Posts Tagged ‘Staff Training’

How Do We Treat Each Other?

Posted on May 18, 2015 by Dr. Christopher Thurber

How do we treat each other? was the question the leadership director at one of North America’s oldest overnight camps asked the staff one evening. It seemed to be an inane question, given the label of “brotherhood” that the staff had given itself for decades. But the silence in the room suggested legitimate soul-searching had begun. The leadership director, Tom Giggi, was also silent, prompting even more serious reflection. (One of Tom’s strengths is asking good questions; another is his ability to wait for thoughtful replies, rather than answering himself for the group.)

Back when I was a camper, I worshipped my cabin leader. At a camp with strong internal leadership development, it was easy. The prestige of becoming a staff member, borne in part from the competitive selection process, coupled with the pure kindness the staff exuded, meant that most campers at Belknap grew up wanting to become cabin leaders. But now Tom was asking us to peel back the outward layer of kindness and examine its internal purity.

My thoughts drifted to a version of that question I’d been asked by my division head, Mark Goodman, back in 1984, my leader-in-training year. It was my first time working at camp for the full nine-week season and the first time the fabric of kindness that ostensibly bound the staff into a brotherhood started showing tears near the seams.

“Why is Saul being excluded?” Mark had asked me, speaking then about one of my fellow LITs. My defensive response included a litany of Saul’s foibles. “Well,” I began, “he can be kind of annoying. I know he loves camp, but his over-the-top enthusiasm comes off as insincere. And he’s constantly asking questions he knows the answers to, just to make conversation. And he’s clingy. Sometimes people want to be in smaller groups during nights off, but Saul is always there glomming on.”

I went on for several minutes and Mark just looked at me, patiently nodding. Eventually I realized that I hadn’t answered Mark’s question at all. I’d answered the related question, “What don’t you like about Saul?” but not “Why is Saul being excluded?” Mark was still silent. I swallowed hard, then spoke.

“Saul is being excluded because the rest of us LITs are excluding him.” Mark nodded, almost imperceptibly. I took a deep breath. “Now I’m thinking that one of the reasons Saul is clingy and over-the-top is because we’re not including him like we should be.” Mark’s eyes widened a bit. I continued: “You think if we treated Saul differently, he might change. You want us to include him more.” Finally, Mark spoke. “That would seem like the kind, campy thing to do.”

And so began a new chapter in my understanding of how camp helps people grow. It’s a social microcosm that serves as a proving ground for almost every interpersonal transgression and its positive opposite. The dialectics of bullying—befriending, gossiping—confronting, rejecting—accepting, prejudicing—understanding, hating—loving, and, yes, excluding—including, all infiltrate camp at different points in the summer. The key is to leverage the collective strengths of your staff to create a positive community. To do that takes regular, honest reflection and discussion.

Every staff group (indeed every group of human beings anywhere) will have conflicts and will, at times, mistreat one another. Having come to terms with that truth, camp professionals can prevent burnout, breakdown and belligerence by facilitating at least one pre-season and one mid-season discussion that begins with How do we treat one another?

What followed the pregnant pause in the lodge the night Tom posed that question to the staff was a great discussion that included:


  • Silly habits that had grown into traditions unintentionally hurtful to others
  • Greater awareness of others’ needs and ideas about providing support
  • Increased motivation to be inclusive, for the good of all
  • Sincere appreciation for the genuine kindness staff do show one another
  • Renewed sensitivity about how the hierarchy among staff can become a barrier to candid communication

Most of the staff left the in-service training that night encouraged by the group’s insights and armed with two or three concrete new practices that were generous, inclusive, and more in line with the vision of leadership they had romanticized as campers. Only now, that vision of pure kindness seemed closer to reality. One staff member summarized it well: “We were doing some things to ourselves that we never would have tolerated having campers do to one another.”

In pre-camp, plan a time or two to have your staff discuss their behind-the-scenes treatment of each other. Does the way they treat each other after hours, during time off, and away from campers truly reflect the values they purport to embrace as a member of your camp?

This article originally appeared in the Week-Ender blog, a product of Camp Business magazine. To subscribe to this content, visit

10 Reasons to Give Kids 10 Seconds

Posted on March 30, 2015 by Dr. Christopher Thurber

In a recent faculty meeting, our Director of Information Technology explained some upgrades to the school’s hardware and software. “One of the benefits of this series of upgrades,” she said, “will be faster load times on the pages you use most, such as the page for entering grades and comments.” One of my colleagues shot her hand up and shared how eagerly she was anticipating these technological enhancements “because some of the load times on these pages are devastatingly slow.” My curiosity piqued as she continued: “I’m sometimes having to wait 3 or 4 seconds. That’s unacceptable.” Wow. If 4 seconds is “devastatingly slow,” I shudder to think how this colleague might tolerate, for example, baking a batch of cookies.

Canadian summer camperI like fast Internet speeds just as much as the next person. And yes, baking is different from online surfing. Heck, 4 seconds is Bugatti-quality if we’re talking about acceleration from 0 to 60mph. Time is a constant, until you approach the speed of light, but the perception of speed is a function of the task. So the question is: How impatient have we become when we find a few seconds of waiting unacceptable?

Cultivating patience is something we all need to do, especially if we work with children. Here are 10 different reasons to give kids 10 seconds. (None involves the Internet. Patient or not, I think we can all agree that faster is better when it comes to page load times. Just don’t take it too hard when your browser takes a deep breath.)

  1. So you can better understand. Kids don’t always say what they mean. (“I’m bored.” “Math is stupid.” “The ref was an idiot.”) When you give yourself 10 seconds to consider how the words that come out of a child’s mouth may differ from their underlying meaning (“I’m sad.” “I don’t understand.” “I’m disappointed we lost.”) then you’ll be in a better position to provide empathy.
  2. So you don’t say something you regret. When you wait before you open your mouth—even if you’re not actually counting to ten—then you are less likely to yell, swear or exaggerate.
  3. So young people feel listened to. Even when you’re feeling calm and confident that you understand what a youngster is thinking and feeling, it can feel good to them when you occasionally pause before responding. It demonstrates you care without your having to say so.
  4. So others have a chance to respond. It’s easy to start believing that you have the best advice until you give other people—both children and adults—a chance to say something. Not only is that behavior deferential, it can also be enlightening.
  5. So that kids have time to process. All young people need time to think about what you’ve said or asked, especially those with a developmental disability such as Autism Spectrum Disorder. Whenever any child is marching to the beat of a different drummer, it’s your job to slow down. Rather than repeat the question or decide for others, wait for them to formulate a response.
  6. So that you sound smarter. The first thing that comes to your mind may have merit, but the second and third things may be even better. It’s fine to say, “Hmm. Let me think about that for a second” and actually give yourself ten. Words of wisdom or more likely after you let a little time tick by.
  7. So that you’re sure the young person is done talking. Adults have a pesky habit of believing they know what a youngster is about to say. By occasionally waiting after one sentence concludes, we may be rewarded by a fresh sentence or a whole new idea. And we can be certain that we haven’t interrupted.
  8. So that play becomes more creative. Outside the confines of a conversation (the focus of reasons 1-7 above), we have other opportunities to give kids space. Play is one domain where adults are constantly interrupting young people. We give directions, advice and scripts when what we should be doing—in a free play situation—is playing along. Try asking a question, such as, “What happens next?” rather than being prescriptive, such as, “That should go here.”
  9. So that youngsters don’t feel “multitasked.” When adults slow down the pace of a verbal or nonverbal interaction with a child or adolescent, it usually means setting aside the mobile devices, the paperwork and the TV remote. Do what you can to provide your full attention, rather than dividing your attention. Quality suffers the more tasks you perform simultaneously.
  10. So that you develop a little more tolerance for waiting. Young people’s brains are still developing. Expect them to be impulsive, reckless, selfish, preoccupied, distractible and, sometimes, downright slow. Give them time to grow and learn without interrupting and rushing them.

Now it’s time to share a surprising piece of data: You don’t have an accurate perception of what 10 seconds feels like in an interaction with a young person. So count it out now, for practice. Stand in front of the mirror and ask yourself a complicated question. Now wait a full 10 seconds for the reply. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand, five one thousand, six one thousand, seven one thousand, eight one thousand, nine one thousand, ten one thousand. Now you’ll be able to do it better in a real-life situation.

It may seem counterintuitive, but an upgrade to your interpersonal interactions entails slowing down, not speeding things up.

This article originally appeared in the Week-Ender blog, a product of Camp Business magazine. To subscribe to this content, visit

Outdoor Council of Canada announces Leadership Level 1 certification at UBC this summer

Posted on May 23, 2014 by CCA Communications Committee

The Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia is pleased to announce that the Outdoor Council of Canada is hosting their Leadership Level 1 training program at UBC Vancouver in July.

Held on July 19 & 20 this entry-level course, Leadership Level 1 (LL1), is based on experiential learning modules that develop group management and event-planning skills through hands-on activities and case studies.

Participants in this program will receive a nationally recognized certification upon successful completion of this 2-day course.

For more information, please visit the UBC website by clicking here.

Outdoor Environmental Education Course offerings from Faculty of Education at UBC Summer 2014

Posted on April 23, 2014 by CCA Communications Committee

Mental Health Issues at Camp: A Growing Challenge

Posted on April 7, 2014 by Catherine Ross

Depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD, anorexia, bulimia – statistically it is likely that someone at camp will be struggling with one of these mental health issues. Are you prepared?

Mental Health professionals are encouraged that society is becoming more aware, informed and accepting of mental conditions, but we are still years away from being as open and knowledgeable about mental health as we are about physical health. Cheryl Bernknopf, RN, BScN, Professor of Nursing at Seneca College (Toronto) and a camp nurse with thirty years of experience, offers some practical advice for camp leaders:

First, the camp must determine if it has adequate personnel resources to serve campers and staff with mental health issues. Some camps are contracting with mental health experts to provide this service.

If the camp accepts campers with these special needs, preparations are necessary.

  1. Gather complete information on the camper’s condition with adequate lead time for the health care staff to communicate with the parents if there are questions about the condition, the triggers or the treatment. Share this information with staff on a need to know basis.
  2. Inform the family on the realities of a typical camp day. Will their child be able to cope? Together discuss strategies that will enable the camper to enjoy the experience.
  3. Insist that the campers have been on the same medication at the same dosage for at least three months prior to camp. Reactions to new medications can be unpredictable, thereby posing an increased, unknown risk.
  4. Advise the parents that it is NOT advisable to take a holiday from medication. Campers need to be at their best initially to settle into camp and establish relationships.
  5. Educate your staff on mental health conditions. Train them to acknowledge campers’ feelings; to recognize signs of distress; to be sensitive and tolerant and to have strategies to handle specific situations. Stress the importance of close supervision.
  6. Proactively, identify a safe person (e.g. counselor, camp nurse) whom the camper can talk to at any time if they need help and a safe place to go (within sight of supervising staff) if they need time out. Establish a private signal for the camper to indicate without drawing attention to himself that he is taking time away from the activity.
  7. A safe counselor must clearly understand that their role is to listen attentively and stay calm. They are not trained therapists. They do not offer advice. If the camper becomes agitated the counselor should accompany the camper to medical help. The camper needs to know that the counselor will be documenting the conversation and sharing the information with someone else who can keep them safe.
  8. If a camper has trouble talking about their feelings and problems, suggest that they may prefer to write them down.
  9. Enlist the help of sensitive cabin mates.
  10. Be clear about what is unacceptable e.g. refusal to take medications. Be discreet in the method of dispensing medications so as not to draw attention to the camper.
  11. Check in with the camper regularly. Be proactive to avoid social problems.

Camps should be aware that:

  1. There are parents who do not divulge a child’s mental health condition for fear that the camp will not accept them. Camps must communicate clearly with parents that to withhold vital medical information could put their child at risk. For the safety of the child and the camp, full disclosure is necessary.
  2. Staff may withhold medical information for fear of not being hired or being ostracized by peers. They may be more willing to make full disclosure if they know that only the health care staff will be privy to their medical information. Their privacy will be respected unless their job performance forces the medical staff to inform the director.

Establish a procedure to enable staff to take an unscheduled break if one is needed.

Experts identify four factors for good mental and physical health

  • Regular exercise
  • Healthy balanced diet
  • Meal times with family
  • Face to face time with friends

Does this sound like camp?

Valuable Resource for Camp Nurses

Posted on March 3, 2014 by Catherine Ross

Mary Casey Camp Nursing Circles of CareA first time camp healthcare staff member writes, “Camp Nursing: Circles of Care has not only been helpful this year, but will continue to be a resource to me in years to come.”

Written by experienced camp nurse and award-winning author, Mary Casey (BScN PHN), Camp Nursing: Circles of Care gives an overview of the multifaceted job of a camp nurse.

Spiral-bound for convenient reference, the book includes fifty pages of Treatment Guidelines, the accepted procedures for illness and accidents.

The content and the principles presented are applicable to all camps.

You can order your copy from online from, or directly from Mary by email at

Mark Your Calendar!

Posted on November 11, 2013 by Mike Stewart

On May 19-22, 2014 in Toronto, Active Healthy Kids Canada is presenting the 2014 Global Summit on the Physical Activity of Children, The Power to Move Kids. This event will bring together leading researchers and practitioners to address the growing childhood physical inactivity crisis.

Register now  to receive your summit e-invitation and future communications on important details.

The Value of Storytelling & Summer Camp

Posted on March 12, 2013 by Joe Richards

It all starts with a story – “Let me tell you about the time…”

For me it started when I was a camper. I loved campfires most of all – our camp had a campfire program each night. We only went to camp for one week and five times over that week we would all sit around the campfire circle and sing the songs, watch the skits and listen to the stories.

The stories caught my imagination and took me away to another place. By the flickering light of the campfire I listened to the camp staff share their stories. I was in the mountains and the mining town when I first heard the story of The Shooting of Dan McGrew; I was on the island as they told about a shipwreck; I was caught by surprise when the twist came. Storytelling is magical and should be an important part of the camp experience.

When we want to pass on some of the history of our camps, do we write it down and then pass the sheets around to all the campers so they can read about ‘Chief’ or ‘the one that got away’? No. We share these experiences in the form of stories. We use oral tradition to pass on the feeling, the emotion and the gravitas of the experience. Stories that we hear last long after other camp memories have faded. Our time at camp is remembered and shared through stories. Your campers go home each summer and tell thousands of stories about camp.

Storytelling was once an integral part of many camp programs and somewhere along the line it has faded. Building a tradition of storytelling within your camp culture can add a wealth of benefits. Stories help to teach lessons and morals that simple instruction cannot. Stories are one of the best ways to help a message stay with campers and often times campers will continue to think about that story long after a simple message would have faded.

How do we create a tradition of storytelling in our camp settings? A few simple suggestions:

1. Start telling stories – this sounds almost too simple, but if we don’t tell them we will not build that tradition

2. Tell, do not read – very few stories have to be read word for word. Help your camp staff make a story their own, change it, adapt it and make it something that they will be remembered for. Reading is story-time, not storytelling.

3. Interact with the Audience – choose stories that can include the campers with sounds and actions. Repetition in stories helps with this. The best part about the counsellor who told, by memory, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, is that he had sounds and actions associated with each character which made the campers hang on each word with anticipation to be ready to do their job.

4. Make the resources available – books with short stories should be available (Stories for the Campfire – Hanson, Roemmich). Have your staff come to camp ready with a story and get them to tell them during training – this helps them with public speaking and helps you to find the amazing storytellers that you might not have known existed.

Storytelling is an art that can be learned. Storytelling needs to be encouraged at camp. Storytelling is what we do each day when we try to explain why a child should go to camp. How good are you at storytelling?

The Cabin Path

Posted on December 10, 2012 by CCA Communications Committee

The Cabin Path: Leadership Lessons Learned at Camp inspires camp directors and counsellors to think more consciously about the leadership lessons learned every day on the job at camp.

Through stories, analysis and contributions from a variety of camp staff, Jay Gilbert, in a personal style, describes how camp teaches young people to be the best leaders they can be.  It covers the entire camp experience from a broad perspective including sections on: Introduction and the Camp Environment; The Counsellor and Camp Staff; Support, Community and Appreciation, and Tactics and Everyday Responsibilities.

The book is written for camp directors to remind them of their role in creating the next generation of leaders and for camp counsellors as they strive to make their next summer even better than the last.

During its April 2012 launch, The Cabin Path set the record for units sold by a local author in the Chapters/Indigo store where the launch took place. “This is the book that can help us all take professional development to the next level,” said  Scott Arizala, Founder/CEO of The Camp Counsellor and author of S’more than Camp.

Visit for information on purchasing The Cabin Path.

Jay Gilbert is also available to train your camp staff.  He works with camp staff to ensure that all are on track to reaching their potential as individuals and as team members while delivering exceptional camping experiences to their customers – the campers! Using his dynamic and energizing presentation style, Jay captivates his audience and pushes them to discover a variety of “AHA!” moments and key lessons.

You can reach Jay by e-mail.