Hello from the Head Counsellor - Head Counsellor - #1

The Job Description(ish)

CampHacker Matt Honsberger

CampHacker Matt Honsberger

Hello, friends! Once again, I am very excited to be writing this blog and I hope that you (whomever you may be!) will find some value in these words.

So as I mentioned in my first article , I had the privilege of being the Head Counsellor at Cairn this past summer. Now, before I continue, I’ll give some context. Cairn is a fairly small residential camp so the position of Head Counsellor at Cairn would be synonymous of the Section Head of larger camps that require multiple Head Counsellors. At Cairn, the position of the Head Counsellor is a part of the senior leadership team (along with the Asst. Director, Integration Co-ordinatior, Program Director and LIT Directors) and answers directly to the Co-Directors. I realize that camps have a myriad of different structural nuances so I hope that all makes sense. 

The Job Description.

Based on my experience, the role of the Head Counsellor covers most of these general aspects:

Supervising the Counselling staff and ensuring that they are a) providing the campers with an extraordinary experience and b) fostering a staff community of learning, cohesion and growth.

Ensuring the safety and inclusion of every camper through direct interactions and being a support system/resource for the Counselling staff.

Acting as a liaison between the resource staff (program/facility and leadership staff) and the counselling staff for the transfer camper information, individual needs and performance feedback.

Along with the general responsibilities of a senior staff, the above is an umbrella job description for a Head Counsellor. For some more specific ones, check out the links below for some from different camps in North America. 

Now, for everything else.


One of my favorite things about being the Head Counsellor this past summer was the room for my own flare to shine in the position. After two summers of having a very specific role as the LIT director, I was thrilled to have a job where I was able to assess what parts of my job I wanted to focus on and when. For me, that meant while I followed my job description to the letter, how I followed it was a bit more lucid. My “Ish”. 

My “Ish” this summer was building up the counselling staff to ensure that the care that they were giving the campers was exemplary. So even though I was still a resource and was ready to jump into a bullying or “cabin-clashing” situation when needed, my focus was on building the community and skills of the counsellors, so that they would in-turn, be able to be more independent in taking excellent care of the campers. 

Now, at this point, you may be thinking that I was a giant slacker and just let my “Ish” develop as the summer went on or used it to avoid a part of my description. To set the record straight (also, to keep my employment for next summer), I had a plan. 

Here are a few things that I thought about when developing my strategy for achieving my “Ish”:

What have I learned about the staff and their skills so far?
- be careful not to develop any presumptions about the staff, before you actually see them in action. Aka. Get to know them a bit first before you start creating a vision.

What skills do I have that can best supplement a certain aspect of my job?
- you know what you are best at, make the best part of you into the best part of your job!

What does camp need from me... 
...as a voice of leadership? 
...as a person who has been around camp for awhile?
...as a member of the staff community?
And is my “Ish” going to interfere with any of that?

What will be the ripple effect of my Ish...
...for camp
...for me
...for the campers
...for the counsellors
ex. By spending time to develop the counsellors hard skills as a group, would it be possible to have them leave rest hour for a bit for a short development time?

What are my goals for this Ish?
- similar to above but focusing on what results I was hoping to see

What is my back-up plan?
- never leave home without one!

So there you have it! 

Something that I hope you take away from this is that your “Ish” is one way for you to make your summer about more than just the job description. 

I’d like to know, did you have an “Ish” this summer? How did you take your job description and add your personal touch to it? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. I would love to hear them!

Until next time!

Matt “Iscus” Honsberger

Leadership Skills... Are Just Skills


Passion. Energy. Spirit. Friendship. Trust. Leadership.

Hey you! Yes, you, reading this article! Look here! Camp 2012 is coming!

My name is Jay Gilbert and I’m very excited to write this first blog post for CampHacker.org. I love camp, and I’m passionate about leadership. I encourage you to join the discussion. Add your comments, questions, thoughts and let’s see where we go with this column!

Leadership is a big topic.

I’d like to dull down this long, confusing word and make it easier to digest. So chew on this - we hear all the time that we should be developing leadership skills. Ok. What does that even mean?

Let me push you to think about leadership skills as just having skills. When we’re at camp, we have a lot to manage as staff and leaders. We model our behaviour on the example of our mentors. We have our own unique habits and talents that we demonstrate every day.

So, what are some of these leadership skills?

Think of the traditional camp fire. Who is the leader? If you regularly play guitar at your campfires, then you are a leader. That’s right - playing guitar is a leadership skill. By having the ability to play guitar, you are naturally pulled up in front of the group and the group follows you as you strum your recently tuned 6 strings. The campers look up to you because your musical skills are something they would like to be able to do. You have expert knowledge. You know how to play the G, D, and C chords! Well done!

Do you sing? It takes a lot of courage to sing publicly in front of a group of people. If you sing, you’re a leader!

What skills do you have, and how do the talents you already possess help you demonstrate leadership? Are you a skilled archer? What about your ability to mould a bowl on the pottery wheel?

What are you known for around camp? Whatever it is, you are an expert in that field, and you are a leader, a teacher, a role model, and of course, friend, to those around you.

Each of us is a leader in our own unique way. Exploit your talents and influence those around you by sharing your skills. You are a leader!

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” - Oscar Wilde.

We Care - Raising World-Changing Leaders at Summer Camp

What Is Your Summer Camp Staff Going to Do About It?


As Camp Directors, we have the honour and privilege of helping to raise a generation (or more) of campers and staff who can learn to make a difference, a real difference.  The following activity is best done with staff, LIT, or older campers


Bring in several newspapers.  If staff members have been at camp for several weeks or months, they will be very excited to hear from the 'outside world'.  Try to get a variety of papers (local, national, provincial, state, etc.).  If you have a large group, get several copies of each one.  There will be a lot of things in the paper that may not work for this exercise (ex. comics, cars, fashion, sports, etc.) so you will need enough sections of the ‘news’ to go around.

Divide your people into small groups.  Have each group look at a section of the paper to get ideas about global issues that concern us all, no matter where we live.  Ask each group to discuss what responsibilities, if any, we have or should have regarding the issues that they raise. After they have had time for reading and discussing, come together again as a larger group and discuss some of the issues together.

Be sure they focus not just on the issues but on our responsibility as children of this planet for problems that do not directly affect us.  Encourage deep discussion and respectful debate.

Take time now to regather in their original small groups and have them come up with several concrete steps they can take now while at camp to aid their chosen issue of concern.

End this activity be hearing from all groups and allowing additional ideas or input from the others.  Commend them for the steps they have taken and encourage them in this journey.  Follow up throughout the coming weeks at camp.  You may want to share their successes with the rest of 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.

Camp Staff Training Activity - Map Your Life

Life Maps Allow Camp Staff to Tell Their Own Story


This activity takes about an hour and a half in total.  You will need a large sheet of newsprint per person (if you are using poster-sized newsprint, cut each sheet in half) and lots of scissors (one pair per person, if you can), glue and magazines (try to collect a variety of magazines from fashion to sports, home decor to adventure, etc.).

Turn on some great music in the background while you do this activity. Ask each person to take a look at the magazines and rip or cut out all the words and pictures that speak to them.  Ask them not to think about it too much; just react.  They will then glue all of them onto their own sheet of newsprint.  This can take up to an hour. You would not think it will take this long but they will enjoy discussing all the things they find, the ads in the magazines, and the search.

Be sure to give them 10 and 5 minutes warnings of when you expect them to be finished.  On your signal, ask them to pair up with someone they do not know very well and share their “map of life”.  Ask them to explain why they chose these words and images and why it is displayed as it is.

After both partners have had a chance to share, ask the members to examine their own work.  Ask them to decide what is important to them, what is missing in their life and what they want to change.  Have them WIBYT (Write It Before Your Talk - Thank you, Michael Brandwein!) these thoughts in their journals; explain they will not be shared with anyone.

Foolproof idea for getting more campers this summer


You can get more summer camp campers in your bunks this summer at the cost of… an email and some time.

In Ontario the first week of the camp season has passed and I think there is a great opportunity for you to fill up some more beds this summer.   Assuming that you have 1 week sessions (more likely most of you have 2 week sessions - send this email next week) I think you could tap into the excitement that the first session generated to get you more campers.   What I propose is this…

Send all campers that have just returned home this email (using Mail Merge so it says “Hi Clarisse, ….” or whatever his/her name is):

Hey _____________

We hope you had a great week at camp last week (if not please email or call me [give # and email])

To say thank you for a great week we would like to offer you 15% off another week at camp this summer.   If you have any friends who heard all of your great stories and now want to come to Camp _________  they can have the 15% off as well.

Your coupon code is 2010-asdfasfw.   Make sure your friends that sign up use the same code.

We hope to see you back at camp this summer!



What have you done at your camp to fill the extra spots left in the summer?