For this reason, I have developed a new simulation activity that camp leaders can use for an in-service training: The Camp Kiko Crisis Challenge. In this challenge, you will pretend you run a camp where four campers have gone missing on a field trip. Allegations of drug use swirl and transportation to the field trip location (a remote island) make things even worse. What will you do in the face of these issues? Test your skills by trying out our new exercise
Communication Tips for New Summer Camp Seasonal Leaders
As a seasonal leader, communication becomes even more important. In fact, in my experience, most of the most annoying or pointless problems at camp (*ahem* drama!!) happen because there has been a failure in communication—either sharing too much or sharing too little. Here are three techniques I have seen successful seasonal camp leaders use to communicate effectively:
If you like this check out our Seasonal Leadership Training. All all online. $149. Learn More. Heck, use the promo code 50OFF and get $50 off. For now.
1. Understanding Confidentiality
In a leadership role, you may have access to (and actually need access to) heaps of confidential information. From health forms to staff evaluations or the “real” scoop on why someone was fired, you may be tempted to share this information with others. Most of the time, it is inappropriate to share confidential information. However, you will have to make a decision whether or not to share it every time you are asked or feel the need to share. This challenge brings me to my first tip: Only share confidential information with someone who can help.
For instance, you may learn from a camper’s confidential health form that she is recovering from an eating disorder. You may decide that it would be appropriate to discuss this information with the camp nurse in order to develop a safe environment and/or learn about considerations you need to make. You may decide that it would be inappropriate to share the information with the arts and crafts instructor—if he knows about this camper’s past eating disorder, it would not necessarily serve to help her.
2. Communicating Up
When you have a problem, it is always a good idea to communicate it to your boss. However, what you don’t want to do is make yourself obsolete by always asking your boss for solutions. Plus, in her eyes, it may seem that you are not doing your job. So, when you are faced with a problem, summarize it for your boss, and then tell her your proposed solution or solutions, asking her to weigh in. (Shoutout to my first boss when I was a camp director, Josh Humbel, for giving me this sage advice!)
Even if you have sufficiently solved a problem on your own, it’s always a good idea to fill your boss in. The best technique I have found is a quick summarization email that I would send to her almost immediately after solving the issue. This way, she can point out anything you missed or any required follow-up—and be prepared if she gets a call about the issue.
3. Soliciting Feedback
Many seasonal leaders struggle with one of two things: They either try to be the “cool boss” and become too lenient with their staff, or they try to demonstrate their newfound power and become too strict. Both of these traps happen because new bosses are attempting to earn respect, but neither of them work. One of the best ways that I have found to earn the respect of your staff is to ask for their feedback. You can do it in one-on-one conversations pretty easily:
- “Hey, Jahri, how did check-in go for you yesterday at the Health Hut? Is there anything you think we should consider changing in terms of our health check procedures?”
- “Elle, you know I am new to this leadership position and I really respect your opinion. What do you think I could try doing differently? I’d love any advice you have for me.”
- “Sofia, I’m headed to the store to buy some snacks for the staff meeting tonight. What should I get??”
You can also do this in a group setting. For example, before a big staff meeting, tell your staff that you are putting together the agenda and you would love to hear any agenda items that they have. Or, announce to your staff that you will be hanging out in a particular area of camp during free time tonight, and that they are welcome to come chat with you if they have feedback about programming (office hours style). Another way to do this in a group is to use a technique like “fist of five” to see how a certain event went, such as last night’s cookout.
- Only share confidential information with those who can help
- Always present problems to your boss with your proposed solutions
- Summarize problems after they are handled by emailing your boss
- Solicit feedback from individuals on your staff by asking specific questions
- Incorporate feedback techniques into your day-to-day activities
Let’s get real. When our seasonal leadership team is incredible the summer goes much better. They may be the single most important way to keep camp directors sane and make sure the summer is a success. When my seasonal leadership/admin/core/middle managers are performing well camp just seems to work. Invest in them. Send them to our online training. The best $99 you can spend.
A note from Kurtz:
Hi, friends! As you may know, applications for the spring semester of The Summer Camp Society are due by this Friday, February 1! The semester will run through mid-April. Anna Hopkins, the amazing director of the amazing Friends Camp in Maine, started off with us as a program participant in the fall of 2017. We love not only the way that Anna thinks but her ability to build community, so we asked her to come on as an additional facilitator this fall. We are so grateful to have her! Anna sent an email to a friend of hers explaining why TSCS is a unique and valuable opportunity, and I got CC’d on it. SO….I am putting it on the blog. Because Anna articulates so well why TSCS exists and why you should join us :-)
The Unique Benefits of TSCS
Taken from an email by Anna Hopkins!
At many conferences you attend, one of the best parts is meeting new colleagues in the camping world. However, with the traditional conference model you'll meet a few interesting folks, but the relationships and connections will peter out after a few days. The Summer Camp Society works to make these relationships last longer and be more valuable. You'll form tight connections and understanding with your weekly online "cohort," with the whole group of folks from your semester AND previous at the conference, and we have a Slack page that is very active about all kinds of topics throughout the year.
The cost of the semester will come out about the same as if you attended something like Tri-States, but it is a more extended timeline so your work over the whole semester is more transformational/imbues all your work for the few months. I've found this to be one of the biggest impacts. Professional development becomes a way of working and thinking, rather than a 3-day experience separate from the rest of your work.
Kurtz and Jack are two of the best "speakers" I've heard in the camp consulting world. TSCS allows you ample time and connections with them, including a 1-on-1 about anything you choose.
TSCS weekly online sessions and the conference are willing to dive into some tricky camp topics that other settings avoid for fear of offending folks-- race and diversity (staff and campers and in general), how to work with a tricky boss, what happens when a big crisis happens at camp, how to respond to a sticky situation with a camper parent, etc.
About 50 people have participated in the program, ranging from executive directors to program directors, to folks in seasonal roles hoping to break into full time camping work. Camps represented are about as diverse as the camps in the US-- this kind of diversity means there will be someone to talk to about any kind of challenge or question you can come up with.
TSCS depends on the insight and experience of its members. You'll be responsible for presenting a 5 minute talk at the conference, and there's other opportunities to step up for leadership if that is something you want. This can be a valuable way to practice your public speaking/ get more of a name in the camp world.
But ultimately, networking is the way that we can get things done. It’s the process of starting relationships that are beneficial for not just the person we are networking with, but also ourselves and for our camps. We do good work, and networking is the way that we can share what we do as well as find resources to make what we do even better.
Our staff will inevitably have conflicts with each other. Without training, our staff members tend to ignore these issues or rely on a leadership team member to fix the issues for them. This training module will teach staff how to respectfully and effectively approach each other when they have an issue.
By Sarah Kurtz McKinnon
Ten years ago(!) I became an assistant director at our camp, moving out of the cabin and into the "lodge," which at our camp means I was officially on admin and no longer with campers of my own. Although it was thrilling to start to plan and run parts of camp, many parts of the transition were a huge surprise to me.
So, at the end of the summer, I wrote a letter to the next person in my position. In it, I explained the top ten things that you need to know when moving out of a cabin and into the lodge. I recently came across this wise guide, so I've adapted it here for all of you camp leaders who are transitioning to the next level of camp leadership in the upcoming weeks.
10. Staff members will expect you to know everything.
But don't worry! You will soon gather a second sense for camp policy, procedure and where things are located (Oh, the purple rope with pink stitching? Bottom shelf in utility room).
9. Staff members will ask you for permission to do things...
...like use excessive tinfoil for a costume, go pick up a prescription, etc. It is mostly in your power to give them the go-ahead or not. That’s OK…get used to it! And, you don’t always have to say yes.
8. In the beginning, you will feel like you are always asking your supervisor 1 million questions.
You probably are…but you’ll figure it all out soon enough. Asking is part of learning. It's also good role modeling--you want your staff to ask you when they have questions, too!
7. You do not have traditional "rest time."
During normal camp “down time,” counselors tend to come to you with questions or problems and you will be dealing with camper/programming issues. “Rest” hour is no longer that restful, and neither is regular time off. Make sure you take personal time when you have the chance, even if it is during an unconventional hour of the day.
6. You see the worst things about camp.
You will soon learn about/witness/be involved with the aftermath of every disaster or mishap or near-crisis. Try not to get a skewed perspective…most of the time, and probably all of the time, camp is going pretty well. When you look around, don’t forget to look for the positive.
5. You will be privy to a lot of special/private information.
Sometimes, you just have to know this stuff so you can do your job! The key to confidentiality is only sharing information with people who can help. Don't get pressured into sharing private information, no matter how persuasive the gossipers are. Oh! And document everything!
4. Your relationships with staff members will change.
Your camp friendships are now a bit different. You have to work hard at maintaining those relationships and building non-work connections with staff members. You’re still a camp leader, on camp and off. It’s a privilege but it comes with extra pressure. No matter how approachable you are, you're still a little "scary" to many staff. Your words carry extra weight, so be careful with sarcasm.
3. It’s easy to get stuck inside all day.
You have to make an effort to get out of the office and around camp. Make sure you are out there! If you are working on a project like paperwork, put it on a clipboard and do it outside where you can see and be seen. Wear a pedometer so you can track your daily steps. Make getting out and about one of your priorities!
2. You don’t have a cabin of kids anymore.
You have to work at making sure you still have kid time so you don’t get sad or go crazy. Become a character during evening activity; make rounds at lights-out to say goodnight to cabins; jump in the lake at free swim. This keeps you motivated and is excellent role modeling for your staff team.
1. you don’t have your own campers…but the counselors become your “kids.”
It’s like you have a cabin of 50 college students (Awesome!? But crazy!). One of your biggest priorities is to be there for the counselors and to make sure they are supported, positive, and fulfilled with their work. If you’re able to do this, they can give the kids the best experience possible—which is the ultimate goal.
Join us for more.
We're now accepting applications for the fall semester of The Summer Camp Society, our innovative learning program for camp professionals. Learn more and apply today through this link.
Sarah Kurtz McKinnon (left) is a camp director, consultant and trainer. She's also one of the co-founders and co-facilitators of The Summer Camp Society! Reach her at email@example.com.
The camp counselor said, “We respect our director because we know she respects us.”
That’s the goal, isn’t it? Respecting our staff might not be hard to do. But where camp leaders often stumble is figuring out how to get their staff to recognize that they are respected.
Jack and I believe that this process starts well before the campers arrive.
By Sarah Kurtz McKinnon
Before it Starts
First off, you need to apply online here. We just want to learn a bit more about you and learn about why you want to join The Society. The application should take you around 15-20 minutes to complete.
Once your application is received, either Jack or I will email you to set up a phone interview. We want to get to know you a little better but also answer your questions about the program. Plus, this is really fun for us (you’ll notice fun for us is a recurring theme here. It’s fun for you, too!).
If we determine that you’re a great fit for the program, we will send you an acceptance packet. It will have all of the information you need, including conference information and a syllabus.
To reserve your spot, you’ll need to fill out an online enrollment form and submit your tuition payment. You can submit your preferences for meeting time on the enrollment form. (We also also have a scholarship form if the tuition is a barrier for you).
That’s it! You’re ready to go!
You will have a weekly assigned meetingtime with your cohort group of 6-8 other participants. For the fall, we had cohorts that met on Tuesday at noon EST, Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. EST, and Thursday at noon EST. (Jack and I are in all of the cohorts!)
Each week there is an assigned topic which will be shown on your syllabus. Some of our topics include values setting, youth development theories, facilities and marketing.
Before your cohort meets, you will need to do a little prework. Prework usually consists of about 15-20 minutes of readings or short videos to watch around the week’s topic. Jack and I will typically give you some discussion questions to think about while doing the prework.
Then, it’s time for the cohort meeting! We use Zoom as the platform, so you are logging into a meeting room where you can see and hear all of the other folks in your cohort. We also use a chat window and share lots of links (and lots of side comments) there. The meetings are always fun, sometimes serious, and always different. Plus, sometimes my mom and/or my uncle and/or my dogs makes guest appearances, which the crowd really likes (long story).
After the meeting, you will have a project to do around that week’s topic. The projects are designed to either improve you as a camp professional or contribute to your camp. You get out of them what you put into them. We have loved seeing the results of our participants’ project work!
About 8 weeks into your program, all of the cohort members will convene for the conference. This is (IMHO) the pinnacle event of TSCS. It is really crazy arriving to the conference because we already know all of the people and the people know the people in their cohort groups. It takes minimal time to get warmed up to people, and the learning, laughter and community that happens there is incredible. No spoilers! I’ll just leave this final description from 2017 fall cohort member Anna Hopkins, who is the director of Friends Camp:
“The Summer Camp Society was easily the best camp conference I have been to. The opportunity to connect in a true summer camp setting allowed us to build community, learn from one another, and dive more deeply into the "big" camp questions than at a traditional conference. It is unique to take away from a conference both concrete strategies to implement immediately and also hope and creativity about camp in general. Kurtz and Jack are awesome facilitators because of their attention to detail, good humor, and authentic and recent camping experience.”
And, after the conference, we still have a few weeks of online meetings! So the fun is not done.
Other Cool Stuff
We also have a private message board for all of our members. This is what we use to communicate (no emails!). Some boards will just be for members of your cohort or class. Other boards are for all members of The Summer Camp Society, regardless of of when they joined.
Finally, each member will get to do a one-on-one with either myself or Jack (your choice!). This is a one-hour phone or video call where we can work on any topic of your choice—whether that is something to improve your camp or further your professional career. We’ve done mock interviews with folks, worked on staff hiring problems, talked through re-branding, and worked to find solutions for problematic boards of directors.
When It’s Over
It’s not over. When you join The Summer Camp Society, you are always a member of The Summer Camp Society. You will be invited back to TSCS conferences, will join us for meetups at big events like ACA Tri State, and will maintain access to our private message board. When we need facilitators and folks to help us grow this program, you will be the first people on our list.
But perhaps most importantly, we believe that we are helping people grow not just lifelong professional connections but lifelong friendships. At the end of the day, that’s why I am doing this work—when we have a camp community of friends who believe in us and support us, that’s when we can make the best possible programs for our kids. And that’s an amazing thing!