Making the Most of Year-Round Training: Creating a Learning Environment at Your Camp

by Carol Hanover, ARM

Mention training and staff often respond that they don’t have time for training, that they already know this stuff, or that training is just a waste of time. Many times staff members don’t share the same values or goals regarding training and, therefore, cannot embrace its objectives.

Training can generate long-term benefits for both staff members and the camp. But, effective training won’t happen unless the camp administration commits to creating a learning environment and rewarding those employees who succeed. Some general benefits of training include:

  • increased job satisfaction and morale among staff

  • increased staff motivation

  • increased efficiencies in camp activities, resulting in financial benefits

  • increased capacity to adopt new technologies and methods

  • reduction in accidents and incidents at camp

  • reduction in loss of work time

  • retention of staff

Identifying Training Needs

To have long-term effects, training and education must be ongoing and reinforcing. A series of programs that builds on previous training sessions or accommodates regular updates in material (such as changes in federal laws or regulations) is efficient and ensures that camp staff will have continuing training.

Camp managers and supervisors should evaluate their camp’s required training and work with staff to develop programs that better meet staff’s needs. The first step should be to identify what training currently exists and if this training is necessary and/or effective. The next step would be to list the type of training missing from the agenda and review the value of this training. Many training sessions are legal requirements. You should always check OSHA requirements and state and local laws and regulations to ensure you are in compliance.

Training can be initiated for a variety of reasons. Some examples include:

  • To fulfill job duties or responsibilities; for example, to train maintenance staff on how to conduct property inspections.

  • To improve effort as the result of a performance appraisal; for example, to identify key areas of performance needing attention and provide specific training for the individual.

  • To benchmark the status of improvement; for example, to track industry trends and review successful models from other camps.

  • As part of an overall professional development program; for example, to provide ongoing continuing education units (CEU) required in many specialty areas.

  • To assist staff in a planned change in the camp organization; for example, changes in resources or staffing that may impact staff job duties.

  • To reduce accidents and improve productivity as part of a total safety concept; for example, to provide training in proper lifting techniques.

  • To train camp staff on specific identified topics; for example, team building, conducting performance appraisals, or camp violence.

To work with staff, consider an informal brainstorm luncheon to seek new ideas for training sessions. Both returning and new staff members have great ideas worth considering. Be sure to give them feedback on your progress so they feel included and valued in the process. Sometimes just a simple thank you note is all that is necessary for them to feel valued. If staff and management share the same goals, the training won’t be “just a waste of time.”

Key Components of Training

There are concerns common to any environment where people are gathered together to accomplish a similar task or achieve a similar goal. An ideal training program will address them all. How many of these issues do your programs address?

  • Communication: learning how to process the information exchanged between staff through a common system such as e-mail, memos, and letters.

  • Computer skills: providing training in new computer skills needed for a job. This is a new area that may need to be addressed at your camp.

  • Diversity: learning how to value differences in views and perspectives.

  • Ethics: creating shared values and goals.

  • Human relations: getting along at camp and learning how to resolve conflicts.

  • Quality initiatives: training about concepts, guidelines, and standards for quality at camp.

  • Safety: reducing accidents and injuries; should be ongoing for all staff.

  • Sexual harassment: reviewing your policies and procedures regarding harassment; teaching staff what constitutes sexual harassment, how to respond to it, how to record incidents.

  • Camp violence: understanding the camp’s policies and procedures; learning the warning signs of violence and how to handle oneself and campers in a crisis.

Establishing learning goals
Once you identify the needed training, establish specific learning goals. What are your objectives for the training? Write them down and share them with your camp staff members. At the beginning of a training session, ask staff members to write down and share what their personal goals are for the training. Remember, listen carefully to your trainees. Your training goals are not written in stone; changes should be made as necessary to work toward a common goal.

Determining the Delivery Format

The next step in developing a training program involves the delivery format. A simple training formula consists of three concepts: tell them, show them, and ask them to tell you.

People learn differently. Ideally, you will integrate several different learning styles into a training program. A good training program isn’t just a talking head. Your program may include written materials, presentations, games, role-playing, and/or interactive problem-solving activities.

Developing an interactive, fun training session encourages more involvement than the boring talking head and helps participants remember more of the presented information. Remember back to your school days and those teachers who had the greatest impact on your learning.

Interaction is the key to effective learning, and adults learn best by applying information to current, real-world problems. Be sure to select training methods that include applying new information and methods at camp to a real-life problem. Reach out to staff prior to training and ask them to contribute some practical issues or problems that can be incorporated into the training as case studies or role-plays.

Follow-up and Retention

Follow-up and retention assessments are important components to evaluate the training’s effectiveness. Written examinations provide immediate feedback. However, future assessments will better show the learning retention. Think of how you can measure training value by the long-term impact it has on the camp staff. Remember that learning is any change in behavior.

Seek Feedback from Participants

Trainers need to work with the trainees in a cooperative effort to improve future programs, so after your training program seek feedback from participants. Ask which topics they want or need more training on. Encourage your staff to get involved and offer constructive feedback. You can do this in many ways. Here are some ideas that include tried-and-true and innovative approaches.

  • Ideas for future feedback. At the conclusion of training, ask each attendee to fill out an index card with an outline of what they have gained from attending the training. Then ask each person to put the index card into an envelope and address the envelope to himself or herself. The trainer then collects the envelopes and holds on to them for three to six months. At the end of this time period, the trainer mails each envelope with an insert note asking trainees if their achievements for training are still valid. This is also a great time to ask trainees for additional feedback on the training, especially for the seasonal training your camp may provide.

  • Talk with people before, during, and after training. Listen. Really listen to what people have to say about the training. Sometimes you may hear something that is important enough to be immediately added to the training agenda.

  • Watch body language. By observing participants’ body language, a trainer can key in to areas such as preoccupation, boredom, or confusion. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

  • Keep a learning log. Use a small notepad or your day planner to jot down training ideas from things you hear, see, or observe in others. You can even include some ideas borrowed from other camps.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask, “How am I doing?” You might be surprised by the feedback you receive.

Your assessment of your training programs may conclude that your sessions are working or that your program needs to be redesigned or even eliminated. Just as you don’t want staff to feel they are wasting their time, you also want management to believe the training is valuable. In the end, the staff members themselves will demonstrate the value of your training.

Carol M. Hanover is a risk control trainer and consultant for Mondani, Hanover & Associates, LLC in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. For more information on training, visit


Originally published in the 2001 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.



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