For Juniors’ Sake

What you and the senior staff think and do–both during time on and time off–is what the young staffers will imitate. Lead the way with kindness, maturity, and discretion. Avoid the temptation to talk to junior staff members the same way they talk to each other. When experienced staffers try to “act cool,” it feels forced. Remember your role.

Provide real responsibility.

Help young leaders successfully navigate the transition from camper to counselor by giving them significant responsibilities. Most of their training is experiential. If junior leaders are only given manual labor, they won’t be having the types of experiences that actually train them. The most effective internal leadership-development programs offer junior staff members a supervised, structured apprenticeship that includes leading groups, supervising campers, co-running activity periods, and devising creative solutions to daily challenges.

See training as iterative.

The online pre-season training and customized on-site training are complements to the on-the-job training your junior staffers receive every day from their interactions with campers. Therefore, it’s best to conceptualize training as an ongoing process. Be sure the junior employees are receiving frequent, informal feedback in addition to scheduled, formal feedback. Make sure your training program is dynamic–adjusted and improvised as different needs arise. Expect to train junior personnel on the same issue in different ways, at different times. Simply put, their learning should never stop.

Talented camp staffers come from every part of the world, but those cultivated from the camper ranks are a unique asset because they understand the camp’s culture and mission. They lived it as campers.

However you select junior staff members–from the ranks of senior campers or by application and interview–those young leaders will face challenges transitioning to this new set of responsibilities.

The best news of all is that when you anticipate those challenges and train according to the principles outlined above, that young staff will infuse your camp with vitality and charisma.

“What were you thinking?” will turn to “Wow! That’s good thinking.”

Dr. Christopher Thurber is a board-certified clinical psychologist and professional educator for camps, schools, and youth programs worldwide. He is the co-author of The Summer Camp Handbook, the host of the DVD-CD set, The Secret Ingredients of Summer Camp Success, and the co-founder of To learn more about Chris, visit

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  1. Apparently, No Thinking Required
  2. Beyond The Call Of Duty
  3. Am I Oversharing?
  4. Kids’ Big Fears: Part I
  5. Staff Continuum

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