Active Instruction

By Milea Reynolds
Photo Courtesy Of Liz Weaver

Imagine giving a lecture-style presentation where the audience is clearly bored—their eyes glaze over, their jaws hang open, and some of them look like they are about to fall out of their seats and into a deep sleep.

Now imagine another presentation where attendees interact with one another, ask challenging questions, hold deep discussions, and most importantly, retain important pieces of knowledge.

The difference between these two scenarios is simple—the first is static, the second is dynamic. The world of education is certainly shifting toward an involved, interactive style of learning—so when it comes to staff training, camp directors and leaders should consider using the same approach.

My first year assisting with counselor training was a learning experience—the counselors played team-building games, cleaned up around the camp, and were bombarded with lots of information they probably forgot by the time camp began. By the second year, I realized that while the program was no doubt satisfactory, there was definitely room for improvement.

But the program lacked an element of direct involvement. Since the best way to learn a skill is through practice, I made it a goal to get the counselors involved when I took charge of the planning during my third year.

The result was a remarkable improvement. The counselors were more attentive than ever; they were asking questions, building relationships, working together as a team, and showing an incredible amount of excitement for the upcoming summer.

Three Types Of Learning
When it comes to staff training, it helps to remember the three basic types of learning:

  • Auditory
  • Visual
  • Kinesthetic

During camp, the campers are the “students.” But during staff training, the counselors are the “learners.” Just like the campers, staff members instinctively use at least one of these modes of learning. A typical training seminar involves a lecture, perhaps with a PowerPoint to accompany it. Although auditory learners, who learn by hearing, and visual learners, who learn by seeing, have no problem paying attention during this type of presentation, kinesthetic learners, who learn by doing, are often neglected. They are left trying to learn through a method they are not instinctively accustomed to using.

Dynamic learning solves this problem because the presenter includes elements of each learning style in the seminar. Everyone is actively engaged in the lesson, so the information is more likely to make a permanent impact.

It may be easier to simply type up an outline, create a PowerPoint, and talk through a 45-minute session, rather than sketch out a lesson that gets the group involved and motivated. However, a dynamic lesson is not only much more enjoyable, but also much more effective.

Planning Dynamic Training
In planning dynamic staff training, the main point to remember is that every type of learner must be involved in some way:

  • Break up the monotony by introducing some discussion questions.
  • Invite attendees to act out a funny scenario.
  • Get participants moving by asking them to put their descriptions into practice at that moment.
  • Show a video or use charts and graphs.
  • Involve music in a presentation.
  • Play a game to demonstrate the point.
  • Take a walk while addressing a particular topic.

One of the approaches used during staff training this year was a conversation on scenarios that counselors commonly face. We discussed everything from sleepwalkers to homesickness to camper crushes on counselors. We discussed these situations in small groups, encouraging the counselors to examine the problems together (maybe even act them out for emphasis), and arrive at the wisest solution. While the session was fun and engaging, it was also highly valuable—the counselors learned to think critically and make sensible decisions.

Another session involved personal strengths. Each counselor filled out a survey indicating his or her personality type—a visual way to show the character qualities they could offer to the program. In a group, each person shared his or her strengths and offered others specific suggestions about how to effectively use their positive personality traits.

Rotation-style presentations are also effective since counselors are much less likely to doze off when they are required to move to a new station every 15 minutes. The small-group setup also requires more involvement and accountability.

The most significant project accomplishment this year was the making of a promotional video for the camp. Each counselor appeared on the screen, doing his or her part to advertise the camp. This exercise appealed to the visual learners because they were able to see an end product. The auditory learners were interested in the speaking and background music in the video. The kinesthetic learners were able to physically assist with the project by being filmed. Because each type of learner was satisfied in some way, each counselor was able to feel included and valuable.

Guiding Staff Members For Success
Making staff training dynamic gives staff members a sense of significance and esteem, letting them know they are directly and actively making a difference. Dynamic learning is definitely more fun, and also more applicable to real life.  Staff members are more likely to take the correct action in a tough situation if they have already practiced what to do. By involving staff members more during training, they understand they are expected to do their best.

Milea Reynolds is serving her fourth year as a camp intern at Mahaffey Camp and Conference Center, located in Western Pennsylvania. She is also the Director of Running Camp, Assistant Director of Creative Arts Camp, and the Director of the Mahaffey Family Camp 5k race. Reynolds is also pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education - English, with minors in music and creative writing. Reach her at