Continuous Professional Development

Most parents would spend 30 minutes telling a new babysitter about their child’s idiosyncrasies, but barely two minutes talking with a new camp counselor. This is particularly ironic when one considers that a babysitter will spend only a few hours with a child; a day-camp counselor or resident-camp cabin leader will spend hundreds.

To heighten professionalism, camp directors should promote the year-round education of personnel in the following ways:

1. Emphasize pre-season training. More and more, directors of camps, summer schools, and summer travel programs have answered the call for better-trained staff by initiating training in the months prior to opening day. Leading programs now complement on-site training with intensive online training. No longer is there a learning void between hiring and arrival. Instead, customized staff training begins online, immediately after hiring.

2. Pay for certifications. When you reimburse staff for taking first aid, CPR, lifeguarding, and other certification courses, you demonstrate a commitment to specialized training. It is also more likely that employees will organize their time to take these courses … because they’re free (to them). Many camp directors also add bonuses to staff contracts for each additional certification.

3. Provide post-season feedback. All staff at a high-quality camp will receive a regular combination of formal and informal feedback, which, of course, accelerates professional development. The best directors also take the time to summarize supervisor and parent feedback for each staff member. This gives everyone food for thought (and fuel for improvement) when it comes to the following summer.

4. Suggest reading. Articles and books on leadership and youth development abound. A few are actually helpful. So, when you find excellent written material in the off-season, share it with staff members. Do resist the temptation to spam them with links to everything you find online that is somehow related to their job. They will quickly start deleting those emails without ever reading them. Send only a few, high-quality pieces.

5. Suggest coursework. Typical camp staff members are students, so most of them have a choice of classes. Directors should discuss coursework with the staff, not only as a point of interest, but also as an opportunity to suggest classes in education, psychology, human development, leadership, management, business, biology, ecology, and environmental science. Remember, tomorrow’s directors are at work in today’s summer programs.

6. Bring staff to conferences. One of the best ways to professionalize staff members and further their education is to sponsor their attendance at professional camping, education, and leadership conferences. Most professional associations have both national and regional conferences, so extensive travel is not always required. A quick Google search will reveal a wealth of one-, two-, or three-day conferences within geographical and financial reach that will inspire and inform employees.

7. Initiate off-season discussions. Keep the great conversations about leadership and youth development that you start this summer going. Arrange a few conference calls, Skype sessions, or online chats that will allow staff members to probe challenging issues in depth, with you as the moderator. Alternatively, encourage returning senior staff to contact and connect with younger staff to facilitate online discussions of key topics.

8. Arrange retreats. When you have identified a cluster of staff in a certain geographical area, it is a cinch to arrange a weekend retreat. Some simple food and accommodations–either at camp or somewhere centrally located and affordable–are all that’s needed to start. Existing friendships will ensure that the reflecting, brainstorming, and planning for the next season will flow just as smoothly as the laughter and casual conversation.

With all of these opportunities to introduce novel content in a fresh format, it might be tempting to believe that the only important information is new information.

Untrue.

Many topics deserve annual, if not more frequent, review. I’ve been a father for nine years, a clinical psychologist for 15, and a teacher for 25 … and I’m still learning the best ways to resolve conflicts and discipline skillfully. You can imagine my frustration then, when some directors respond to my invitation to reprise a crucial topic with “They had that last year.”

When staff members become part of the commitment to year-round learning, they not only improve, but return to camp in higher numbers, eager to learn more. Naturally, this tenure begins a new cycle of intensive on-the-job training that further strengthens their abilities.

As professional directors, we reap what we sow. If we train staff members who understand the value of camp, then we have also created future parents who understand the value of camp.

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