Creating Those Memorable Moments of Leadership Training

We all want our Leadership Training to contain positive memorable moments.  We want to teach the lessons, get across the important points, bond our staff as a family, get them on board to pass down these lessons to their campers, create youth development professionals who care profoundly about their responsibilities and are fully prepared to deal with whatever may come; we all want to make a difference.  One of the most satisfying times in a director’s career is when staff members from years ago still remember with passion and awe something you did at leadership training.  With this blogpost, I hope to inspire you to create yours.

Here are a few items from the “vault”:

#1 - Back to the Future

We were in a mid-summer slump.  It was 2007, I think. The staff was taking good care of the children, everyone was safe but there was no magic, no creativity, no fun.  They were tired and burnt out.  So Travis (my husband and Co-Director) and I decided we needed to let them see into the future to see how it could be.

We wrote an entire script and acted out a play where we were 20 years in the future.  We talked about where we were (living in NYC, I think, as famous camp consultants who had appeared on GMA and Oprah and had received numerous awards for our books!!).  Over preparing dinner in our amazing NY loft, we got caught up on all our camp staff from that year.  We talked about hearing from so and so, or seeing another staff on tv doing something amazing, or getting an invitation to an award ceremony for some other staff.  We did our best to mention everyone - it took A LONG time to write so that everyone was somehow included.  Everyone was doing amazing things in the future with their gifts and talents that we saw in the present and had used their potential to reach the greatest heights.  We ended the skit by talking about how proud we were of them and how it could have gone the other way.  That summer in 2007, they could have just continued to burn out and not live in the moment, be creative, reach for the stars but at mid-summer, they turned it all around and decided to come up with a plan together and make it the most amazing summer anyone had ever seen.

Then, of course, we facilitated our staff in discussion coming up with that plan and it totally turned the summer around. It was also a way for us to highlight staff who maybe didn’t stand out so much or who were not the ones who usually shone and give them the most incredible futures - including the ones who were running camp 20 years in the future.

#2 - A Mid-Summer Eval

We created an evaluation of the staff and the summer program, how people were feeling and doing,  - everything really, being very specific, (how are we, as a staff participating at campfire, at free swim, etc.,) and broke it into categories and put it on a powerpoint presentation.  We then asked the staff to nominate people - 1from each year on staff (so a 1st year, 2nd year, 3rd year and so on) - to sit on the panel.

Everyone in the room individually filled out the eval giving every question a score from 1-10.  We then took the scores of the panel the staff had nominated and came up with our average. The first year we did it, the panel came up with 62% which I know was much harder than how Travis and I would have judged them.  The panel’s thoughts carried a lot of weight as these were their peers for whom they had voted.

Then as a group, we discussed it and came up with a plan to move forward.  We looked at where the staff felt we fell short and came up with concrete ways to make the 2nd half of the summer better.

Then, of course, we did something really fun to boost spirits and come together again as a family.  I understand our old camp still does this activity.

#3 - So in trying to decide what were memorable leadership training moments, I put it out there on Facebook to our old camp staff and asked them.  It was such a great trip down memory lane for me and so wonderful to hear from so many but it was also amazing how many staff members chose the same moments.  Here are a few:

  • Travis’ uncle used to own a bronzing company and would bronze baby shoes and anything else people asked him to.  When cleaning out his house, we found a whole bunch of bronzed lightbulbs on plaques. So, each night just before we read our Alumni Letter, we would ask the staff, who shone the brightest that day.  They would offer up people and explain what they meant - someone figured something out in a group initiative, someone helped someone else, someone went out of their way to be kind, etc. and they all got a lightbulb.
  • After dinner each night, we had our staff Bible Study as we did all summer and one year I chose to read them “The 5 People You Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom.  I read to them for about 40 minutes each evening and then came up with questions that they answered in small groups, pairs, or 1 one large group for about 20 minutes.  It had a profound effect on everyone and they loved story time.  It was a great way to decompress and really think about the big things in life. (I believe I have the questions somewhere if you are interested)
  • One staff member posted:  “My favourite part was Spectrum... although I didn’t say much, I really enjoyed listening to the debates”.  Spectrum was a game we played during Bible Study but can be used anywhere and does not have to use religious questions.  Everyone stands in a circle, a statement is read aloud by the facilitator and then those who agree move closer to the centre.  The closer to the centre you position yourself, the more you agree with the statement.  People then volunteer to share why they are standing where they are and then others, when hearing a good argument one way or the other, can move and reposition themselves during the discussion.
  • Someone else said:  “My favourite session was the one about play and creativity that was always led by the resource ‘counsellors’ in each leadership training cabin. These counsellors would have to come up with some sort of a creative surprise for their "campers" to engage in. I remember that when I was a second year counsellor, our ‘counsellors’ planned a session for us where we dressed up and did play acting in the woods. Everyone came up with such amazing ideas for the session. It was a great chance for us to get our creative juices flowing and to apply this same idea to sessions with our own campers”.
  • Another staff said: “I remember making dream boards (cutting up magazines and making collages) and then talking about it with another staff member. I carried mine around with me for many, many years. So much of it came true”. I gave them an hour, a pile of magazines, scissors, glue, and bristol board and great music in the background and asked them to cut out words and pictures that spoke to them.  They were not allowed to think about it too much but just to do it.  And then they had to share with someone else what the final product said about them and what was missing about them from the board.

I realized while I read these answers (and dozens and dozens came in) that what they remembered most were not the hard skill sessions (not one person mentioned one of those) but rather the times that they were made to feel a part of something bigger, the times when someone spent time with them, played with them, baked cookies with them, listened to them, made them feel important, the times when they grew together as a staff family. That’s where you’ll make your biggest impact.

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