Learning as We Lead: Embracing Mistakes at Camp

Learning as We Lead: Embracing Mistakes at Camp


Becoming a summer camp director is a rewarding but challenging role. Whether you're a seasoned pro or a newcomer to the camp industry, mistakes are an inevitable part of the job. However, the true measure of your leadership lies in how you respond to these mistakes. You can make them and keep making them, or you can make them, own them, and grow from them. Mistakes can you help you grow both personally and professionally.

Here are some ideas on how to make that happen:

Embrace the Learning Opportunity

As hard as it can be to accept sometimes, mistakes aren't failures. They're opportunities for growth.

As a summer camp director, you'll encounter various challenges, from logistical hiccups to big camper or staff issues. Instead of dwelling on the negative aspects, approach each mistake as a chance to learn and improve. By acknowledging your mistakes, you pave the way for personal and professional growth.

Reflect on the Situation

After identifying a mistake, take time to reflect on what happened and why. Was it a communication breakdown? Did you overlook a crucial detail in planning? Self-reflection allows you to pinpoint the root causes of the mistake, helping you avoid making the same error in the future. Encourage your camp staff to engage in this reflective process as well, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

You can keep a journal, create yourself a Google form you fill out, or do whatever works for you to reflect. Schedule yourself time to slow down, take walks, and really think about what could go better next time.

Seek Feedback

Your camp community is a valuable resource for feedback. Yes, the people you supervise and the people you serve can (and should) give you feedback.

Talk to your staff, campers, and their parents to gain different perspectives on what went wrong and what can be leveled up. Feedback can provide valuable insights that you might not have considered on your own. This open and transparent approach to feedback can strengthen your leadership and decision-making skills. When it's authentic, it means a lot of people that you want to hear them and make change.

Develop an Action Plan

Once you've identified the mistake and gathered feedback, create an action plan for improvement. Outline specific steps to prevent a recurrence of the same mistake in future camp sessions. Share this plan with your team to ensure everyone is on the same page. Transparency and accountability are key to successful growth. 

How can you make a plan? You could:

  • Reflect and create one on your own
  • Ask other camp professionals to help and weigh in 
  • Get a coach
  • Ask ChatGPT for help (here's an example of how)
  • Sit down with your supervisor and talk through one together

Emphasize a Culture of Learning

As a camp director, you set the tone for your entire camp community. Encourage a culture of learning and growth by demonstrating your willingness to learn from your mistakes. When your staff and campers see you embrace your own errors, they will feel more comfortable admitting their own and working together to find solutions.

Allison Note: I heard Kelly Schuna talk about following up with a staff member the next day, and it's really stuck with me. In a super shortened version, Kelly didn't love the way she handled something, and she went to the staff member the next day, saying, "I didn't like the way I did that." Then she explained why and what she wished she'd done. I think this is SO powerful. If we don't get it right the first time, we can revisit it.

Lead by Example

Remember that your camp staff looks up to you as a role model. By handling your mistakes gracefully and positively, you set an example for them to follow. Demonstrating resilience and a growth mindset will not only benefit you but also inspire those around you to approach challenges with a similar attitude.

Measure Progress

As you implement your action plan and make changes to prevent future mistakes, track your progress. Regularly evaluate whether the steps you've taken are effective. Keep in mind that growth is an ongoing process, and it may take time to see significant improvements.

Summing It All Up
Mistakes are an integral part of any leadership role, including that of a summer camp director. Embracing your mistakes and using them as opportunities for growth can lead to personal and professional development that will benefit you and your camp community. By acknowledging errors, seeking feedback, and fostering a culture of learning, you can become a more effective and resilient summer camp director, creating memorable and enriching experiences for campers and staff alike. Remember, it's not about avoiding mistakes, but how you grow from them that truly matters.

Want to hear from camp directors sharing mistakes?

➡️ Check out when change fails.

Megan LynchMegan Lynch

Assistant Director - Day Camp, Camp Aldersgate
TSCS Member

Leave a Comment