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A Glimpse Behind the Curtain: Developing the Next Generation of Camp Directors
Camp counselor Dorothy has spent several arduousbut- rewarding summer seasons supervising her cabin groups. She kept them safe from flying monkeys and taught them how to throw apples with accuracy and how to navigate using the yellow brick road GPS system. She brought in a consultant to help the campers learn about poppies in the natural environment and the impact of global temperature change — and spent countless hours boosting Lion's self-esteem, helping Tin Man learn to make and keep friends, and made sure that Scarecrow got his Ritalin on time every day. She has found the counseling job to be so rewarding that she has decided to make a career out of it and become a camp director. After completing her education, she is hired as the director of Emerald City Summer Camp, L.L.C., replacing the former director — the Great-and-Powerful Wizard.
However, after a few months on the job, Dorothy is floundering fast and has started to wonder if she shouldn't have stayed in Kansas. After all, she had spent several summers at the camp, and none of what was happening now had gone on then . . . or had it? So much of what is happening under her watch didn't happen when the wizard was there . . . or did it? Maybe she isn't cut out for this job after all. But what Dorothy doesn't know is that everything she is facing — from problems with the health department to dealing with the parents of campers — are the same types of things that did occur while she was there as a camp counselor . . . She just never got to see behind the curtain.
"Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain!"
We as operators and directors are very good at playing the wizard-behind-the-curtain — magically making the day-to-day operations happen, doing a majority of this work in a very much behind-the-scenes environment. Often, it is with intention that we keep much of our activity behind-the scenes — and we often do so for some very legitimate reasons:
For many of us, we have become so good at functioning behind the curtain that we almost forget that it is there. Problem solving is much like breathing to an experienced camp director, and the day-to-day operational and business items become second nature; it's what we do, and we become very good at it.
However, while we have some legitimate reasons for "maintaining the curtain," we may be doing a disservice to those staff who have expressed an interest in camp as a career — potential young and emerging professionals — by not exposing them to the other side, at least on occasion . . . .
Pulling Back the Curtain
Imagine if the wizard had let Dorothy see — and work — behind the curtain while she was planning her career, during the summers while she was going to college.
She probably would have learned about the business aspects of the operation, been able to observe "big picture" decision making, learned how to keep her cool in a crisis, gained a better understanding of operational planning, and had an educated perspective of the realities of running a summer camp. And as a result, she would probably be in a much more functional place now as the director.
Benefits for future camp leaders in getting to see behind-the-scenes camp operations may include:
The process for allowing them to see behind the curtain can be simple or in-depth, casual or formal, but should be intentional. Here are some ideas to get you thinking . . . .
The opportunities are endless! How far back the curtain goes is certainly something for consideration, and there may be certain circumstances when it isn't appropriate to include these additional staff in the actual process. But "overprotecting" these staff doesn't help them learn either; exposure to reality — including your "ugly stuff" — is a critical part of this learning process! By accepting that there are times when it's OK for Toto to pull back the curtain and expose what's going on behind the scenes, we are in a better place to educate and mentor young and emerging professionals.
Just think back to when you were in Dorothy's shoes as a new director (and despite whatever disaster fell upon you, there was no clicking your heels together to wish your way back home). Certainly, we have all had those moments where we wished for the collective wisdom of those who went before us. Rather than keeping the curtain closed and risking letting a house drop on prospective camp leaders, we can allow them behind the curtain and share the opportunity to be the "goodwitches" and empower those who will replace us in the future!
Diane Tyrrell, C.C.D., has been working in camps for twenty-seven years and directing for eighteen years with experience in nonprofit and for-profit operations. She is the camp director for Camp Motorsport, a race car driving sports specialty camp, www.campmotorsport.com, is the president of ACA, Virginias, and also serves on the American Camp Association National Board.
Originally published in the 2008 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.