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

Ouareau's Pocket Counsellor

quip Your Camp Counsellors with the Tools They Need


Gab has talked a few times about the Pocket Counsellor that every staff member receives at Camp Ouareau.  She was nice enough to send us in an example from this year.

Click here to download it.

2019 Update

Gabrielle has been kind enough update to the Pocket Counsellor / Monitrice de Poche download AND to offer to help create yours with you. Please check out the options at https://www.conceptcitron.com/pocket-counsellor

Yes by Dr. Robert Cialdini - Camp Leader's MBA

Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive

by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert Cialdini


[Welcome to the third in my series called the Camp Leader’s MBA. It is a winter-long curriculum for summer camp people to educate themselves on business and marketing. Read along with me and be ready to graduate by the start of camp 2011!]

Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive is a great book for Camp Directors because it can help you out in a few different areas of your camp life.  Marketing is a natural area but so is something like getting buy-in from staff on a big change at camp.  On the Summer Camp Professionals group on Facebook we have been offering ideas to a director who is moving to a new camp this summer and who is looking for ideas for implementing change.   I think this book (along with Switch, the book discussed in last month's OCA Newsletter) offers some great practical choices for making improvements at your camp.

Dr. Cialdini often talks about his Six Principles of Persuasion and there are great example through out this book:

  1. Reciprocation
  2. Social Proof
  3. Commitment and Consistency
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

I really like the format of this book.  It is very simple to read and you can get something great every time you pick it up.   Each of the 50 Ways is it's own chapter with a real-world example of persuasion being used in a psychological/anthropological study.

A few of the many camp ideas that I got from reading this book:

  • When trying to change a behaviour at camp focus on those who are doing it right (positive Social Proof). For example: 75% of our families send in their Health Forms before May 1st.
  • If a child is struggling or losing confidence in her ability to complete a challenge at camp you can help her push through to the end by not just saying "you can do it!", but by reminding her how hardworking and creative she is.  Give her some examples from the past.
  • Improve the commitment of a flakey staff member by making them write things down.   For example, if you need them to drop by your office at a certain time you could say "Come see me at 3:00" in a busy dining hall (little change he'll remember), give him a note at the same time (better chance that he'll remember but what if he loses the paper during cabin clean up?), or, best yet, say "Can you write this down?  Come see Travis at the office 3:00 this afternoon".  The physical act of writing it out for himself will provide the best possible chance that that counsellor will be rat-a-tat-tating your door at 3 bells.


Who do you need to persuade?