S.T.A.N.D. Leadership - Take Responsibility for Your Own Actions

Learning How to Apologize and other Responsibilities

CAIRN's Teen Week S.T.A.N.D. Leadership campers

CAIRN's Teen Week S.T.A.N.D. Leadership campers

The morning of “T” began with a few special touches that I’ll get into at a later date.  There were so many throughout the week, I thought I would give them their own article at the end of this series.  It was important to start the day’s session giving them yet another opportunity to use their social graces.  I divided them again into pairs of cabin groups - different ones so that they were continuing to meet new people every day.  The counsellors then facilitated putting them into partners, one person from each cabin per pair.  Before the game began, they introduced themselves to their new teammate and shook hands.  They looked a lot less awkward than yesterday and the teens didn’t even shoot me those strange looks I got the day before when I asked them to do the same!

The simple activity that we used was to give them 3 minutes to find as many things as possible that they had in common with their partner.  They were not allowed to use the obvious - ‘we both have a nose, eyes, etc.’  After 3 minutes, we had a contest to see who found the most things in common and who found the most unique thing in common.  The answers were quite remarkable and the campers surprisingly invested in the process.  It was important for them to understand that we, as people, have so much more in common than we think and that one of the ways we change community is to get to know people.  

A few skits followed, thanks once again to the wonderful resource staff of the camp who were willing to allow themselves to look a bit silly and, specifically today, a bit irresponsible.  Of course, at the end, it was important to tell the campers that our skits were just that and that the staff members who helped me were actually very responsible and, that if they had not been, I would never have shared my disappointment with a room full of people.  

Through both skits, which I had thought were relatively clever and funny, I got very little reaction from the teens.  They were attentive and polite but did not show any emotion while they watched. The staff members in the ‘audience’, however, reacted as I had hoped. This was a fascinating eye-opener for me.  The information presented in the skits was geared to the campers’ age group but they did not seem as invested as I had anticipated.  As the week continued, I think I began to understand why and know what I need to change in the future but more about that on “A” day.  

Both sketches lead us into group discussions on responsibility and my fears of how the morning was going dissolved a bit as the teens became more involved. First we agreed on a definition.  We decided that “responsibility = own your ______”.  We made a long list to fill in the blank and had small cabin group discussions about how it feels when people are responsible.   We came together to report on our conversations and, in our “World Vision” portion of the morning, chatted about what the world looks like when people do not “own their _______” and how that affects us all.  We ended off this section by having volunteers record the campers answers to “what are ways we can practice and show responsibility here at camp?”.  These answers took a bit to pull out of them but we got there.

The mood changed considerably in the second half of “T”’s session.  

World Vision exercise at S.T.A.N.D.

World Vision exercise at S.T.A.N.D.

We talked about what to do when we screw up.  We discussed that sometimes we drop the ball, we make mistakes, we forget things, we hurt our friends’ feelings and we let people down.  With a fun activity I learned years ago from Michael Brandwein, I had them change partners within their cabin groupings (of course, they introduced themselves and shook hands first).  Each pairing was given a tennis ball and, over the course of 5 minutes, threw it back and forth to one another while, with signals from me, they moved further and further apart.  Now picture over 100 people doing this in the lodge.  Of course, many people dropped the ball but, every so often with my interruptions to move further apart, I instructed them what to say if a ball was dropped.  I changed the responses several times throughout the activity.  Of course, there was much laughter.  At first, it was the embarrassed kind and, as the activity continued, it was just the “this is okay and I’m having fun” kind.  

We debriefed the exercise and talked about how much easier it was to own up to a slip-up when their partner said things like, “It’s okay, everyone makes mistakes.  Just try again.”  Of course, we also examined the fact that botching our responsibilities and making mistakes is not always this fun.  Sometimes it’s really hard to admit you goofed.  Sometimes it can be really painful to take responsibility for your own actions.  I had frontloaded with a number of staff members that I would be asking how they deal with these kinds of situations.  They had had a day or so to think about it and gave really thoughtful answers.  I think hearing from the counsellors and senior staff that the teens really looked up to was a moving experience for them.

Nearing the end of our session, we talked about apologies.  This is when the campers really came to life.  They had a LOT to say on this issue;  they were eager to share their examples of a really bad apology and how it made them feel.  We reviewed the 3 steps of apologizing and went over the one step that makes us truly responsible human beings.

We wrapped up talking about owning our mistakes and learning from them so that they can empower us to be better people.  We ended our morning by making a physical representation of our commitment to show what can be built if we are all responsible for our own actions.  Ahead of time, a lovely volunteer made us a bridge using poster paper.  It was 2 dimensional and pretty big because it needed to hold a lot of hand prints.  The campers and staff each took turns putting their hands in washable tempera paint and placing a handprint somewhere on the bridge.  It was a lasting and colourful work of art symbolizing their pledge to change the world for the better by owning their own actions.

From a morning that began like me pulling teeth to get responses from the teens, it ended in really great place.  I look forward to sharing all about “Asking Intelligent Questions” in my next instalment.  It was one difference-making session!

Click for more S.T.A.N.D. Leadership Training articles.

Summer Camp Photographer - Camp Kintail

Camp Photos for Marketing Purposes

Camp Kintail is an ever growing Presbyterian Church Camp on the eastern shore of Lake Huron.  Kintail is my first summer home - as many long-term listeners and readers will know I grew up there (so did my mom & her brothers and my grandparents).   It is always a special time for me to get to go back to Kintail and shoot for them every year.

If you are interested in professional photography to help improve the image of your website, blog, newsletter or brochure please contact me.

A "HINT" to Increase Retaining Campers - Joanna Warren Smith

Training Your Summer Camp Staff to Help You Keep Campers Coming Back

(Note from Travis:   We are so thrilled to be posting the always brilliant HINTS from camp consultant Joanna Warren Smith!  If you don't already you should sign up to receive theses HINTS in your email - in the right-hand column of Joanna's website: http://camp-consulting.com/)

hint for retaining summer campers from Joanna Warren Smith.

hint for retaining summer campers from Joanna Warren Smith.

Imagine if you will ...

A camper is walking down a path with a favorite counselor.  They are laughing, talking and bonding in such a special way that when you see them, you smile because these relationships are what camp is all about.

The lively, engaging conversation continues; the camper looks up fondly at the best role model in the world and eagerly asks, "Are you coming back to camp next summer?"  And the counselor quickly responds "No, I'm going to grad school."

Please know that the camper who asked the question will likely not be back because in that response, the counselor took away a "personal" reason for the child to return.

Now, I don't advocate lying to campers but we must encourage counselors to realize their impact on children.  It's essential for them to see how the ramifications of a response to a tough question can be mitigated.


  • RUN A SHORT INTERACTIVE SESSION FOR ALL STAFF.  Act out the above scenario and let counselors come to their own conclusions about the impact on the camper.  If they see it, rather than get lectured about it, they are more likely to understand your intention.
  • PROVIDE EASY RESPONSES.   Encourage counselors to anticipate the question and be ready with authentic responses like "I love camp so much, I want to come back every year."  Or "Camp is the best place, I always want to be here, don't you?" And remind counselors that if they do have negative reactions about camp, they should be shared with leadership ... not with campers or their parents.
  • FOCUS BACK ON THE CAMPER.  Guide the counselor to move the child to thinking about what can be accomplished in the next summer.  "You'll be a Pathfinder next year ... I bet you're looking forward to that canoe trip!" Or "You'll get your third year pin next year, right?"
  • PRACTICE.  Give leadership and staff the opportunity to role play a number of times to let everyone become comfortable with the question and their responses.

Retention can be increased with this one simple focus.  Give it a try!

Want some other last-minute retention techniques?

Give Joanna a call at  310-451-1876  or email campconsulting@verizon.net



Don't Forget Yourself...

A Self-Evaluation for Camp Directors

Summer Camp Director: Self Evaluation

Summer Camp Director: Self Evaluation

As Camp Directors, we are quite intentional about evaluations. We evaluate everything from people to program, food to finance, and policies to procedures. Like many things at camp, however, we often forget to put ourselves on 'the list'. 

At this time of year, when, for many, the last of the rental groups has finished and the docks are coming out, it's important to take the time to self-evaluate.  If you have a Co-Director or a Leadership Team who works full-time with you, it can be beneficial to share some of your answers as part of the process. 

CampHacker's Director Eval:  

Everybody's Got Skills 

Why do you think you were chosen you to fill this role at this time in your camp's history?

What skills do you bring to the role of ____________ which make it a successful partnership with your organization?

On which skills would you like to see yourself improve?

On The Job 

What 3 things are your favourite parts of this job?

What 3 responsibilities give you the most stress about your job?  Please be specific.

Whatdaya Need?

What do you need from your (Board, Governing Body, Camp Community)  in order the do the best job possible?  (we are assuming here that you are not already receiving these things)

What outside resources do you need to access to be better at your job?

Looking Back...

What 5 words would you use to describe this year's season at camp?

List 3 things you did very well this camping season and of which you are most proud.

What was your biggest mistake -- one you will never make again?

What advice would the “You” of today give the “You of last spring/summer?

Working Well with Others

How would you describe your working relationship with your Leadership Team this camping season?

If anything, what would you like to improve in your relationship?

What 3 things would you like to have told your Team at the end of the summer?

How can you be a better support to your Leadership Team next spring/summer?

Looking Ahead...

What do you fear most for next summer? 

What are you looking forward to most next summer?

What projects should you be doing this Fall so they are out of the way come next Spring?  (list with realistic dates by which to be finished each project)

How will Leadership Training next summer be different from this year’s?

What is your most exciting idea for next season?

We would love to hear the questions you ask yourself at the end of every year.  Reviewing and evaluating ourselves on a regular basis helps us to be more intentional in our roles as Camping Professionals.

Hello from the Head Counsellor - Head Counsellor - #0

Ideas for your summer camp Head Counsellor!

CampHacker Matt Honsberger

CampHacker Matt Honsberger

Hello everyone! My name is Matt Honsberger, at camp they call me Iscus. I play a bit of a behind the scenes role here at CampHacker, but Travis was kind enough to have me write a little bit for the site about my thoughts on something that I am very passionate about, summer camp.

Summer camp started for me at the age of 8 at small residential camp in Paris Ontario called Ganadoweh. My parents registered me for the “Wilderness Experience” trip. So I went, and for the first time, paddled a canoe, pitched a tent, sang campfire songs and experienced what missing home was really all about!

From there, I guess you could say that I really became a “child of the North”. My best friend connected me to Cairn (at the time, Glen Mhor Camp) and for 6 years, I would spend the best week of my year up there. Then, I took the fairly typical camp leadership journey from the month long LIT program in 2006, to counselling in ’07 and ’08, to being the Assistant Maintenance Director (I like to add the -Director for resumes) in 2009, then co-directed the LIT program for two years and this past summer, had the honour of being Cairn’s Head Counsellor.

I can honestly say that my 13 summers at camp have left the biggest impressions on my life and have shaped me into the leader that I am today. By no means do they make me an expert or a camp visionary, but I have definitely had some life-altering experiences and learned some lessons that I think can only really be learned at camp. In that time, this past year at camp was particularly impactful for me. I can’t think of another time in my life where I was so stressed out, so frustrated and so challenged yet so content and driven. 

That confusing inequality of emotions is exactly the type of thing that I am excited to share on this blog. Below, you’ll find out some of my insights on being a head counsellor based around the kind of experiences and encounters that I had. Once again, I don’t claim to be a visionary but I hope that my thoughts will spark some of your own and that together, we can come out with something visionary-ish. 


[Travis' edit: You can connect with Matt on Twitter @Iscus

Next article - The Job Description(ish.)