Developing Integrity in Teen Leaders at Summer Camp
Our last morning session together began as all had, with the teens lining up outside in cabin groups and listening to the song of the day I had chosen. When they entered the lodge this time around, we had placed the long dining hall benches in a large circle in the centre of the room, enough benches so that every participant could stand on one in the circle. Behind each of the benches, I had placed construction paper sheets and big, colourful markers - enough for everyone.
As always, I frontloaded the morning in the courtyard, explaining that they were to enter in silence, gather behind the appropriate benches and sit in circle. I once again combined cabin groups up in yet another different pairing and had them sit down together and await instruction.
We discussed how great it would be if we could clearly see what people stood for the minute we met them. I posed the question, asking if people could tell what each of them stood for upon meeting them for the first time. After the appropriate pause to let that thought sink in, I asked each of the new groupings to discuss with one another what they stand for and why. At first, it took some time for them to get going but, with the help of the encouraging staff, they began to open up and share their ideas.
With fitting music playing in the background, I asked each person to then take 1 sheet of coloured construction paper and choose 1 word or short phrase to represent one of the most important things they stand for. I gave them a few minutes to think and complete the task and asked that they be respectful of others and do this entire part of the activity in silence.
As you may have noticed (and will further in my next instalment), music is a really important part of training sessions for me. I spend a lot of time researching and choosing songs that fit my themes. I find they are helpful in gathering, wrapping up, and in times when I ask for silence from the participants.
When everyone was ready, I asked them to stand upon a bench in the circle and hold their sheet in front of them with the word(s) facing them. Again, it was important that this be done without any talking. I frontloaded what would happen next. When a new song began to play, I had a staff member begin by turning over his page. The person on his left did the same and then all in turn until we had completed the circle and all the words were displayed. When the last person had revealed her sheet, that first staff member came down off the bench, placed his paper in the middle of the floor and returned to his place. Again the person to his left did the same until everyone had added their sheet to a colourful and meaningful quilt of paper that lay in the middle of the lodge floor. This entire exercise was done in silence with me using hand gestures and the music playing in the background. It was compelling to read what they had written.
My goal was to complete this exercise twice more. The second discussion was to be what they do not stand for, will not tolerate. I was going to ask them to once again to choose a word or short phrase to describe something they do not stand for, write it on a new sheet of construction paper and then circle the word(s) and put a diagonal line through it to show that it is a behaviour they will not permit or accept. We were to go through the whole experience again of revealing our sheets one person at a time standing upon the benches and then adding the new words to the quilt on the floor.
The third time, there was to be no discussion in small groups prior to writing on their last sheet. I was going to ask them to write down a word(s) which represents something they wish they had more courage to stand for and no one was to see what they had written. We were to repeat the entire circle activity one last time but, prior to turning over their pages, I was going to collect them all, mix them up, and then hand out a sheet to each person so that no one would know whose was whose. I was planning to tell them this in advance so that they would have felt confident to write what they truly felt.
I say “was going to” because I cut the session short and I’ll explain why shortly. I decided at that point to do the wrap up of the morning and finish early. I asked everyone to take a seat on the benches. Beside the quilt on the floor, I had placed 3 rings of webbing in a circle. Each one overlay the other slightly so that there was a point in the centre where all 3 overlapped. I drew their attention to them and explained that there are ways that we act and things that we do (I placed a sheet in one of the webbing circles with the words “do” and “act” on it), there are things that we think and say (again “think” and “say” were printed on a sheet and placed in the next webbing circle) and things that we “believe” and “feel” (a 3rd sheet in the last webbing). When all 3 of these overlap, we have integrity.
I placed a large banner over all three webbings which read integrity and we shared in a large group discussion about the importance of integrity - how it is defined, how it can be hard sometimes to live with integrity, and why it is so important that we try. I explained that if what we say and think, act and do, believe and feel are all in alignment, we can accomplish great things. I asked them to once again examine the quilt on the floor and explained that, in order for the words that they placed on their sheets to be how they blanketed every act, every statement, how they treated every person that they met, they must have integrity. I then took the banner and placed it across the middle of the quilt. I asked them to think of what amazing changes and differences they could make if their people and their places were cared for in this way.
At this time, one of the great moments of the week occurred. I reinforced that it can be very difficult to live each day with integrity of spirit and encouraged them to be strong but also to lean on others for support. I stated, “you do not have to do it alone”. As I had prearranged with the staff the day before, one counsellor then stood in the circle and said “I will stand with you”. Then another staff member stood and repeated the same phrase and then another and another until all the staff members were standing, united in belief that these teens could change the world. It was an incredibly powerful moment.
At that time, I shared that the camp’s L.I.T.s were participating in their graduation ceremony down in the chapel at that very moment and, because all of the staff were up in the lodge helping with S.T.A.N.D., no one representing camp was there to sit in the pews and support these young people who had spent the last 4 weeks working so terribly hard to become future counsellors. It didn’t seem right to me that we had spent the last week training these teen campers to be intentional leaders and were not present to celebrate and acknowledge those who had given up a month of their summer to do just that. All agreed!
So..in complete and utter silence (they had gotten really good at this with me this week!), the entire camp walked together down to the chapel and filled every nook and cranny of the space to be with the L.I.T.s, their directors, and the families of the graduates as they received their certificates and honoured their accomplishments. It meant a great deal to these members of the camp community and to their leaders and, in retrospect, to the teen campers as they not only saw the possibilities for themselves at camp but knew they had given something very special to some very deserving people.
Well, that takes us from S through D. So much happened in that week that I just can’t fit it all in 5 instalments so...there will be one more about this grand adventure. In it, I will share many of the special touches that were added throughout the week to round out the experience.
I must say that, as I sit down to write about these days, many months later, it makes me miss these campers and staff a great deal. It was a tremendous week and I will never forget the many moments, big and small, that we shared.
If you have any questions leave them in the comments section or email Beth.