Couselor Orientation: Leadership and Staff Week

In past blog posts, we’ve talked about how we teach our campers to be role models. One important part of that process is providing campers with great staff role models who can show them what good leadership looks like. And we spend a lot of time working with our staff members to help them, in turn, understand how they can model great behaviors for our campers. We really meant it when we said the learning never stops, even for our directors and leadership staff!

We start off each summer with two weeklong sessions designed just for our staff members, to get them geared up for the season, ready to do their jobs and make camp the best experience possible for our Bryn Mawr Angels. During Leadership Week, our group leaders, program directors and other key staff members spend their days reacquainting themselves with camp, talking about Bryn Mawr philosophies and preparing to welcome a new crop of counselors.

At the end of Leadership Week, we welcome our entire staff — returning counselors as well as new staff members who made it through our rigorous recruiting process — for Staff Week, a special week of camp planned just for our general staff.

We plan Bryn Mawr Staff Week with five goals in mind:

1. Introduce staff to camp: facility, policies, procedures, etc.
2. Make everyone feel welcome and comfortable in their surroundings.
3. Help staff understand what their role is at camp.
4. Prepare for the arrival of campers.
5. Make sure all staff members understand the LBMC camp philosophy.

We believe our Staff Week is one of the most unique counselor orientation programs in summer camping. Lots of camps do a fantastic job of helping their staff members learn rules, traditions and emergency procedures, and while all those important topics are covered during Bryn Mawr’s Staff Week, we strive to make our staff training an experience that immerses counselors in camp life so they really understand what it means to be part of the Bryn Mawr family. We provide information in unconventional ways — for example, instead of just going over uniform rules, our group leaders put on a uniform do’s-and-don’ts fashion show, and instead of explaining what the surprise breakout for an all-camp special event like Color War or Olympics is, we organize a scaled-down special event so counselors can get a taste of camp at its most spirited. We’ve found over the years that these unusual (and entertaining) methods of teaching counselors about camp are extremely effective in helping staff really understand what Bryn Mawr is all about. Our counselors don’t just learn about camp from a handbook or an informational speech, they get to experience it for themselves before the campers ever arrive.

During Staff Week, we give counselors as realistic a camp experience as possible, introducing them to Bryn Mawr traditions and spirit, orienting them to the campus and the daily schedule, and getting them up to speed on rules and policies. Just as important as the nuts and bolts of daily camp life, though, are the sessions on leadership, role modeling and working with girls. Counselors reflect on who they were as children and what they wanted and needed from the adults around them. We talk about what it means to be a leader and a role model and how we can all model positive behaviors for our campers. We give counselors opportunities to practice positive leadership through role play scenarios. We bring in camp guru Bob Ditter to provide in-depth training. We even bring in camp parents to talk to the staff about their hopes and expectations for their daughters. Staff Week is all about understanding camp and understanding the important leadership role of a counselor.

Counselors finish the week excited about camp, ready to meet their campers — and prepared to assume the responsibilities of being great leaders and role models! But the training doesn’t stop once the campers arrive. We continue to provide ongoing leadership training throughout the summer in weekly staff meetings and through one-on-one and small group sessions. Bob Ditter returns to camp later in the summer as well, to check in with the staff and work with individual counselors. From the moment they set foot on campus to the morning they set off for home in August, counselors are learning just as much as campers what it means to be a role model — and passing those lessons on to Bryn Mawr campers.

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