Designing an effective staff training program begins by identifying the desired goals. Understanding the outcomes we're hoping to achieve helps us shape the training. It gives direction as we select the content we want staff to learn, design activities to teach that content, sequence our training and upon conclusion, assess how well our training worked. In general there are five key goals for summer camp staff training.
Develop Job Skills
The most obvious goal for staff training is to develop the job skills of staff members. This is what comes to mind when most people think about staff training. The focus is on teaching each staff member how to accomplish the tasks they will be responsible for performing. For a counselor this goal might include teaching them how lead games, handle inappropriate camper behavior or manage their personal stress. A frontline supervisor’s job skills might include setting expectations with counselors, providing feedback or completing required reports.
Internalize Mission, Values & Culture
Another important goal of training is to help staff understand and internalize the camp’s mission, values and culture. For staff members to make the greatest contribution to the camp possible they need to understand what the camp stands for and is trying to accomplish. The camp’s mission provides a sense of direction and priority to the staff.
During training staff members need to learn about and thoroughly understand the camp’s mission. Staff training will hopefully also lead them to buy into and believe in the mission in a way that generates commitment and passion.
While the camp’s mission gives staff members a sense of direction, the camp’s values define how the camp lives out that mission on a day-to-day basis. Values paint a picture for staff members of what appropriate behavior looks like.
The values in this example provide clear direction for the staff in how to carry out the camp’s mission. They provide clues to the behaviors that support the mission and should be encouraged and those that don’t support the mission and should be avoided. Like the camp’s mission, the goal of staff training should not only be to introduce the camp’s values but to help staff members embrace and internalize them.
The camp’s mission, its values and the norms that develop over time all work together to create a camp culture. The camp culture is the collective sense of “how we do things here.” It’s what makes each camp unique and different even though it may share the same mission and programs as similar camps. During staff training it’s important to help staff, particularly those who are new, understand the camp culture. As with the mission and values, it’s also important to move staff from merely understanding to hopefully embracing the camp culture.
Another key goal for staff training is ensuring all staff members understand what will be expected of them. During training they need to learn what the general expectations are for all camp staff members. They also need to be introduced to the expectations of their particular job at camp. It is also helpful for them to learn more about what their individual supervisor is expecting of them.
Given the nature of working at summer camp with its long hours, close living quarters and challenging demands, it’s important for staff to have the support of a close knit, caring community of fellow staff members. Staff training is the place where the foundation for that community can be built before campers arrive. One of the goals of staff training is to begin the process of building community and nurturing its development. Hopefully that staff community can then in turn promote the development of a positive camp community once campers arrive.
Acclimate to Camp Environment
For most staff members, summer camp is a very different environment than the one they live in during the non-summer months. Another of the goals of staff training is to acclimate staff members to the summer camp environment. Staff members may need to adjust to the time schedule, being outdoors most of the day or the physical demands of camp. In the case of international staff there may be a new language, new foods and a host of other cultural differences to adjust to. Staff training is an opportunity to help staff spend the time needed to become comfortable with these unique aspects of living and working at camp.
(Note: This is the first in a series of posts that will be published in the coming weeks to provide an overview of a systematic approach to developing summer camp staff training.)