Crossroads at Camp Lapham is a five-year program, to which students are nominated in the seventh grade. Students apply, they interview, and then they’re selected. Their first experience is in the summer, and then throughout the year they visit the program at various day events and weekend events. The main focus of the program is empowerment, leadership, and access to the greater world.
It is important to intentionally create spaces to talk openly about teamwork, not only with and between students, but also with and between staff.
Teamwork is learned best through experience, not in a traditional classroom setting.
It is okay when a team is struggling or fighting amongst itself; that is a necessary stage of forming a strong team, and it is often not necessary for staff to intervene and rescue the situation because students can and will solve the problem themselves.
Staff need to have close connections with students, but they also need to be able to step back and/or step off to allow students to solve problems among their own teams.
What are some of your program’s most effective team building projects or activities?
One of the big ones we can start off with is, that we have every morning at camp is what we call Leadership University, or LU’s. And they give us a chance to address a certain topic of the day. It can be team-building, it can be centered around trust, or communication; whatever it is, it’s focused on what we call the 16 themes of leadership. And we address that topic not just sitting by down in a class and writing it on the board. Instead we do different activities, where students are split into smaller groups than they’re already in, and they get to practice these things to see what trust looks like through action, not just through reading a definition. They get to see what communication looks like through different games and activities, and that really gets them more comfortable with each other. We start our days with that, basically six days out of the week. So they get to address a topic and then progressively practice it together throughout the rest of the week.
The LeadU’s operate around the experiential learning cycle, where we’re learning by experiencing, and then debriefing and reflecting, and asking what’s next. That’s really important for our students as they’re working in a team, figuring out who they are, how they work within a team, how to adapt, and then how to transfer that to the next setting that they’re in. Then additionally we have leadership challenges. For example, in their second year, they have to put on a restaurant for the whole site in 24 hours. They have to do the menu planning, the shopping, everything. And they’re randomly put in a group, ensuring that they’re not just with the same group of people. Then, as they get older, they have challenges that are more associated with choice, so they are able to experience a progression of challenge and responsibility that we are very intentional about. They have the option to be on a college tour planning committee; some students also just got back from their service trip where they had the opportunity to be on the committee to plan that. Really everything we do is teamwork.
Do you have any strategies in place to ensure that students get to take on different roles and everyone gets to lead within those groups and teams?
Group dynamics are incredibly important. We spend a lot of time on it during staff training. Figuring out how we as staff assess a group, and how we’re going to intentionally put types of people together. Sometimes they get to sign up for things, especially as they get older. But when they’re younger we’re constantly rotating people through, so we can have a quiet person work with a loud person. We can have someone who excels at community service work with someone who’s never done community service before. We also ask students to set goals, for instance we’ll say, “Hey you’ve never been leader of the day. So this week on one of our activities, we want you to be leader of the day.” It’s a combination of managers making intentional decisions and students making goals for themselves, and those things merge so that students are able to experience diverse roles and positions within a group.
How do you balance the amount of staff input or intervention in a group with how much you just let students work it out for themselves when they are having conflicts or issues?
So for a group you would ask, “What is going on here? Maybe we should stop.” And then putting it to the student leader of the day, coaching, “Something’s not working right now, so maybe you should start regrouping everyone, and reminding everyone of what their roles are.” If a student is having a horrible day, then pulling that student aside, and giving them feedback rather than punitive consequences, saying, “I see this. Why do you think this is happening?” We’re all about positive reinforcement and empowerment.We try to pull the student out of that situation so that they can reset, remind them of the tasks at hand, ask them what they should do, but then also taking the time to relate it to an office setting, or a first job, or a club setting, because we want to plant seeds for them so that they can translate these skills to the outside world.
Also to start us off at the start of the summer, we always let the staff know that this approach will help make their job a lot easier. If we get the student leaders to a point where they are more self-sufficient, they don’t need us to be running the show. They’re the ones calling the shots within their leadership challenges and group projects. Then we’re just there to make sure everyone’s safe. Then another thing is the idea of step off versus step back. In the first year of programming, maybe it’s okay for staff to just step back a little bit, but we’re still there we’re still guiding them, asking questions, helping them do the work, a bit more hands-on. But by the end of that first year into the second year, we’re stepping off, because we want to see them complete the leadership challenges, we want to see them leading the activities, and it just progresses throughout the year. The service trip that the students just got back from, that was all the leaders, they planned the whole thing. They put it together, they decided all the details for the trip, that was something that they did, so that was an example of us stepping off.
Self-evaluation is really important too, for staff and students. We ask, “How do you think not only did the group do but how did you do? What was your role?” We remind them to think about what their role was in the group, how many people were in the group, what could have gone better, to make the habit of constant improvement and self-growth.