There are a several counsellor archetypes that tend to emerge on each staff team. It’s important to be able to recognize them and learn how to meet their needs.
Here are 10 common personality types that you’re likely to encounter:
1. The “I <3 camp because it’s camp” counsellor
Common characteristics: this counsellor LOVES camp, they love the games, the singing, the tie dye wardrobe, and the tan lines. They’re strangely ok with early mornings, late nights, chores, and constantly being wet from being thrown in the lake. They are what we call a “lifer” they were probably a camper as a child and have worked their way up the ranks.
How to spot them: They’ll be decked out in tie dye, cargo shorts/ pants, TONS of friendship bracelets, tevas/ keds/ rain boots, and a great big smile.
Catch phrase: “That’s my favourite!”
Where you’ll find them: Sitting around the campfire surrounded by a very happy group of campers.
How to support/ work with them: These counsellors are awesome and it’s sometimes easy to forget that they’re not a little camp robot. Try to help them set limits, encourage them to put down the sharpies and camper awards and do something non camp related on their breaks. Ask them about their non- camp life (if there is such a thing) school, family, pets, etc. By helping them realize that there are other spectacular parts of their life you will help them become a more well-rounded person and counsellor AND you will help them be more empathetic with staff who may not be as gun-ho as they are. At the same time, let them know you appreciate their enthusiasm and just bask in the glow of their camp love.
2. Wholesome girl/ boy next door
Common Characteristics: This counsellor might be new to camp or returning, they are very respectful of their supervisors, co-staff, and campers. They are likely athletic.
How to spot them: They’ll most likely be clean-cut, fit, wearing their high school, university, or sports team sweater, a couple of friendship bracelets, and some sort of camp appropriate pants or shorts.
Catch phrase: “Who wants to play a game?”
Where you’ll find them: Playing an active game of frisbee, soccer, or football with their campers.
How to support/ work with them: Chances are they’ve played sports all of their lives, so they will respond well to coaching. Be direct with them about what you’d like to see and what you’re already seeing (positive and constructive) and give them high fives as they’re running past. Motivate them by issuing a challenge, it could be anything from helping them with goal setting (so they’re creating their own challenges) or invoking their competitive nature by sharing ‘records’ with them – “the record for least amount of lost and found in a cabin is 3 items, I challenge you to beat that this summer.”
3. Crunchy Hippy
Common Characteristics: This counsellor is full of great ideas and information about how to make camp more energy-efficient, democratic, and ‘green’. They may encourage you to start an organic gardening program, or teach their campers how to properly hula hoop. They will typically be respectful of supervisors, co-staff, and campers, not because of positions, roles, or titles but because of a firm belief that we are all connected and deserving of love and equality.
How to spot them: They’ll be the ones taking off their shoes every chance they get, they’ll likely have longer hair with no product in it (unless they use beeswax or some vegan alternative for their dreadlocks). You’ll see them carrying around a mason jar full of bright green juice and chances are they’ll have dirt under their nails from digging in the garden or planting saplings in the woods.
Catch phrase: “Is this vegan?”
Where you’ll find them: Any place that’s peaceful and quiet, writing in a journal or painting in the woods, doing sun salutations on the dock, teaching campers how to meditate on the lower field.
How to support/ work with them: Listen to them. This counsellor will want to talk things out with you, they may question the hierarchy of camp, many of the rules, titles, etc. but they will do it in a very respectful way. This counsellor has all kinds of great ideas, although some of them may be unorthodox or untraditional you can usually compromise. Often they’re receptive of a little give and take, if you are prepared to fully explain why they need to wear shoes while they’re on duty, why that policy exists and why you insist on enforcing it, then they’ll respect you for that (they may not agree, but they’ll comply) as long as you’re respectful and open to working with them to find creative solutions to their concerns they’ll do just fine.
4. Leadership Badge
Common Characteristics: This counsellor likes to be in charge of stuff. They are keen to volunteer to do camper registration on opening day, organize the talent show, initiate a clean up of the overnight site… anything that will give them a reason to carry around their trusty clipboard. This person sees a problem, comes up with a solution and recruits other staff to help him/ her execute it.
How to spot them: Chances are they’ll be carrying around their clipboard and probably a walkie-talkie, they will look busy and chances are they’ll BE busy there’s so much to do! They’ll give inspirational speeches to their co-staff and campers about why the cabin needs to be super clean and they’ll talk while they’re walking so they don’t have to waste precious time.
Catch phrase: “C’mon guys, let’s do it!”
Where you’ll find them: Wherever the action is. If there’s work to be done, or tasks to be checked off of a list – that’s where they’ll be.
How to support/ work with them: This counsellor can be a huge asset on a team, if you need something done you know you can rely on them to do it. The potential downfall with this staff member is that they can get a little too intense in their projects, take time to mentor them on leadership techniques and keep an eye on their relationships with other staff, making sure that no one is starting to feel ‘bossed around’ by them. Give this staff member gentle reminders about teamwork, and use the quote “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders” by Tom Peters to help remind them that they should be stepping back every now and then and encouraging someone else take the lead.
5. One of the boys/ girls
Common Characteristics: No ‘campmances’ for this counsellor. They are here to work hard and make friends. They may or may not have lots of friends of their own gender, but they most certainly get along better with members of the opposite gender.
How to spot them: They’ll be in the midst of a group of the opposite gender, without any flirting or drama. (Note: Ideally all staff should act like this)
Catch phrase: We’re all heading down the (dock/ campfire/ lodge – insert fun place to hang out here), wanna come?
Where you’ll find them: Why, hanging out in the fun place mentioned above of course. Surrounded by their pals, who they have no romantic attachment to whatsoever.
How to support/ work with them: Praise them for being so awesome and having their priorities intact, encourage them to bond with their co- counsellors but if they have a good working relationship without being besites – don’t force the issue. Create an environment where campmances aren’t the norm watch them thrive (in fact, watch your whole team thrive, campmances can lead to drama or distraction).
6. Outsider with a heart of gold
Common Characteristics: This staff member doesn’t fit in with the vibe or culture of the camp. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can sometimes be challenging for them to find their place, for their co-staff to figure out how to work with them and for the directors to figure out how to make them feel comfortable, at home, and confident within their role. They either purposely choose to go against the grain to create some ripple effect or to make a point, or they try really, really hard to socialize with the other counsellors but just aren’t quite getting the desired effect.
How to spot them: Since there are a couple of different types of outsiders, there are a couple of different ways to spot them, they’ll either be by themselves just taking a minute or two to recharge, they’ll be with their campers doing something unconventional (for example, making bottle rockets at a sports theme camp, or teaching campers how to dribble a soccer ball at an arts themed camp), or they’ll be hanging with the other counsellors but there will be an awkward silence because they’ve just said something that the other staff either didn’t understand, or was outside of typical camp cultural and social norms.
Catch phrase: “What are your thoughts on…?”
Where you’ll find them: You might find them in your office! They’ll either have concerns and want advice on how to make friends, or they’ll be asking permission to do some different activities with their campers.
How to support/ work with them: Be understanding. There are so many reasons why someone may feel like they ‘don’t fit in’ on a staff team, there could be cultural or socio- economic differences, they could be the only new staff in a team of returners, they could have some social anxiety, or they could just have different interests and experiences than their peers (just to name a few)
This could be a camp culture shift that needs to happen, to ensure that everyone feels welcome and included. But if that’s not the case, then you should be checking in with this staff regularly to see how they’re doing. This can be a combination of serious, in-depth conversations and quick check in’s throughout the day. You can also call on some of your team leaders to buddy up with this person to help make them feel more comfortable.
Encourage them to be themselves and embrace their differences, sure you can play the guitar sometimes at science camp (there’s a science lesson in there for sure), of course you can do an art project at computer camp – we can have the campers recreate that image as a graphic design project later.
Let them have the down time they need, some people just need some time away from others to re-energize, it’s a form of self-care, and it’s ok.
Common Characteristics: This counsellor started out kind of rough, you weren’t sure if they would come out of their shell, or ever full catch on to their role but then you watched them blossom as the days/ weeks went on and now they’re one of the strongest team members.
How to spot them: The flower could be anyone, they don’t have a specific ‘look’ about them the thing you’ll notice most about them is that they’ll go from being unsure, nervous, and timid (when they’re still a “bud” if you will, to being confident with a great big smile on their face.
Catch phrase: “I know how you feel…”
Where you’ll find them: With the campers of course! Even when they’re in the early stages they’ll be watching and learning all they can about being an amazing camp counsellor then once they’ve blossomed into a stellar staff they’ll want to spend all of their time with the campers because they’ll recognize that that’s what it takes to be the best. (Plus, campers are fun to hang out with and that’s why they’re there after all!)
How to support/ work with them: Encourage, encourage, encourage! You see something in them, you know they’ll be really great once they get out of their own way – tell them that (maybe not in those words) help them learn, ask them what they need from you and once they’ve blossomed into the super fantastic, amazing staff you knew they could be – tell them that too!
8. All talk no action
Common Characteristics: Chances are this person had a great interview and during staff training they sounded so passionate and keen, but when the campers arrived that wonderful person disappeared and in their place was a bump on a log!
How to spot them: They’ll be the ones doing a whole lot of nothing. They’ll have pillow creases on their face, they’ll always be dry, because you can be sure they didn’t jump in the river with the campers (unless they were forced to) and they’ll usually be pretty clean too because they’re not working hard enough to get dirty.
Catch phrase: “I’m just gonna take a 5 minute break.”
Where you’ll find them: Snoozing beside the basketball court, texting in the cabin, hanging out in the staff lounge. Wherever they are able to get out of work.
How to support/ work with them: Nip that behaviour in the bud as soon as possible. Have a serious conversation with them about expectations and remind them of the things they said during their interview (feel free to quote directly from their interview sheet) be clear about what you’re seeing and the behaviour you want to see.
Be around. They’re less likely to slack off if you’re nearby or participating in the activity.
Dig a little deeper, maybe they really did mean all of those things they said in the interview or during staff training but something changed, ask them about their experience, let them know that you’re on their side and that you’re rooting for them. They could have something going on in their personal life that they’re having a hard time dealing with, offer support and suggestions for coping.
Give them positive reinforcement, praise them when you see them working hard and engaging with their campers.
If all else fails, you may need to issue a warning or terminate their employment.
9. Drama queen
Common Characteristics: Don’t let the name fool you, this staff member can be any gender. They thrive on drama and will sometimes help create it through gossip and deception. They tend to be self-absorbed and are very focused on what’s in a situation for them, they may throw temper tantrums, use the silent treatment, cry, yell, or anything else they can think of to either get attention or deflect attention from something they’ve done wrong.
How to spot them: This staff will have a lot of baggage (metaphorically speaking), their eyes will be darting from side to side while they whisper to other staff members and their ears will always be perked up listening for juicy tidbits of gossip.
Catch phrase: “Don’t tell anyone but…”
Where you’ll find them: In dark corners of buildings whispering rumours to other counsellors or in the bathroom/ directors office/ staff lounge crying or complaining about some perceived wrong (for the 5th time that day).
How to support/ work with them: First of all, don’t let yourself be sucked into their drama. If they’re having problems with other staff members, they may try to accuse you of, or insinuate that you are choosing favourites on the team. Don’t pick up the rope (that’s a Ditterism – if you’re not familiar with it, or him, you need to be! Bob Ditter – Seven Skills of Highly Effective Counsellors you’re welcome!)
Nip gossiping in the bud, be very firm about that.
Try to support them and their needs, some people are just naturally more sensitive let them know that if they’re upset about something they can talk to you about it (it’s better to have them talk to you then venting to other staff where it can snowball). Try to help them be more proactive, you could even go so far as coaching them on how to express themselves and positively communicate with their co-staff to prevent bottling up emotions and blow ups.
Encourage other staff to be proactive in their communication with this staff member as well.
Remind this counsellor that they are there for the campers, and that while your goal is to make sure that everyone at camp, including staff and volunteers is having a good time your priority and theirs should be making sure the campers are safe, cared for, and having fun. If their behaviour is detracting from that goal, maybe you need to reevaluate if camp is a good fit for them.
10. Rebel with a cause
Common Characteristics: This rebel’s cause is to undermine your authority. Either they’re a returning staff with a bone to pick for something that happened in the past, or they’re a new staff who just doesn’t want to learn from you, OR they just don’t do well with authority figures in general, either way they’re out to disagree and argue with everything you say and every rule the camp has.
How to spot them: They’re pretty easy to spot. They’ll have an angry scowl on their face when you’re around (and you’ll feel a chill in the air), depending on what type of rebel they are, they might have an anarchy tattoo, and they’ll refuse to meet dress code. They’ll question you in an antagonistic way in front of other staff members, and you’ll hear a lot of ‘scoffing’ sounds from them.
Catch phrase: “Well what if we did?” (after being told not to do something)
Where you’ll find them: Smoking behind the outhouses – because smoking is so anti establishment. Down on the dock when they’re supposed to be in the A&C hall, sneaking out of their cabin… basically anywhere they’re not supposed to be.
How to support/ work with them: Be very clear about your expectations and the camp rules and be firm, this counsellor will take a mile if you give an inch.
Ask them what’s going on, “Enid, I’ve noticed that you seem upset (not yourself, etc.), is something going on? I’m here to support you so if there’s anything I can do to help let’s talk about that.” Once you’ve had that conversation and created an action play (maybe they didn’t realize that they were acting out until you pointed it out) if that doesn’t work (either if they’re unreceptive to that conversation or if they seemed to agree but then changed nothing) then lay it out for them. Remind them of the initial conversation you had about expectations, this is how camp works, this is why, we all have our role to play, this is yours, remind them of the conversation you had about supporting them, and then be very clear about the dismissal process.
You might have to skip all of those steps if they break one of your non negotiable camp rules, like smoking on site then explain the dismissal process and why they’re being dismissed.
Be very careful when dealing with a staff member like this, their negativity can spread like poison – especially if they team up with the gossip queen! Always stay calm, respectful, and professional when dealing with them and make sure to always model the type of behaviour you want to see.
If it’s time for them to go, then let them go, don’t keep giving them chances because you’re worried about filling the spot, you have to either fill a cavity or pull the tooth – if you let it go it will lead to other teeth becoming decayed and a lot of pain. If you hang on to a rebel with a cause who has no intention of reforming then you’re likely going to have a lot of dissent amongst the ranks and a lot of pain and anguish.
It’s important to note that no one can fit into a little box, this is just a way of understanding some of the types of staff you’ll encounter at camp. There will be combinations of traits and some people will switch from one profile to another between summers, or even within a summer!
Do you see yourself in any of the profiles above? Did I miss any key staff personality types? Tell me about it in the comment section below.
Soccer image credit:https://www.flickr.com/photos/bbcworldservice/8012862770/