EOT Blog

Innovation at Camp: We Preach It, Are We Practicing It? From the Desk of Professor Dave

David Malter | April 28, 2017

I consider myself incredibly lucky to spend my days talking and thinking about camp…it’s awesome! I am constantly thinking about, discussing and researching ways to improve on the already impressive work we are doing at our camps from staff training to meals to program. Having the opportunity to then take all the background work I’ve done and helping camps implement those ideas is inspirational.

Creative Control

I was having coffee the other day with a young lady who is thinking about becoming a member of our camp professional club. She has a fire and passion for camp and she just wanted to make an informed decision seeing as she wants this to be THE career move. We talked about a lot of different topics, she had some really insightful questions, and at some point we got onto this idea of the differences between working as part of a large, politically driven organization (like the university she was currently working for) as opposed to working in a camp setting. What amplified this for her even more is that she is a creative, motivated thinker who wants to move quickly and “get things done and make an impact”. This is a topic I’ve thought about often as I went in the opposite direction a few years ago…I moved from a privately-owned day camp to a university setting and was hit with some culture shock. At camp, we are able to move at a pace that is unlike any other industry I’ve been exposed to. If you have an idea, can prove its value and there is little risk then you are encouraged to be ambitious and take ownership of implementing that idea. Yes, there are stakeholders who need to give a final “stamp of approval” and it is just so much easier to garner autonomy in the camp world. I recall trying to get approval for a redesign of a flyer highlighting the courses we offered at the university shortly after leaving camp and it took 3 MONTHS!!! Not 3 days like camp, 3 MONTHS! As I thought more about this conversation and others I’ve had recently with camps, I wondered if are we really living up to that standard of a creativity and exploration we espouse?

Freedom to Innovate

Unlike other industries and especially the primary/secondary teaching world, camps have the unbelievable opportunity to innovate in the ways we educate young people, campers and staff. As long as we meet the standards of safety so campers are emotionally and physically safe, we have the ability to be at the forefront of teaching life skills to our campers and staff. However, May comes every year and no matter how long we’ve been running camp, a little bit of panic sets in as we realize campers are coming in less than 60 days.  The conversations I have with a camp (client or just a friend), become less, “Dave, I really want to try (____) this summer and let’s talk about how I can do that!” and more, “Dave, I really wanted to try (____) this summer but it’s too late and I’m just going to do it the way I did it last summer. Maybe we can try to innovate next year.” I’d like to challenge you to rethink the idea that because of all the “big ticket” items that need to be done you can’t innovate your staff training, for example, and will just succumb to last year being good enough. I have a challenge for all of us as May creeps up.

Small Changes Make Big Impact

I got a message from a camp friend recently who is known to ask me to help with no real warning (I don’t mind and appreciate the challenge!). She was working on developing her Staff Training and wanted to get my feedback on an exercise we’ve probably all heard of or done ourselves. Here is how the conversation went down:

Camp Friend: I want our Division Leaders to write a letter to their future selves to be opened in the Fall and the goal would be to have them highlighting all of the great things we hope/expect from them. I can’t quite figure out the best way to articulate it. Any tools? If I subscribe to the KISS method then the following should work: If you were to write a short letter to your future self, reflecting on Summer 2017, what would it say?

Now, many of you have done this exercise before and it’s probably worked sometimes and other times, you’ve forgotten to follow-up. Regardless, it’s fine and she could continue to present this exercise exactly this way.

However, if she just invested a couple of minutes, she could take this exercise to a whole new level!

My response: I would say be more specific and ask the following questions/prompts: 1. What are your 3 goals for this summer? 2. Identify 3 ways you will grow as a leader? 3. Name 3 ways you want campers and staff to describe you at the end of the summer. 4. What are 3 ways you hope to change personally through your experience at camp?

Easy, right? We turned an OK exercise into a dynamic, meaningful piece of the staff training program.  I am not suggesting you scrap your plan for staff training or develop anything otherworldly that is beyond everyone’s capability. All you need is the belief that even the small changes will help you innovate and change your camp on a large scale. And, you can always ask a friend!

Any Questions? Reach out to me at ProfessorDave.Camp or Schedule a 30 minute Phone/Skype Meeting Here!

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