Training: Summer Staff

The process of training summer staff is one of the most complicated and challenging tasks for anyone working in Christian camping.  These staff are the heartbeat of the camp, and their capabilities and attitudes directly influence hundreds, maybe thousands, of individuals.  To that end…

Tips for training summer staff:

Organize time carefully

You have a lot of information to give your new staff members, and a lot of work to be accomplished.  And you need them to remember it and focus.  The way you organize work time, listening time, play time, and sleep times have a tremendous influence on the end result.

People are most able to focus from about 10:00am-12:00pm.

They are at their least attentive from 1:00-5:00pm.

Most young adult brain functioning makes it nearly impossible for them to learn before 9 or 10 am.

These simple facts should be deciding factors in how time is organized.  You should plan sessions that go over paperwork and regulations during the time when your staff will be able to focus.  This is also the time when new tasks should be learned.  Plan free time or fun activities during the least attentive hours.  Consider skipping breakfast for brunch, or making breakfast continental instead of a sit-down affair so that your staff can get a bit of extra sleep before starting their day.  Pay attention to this scientific knowledge of how the brain works and use it to your advantage.

Leave out the Fluff

Summer staff  training is often filled will random activities smashed in between the ‘important’ information.  But staff training is never enough time, and not a minute of that time should be wasted.  Use every moment in the best way possible.  This doesn’t mean that every moment should be serious, but it does mean that each moment should serve a purpose.  If it can serve multiple purposes at the same time, even better.

So you want your staff to bond.  Instead of doing random activities together that they will never use again, play games that they will be playing again in the future.  Or have your staff bond by going through the low ropes course together; they’ll be using it all summer and will need to know how to lead a group through.  Give meal times specific purpose, and try to limit the random waiting times.  You should have plans for if you run ten minutes early or late.

Many staff trainings include an outing of some kind.  Consider whether you would be better served by planning a fun day at the camp letting the staff get more comfortable with their surroundings.

Some campsites take time to train every individual in housekeeping, kitchen work, and maintenance.  While this can be helpful to build unity, it can take precious minutes from time needed elsewhere.  Consider whether all of your staff will actually be using these skills and whether there might be better uses of their time.

Do Emergency Drills

As part of staff training, you are required to go over emergency procedures with the summer staff.  Your campsite should have procedures in place for natural disasters, intruders, missing campers, waterfront emergencies, medical emergencies, and a handful of other situations.  Going over the procedures from the staff manual is only the first step of the process.  You should also take time to discuss “what if’s” as a team.  And then you should do emergency drills.  Not just one drill for your waterfront, which is the most common drill done.  You should do several drills so that your team gets an understanding of how they generally flow and have the opportunity to put the abstract into concrete actions.  Your staff will then  be able to be prompt and efficient in an emergency, which is the most important part of their job.

And drills don’t really take that much time.

Wake your staff up one night to do a weather drill.  Interrupt a meal for a missing camper drill.  Break into their work preparation for a waterfront drill.  Each drill will only take a few minutes, and you can even wait to discuss the outcome (strengths and weaknesses) until over a meal time or at the end of your day.

Choose Content Carefully

Your entire summer staff should not have to sit through an hour lecture on how to clean a bathroom.

They do not want to listen to you read through the manual.

They do not need to hear the entire history of the camp.

This goes back to making each moment meaningful and worthwhile.  Your staff should be learning about each other and their jobs during this time, don’t litter it with content that is not important for their jobs.  And don’t use the lowest common denominator.  If some of your staff need additional training, give it to them, but don’t expect everyone to sit through basic information most of them already know.

Also be careful with content that is good, but takes away from other important areas.  Just because something is worth knowing or doing, does not necessarily mean it has ENOUGH value to be put into your training schedule.  As Christian campsites, training is often filled with devotional times, worship times, quiet times, and many other moments of spiritual significance.  And no one will ever question how important this time is, but someone should be asking whether all of this time is the most important thing to be doing RIGHT NOW.  Obviously some time should be spent in spiritual disciplines, but should an entire day be set aside as a silent retreat?  The answer for some campsites will be yes, the answer for others will be no.  But think about it carefully, then choose.

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