Investing In What’s Important

College and/or university courses provide an array of themes for camp professionals from wilderness first aid and camp management to child development and business operations.

Extended learning programs target a range of subject matter consistent with knowledge and skills needed for specific positions.

Articles, books, or magazines in print and online formats can provide many options for self-directed learning.

Structured coaching and/or mentoring from a seasoned camp professional can also become part of a professional development plan.

When thinking about development needs, embrace the many options available to create a diverse set of learning experiences.

Intentionality: Simply put, intentionality generally results in more positive outcomes than results left to happenstance. Be targeted and purposeful. Give thoughtful consideration to competencies and areas that need improvement.

Map out professional development goals and the specific learning opportunities to meet those goals. For example, the professional development plan for an aquatic director might include a national camp conference, regional aquatic training, an online aquatic- or risk management-related webinar, and self-directed reading of an aquatic book or article followed by reflection with a supervisor.

This purposeful approach can and should be applied to any camp position, from hourly staff to executive directors.

Encourage peers to create professional development plans. Guide others in the creation of intentional training plans. Seasonal staff can provide input for in-service topics that might be offered during the summer.

Continuity: Professional development and training have often been compartmentalized. Directors may repeatedly attend one or two conferences or workshops at a particular time of the year, and staff may arrive one to two weeks ahead of campers to quickly learn information and procedures.

The most innovative camp personnel, however, have recognized that professional development and training needs to be a year-round process (Thurber, 2011) with training plans built around needs and opportunities, rather than traditional models that are less flexible and possibly less effective.

Collaboration: Attending conferences, online courses, workshops, or webinars in a coordinated way with a peer or coworker can allow participants to learn and share twice as much. It also stretches organizational resources budgeted for staff training.

But again, be intentional. Who is going to collaborate? Which learning opportunities will be targeted? What are participants expected to bring back to the organization?

This strategy can work not only within, but also across organizations. Consider partnering with another camp in order to more effectively meet the professional development needs of staff members.

Verification: Providing evidence of professional development and training is critical for the modern workforce.  From annual performance reviews, job interviews, and even college/university applications, written documentation of professional development activities provides necessary credibility and validation of participation.

Many organizations provide certificates of completion, continuing education credits (CECs), or continuing education units (CEUs), which assist with tracking and documenting professional growth.

Together, the five dimensions of professional development planning–variety, intentionality, continuity, collaboration, and verification–provide a benchmarking framework for camp and youth development professionals.

Along with evaluation–systematically measuring whether or not professional development and staff training activities are providing desired results–these dimensions should be used to guide the development of one of the camp community’s most precious commodities–people!

Barry A. Garst, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor at Virginia Tech and the Director of Program Development and Research Application with the American Camp Association. Previously a camp director and camping specialist in Virginia, Garst co-authored “Leadership and Environmental Stewardship: A Curriculum for Camps,” available at Contact him at  


Design a professional development plan

Clarify and set goals (Short- and long-term)

Identify activities to meet these goals (Remember variety; creating a timeline may help organize the approach.)

Evaluate the plan (Does it reflect new learning or skills? Is there data or documentation? Are the goals clear?)

Reflect early and often (Consider keeping a journal, or finding a reflection partner or professional learning community.)

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