Once the staff roster has been filled, training the staff is the next step. A one-week training period should adequately prepare your staff for the work ahead (see CD-ROM form 6.4: Counselor Training Outline).Staff training week is the most important tool for securing campers’ safety, providing the staff with the skills, resources, and confidence required to work effectively (Ball & Ball, 1995; Ditter, 1995). Despite all your work planning for emergencies, developing waivers, creating health plans, and hiring the staff, the true success of your camp lies entirely in the hands of the frontline workers—your counselors.
Developing positive group dynamics in camper groups is an important part of the role of camp staff. Small group development occurs in five stages, according to Tuckman and Jensen (1977): forming, norming, storming, performing, and adjourning. The stages described next apply Tuckman’s expertise to camp staff.
Stage 1: Saying Hello
- Campers may be feeling insecure and unsure of themselves.
- Counselor’s role: Clarify expectations, comfort them by talking about the camp and what there is to look forward to throughout the week, avoid personal feelings or close physical contact, and use name games and ice breakers to keep the group active.
Stage 2: Saying Who
- Campers will be sorting it all out, picking friends, developing roles in the group, and getting to know how the counselor works (what they can get away with!).
- Counselor’s role: Watch for power struggles and cliques, encourage openness and sharing, help with conflict resolution, mix up the groups to separate certain campers, and use cooperative games.
Stage 3: Saying Why
- Campers understand their roles, are building a team, start to depend on each other, begin to work and share space together, and challenge leadership.
- Counselor’s role: Help campers assume responsibility for their actions and decisions, help them solve problems and work out group decisions, and use team-building games and group activities.
Stage 4: Saying We
- Campers start to acknowledge each other’s individual strengths, develop respect for each other, become interdependent, find success in their contribution to the group, and start sharing feelings with the group.
- Counselor’s role: Allow time for creativity and discussion, provide group challenges and adventures, watch for exhaustion, and acknowledge individual and group accomplishments.
Stage 5: Saying Good-Bye
- Campers have mixed feelings about leaving camp, recognize the growth and change in themselves, and want to maintain ties with the camp and others in the group.
- Counselor’s role: Encourage reflection, reward accomplishments, and help campers transfer what they learned to home and school after camp is complete.
Staff training sessions also give staff members the chance to develop relationships and positive group dynamics prior to the arrival of the campers. A community of caring can be created through well-structured team-building activities and initiatives during training week. This is important because positive group dynamics and supportive relationships with coworkers and supervisors can motivate staff throughout the summer months. Supported and happy staff members perform better and are more likely to meet the goals of the camp (Walton, 2001). During staff training, staff members also learn daily procedures, such as time sheet completion (see CD-ROM form 6.5: Time Sheet) and requests for time off (see CD-ROM form 6.6: Request for Time Off), among others.
Preparation for staff training week should take place in the initial stages of camp planning. The needs assessment and resource identification that happened at the beginning of this process will inform decisions about training, developing, and retaining the staff. Determining exactly what to cover and how to schedule training can be challenging and ultimately depends on the camp’s goals, resources, and requirements. Generally, staff training should address discipline, camp protocols, safety, child development, and parental communication.
You should be very intentional about the plans for the first day of training. This day is crucial for selling the program, making staff members comfortable, and highlighting the ways working at the camp will help develop them as whole people. By the end of the first day, staff members should feel good about their work at the camp, their team, and the camp.
Consider the camp’s goals, resources, mission, and programming components, as well as community feedback, when determining the topics to cover during staff training. Although camps have unique requirements for training their staff, there are many staple topics that every camp should consider, such as the camp mission, vision, values, goals, and expectations, and discipline procedures for staff infractions.
Begin staff training week by reviewing the camp mission, vision, values, and goals to set the stage for presenting the purpose of the camp and the difference the staff can make in the lives of community youth. A fundamental understanding of, and agreement with, the overall purpose of the camp will help the staff enforce policies, run programs, and follow safety protocols.
The next task of staff trainers is to describe the positions at the camp and how they advance the mission and goals. This is only a quick review because the staff should already be familiar with the job descriptions from the application and hiring processes. Spend time describing the work expectations of the staff (refer to chapter 5 for more details) to clearly communicate performance standards. Follow this with a review of the counselor discipline protocol. This protocol is usually dictated by the larger organization of a facility-based camp and as such will vary from camp to camp.
Read more about Day Camp Programming and Administration: Core Skills and Practices by Jill Moffitt.