Welcome to the Summer Camp Leadership blog. For those of us who lead summer camps, making a positive difference in the lives of young people is our passion. Turning that passion into a reality, however, takes more than the ability to lead songs, teach archery or plan craft projects. Creating camp experiences that truly transform lives takes leadership. Leadership that creates a vision for the future, leadership that inspires and engages others, leadership that remains focused and stays the course. My hope is through this blog you'll find ideas, inspiration and tools to help you be a great summer camp leader.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Planning Staff Training: Learner Analysis

  (Note: This is the forth 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.)

The fourth step in planning staff training is leaner analysis. In this step you try to identify factors regarding the staff that might impact your training. As mentioned previously, most camp directors plan their camp program with their mission in mind. In addition, most would also consider it critical to plan their program with an understanding of their campers. Planning staff training is no different. It begins with a clear understanding of goals but it also carefully considers the needs of the staff it’s designed to teach.  

Entry Behavior
The first learner characteristic to assess is entry behavior. Entry behaviors are simply the tasks that staff  have performed in the past that are similar to those you want to teach them to perform. An entry behavior may have helped a staff member develop knowledge, skills or attitudes that are essential to tasks they’ll be asked to perform at camp. By understanding these entry behaviors you can plan your instruction with the staff member’s previous learning in mind. Entry behaviors can serve as a starting point for teaching new skills. You can compare and tie new behaviors to these previous behaviors.   

As an example, your learner analysis might find that most of your staff have babysat. They may have served as a babysitter for other families or cared for their siblings. In either case there are behaviors associated with babysitting that are similar to those used by a camp counselor. You can use these behaviors learned as a babysitter to help staff members master the skills of a camp counselor.

It is important to realize that while some entry behavior is helpful, some can also be counterproductive to your training efforts. A counselor who is assigned to sports might have entry behaviors from a highly competitive school or club athletic environment that are contrary to the philosophy of your camp. The counselor’s entry behaviors may be in direct conflict with the behaviors you expect of your sports staff. In this case you’ll have to help the staff member overcome his previous learning to help him perform the job as expected at your camp.

Prior Knowledge     
In addition to having experience in tasks similar to camp, staff members may also come with direct knowledge of the topics on which you’ll be training them. It is important during learner analysis to identify what knowledge they possess, how in depth that knowledge is and if it is accurate.

If staff members have a good foundation of knowledge of a particular topic it enables you to begin your training at a different point and progress at a much faster pace. If on the other hand staff members know little about a topic you’ll need to spend more time and effort teaching it. In the case where staff members have prior knowledge that is incorrect you’ll be forced to not only teach the correct information, but also handle the challenging task of explaining why the staff member’s previous perspective is incorrect.  

The attitudes of staff members have a direct impact on their learning. You need to assess the attitude of staff members regarding your camp, their job and other staff members. It is also important to understand their attitudes regarding staff training. If they view training as a waste of time for instance you need find ways to design your training to increase the perceived relevance. If the attitude is that training is boring you need to address the issue by making it more active and engaging.

As you assess attitudes it is also important to look at how staff members view various topics. If there are particular areas such as staff policies that staff feel negatively about it is important that you know this ahead of time. This allows you to plan your training accordingly. For instance, you might reframe your discussion of staff policies from a focus on a list of what not to do to presenting policies as tools to help staff make good decisions.      

Educational Ability and Level
Each staff member will come to camp with different abilities and educational backgrounds. You may have staff ranging from high school students to those with graduate degrees. The academic disciplines they are familiar with also vary.

Your goal is to identify where people are in terms of ability and education so that you can develop staff training that meets everyone’s needs. By identifying those with less ability and/or less education you can establish where your training needs to start to ensure everyone comprehends what you’re teaching. Recognizing those with greater ability and/or education helps you understand who may need to be challenged more. It can also identify staff members who might be able to help others during training.

Learning Preferences
Each of your staff members will have difference preferences regarding how they learn best. Identifying these learning preferences can help you create a training program that connects with each staff member through their particular learning style.  

A common approach to learning styles suggests that people learn best in one of three ways; auditory, visual or kinesthetic. Auditory learners are those who learn best by listening. They respond positively to lectures and discussions. Visual learners on the other hand learn best by seeing things. Graphics, pictures or other visual stimuli help then learn. Kinesthetic learners are hands-on learners for whom touching, manipulating objects and physical movement are the keys to learning.

Most people have some sense of which learning style they are and can provide you with information on how they learn best. There are also a number of easy to use questionnaires available that staff members can take to identify their learning style. With a knowledge of their learning styles you can adapt your training to provide the right mix of auditory, visual and physical stimuli.  

Group Characteristics
Each year your summer camp staff will develop its own unique characteristics and personality. These characteristics effect how they interact with one another, how they accomplish tasks and their preferences regarding activities. As you analyze the group you’ll be training try to identify any characteristics that might impact the training. Are they very social or somewhat reserved group? How physically active are they?  Do they enjoy games or are they the more serious types?  Do they prefer to work collaboratively as a large group or in smaller groups or perhaps as individuals?

The answers to these questions can help you shape the design of your training. It might suggest that one type of activity would be more effective than another becomes it fits with the preferences of the group. On the other hand this analysis might also highlight some areas where improvement is needed. For instance, if the group doesn’t enjoy working together collaboratively, you may choose to select training activities that force them to work together so they hopefully improve their skills.