During a recent visit to a boarding school, I was impressed by a meeting led by the Associate Head. After my morning of faculty development workshops, the faculty broke for lunch and then returned to review the Fall Term progress of each and every student.
The community of educators sat together and reviewed every student’s performance in classes, sports, extracurricular activities, and dorm life.
Although lengthy (the school has more than 300 students), the meeting was impressively efficient. Many students were reviewed quickly, and advisers offered relevant background and pithy recommendations when appropriate.
Those students whose situations were complex enough to necessitate in-depth discussions were tabled for a later, smaller meeting. Most importantly, no one fell through the cracks.
I found myself wondering how well most day and resident camps do at monitoring each and every camper’s well-being.
Individual members of the staff may notice that a particular boy or girl is homesick or evidencing poor sportsmanship. However, other staff may ignore problems, seeing their role as providing recreation, rather than promoting development though recreation.
As adults who are not our campers’ parents, we enjoy a unique power to influence the development of the young people we serve.
We naturally enjoy working with the attractive, athletic, artistic youth who get along well with grown-ups and follow directions. Duh. Those kids make us look good and feel appreciated.
Less enjoyable, but perhaps more fulfilling, is our work with young people who are emotionally, socially, or behaviorally challenged by the camp experience. To fully realize our role as youth development professionals, we must embrace this needier population of young people as well.
Although most camp directors would agree with me in theory that every child deserves attention and support, many are unwilling to protect the meeting time necessary to review every camper’s progress.
Indeed, more than half of the directors I know have chosen to lead just one or two full-staff meetings a summer. A tiered meeting system may be the answer, but only if you, as a camp director, are willing to protect this time for your staff.
In a tiered system, every young person is discussed every week. Here’s a rough outline of how a tiered meeting system works. Directors can customize this to fit their needs and schedules, of course.
Tier One is composed of the cabin leaders or counselors who have the most direct contact with the child or adolescent in question. They should be checking in each day with each of the boys and/or girls with whom they have contact.
Any emotional, social, or behavioral issues can then be discussed in the evening, in small groups or divisional units, when supervisors and staff peers can offer guidance and suggestions.
Front line staff should immediately bring any major issues to the attention of their supervisors and/or the camp director. Discussion of garden-variety issues can stay within the unit.
Tier Two is the camp’s senior staff. The camp director should be meeting with his or her senior staff or leadership team every day.
These meetings can be brief and minimally invasive to the daily schedule. The 20 minutes before lunch or right after dinner is a popular time.
At these meetings, division heads or unit leaders can review the most problematic campers and receive peer consultation on best practices for responding to these issues.
Such meetings need not include every camper. (Remember, that’s the job of the multiple, simultaneous Tier One meetings.) Instead, these Tier Two meetings focus on problem solving and keeping the camp director up to speed on major issues.
Tier Three is the entire staff. These meetings should happen about once a week, typically after hours, when (at a day camp) the children have gone home or when (at a resident camp) a skeleton crew of young leaders can actively supervise the sleeping cabins.
These full-staff meetings should be brief (under 75 minutes) and include only that business that must be conducted with the entire staff or those quandaries that benefit most from the input or presence of the entire staff.
Among the best use of your Tier Three time is detailed review of a single camper case from the previous week. The director and the child’s counselors can co-lead a discussion or a debrief of an acute problem and the manner in which the staff dealt with the issue. Particularly helpful are suggestions for how a similar case could be managed better in the future.
When this tiered system (or one like it) is implemented, the chances are minimal that a camper will slip through the proverbial cracks. Every camper gets a look and the biggest problems get additional attention and skillful responses that are vetted by experienced peers.
Every staff member also benefits from the experiences of his or her peers with particularly tough cases.
We are at our best when we remember—as did the faculty at the school I visited—to act in the best interests all young people, not just the fun ones. Of course, not all problems can be solved at camp, but no problem should be ignored or dismissed.
Dr. Christopher Thurber is a board-certified clinical psychologist, father and author of The Summer Camp Handbook, now available online for free at SummerCampHandbook.com. He is the co-creator of ExpertOnlineTraining.com, a set of Internet-based-video training modules for camp counselors, nurses and doctors. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.