Memory Makers

Turning staff into "memory makers."

How to turn staff into “memory makers.”

What is the magic of camp? What makes a camp different from another camp? So many camp directors approach this question by saying … traditions. True, traditions are created and repeated; they give history and credibility to our program, but when I ask campers, parents and alumni about their memories of camp, 90 percent of the time they tell me a story about an interaction with a staff member. Some memory of a special moment that stuck with them their whole life: a talk, a moment, a game, a special event. The difference between camps and the difference in creating that magic all come down to the staff.

The Importance Of Staff

I call staff members the memory makers, and how we train them to create these moments and encourage them to do things out of the ordinary will directly affect the results of your program and camper experience.

We spend a huge amount of time telling our counselors the rules, policies and procedures. We should. But are we balancing their safety training and rule-following with energizing them to go above and beyond with involving campers and creating that special feeling that camp gave so many of us. I can tell a great training week, after the fact, based on the counselor performance evaluations and “incident” reports. If the training was able to convey how to create the magic we need, it will show in all areas of camp performance. That safe, fun, educational and magical summer is based on that week we spend bringing them together and teaching them our expectations.

Educate

This is the easiest part of staff training, the teaching of all the rules, policies and procedures. I call this the easiest part of planning training because this is the set-in-stone type of information and counselor basics: first aid, CPR, homesickness, bullying, blood-borne pathogens, discipline procedures, crisis management, child safety, emergency drills, lost camper plans, etc.

Motivate

How fun is your staff training? How many times have you completed a summer as a staff person and realized you never did the activities that you facilitated for the children? Did staff training provide the feeling of what it is like to be a participant in the program? Was it safe, fun, educational and magical? These are the key phrases we use to sell our camp to parents and campers.

How can staff provide this experience if we do not provide it to the staff? The result is staff that inadvertently creates its own style of leadership based on the members’ memories of their favorite counselor or leadership role model. Sometimes this is great. Sometimes it results in a meeting with the director, where the question is asked, “What were you thinking?”

We want our staff to be the best it can be based on staying within the guidelines of safe, fun, educational, and magical. We choose great people based on interviews and background checks. We choose them for their personalities and stories they tell. We make sure we continue that, encouraging those sparks we recognized in the interviews, into their work as counselors. Our 18-year-old counselors are still learning who they are.

They are not professional teachers, psychiatrists, psychologists, physical education teachers or customer service experts. They are great young adults who already have something to share with the younger generation. We need to encourage our belief in them to do this well. Staff training needs to recognize they will make mistakes, but we are trying to minimize the mistakes that could be dangerous or detrimental.

Making The Magic

It is important, in my opinion, to make the process of hiring and training a magical experience. Some of the best staff preparation has the following in common:

1. The hiring process sets up expectations and policies from the first interview.

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