This is an adapted email I sent to our team at Stomping Ground as we build a professional development plan for our small team. For context, Stomping Ground is a sleepaway camp Laura and I founded in 2015 with 4 of us on the year round team and no history of a concrete professional development plan. In 2019 we added two year round employees, both recent college grads that had worked with us at camp.
AN EMAIL TO OUR TEAM
Thinking about professional development today. Here is an article I found after I googled professional development.
First, I don't think I have ever really thought about how to run Stomping Ground as a person in charge of handling other people’s professional development. I love learning things in a very Jack way and am constantly listening to podcasts, trying to make new things, and do things that seem stupid to other people.
I am a huge believer in talking to other people and learning from random conversations because I think a huge part of learning a job or an industry is about the language people use. Not for nothing, this is why Kurtz and I started The Summer Camp Society a few years ago. With the idea that building community across camps is the single best professional development most of us can do. (Kurtz, did you see that? Not even 4 paragraphs in already shameless and honestly plugging The Summer Camp society)
LAURA & JACK’S PAST PD
With all that in mind, Laura and I have not really paid for classic professional development in the past, but I think we have been very professional development focused. First we went out and met a million camps. Then we started speaking about camps. We read and listen to a lot of books. The last one I just finished was all about negotiation techniques, now I am listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “Talking to Strangers”. I go back and forth from listening to books for a few months and then not and just doing podcasts.
I subscribe to a bunch of not for profit and marketing facebook groups just to read what other people are thinking about. I signed up for the free trial to Fizzle, a website for helping entrepreneurs bootstrap businesses, and watched all their videos and then canceled, probably 10 times.
I spend a decent amount of time every day reading articles that sometimes are super related to camp and sometimes aren’t. Watch a lot of youtube videos about starting businesses or making videos or whatever I am into at the time.
I do The Summer Camp Society to make sure I am talking with camp directors about what they are doing and sharing ideas. (Kurtz! AGAIN! I am getting good at this.)
We have also been to 1,000 camp conferences.
I also talk to Kurtz and Syl almost every day and hear about their projects so I can steal more of their ideas. As I write this I am realizing the three ways I love learning are
Consuming fire hoses of information mostly through audio and video
Trying to do things I don’t know how to do and scrambling to figure them out
Talking with people doing cool stuff
Laura is in grad school right now, at Columbia for Social Work. By far our biggest commitment to traditional professional development to date. She can describe more what that is like, but to quickly summarize, it is a very different take on professional development than I described and a much more tried and true method.
Oh! the other thing I think that fits into my professional development is always having to publish something. A video, a blog post, whatever.
Laura right now is doing a lot of traditional professional development, but she also taught herself illustrator, how to be a boss, everything she knows about restorative justice. I guess a lot of the restorative justice stuff was half and half. She went to a bunch of random PIRI things and other trainings.
WHERE ARE WE GOING?
Anyway, I wrote that whole thing out describing the way Laura and I have learned in the past to say that there is no right way to do this, but I find it both very important and very interesting to learn new things, both tangible, web design, video editing, etc and intangible, what are other people doing for capital campaigns, marketing from a why perspective and more.
What I want to do is start the conversation about how do we, as Stomping Ground, and then as individuals, want to think about professional development?
This is not an email to say you aren’t learning, but an email to say I think there are very few things we all can’t do and can’t learn together so let’s make sure we are all thinking and talking about that.
What are you hoping to learn? What kinds of things have you learned lately? How do you like to learn? How are we all growing our professional and personal networks? What can we all do to do more of that? What are you interested in?
These are all big questions that all have a weird pressure of “What do you want to be doing in 10 years?” Or that’s what it can seem like. But I want to take the pressure off and say let’s learn some cool stuff together.
The Fizzle guys (mentioned above) have this idea of being a Leading Learner, where they say go learn shit and as you go write about it, make videos, a podcast, whatever but don’t be afraid of not being an expert admit that and then talk about the process of learning. Gary Vee calls this document don’t create or basically just show people what you are doing online. This is definitely the attitude we have taken as a camp and has been my style for this, as you all know, but not exactly Laura’s style.
ANY WAY! My long ass writing is to say let’s start the conversation of what kinds of things everyone is interested in and then figure out how we all want to learn new things and how all this learning can be good for camp and each other.
A lot of places just put together a budget and say spend it and just get each thing approved. I am happy to find money to pay for things like conferences or online classes if when we find cool stuff, but I want to start by figuring out what we want first and then work backward from there.
Just a few things I have thought about signing up or going to as professional development but haven’t yet.
OK THAT’S ENOUGH. I would love to hear what you all are thinking about this. LOVE YOU ALL!