By Sarah Kurtz McKinnon
Gratitude may seem like a “given” at camp—we’re changing kids’ lives, after all! But we are still faced with problems that many employers have, like staff disengagement, burnout, and attrition. Incorporating gratitude practice into our camp management routines is one way we can combat these problems. Although our impact can be great, it is not always obvious—nor is it enough to rely on that alone to keep our staff motivated.
Our routine staff meetings are powerful times to incorporate gratitude practice. Even in the camping world, we are guilty of having staff meetings that strictly focus on the negatives. We’re short on time, we have a lot to cover, and there are definitely problems at any camp that need to be addressed. Before we even think about the positives, we are making announcements about people cutting in the cookout line, the messy costume closet, and the kids who are putting too many paper towels in the toilets. (Note to campers everywhere: Paper towel does not help a clogged toilet. Thx.) Don’t get me wrong--these things need to be addressed, but so does the good that is happening at camp!
Adding a gratitude practice to the agenda can build positive energy that will help our staff members (and us!) do our jobs better, and prevent the positives from getting lost in the shuffle. Here are three easy practices that you can try at your next staff meeting:
30 Second Celebrations
Where It’s From: This is a tradition I learned at the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan. We start off each meeting or event at the Center with this ritual.
How It Works: At the start of the gathering, each person goes around the room and says their name and something they are celebrating today. They have 30 seconds each to do so. People naturally start to cheer or clap after each celebration. From the everyday (“I’m celebrating that the sun is shining today!” or “I’m celebrating this cup of coffee!”) to the exceptional (“I’m celebrating my great-grandmother’s 100th birthday!” or “I’m celebrating my upcoming trip to Chile!”), everyone has something to share.
In Larger Groups: Share with a partner, or divide into groups of 6-10 to share celebrations while taking up minimal time. Then, ask if anyone has a really good one they would like to celebrate with the larger group.
Why It Works: This is a no-prop, no-prep activity. Participants learn about each other and celebrate the good in the room together. It is fast-paced, fun, and can become an easy ritual.
Letter Writing Party
Where It’s From: My Brain!
Materials: Thank you cards, pens, stamps, address database
How it Works: Bring a whole stack of thank you cards to the meeting. Awesome if you can get ones with photos of your camp or campers printed on them. If not, I recommend the card selection at Target.
During the meeting, provide time for each person to write 2-3 thank you cards to someone in the community, whether at camp or in the greater community Then, go around and share who you wrote the card to and why, dropping the card in a basket to be mailed/delivered. (Be sure to bring a computer where you can look up addresses). Cards could be sent to people like:
The local plumber who came out at 11:30 p.m. last week to check on a problem with the septic tank
Freida’s mom, who sent an amazing care package of brownies to camp
A camper from last session who was especially helpful to a homesick, first-time camper in the cabin (note: when sending cards to campers, use a postcard or address the envelope to their entire family)
Your co-counselor who watched over the group solo for two days when you had a sinus infection
The fire department, who is always on call!
In Larger Groups: Share in breakout groups, and have the cards and envelopes placed at seats when people arrive to save logistical time.
Why It Works: A lot of good happens at camp, but we don’t always take the time to recognize it. We feel good when we thank others, and we start to recognize that we are part of a big team. Gratitude can have viral effects—the recipient of the thank-you card may pay it forward.
The Web of Appreciation
Where It’s From: ZingTrain
Materials: Chart paper, markers
How it Works: On one side of the paper, write everyone’s name in alphabetical order. Repeat in a different color on the other side of the paper. People can come up to the paper and find their name on the left hand side. Then, they can find the name of someone they are grateful for on the right hand side. They draw a line connecting their name to the other person’s name. On that line, they write the reason they are grateful.
In Larger Groups: Consider making a giant web, but giving people more time to complete it! (Like introducing it at a meeting but having it up for a whole week). Or, divide the group into subcategories, such as by village or activity type, so that the groups are more manageable.
Why It Works: The visual representation of everyone’s gratitude is a powerful image. The activity builds positive, generative energy among the internal members of a team. As a supervisor, you may learn through reading this map about acts of kindness or support that you otherwise would have missed.
Like learning and thinking about camp?
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