the season, in the event that new staff is brought on-board while camp is in session or if you are hosting a mid-season training refresher. With online training you can host movies, webinars and other presentations prior to camp or reach out to the several online professional services that offer training modules for specific content for staff.


Sessions Not Lectures

When hosting your training whether in-person or online, limit each session to no more than 30-40 minutes, with 5-7 minutes for questions. Remember these are people, not machines; no one wants to stare at you or their computer screen for hours on end.  Develop a schedule that allows small breaks in between and is diverse enough to keep staff engaged and not have them tuned-out by the end of the first day.

For example, if you are planning a session on the Overview of Camp life avoid scheduling the next session on Daily Program [Counselor] Responsibility as those two sessions are too similar. Either determine a way to add them together during the allotted time or choose another day during orientation to cover the topic.  Another tip is leading an activity or exercise with staff that relates to the session content either before, during or even end the session.


Activities and Exercises

Incorporating activities and exercises throughout orientation training will serve as an opportunity for staff to get acquainted and open up to one another. The following is an example of categories of activities and exercises that will guide you during your sessions;

Closing Exercise, designed to end a session.

Experiential, allowing staff first-hand experience exercises.

Grouping games and exercises designed to sort staff into small or medium sized groups or pairs.

Ice Breakers designed to introduce staff to one another; best used early on at staff orientation.

Instructional Theory, designed to teach skills or knowledge.

Team Building, designed to pull staff together as a team once they have become better acquainted with one another.

Trust, designed to elicit trust among staff, typically performed after teambuilding or experiential activities.

Mixers (not the adult beveragesJ), designed for more high energy, fun, less emphasis on ‘data gathering’.

These examples will help you match content throughout your staff training. For example, the ice breaker Geometry and Diversity developed by renowned leadership camp professional Michael Brandwein, is a brief exercise that emphasizes the importance and openness of diversity among people. Typically performed early on at staff training, the exercise begins by having participants or staff pair up with a colleague beside them.  The leader (can be anyone) asks “One of you [any staff member in the pair] draw a geometric figure on a piece of paper.” Then have a one of the pair draw a geometric figure inside the first.  The leader then asks how many have two different geometric figures on the paper? How many have the same? Which is right? How many pairs had two people draw? Did one person draw both figures?  (Note, both people do not have to draw). The leader then discusses diversity, creativity and understanding in a setting like camp, a place where we not only tolerate differences, but we encourage them.

Another example of an exercise which can serve as part of a session is The Ideal Camp Member. This instructional theory/team building activity uses existing skills, while creating new awareness through sharing and self-examination, that allows staff to determine the necessary attributes of a good camp counselor or member of camp in general.  First, staff is split up into multiple medium-sized groups. On a large piece of paper, draw a silhouette of a staff member in each group and then write inside the silhouette characteristics of the ideal camp member. (Note, there are NO wrong answers) Afterwards, host short presentations by each group, then a larger discussion with all staff, on which traits were most common/uncommon and most significant. Allow the drawings to remain up for the remainder of orientation training.

Although we can all agree that it is virtually impossible for staff to solve every single problem that will occur at camp, prepare staff to make the best decisions (based on their training) and feel supported by not only their peers but their leadership and administrative staff.  Nothing is more important to staff members than knowing that they have full trust and support by camp leadership.  In these situations, training staff to take responsibility for the decisions they make will ultimately empower them to have the confidence to develop pertinent camp (and life) skills in accountability, leadership, trust, and problem solving.


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