3 Camp Staff Training Exercises to Get Staff Talking and Focusing on What's Important

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Great staff training materials from some really smart people that are not me

A month or so ago, I shared one of the most powerful staff training exercises that I've been through - The Obstacles to Confrontation.

In this post, I'd love to share three other activities that other folks have developed that I've found incredibly useful.

Getting from "Archery" to "Belonging" - from Scott Arizala

10-08-11_PearceWilliams3rdDay26-92I had the pleasure of presenting with Scott at the ACA National Conference this last February on the topic of Nurturing the Best Aspects of Summer Camp. When we were planning for our session, Scott shared a dynamite activity that he does when he goes around and leads staff training sessions with summer camps all over the country. Note - this is an extremely abbreviated version of this session. For more information on this session (as well as countless others), head over to Scott's site - The Camp Counselor Insider.

Here's how it works.

Set up two easels with flip charts on them, and place them side by side.

Gather staff together, and say, "So, what will we be doing at camp this summer?" Have them list camp activities - archery, swimming, etc. Write their answers on the flip chart.

Now, have staff list the really important benefits kids will get from their summer camp experience. Friendships, a sense of belonging, confidence, etc.

Now for the kicker. Starting at the top of the activity list, have staff connect the activity in question with particular benefits that kids get from coming to camp. Then, talk about HOW each of those benefits is derived from the activity, and how we can either do a better job of delivering those benefits or creating new and better benefits during the activity.

The outcomes from this activity are tremendous. First, it helps staff get in a more intentional frame of mind. Some of them will not have considered that there was a lot more going on in the Arts and Crafts area than just creating art and crafts. Further, they may not have understood how crucial they are to delivering better benefits in each of the different program areas.

The beauty of this activity is that it helps staff to more precisely understand what's important about your camp, and how they can make those important things happen. When they walk onto the Archery Range, they won't think, "Sweet, 30 minutes to sit and zone out." They'll think - "30 minutes to help kids become more confident, to help them try something new, and to develop mastery."

It essentially provides an action plan for every staff person at every activity at camp. Not a bad outcome for an hour or so of training!

Diversity Dots - from Michelle Cummings

The complete activity is for sale over at Training Wheels Gear, and the original activity comes from Michelle Cumnmings and Mike Anderson's book Setting the Conflict Compass.

I've done a lot of Diversity and "Privilege" workshops in my day, but this activity was by far the most poignant that I've been a part of.

The activity is simple. The facilitator tells everyone to stand in a line, and hands out a bunch of stickers with colored dots on them (which you can purchase from this link, and tells the participants to put the stickers on their foreheads without opening their eyes. Then, the facilitator tells the participants to form groups without talking to one another.

For fantastic debriefing questions & other things to look out for, follow the link above. I don't want to simply paraphrase what's already been written.

But to offer a testimonial, I can say that I was stunned to see how well this activity worked when it was done with my staff last summer. My staff are relatively jaded when it comes to team building activities, and are pretty hip to all of the little tricks that I try to play on them. But in this activity, they took the bait, and almost instantly organized themselves into groups based on the colors of the dots on their stickers. It was amazing to observe the deliberate exclusion that took place, the social pressuring, and the intense power of group dynamics. There was even some crying during the debrief afterwards.

The Alligator River - An ethics discussion adapted from Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics

3482113000_241a82b896_oHarry Zweckbronner, the program director over at Camp Hanover, introduced me to this activity about 10 years ago, and it's stuck with me ever since.

This is an activity that's almost guaranteed to get participants openly expressing aspects of their value systems.

I'll paste the story below, since it's posted all over the internet in various formats. There's quite a good handout with this story and some suggested debriefing questions here.

Once upon a time there was a woman named Abigail who was in love with a man named Gregory. Gregory lived on the shore of a river. Abigail lived on the opposite shore of the river. The river which separated the two lovers was teeming with ravenous alligators. Abigail wanted to cross the river to be with Gregory. Unfortunately, the bridge had been washed out and would not be repaired for several weeks. She did not have time to drive fifty miles to the next bridge and return for work the next day. So she went to ask Sinbad, a river boat captain, to take her across. He said he would be glad to if she would consent to having sexual intercourse with him preceding the voyage. She promptly refused and went to a friend named Ivan to explain her plight. Ivan did not want to be involved at all in the situation. Abigail felt her only alternative was to accept Sinbad’s terms. Sinbad fulfilled his promise to Abigail and delivered her into the arms of Gregory.

When she told Gregory about her concupiscence in order to cross the river, Gregory cast her aside with disdain. Heartsick and dejected, Abigail turned to Slug with her tale of woe. Slug, feeling compassion for Abigail, sought out Gregory and beat him brutally. Abigail was overjoyed at the sight of Gregory getting his due. As the sun sets on the horizon, we hear Abigail laughing at Gregory.

Break groups down into manageable discussion sizes - something like 4-8 people per group.

The facilitator reads the above story, and then asks participants to rate the characters on a scale of 1 to 5 based on how offensive they are to the individual. Then, within their groups, they are asked to attempt to reach a consensus as to which character is most offensive, and which is the least offensive.

This activity is beneficial for numerous reasons.

1) Staff participate in discussions where they have something serious at stake, in their minds. Many participants will have very strong feelings about behaviors like adultery, or violence, or prostitution, and will be loath to change their rankings based on the attempted persuasion of others. These conversations help staff open up about the values that are important to them, and to take a stand for what they believe in.

2) Staff see the fruitlessness in trying to persuade others to change their core beliefs. If debriefed properly, this can help them understand that it is far more helpful to participate in discussions like these from a place of understanding, instead of a place of persuasion or judgment. If someone finds Slug highly objectionable, for instance, it's very likely that opposing violence is a core part of that participant's belief system. Each character presents separate ethical concerns, and it is impossible to say which is objectively "more offensive" or "less offensive." Understanding that differing moral frameworks are both inevitable and a good thing will help staff understand one another better this summer. Moral proselytizing on controversial issues tends to enlarge the gaps that separate us, not close them.

3) It can be a natural segue into what the consensus formation process should look like in a healthy work environment. For more ideas on better ways to form consensus, I highly recommend Functional Consensus, a website developed by Randy Grayson, PhD, from Camp Augusta.

A rising tide, and all that

The cool thing about running camp? TONS of terrific stuff has already been created, and we can share resources with one another knowing that better camps across the country mean a better situation for all of us. We've created Go Camp Pro to create resources to save camp directors time and bring more kids to even better camps as time goes on. We actually JUST released 11 staff training exercises and sessions that you can plug right in to your staff training for this summer. If you want to learn more about our community and resources, click here.

Or, if you want to start contributing to a rising tide for all camps starting NOW, link to your favorite camp resources in the comments section below. Let's get to work connecting camps with the best resources possible, and doing business with those that are working really hard to make camps everywhere better!

Oh, you can also sign up for our email newsletter below. We'll send you a free game, access to our strategic planning framework, and an email twice a month to let you know what you've missed over here. Good luck this summer!

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