Each summer at camp is preceded by training staff members so they can actively engage with campers in a competent and professional manner. And every year it seems there is more material to cover and a challenge to fit that into a limited period of time. Sound familiar? Then read on.
There is a way to control the planning as well as the results. Focusing on the intentions of the training as well as defining the outcomes you hope to achieve can help identify what’s important. This process also may help develop a training schedule and activities as well as assist in arranging the staff manual.
The following seven steps will guide you through the process. It will take some time, but will pay off later in the satisfaction of watching staff members perform at a level of skill and competence you want for the camp.
1. Develop a goal statement
Write a one-sentence goal statement that describes what you want staff members to be able to do at the end of the training, such as, “Equip staff to be able, compassionate and safe leaders.” The statement should be general and not completely attainable. It is a big-picture definition of the staff at the end of training--and through the summer. Take time to develop this statement since it is the foundation for the rest of the process.
2. Develop outcomes
Begin this step by brainstorming a list of everything you want staff members to know and will be able to do at the end of the training. Be specific: paddle a canoe, build a fire, be able to lead ten games, know the camp’s philosophy of discipline, etc. Take several days to compile the list, and invite other staff members to contribute.
Next, sort the list into categories: campers, outdoor skills, policies and procedures, etc. The list will be long, but items can be combined, for example, everything staff members need to know about cookouts. This list will give you a chance to set priorities. Some items are not as important as others and can be taught in another way or time. For example, some information for staff members can be sent out before they arrive at camp.
Finally, write each of the items on your list as a specific, attainable and measurable outcome. They should be written in terms of what staff members will know or have experienced or be able to lead when campers arrive. Each outcome will give you the ability to evaluate members in these skills and knowledge at the end of the training period and through the summer.
3. Develop a schedule
Create a table that divides the blocks of time during training. Insert all regular and previously scheduled activities, such as meals, first-aid training, rest time, campfires, etc. Then assign outcomes to each training block. There will probably be more outcomes than blocks of time, so decide how to combine outcomes. For example, plan a nature hike that will introduce staff to one of the camp’s trails, teach trail manners and hike procedures, and with the help of a naturalist, provide skills for exploring local plants and flowers.
As you plan the schedule, keep in mind the energy level of the staff through the day and throughout the training period. For example, it is probably not a great idea to schedule a lecture on sexual misconduct right after lunch on the ninth day!
4. Develop a plan for training activities
Once you have assigned outcomes to a block of time, you are ready to plan a specific activity to attain each outcome. Be creative, use plenty of training methods, involve other staff members, and invite some outside experts. Remember that most people learn best by physically doing something. The more actual experiences you can give staff members during training, the more apt they will be to repeat these with campers. It also gives you the chance to model the leadership style that you want them to follow, and to set the tone for how things will be done at camp.
To take this concept a step further, “double dip” as much as possible. Lead staff in group-building games to help them get acquainted with each other, and then remind them they can use these same games with campers. Have a hot dog cookout lunch, and teach everyone to build his/her own fire. Every time you use an activity to teach staff that they can repeat with campers, the more successful and competent they will feel.
5. Review the staff manual
Staff manuals tend to be the same year after year, with a small addition of new material. Use the outcomes to develop and evaluate the manual. Begin by ensuring that the material and resources in the manual match the outcomes. Then, once the schedule is set, arrange the manual to follow the schedule and reinforce what the staff is learning. In this way, experiencing or listening to information can be followed by reading an appropriate section in the manual. This offers two opportunities to learn the same information--and members know where to look it up if they forget.
6. Take it all in
Now that you are clear about the goals, and have staff training well planned, relax, get to know the staff, and have fun. The model you provide during this time will set the tone for the entire summer.
7. Evaluate the training
At the end of training, before things become too hectic, take an hour or so to evaluate the training you have just completed. What grade would you give staff in its readiness and preparation for campers? What kind of grade would you give yourself for reaching your goals? How many of your outcomes did you complete? What training activities worked well, and which ones didn’t? What needs to be added or revised in the staff manual? What great ideas do you have for next year?
Put all of this information into a file marked “Next Year’s Staff Training,” and put it away until next January. Have a great summer!
Nancy Ferguson is an Outdoor Ministries consultant, specializing in the creation of program resources for faith-based camps. She is the author of several books, including Training Staff to be Spiritual Leaders. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org