Continuous Professional Development

“It’s like picking berries,” concluded the woman sitting next to me on the plane. I had just explained my seasonal commitment to provide in-person staff training for 22 camps and summer schools in the 35 days between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Camp staff training never goes out of season.

“There is an annual rhythm to my work, but it’s very different from picking berries,” I offered.

“In any type of harvest, the idea is to time the picking for peak market freshness. In staff training, everyone needs to be ready for opening day, but that’s just the start. I’m actually never sure when the people I train will … ripen.”

We both furrowed our brows at the inadequacy of my metaphor.

“Think of it this way,” I continued. “I work hard to ensure that the mostly college-age staff members I train understand child development, leadership, supervision, safety, and behavior management. Some have one summer or two of camp leadership under their belts; others are new hires.

“They are all adding the content I provide to their existing skill set. Then those skills are continuously challenged and refined throughout the year.”

“Throughout the summer,” she corrected.

“No,” I replied. “It really is throughout the year, throughout their whole lives, in fact. What I teach–what staff members are learning–are life skills: conflict resolution, appreciation of diversity, team management, and youth development.

“Believe it or not, I learned the most about being a good father and a good husband at summer camp.”

The woman stared at me. The conversation had ballooned from berry picking to skillful parenting fairly quickly.

“You really love what you do,” she noted after a pause.

I nodded.

“It’s very gratifying to help. Sometimes, a camp counselor will write to me in the middle of winter with something like, ‘Hey Dr. Chris! Thanks so much for that workshop on collaborative problem-solving. I’m a resident adviser in my dormitory this year, and I’ve just discovered how well that approach works with college kids.’

“Or someone else will write, ‘I just started coaching youth soccer, and I’m using all of those strategies you taught us for dealing with demanding parents.’ In those moments, I feel most effective.”

“But there must be some frustrations,” she probed.

“There are in any job,” we said together.

I smiled.

“Let me put it this way. I most enjoy working with the camp directors who share my long view of staff education. These are the directors who understand that a yearly review of essential topics is important; who know that although principles of youth development remain the same, the children who attend camps have different issues every summer; and who commit to year-round education of their staff.”

“Year-round education? This is sounding less and less like a summer job.” The woman winked and offered a don’t-take-yourself-too-seriously smile.

I leaned in a bit.

“At camp, we’re caring for other people’s children. There’s no greater responsibility.”

Her smile faded and I continued.

“Camp professionals are working against a pop-culture image of camp as a trivial enterprise. People who don’t know camp think it’s all about food fights, panty raids, and crazed killers. We really don’t spend all summer flying underwear up the flagpole.”

She thought about that one for a minute.

“I think I get it” was the last thing she said before the plane took off.

We spent the rest of the flight in polite silence. I wondered whether she had children and whether she would ever send them to camp.

Take The Time To Train

I’m sometimes surprised by people’s ignorance about the importance of staff training.

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