- Get Involved
- Education & Events
- Publications & Research
- About ACA
Collaborating with Staff: Sharing a Common Philosophy, Working to Achieve Common Goals
Staff play an important role in your camp operation. After all, it is your staff who are in day-to-day contact with campers, facilitating the positive experiences of camp. Therefore, your staff must share your camp’s philosophy and be aware of the values that make your program unique. Collaborating effectively with your summer staff is a critical element in achieving your organization’s goals and objectives.
The Philosophy Behind the Mission
Most organizations today have developed a formal mission statement that describes the core values or purpose of their organization and the objectives that define achievement and success. Some camps, such as Sunny Skies Day Camp, have a camp philosophy in lieu of a formal mission statement:
Staff Play a Critical Role
Staff play a critical role in making camp more than just a fun way for kids to spend their summer. The work staff members do (or don’t do) determines the organization’s success or failure. For the program to be successful, camp directors depend on the staff members to implement the camp philosophy. How can you select and train your staff to accomplish this task? You must become skilled at marketing to your staff!
Interview with your mission in mind
One question that you should ask in order to get a sense of a candidates’ perspective on the value of camp is "If you ran a summer camp, what would be some of your goals and objectives?" Another important question to ask is "What do you think children can gain from a summer camp experience?" While fun is certainly a good start to answering both of these questions (and you should be concerned if fun is not included in the answer), what else does the candidate think is important? Look for answers that include: "learning skills," "making new friends," "being part of a positive group experience," "gaining independence," and "becoming more self-confident." The candidate’s answers to these types of questions will begin to indicate whether this prospective staff person envisions the camp experience congruously with the objectives of your camp vision.
Later in the interview, you can begin to share your camp’s philosophy with an applicant by asking "Do you think children can gain self-confidence or self-esteem from a summer camp experience?" (Granted, this is a loaded question!) After they inevitably answer "yes," follow up with much more challenging and revealing questions:
During interviews, ask questions in an attempt to determine if there is the possibility of a successful match between your organizational goals and the goals of the prospective staff member. As an employer, the first step is to be sure that your interview questions are geared toward your program’s particular philosophy.
Teach staff your camp's vision
Staff training is a time to provide your staff with a recipe for how to incorporate the mission into each and every camp activity. For example, when some camps train their staff to facilitate a canoeing program, the program leaders are careful to talk about and role play exactly how this program fits into the camp’s philosophy (in addition to teaching the procedural elements of canoeing and safety).
It’s no coincidence that their canoes seat four campers and that sometimes only two paddles are in each canoe. While canoeing may be about rowing a boat in a body of water, for this program canoeing is really all about working in groups, communicating with friends, sharing paddles when mysteriously there are not enough to go around, feeling good about oneself from the experience . . . and, of course, it’s also a lot of fun!
In slightly different ways, each activity area at camp exists as an important tool through which your program’s goals can be achieved. Your job during staff training is to illustrate just exactly how each activity fits into the camp philosophy and then to teach staff how to facilitate each activity in a way that will put the philosophy into action.
Achieving a Common Purpose
Once the camp season is under way, one of the really beneficial aspects of having a clearly defined and well-understood camp philosophy is that the entire staff, directors and owners included, work toward the same common purpose. Unlike a more traditional top-down approach where subordinates work for their supervisors (or perhaps work for money), working to achieve your camp philosophy creates a feeling in camp that all of your staff, from your maintenance staff and group counselors all the way to your directors and owners, ultimately are working for the children.
Working toward and accomplishing a common purpose is a positive and incredibly powerful way to motivate staff. (Over the years, many camps have found that a valued common purpose is far more meaningful to staff than money.) There is probably nothing more motivating or more rewarding in the world than enabling, empowering, and coaching people to reach goals that they themselves hoped to achieve. By uniting your staff with a common purpose, you have managed to create a staff that is feeling rewarded and successful as individuals while simultaneously achieving your organizational goals and objectives.
Staff evaluation becomes easier
A successful and effective staff member, no matter his particular role, should be doing a job that contributes toward the program’s overall goals. For a group counselor, this obviously means working effectively with the group to provide experiences that meet the requirements set forth in the mission statement; in the case of a maintenance person, this could entail noticing that a particular piece of play equipment has an exposed nail and correcting the problem before anyone is injured by it.
Praise staff with specifics
Don't accept low achievers
Practice What You Preach
Finally, it is important to recognize that there is a profound parallel that exists in camp management. You ask your staff to accomplish specific goals in the ways that they work with children in their groups or at their activity areas. You want them to praise children with high fives and kind words; get children’s attention by hand claps or techniques such as seeing if their group can form a line in less than six seconds; and discipline them using specific positive discipline guidelines.
As directors and managers, you must practice what you preach! Your relationship with your staff is a direct parallel to your staff’s relationship with campers — staff members are your group to coach, build, and develop. The very best example that you can set for your staff is to always provide the ultimate model of your organizational mission and values.
Jeff Salzman is the director of Sunny Skies Day Camp in Agoura, California. He is a master in business administration candidate at the Pepperdine University School of Business and Management.
Originally published in the 1999 September/October issue of Camping Magazine.