What’s The Problem Now?

Malingering / not wanting to participate — 2%

ADHD / ADD — 1%

Mood disorders, such as depression — 1%

Tobacco use/ alcohol use/ hazing/ anxiety disorders (e.g., social phobias) — <1%

Staff Behavior Problems

Table 2 presents findings related to staff orientation and training. Most obvious is that training needs to be a priority. For camp directors who thought hiring “nice college kids” was the starting and ending point of staff training, Table 2 gives them reason to rethink that approach. Violating policies related to substance use, technology and personal boundaries accounted for more than one-third of the staff behavior problems. Clearly, more careful hiring and training practices are in order if simple policy violations and inappropriate behavior (both online and in person) account for 45 percent of what camp directors identified as the top staff behavior problems.

Enhanced hiring and training practices may also help camp directors sidestep the third most frequently cited staff behavior problem: low energy/ initiative. The survey was peppered with comments such as, “I can’t get my staff moving,” “They’re not doing the job they were hired to do,” “The energy is gone after just a few weeks,” and “Burnout is a huge problem.” Yes, promoting stamina requires careful selection of staff, but too often camp directors don’t have any way of knowing whether the person being interviewed is capable of maintaining the same exuberance all summer as displayed in the interview. And, unfortunately, many camp directors believe staff training ends on opening day. Staff needs on-the-job training to maintain personal energy levels and to stay healthy. It’s impossible for stressed, sick and run-down staff to give 100 percent.

Two solutions to these vexing problems are internal leadership development (ILD) and in-service training. The ILD structure uses a progressive, apprenticeship model that draws junior leaders from the senior camper ranks, leaders-in-training from the junior leader ranks and full-fledged counselors or cabin leaders from the leader-in-training ranks. ILD programs can take a decade or more to grow to the point where most full-time staff members are drawn from the camper ranks, but the advantages are many. First, directors are intimately familiar with the counselors or cabin leaders they hire because each one has spent weeks at camp completing the ranks of camper, junior leader and leader-in-training. Second, instead of five or six days of pre-season training, staff from an ILD program receives at least 12 weeks of training, most of it on the job.

Whatever leadership training model your camp espouses, ongoing, regularly scheduled in-service training is a must. No staff–whether new to camp or brought up through an ILD program–has all the skills and support necessary to skillfully handle every camper behavior problem or staff conflict. Weekly training meetings and workshops–especially those where the toughest camper cases are reviewed–refine leadership skills and prevent burnout simultaneously. Staff members who struggle and learn leadership together, throughout the summer, will approach their work with poise, hope and enthusiasm.

Table 2: Most Frequently Identified CampStaff Behavior Problems

Top Staff Behavior Problems in 2007 Season

% of Camp Directors Identifying Problem (n=277 responses)

Violating substance use policies — 22%

Unskilled work with campers — 19%

Low energy/ low initiative — 17%

Violating camp policies (other than substance use) — 11%

Disrespect of colleagues (gossip, cliques) — 10%

Inappropriate sexual behavior with staff or campers — 8%

Quitting or absenteeism — 4%

Inappropriate online behavior — 3%

Staff’s mental-health problems — 1%

Hazing or harassment — 1%

Off-duty misbehavior (other than online or substance use) — 1%

Family issues — 1%

Poor communication with parents — 1%

Recruitment/ hiring — 1%

Directors’ Additions

Compare the list of topics in your current staff orientation and training program with those in Table 3. What differences do you notice between the two lists? The attention that camp directors place on developing staff members’ skills in a range of areas is evident by its number-one ranking. Having appropriately trained staff members who are prepared to demonstrate both hard skills (content expertise and program abilities) and soft skills (communication and social interaction) is critical to the provision of a quality camp experience. Given the attention that issues such as bullying and social networking have received over the past few years, it’s not surprising to see that these training topics are among the most common additions.

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