The Camp Director Files: Lessons in Administration

"The calm before the campers." Photo by Jennifer Leung © 2011.

The majority of my experience and background in education has been in English or Language Arts classrooms, teaching middle and high school students. As I’ve developed more confidence, I’ve taken advantage of opportunities to grow in other directions and take on leadership roles on school committees or as a coach or teacher leader. As a theater director, I learned how to manage a budget and balance schedules in order to bring my shared vision to life on the stage with my students. I created new structures and developed a team to build some institutional memory for the program that wouldn’t be forgotten when I had to move away. All these experiences allowed me to work side by side with students or colleagues and act as a sounding board to help them reach their goals. In all my experiences, I’ve been a team member or my leadership centered on an area of my expertise. This summer, I am facing a new challenge in uncharted territory: administration. Not only am I taking on a new role, I’m also helping to reshape and reimagine an existing program to help leave it stronger and more organized with a fresh vision for the future.

I’m learning how to handle the pressure of too much to do and too few hands to do the work; how to delegate and how to show my staff I trust them to do what’s best for kids; how to follow policy set for me from an ideal standpoint that doesn’t match the messy and unpredictable nature of reality on site; how to train my staff and work with my Assistant Director to mentor the junior counselors and CITs as they struggle to become leaders; how to manage tears, illness, homesickness, conflicts, misbehavior, and concerns for our campers’ safety and welfare at home; how to manage misunderstandings and personality conflicts among my leadership team; how to adhere to all the state regulations and requirements–even when that means letting kids go hungry at lunch because the food didn’t arrive at a safe-to-serve temperature–and explaining that to the kids so that they understand. In short, I’m getting a crash course in administration and a six-week internship as a mini-principal.

It has been daunting, uplifting, challenging, and fulfilling–and that was just for the first week of training before the campers showed up.

I plan to reflect on my experiences and list the links to those reflections from this starting point in order to document my journey. Comments and your wisdom are most welcome.

Let the journey begin:

1. The Other Side of the Office Door

2. Air Traffic Control or the Lighthouse

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2 thoughts on “The Camp Director Files: Lessons in Administration

  1. Excellent reflection Jennifer! I enjoyed your perspective and can appreciate how you feel. I just completed my first year as an AP and believe that you are always a teacher. The best advice I received was to build strong relationships and base all decisions on a set of strong core values, or beliefs. Ultimately, the best way to learn is by doing- and you are on your way! Look forward to your future posts.

    • Thanks, Bill. I can’t imagine how I would be feeling right now without knowing there is a community of experience out there in my PLN who can relate and share their stories with me. I’ve been trying to focus on relationships and enjoy the end of the day reflection/vent session I have with Sr. Staff. Even though they can leave at 3:00 as soon as the kids are on the bus and headed home, they’re staying much later just to check in with me and it’s building a close group. I’m just as excited about developing their leadership potential as I am about ensuring the campers learn and have fun!

      I hope you’re enjoying your summer after your first year as an AP. I know I’d be up the creek (literally) without my Assistant Director to help me. A strong team makes all the difference.

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