Watch Out For One Another

More powerful than any policy printed in the pages of your staff-training manual is the pervasive practice of genuine peer feedback. Your camp, school, or summer youth program is safest when those who interact most frequently and directly with youngsters—the frontline staff—police themselves.

When they adopt the “If you see something, say something” mentality in upholding high standards, their performance is constantly under review … in a good way, in a way that boosts self-awareness. An alert staff is a healthy staff. And a healthy staff makes wise choices with children.

Direct And Kind Communication

It makes good sense to encourage staff members to coach each other. If only it were that easy. All employees are more likely to gossip about an underperforming peer (or a peer whose behavior makes them uncomfortable) than they are to give that person direct feedback. Why?

Here again, the answer is feelings. People hesitate to offer direct feedback to others because they are worried (a feeling) about how the other person will react (more feelings).

In contrast to offering direct feedback, talking behind someone’s back (i.e., gossiping) is reliably met with cheerful encouragement to offer more juicy tidbits. Given the choice between a possible negative reaction (after offering honest feedback about unprofessional conduct) and a reliably positive reaction (after sharing the latest complaint or scandalous dish), most staff members make the choice that feels the best, at least in the short term. They gossip.

So how can you teach the staff to give direct feedback instead of churning up indirect chatter? Once again, the answer has to do with feelings. This time, the key is to be sensitive to how difficult it is both to deliver and to hear criticism.

When it comes to critical feedback, a humble attitude and a kind tone are what transform condemnation into support. Employees need to deliver feedback to one another in a way that says, “Because I care about upholding a high professional standard for you, me, and the rest of the staff, I’d like to share my observation. Let me know how I can be helpful.”

Here are some examples:

In response to playing favorites: “Dan, I know your campers appreciate your enthusiasm and the individual attention you give them. It feels good to have a counselor who shows he cares. Just be sure to spread the love. We all have favorites, but it’s important not to play favorites. We all need to try spending an equal amount of time with each of our campers, so no one feels left out and no one starts thinking that we play favorites.”

In response to rule breaking: “Beth, I know that camp has a relaxed atmosphere. One of the reasons that children and adults both love it here is that we can chill out and just be ourselves. At the same time, we all need to follow the same rules, or we risk making our campers feel uncomfortable and confused. I think it’s important to stick with the same pool rules as those of the other staff members. All of your campers need to swim with a buddy. Even we staff need to swim in buddy pairs when we’re not lifeguarding.”

In response to oversharing: “Celeste, I’m grateful you feel comfortable sharing some of your own experiences with the campers. When young people see that their adult caregivers have made mistakes, it humanizes them. However, we always need to watch what we say to campers. I’m always tempted to take the bait when my campers pump me for personal information, but I try to remember we need to keep everything rated G. I remind myself that I can really share only those personal stories that I’m certain parents would approve of.”

In response to getting too physical: “Greg, I’m happy to see how respectfully you treat the kids, especially in disciplinary situations, or when you’re goofing around with them. And I’m sure you don’t mean to make anyone uncomfortable, but there may be times when your touch makes some campers feel funny. I’ve found that when I’m gentler and a little less touchy, I feel more confident that all my kids feel comfortable. It’s a fine line because each kid comes from a different family, with different traditions of affection and touch. At camp we need to err on the more conservative side, so that all kids feel comfortable.”

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Related posts:

  1. Universal Vulnerabilities
  2. Am I Oversharing?
  3. Kids’ Big Fears, Part II
  4. Continuous Professional Development
  5. For Juniors’ Sake
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