What I Learned Working With Junior Counselors

Jun 04, 2024

For over 25 years I’ve had the privilege of working with the counselors at Camp Merrie Woode as they prepare for the summer sessions. Camp Merrie Woode is an exceptional girl’s camp in the North Carolina Mountains that Patty and I have been connected to for almost 50 years. We were counselors in the mid 70’s and assistant directors for a season in the early 80’s. A few years ago I also started doing a session with the junior counselors (JCs). These are rising high school seniors who have an interest in being a counselor next year. I worked with the junior counselors yesterday. All of them have been campers for several years so they know each other.

Two things happened in the JC training that should be standard operating procedure in every organization. In the first part of the workshop, they did an abbreviated behavior profile to identify their natural behavior patterns. Most of them have taken at least one behavior profile in their school, so there’s nothing new about this. What we did next, though, was magical to watch. It was the same thing that happens every time we do it.

The group is divided into 1’s and 2’s that has nothing to do with their behavior profile patterns. The 1’s create a circle all facing one direction. The 2’s line up in front of the 1’s so you have pairs facing each other – 1’s facing clockwise and 2’s facing counterclockwise. They have 90 seconds to share 2 things about the person they are facing – the strengths that the person they are facing brings to the JC team, and what they appreciate about the person. They rotate from person to person so that everyone had the opportunity to be with every other JC. What happens next is transformative. The more they share about the other person the more engaged everyone becomes, and the more connected they are. Hesitation turns to smiles and smiles turn to joy. Before they move onto the next person, hugs and laughter erupt. One of the counselors working with the JC’s this year said, “This is magical.”

After we sat down, I asked the group, “When was the last time someone told you what they appreciated about you and what you brought to the team?” They all paused for a second with blank looks on their faces. Most of them could not remember the last time someone told them what they appreciated about them. Developing people is not complicated. One part of that is helping people understand and affirm what they bring to the team. Sure, we all have things we need to improve, but improvement is always easier when you are working from a position of strength. Everyone brings something important to the team.

We added something new to the JC session this year that was similar to something we did with the counselors during orientation. They answered a simple question, “Identify a time when you were starting something new or facing a big challenge, and you were anxious or concerned about being able to do it successfully. What did you do that helped you build the confidence to be successful?” They had about 2 minutes to think about their answer, then every girl shared a story with the whole group.

Each girl had a story, and every story had a key principle or point about creating success in difficult circumstances. One was a sprinter and her track coach asked her to do hurdles in the regional track meet. She had never done hurdles before. One was a soccer player that a coach asked to play on a new team for an important game. Another was a student body president having to make a big speech. Another was overwhelmed preparing for a big AP test. The stories were all different but they all had a common theme. Each person was scared – it was something new - but they developed a plan to be successful even though they were scared. Some discovered the one important thing to focus on, others gathered their friends, and they all talked about how scared they were – and then moved past their fears. And they were all successful at what they did. They learned from their struggles, adapted, and got better and better.

Listening to them share their stories I was reminded of how powerful it is when we can affirm what each person brings to the team and how we can learn from our struggles and become stronger. If you want your people driving growth, you must invest in them – physically, mentally, and emotionally so that they can discover the strength and power within themselves to find success.

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