Although the ground is cold and the trees are bare, the summer will soon be upon us. Of course, camp directors think about July and August constantly. But upper staff and counselors don’t always think about camp until the early buds of May appear.
Many people don’t realize that staff training need not be an Orientation only proposition. People learn by what they see and what they hear, but they learn even more by actually DOING. Below are some ideas that might prove helpful in training your staff before, during, and after the camp season.
- Don’t assume that people need help in certain areas……ASK.
Staff are sometimes disillusioned with training because many of them feel as if certain topics are not pertinent to their jobs. Although they are often mistaken, clearly we can do a better job of finding out what would have a greater impact on helping them become more effective. Also, you are showing your staff that asking questions is not a sign of weakness, but rather, a sign of strength.
a. Surveys are a great way to find out information without putting staff members in a position to feel embarrassed. This is also an opportunity to get honest and important feedback which can help you improve the training process. Surveys or suggestion boxes should be done during the summer as well as at the end. The BEST time to help people with issues that arise is during on the job training! In the fall, surveys are a great idea since camp is still fresh in the minds of staff. While filling out the surveys, they are once again thinking about their jobs at camp and looking forward to the next summer.
b. Mini-meetings. During the year, upper staff is more readily available than counselors who might be away at college. Divide and conquer is a great approach that will help you gain information through effective dialogue. You can meet with specialists, group leaders, maintenance staff and others in an informal setting to determine what training is needed in the future for them and those they supervise. Helpful hint: Supply refreshments.
c. Emails- Sending emails is a fast way to get IMMEDIATE responses from staff members. There are no stamps and envelopes that make snail mail such a difficult process. Think of sending personalized emails whenever possible. Blast emails are great for sending mass information, but when you want frank responses, the more personal…the better.
Winter (and all year long)
- Train by Example-We often hear the term “lead by example.” But most of us have never thought to “train by example.” In other words, sending birthday cards to campers is something many camps do. However, few camps send such cards to staff members throughout the year. Doing so would send a message to your staff that going the extra mile means so much. You could, of course, reference this at Orientation and create a dialogue about how the staff members felt when they received the card from the camp. Additionally, this could springboard into a discussion about how campers feel when staff go the “extra mile for them”. It is SO MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE to train staff with things that are tangible as opposed to a simple lecture.
- Manual Madness- If two heads are better than one, then what would we think about 250 heads?!! Although the size of a staff varies from camp to camp, why not send small parts of the staff manual to certain people throughout the year and ask them to add information? For example, you can send Water Safety pages from the staff manual to those people who work at your pools. As productive as we try to be, it is almost certain that others will think of important things that we left out. This way, your staff is learning as they THINK of things that would be helpful for the future. Giving them credit for their input in the staff manual or at a staff meeting would be an added bonus as well. When you Empower your staff, you make them more Powerful!
- Bring in Guest Speakers– Training throughout the year can be made more fun and interesting if you think “outside the box” and bring people in to help you train. This does not mean you have to always hire motivational speakers or camp experts. You can use guest speakers that are already on your payroll! Let a specialist with a lot of experience lead a session in November on how to get the most from your assistants. Bring a parent in who has had children in the camp for a few years to speak about parent expectations. A director can talk about what the parents expect, but that pales in comparison to hearing it from an actual mother or father. Bring in a veteran counselor to speak to newly hired counselors in May or June.
People who are not in the camp industry have no idea how long planning takes to ensure a safe and fun summer for children. Staff Training is a key element in giving counselors and upper staff the tools they need to succeed. Relegating this training to a few hot days in June before the start of camp is simply not enough time. By following the above outline, you will be well on the way to training your staff year-round while strengthening your bond with them at the same time.