Help! Our staff have not really been engaged the last few Summers, what do I do? I received this question last week by a youth professional in Texas. First, the question is great, and you only help your career by asking questions like this. So kudos to him! As I talked, I felt like I just overwhelmed him with all the things that are involved with staff training. I get REALLY excited talking about it. I decided to lay out these thoughts that may help others wanting to be a Camp Training Rockstar. I will do a separate post soon laying out some fun strategies in finding the right staff, recruiting, and interviewing. Hiring the right staff will make these tips even easier for you.
#1: Staff Training Is A Program. It isn’t something you just do to check the box off. You have to have a plan. If you as a staff or person leading others for camp don’t really accept this, then you will be in trouble. Staff are smart and will pick up right away that you don’t care and just threw it together. So put together a calendar of dates and communicate to your staff early, dress up themes for your training days/nights, work with internal and external resources in your community/organization to give you different voices and your content for training. Involve different voices, give them power and freedom to execute, and last have FUN. Leadership staff need a small retreat to plan this program, can be a day retreat where they play putt putt, grab Lunch, and then train. It can’t just be your show, delegate the training topics!
#2: Pretend You Are The Participant. You have been in meetings before, were they FUN? Probably not, which is why this should never be planned like a meeting. Know your audience and your product, this is Summer Camp, not a 9 to 5 business/corporate job. When you plan your staff trainings from the lens of you being in that chair and having to be there for X amount of time, what would you want so you wouldn’t fall asleep or want to run away?
#3 Open Training With Music/Group Dancing . I remember a long time ago getting ready to start staff training, and seeing a staff member already slumped down in their seat mindlessly scrolling through their phone. I was like “Man, seriously? You just killed my mood and energy.” So it was that moment I started to think about how to change how things started. Like most of my ideas, I stole this one. YoungLife is a great organization and I recently went to a club meeting to recruit staff, and I loved how they didn’t start their club until the doors opened and the students ran in screaming and dancing to their favorite songs. Light turns on in my head, and I am like we will do this. So this became culture and tradition. We don’t start staff training in our seats with an agenda, we dance, and on the first night we use confetti cannons from Party City. Do 2 -3 group dance songs, and then cut the lights back on or start your training. People catch their breath, find their seat, and you have started the training with some fun, which is the job they are doing. Double win, these group dance songs need to be appropriate so use them in camp assemblies too. You now have trained on that without the staff knowing. Check out my DJ Playlist tab on the website for music ideas!
#4 Dress Up Themes. Do a mix of themes you would have at camp during the Summer so they are already prepared and a mix of just other fun themes. Some of my favorites are Throwback Thursday, Neon Night, Beach Blast, Senior Citizen Night (Dress As Old People), and Sports/Jersey Night. This will set the tone for your accountability. You can’t enter training unless you are dressed up. Start the critical conversations early, make them go home and change. They can’t show up to camp without the costume, so follow through so you don’t have that problem at camp while greeting parents, managing kids, and/or programming. Dressing up changes the mood, and creates more of the FUN culture you want. Also life is short, we need to laugh more.
#5 Contests/Songs/Videos/Skits (Interactive Training). During your agenda, make time for some interaction. Don’t speak at them the whole meeting, remember “you are the participant” and would you want that? So incorporate some contests to teach them. For example Cup Stack, Balance Contest, Block Stack, Rolling a bouncy exercise ball into a baby pool and making it stay “Shot of a lifetime!”. Every once in a while between the agenda have your leadership staff or camp staff lead a song for others. I love to use videos (old movie/tv clips on YouTube) to highlight a point in training or for a devotion/mission moment. Staff love to see things, I actually learn best this way!
#6 Training Topics, Be Smart With How You Group Them. If you plan your safety training, you may want to have a serious night, hard to pump them up after going through some tough scenarios. If you are doing something like Group Control/Transitions then follow that up with Enthusiasm or Songs. Try to have a balance when you can. One of my favorite Song trainings is when I have the new staff that have worked less than a year battle the staff that have worked 1 or more years. Great activity because the veteran staff feel the pressure, and the new staff have a voice and stage to showcase new songs/cheers for the group. It is also a good idea to have training notebook that lists the training calendar, themes, staff directory, and other things for them to take notes with. If they don’t bring their notebook to training, then they have to go home and get it. Good balance of the FUN/This is still a job. I use the analogy of I can’t show up to work without my laptop. I can’t tell my supervisor, oh well I will just sit here today.
#7 Day In The Life Of Camp, Real Scenarios. Have your staff to do a group exercise on how to solve scenarios that will arise at camp. See how they problem solve, give them to ask questions, see how they react on the fly. Give them some equipment, and have them show you how they would lead a game to a group of kids. Give them feedback, have other staff give feedback. Take them through transitions of moving from place to place. The more they see the job and go ahead and get in the trenches of camp life, the better. I love to set the vision, but don’t spend to much time throwing out quotes, inspiring, and showing movies. They still need to critically think and problem solve.
#8 Parent Panel/Staff Alumni Panel and Special Guests. Have some chairs or stools setup, and have parents or former staff explain to the group what camp means to them. Why do they send their kid to camp? What do they want most from you? Let the parent take questions from the crowd. It’s good for them to hear different perspectives. For the staff alumni, what is something you were most proud of as a staff member? What is something you would do differently at camp now that you don’t work here anymore? What was a huge challenge for you? Invite other leaders from camps, community leaders, etc…Let people see firsthand how awesome your program is.
#9 Staff Bonding and Food. Have your leadership team setup a fun committee to engage the staff in some fun events like a beach day trip, amusement park, staff intramurals, etc…Create a fun culture because they are working long hours during the Summer. During training setup a few food nights. After training everyone meet at Cookout or pick your favorite local fast food hangout or local small business! Give them the dates ahead of time so they know. Have food at training. We have done Pancake Night, and brought griddles in to cook. Just be creative, usually the best ideas come from your leadership team because they are the ones you need to empower to facilitate these. If you are the supervisor, it’s ok to not be at all of these. Let the staff have time to unwind and build friendships with each other. Be clear with them about how they represent themselves outside of work, and that any activity is promoted ahead of time for all to know, and inclusive for all. We have made a calendar to put in notebooks before of the Summer events.
Most importantly, this job for many is their first or one of their first jobs. Find ways to implement life and job skills along the way so they are prepared for the future. For example, holding someone accountable that doesn’t have their notebook is a tough conversation, but if you hold them accountable they will learn in their next job or career that they must be prepared and follow directions. Give them a small training in social media and how they utilize this now that they are employed. Go over the policies around drug use and underage drinking. It’s important for them to hear about the future, because many are just living for the moment or in the present. Also remember that you may be the only person that has told them “No!” or given them rules/expectations other than their guardians. If you are looking for some more fun ideas for staff training, check out the Resource Zone. I have several listed and will continue to update! Now go be a Staff Training Rockstar!