Collaboration with the Camp Staff Dream Team

Hello from the Head Counsellor - #2

Some of the Cairn Dream Team of 2012

Some of the Cairn Dream Team of 2012

In the off season, when I’m not camp hacking with Travis, I study Music Education at Wilfrid Laurier University. This past year, I took a high school music education class with an amazing professor, Doug Friesen. This guy is awesome, my friends. All you teachers out there (especially music teachers) need to check him out. He has some very insightful opinions on education and the place of creativity and collaboration within it. 

In class, we took a real hard look at collaboration and how by giving kids an opinion on things like educational content and even classroom policies, it results in them being more invested in their education. Our talks really spoke to me and I was excited to start experimenting with collaboration as soon as I could. Since being a teacher is a bit down the road for me, I decided that with the prospect of being the Head Counsellor at camp in the summer, I would try to take a collaborative approach while working with the counsellors. What was the worst that could happen? My thought was, if the counsellors were given an opportunity to work with me and each other in designing how we were going to operate, that we would all be that much more invested in the summer. 

My approach was twofold.

The first collaborative effort, and less complicated of my two ideas, was to collaborate as a group more often. We have a very structured schedule at Cairn so it was tough to come up with a time that worked well for camp but eventually, we settled on having a 15 minute meeting with one counsellor from every counselling pair or trio, every day at the end of rest hour (which for us, is after lunch, and before the 3rd session of the day). These meetings were meant for quick, daily reminders and then the remaining time strictly used for a facilitated discussion about how everyone’s week was going. Topics included cabin morale and dynamics, magic ideas, how to handle specific struggles and many others. My intention for these meetings was to not speak a whole lot. My hope was that the counsellors would draw from their own learning experiences and have them use each other as a resource network more often. While this approach to collaboration wasn’t specifically what we had talked a whole lot about in my education class, it was one that I was definitely glad to have given a try...but more on that next article!

My second collaborative experience for the summer was more along the lines of what had inspired me to explore collaboration in the first place. I was extremely curious to see how a community would work, grow, and perform under expectations that were created and agreed upon by those that would be directly affected. I decided that to have the counselling staff be able to create a comprehensive list of expectations, I would provide them with a general framework and then have the rest of the process be up to all of us from that point on.

For the foundation, I created expectation categories under the following 5 umbrellas:

Dream Big - Supporting camp magic and making camp truly extraordinary

Reach A Little Higher - Going above and beyond the bare minimum of the basics

Equilibrium - Finding balance in all things camp (ex. Finding the line between friend and counsellor, being social with the staff but being camper focused while with the kids, etc.)

Always Campers First - Understanding that campers come first and their well-being should be at the top of our priority list

Manage Yourself - Being a good emotional and physical self-manager

With these categories given to them in Leadership Training, I told the counsellors that being a “team” was something that any group of people doing a job together could call themselves. However, we were going to work together to fill in our thoughts of specific expectations that they thought were essential to being what we called “The Dream Team” of Cairn Counsellors. I had the umbrella statements each written out on chart paper so the counsellors could not only write their opinions, but read each other’s and place a check mark next to someone’s idea they really liked. 

Here is the list of what we came up with.

With these expectations, I looked through them with them and we all agreed that they seemed fair. The last step to this process was for the group to ensure we were staying accountable for the expectations that they had created. To do this, I placed 5 letter place holders on one of the walls of the staff lounge. Each was for the letters D R E A M. As the week ran it’s course, I made sure to update these letters when either I saw, or the counsellors came and told me about the community (as a whole) following through on the criteria of each category. We agreed that we would truly be able to call ourselves the “Dream Team” if we could get all of the letters for at least one of the week of the summer.

So although that this initiative did have some direction from me in the beginning and in some of the evaluation stage, the creation and upholding of the values was on all of us. It was something new, that had never been formally done before at camp so none of us had any idea how it was going to turn out...

So there it was, the framework of a collaborative summer was laid out and ready to get rolling. Going into week one, I can honestly say that I wasn’t sure was to expect and looking back on it now, I had no idea the kinds of fantastic learning we were all about to experience. 

So, I will leave you at that for now. Two weeks from now, I will talk about how this collaborative lab experiment turned out. If you have any thoughts about what I’ve talked about so far, please feel free to comment below or email me. I would love to hear from you.

Until then. Happy days.

~Matt “Iscus” Honsberger
The Head Counsellor

Stop Marketing To Yourself

Go after the ones the other camps leave behind

Summer camps have a tendency to aim their marketing material at people like themselves - those who already love summer camp.   With some planning on our part we can better reach out to families who don't know the value of what we do.

In this presentation, Travis Allison, talked about a couple of super-easy marketing concepts and offered 10 Tips to market your summer camp to families who are new to the idea of summer camp.

Staff Footprints Journey Mural

The Gifts of Our Camp Staff


One of the best things we do at summer camp is to help young people slow down and take stock of the gifts and talents they possess.  Here is an activity that can be done during pre-camp or early in the group's time together.  It encourages staff or leaders in training to share what they do well and to recognize the abilities of others.  It can also incorporate the concept of growth throughout the summer.

Footprints Journey Mural

Have everyone trace one of their feet onto construction paper and cut it out.  Then have them decorate it with words or symbols telling about several of the things they do well. Have participants sit in a circle with their footprints and ask them to talk to the person next to them and tell that person about the 3 things they have written on their footprint.

Talk with your group about their gifts and talents.  Ask if any of them found it hard to talk about a something they do well.  While this exercise may not have been hard for some, it will have been difficult for others.  We often find it uncomfortable to talk about things we do well.  This is a great jumping off point to discuss how campers in their care may also find it hard to recognize their own gifts and talents and what the role of the staff will be this coming summer in building self-esteem.

Throughout the summer, you can have them add to their footprints new skills they have learned.  During this initial activity, create a road of paper onto which the footprints can be placed.  Throughout the week of pre-camp or during your summer,  move the footprints along the road to signify your journey together. As the summer progresses, have the staff place markers along the road to signify special events in your months together.

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You.

It's All About Building Camp Community


As we mentioned in our last newsletter, we're going to take some time this Fall to share activities which help to build small, medium or large sized groups.  They are terrific for teen campers for Leaders in Training (or C.I.T.s), and staff. Here are a few more for you to compile for next summer:


Great for the first time folks gather at camp and not everyone is arriving at the same time

Before anyone arrives, put up poster-sized sheets around your meeting space with ‘get to know you’ questions. Use large newsprint sheets or large whiteboards.  Be sure to have plenty of writing utensils for everyone to have at least one.  As your people are arriving, explain that they can go around and write down their answers.  They can either write their names beside the answers or not.  These are great conversation starters and everyone can participate, even those who are shy and afraid to share their opinions out loud in front of a group.  You can have fun with the questions or write down serious ones (ex. of all the famous people, who would you like to have dinner with?  What is your favourite cereal?  What is the best book you’ve ever read?  If you could have one super power what would it be?  I believe God is…..) You may choose to take up some of the answers when everyone arrives or simply leave them up for awhile so folks can have a chance to read them.

Creative Answer

Another one for differing arrival times

Leave this note on a table near your poster area. “Pretend that we know nothing about you.  Using only this card and writing utensils, teach us all about yourself.  This is to be done as an individual exercise.”  If your teens/staff members do not spot it, point it out to ones who appear to have finished answering poster questions.  Have index cards ready to be used and paper clips to attach the card to the collar of the writer's shirt for the remainder of the evening.  These spark great conversations!

Silent Interviews

Divide the group into pairs (play or do not play so that the numbers come out evenly - try to mix the group into pairs of folks who don't know each other well. Ask your participants to introduce themselves to their partners. Instruct the group that from this point forward, speaking is not allowed. This includes whispering, mouthing words, and making sounds!

Inform the group that they must tell their partner 3 things about themselves without speaking (similar to a charades game). These things cannot be physical characteristics.

Once all the partners have finished miming to each other, call everyone back into a circle. Tell them not to share their answers with their partners just yet. Ask for each pair to orally introduce their partner to the group, as well as the three things that they learned (or think they learned).  This activity is great as a mixer but also provides a few giggles along they way.

For more articles about building staff community please check out this link.