Final Thoughts on S.T.A.N.D. Leadership Training for Teens

A  Week of Training Teens at Cairn

So...once I had my purpose, my acronym, my daily activities all figured out, I knew I needed to tie the whole S.T.A.N.D. package together with a lot of special touches. It was important to weave the message through every aspect of every day, to really hit the mission home.  


Cairn is a Christian camp and before breakfast each morning, the camp gathered to sing songs of praise and begin their day together.  I had selected Scripture that supported the letter of the day and it was shared with the campers.  Each morning, during our session together, I often had the campers participate in ‘sword drills’ to be the first cabin group to find the days’ Scriptures in their Bibles and the words of wisdom were reinforced.  

One of my favourite aspects of the morning hours was our Tweet Team.  One representative from each of the cabins (alternating between boys and girls cabins) was paired with a Senior Staff member for the session. We usually had 4 or 5 campers on the Tweet Team each day. The camper and staff member pairs then tweeted, posted, instagrammed their thoughts during the session.  It was important to teach the campers to use their voices in meaningful and constructive ways.  I had asked alumni and parents prior to the week to join us during that hour and respond. Those adults who could not be present during that hour responded at other times during the day.  At lunch each day, we shared the online activity.  It was great to see the campers faces as they realized that people were actually listening, were taking what they had to say seriously.  And the tweet team took the task very earnestly.  Their words and photos really showed that they had something important to say.

Music is always a big part of the sessions I run.  I had chosen a ‘song of the day’ and it played as cabin groups entered the lodge in silence to begin each morning’s experience.  For me, silence is a terrific way to allow people to gather their thoughts, appreciate the work to be done, and absorb the words of the day’s song.  As we were working hard to instill the idea that we are here to build community, we ended each morning session by hearing our song of the day replaying on the speakers while shaking hands with all those around us and wishing one another a good morning.  The first day or two, this activity looked awkward and it was obvious the teens were uncomfortable but, by day 3, I didn’t even have to announce it; they just turned to one another and greeted each other in friendship.

As the teens were likely missing texting and tweeting while at camp, I created an opportunity for them to do so every day during supper.  We called it DHeeting or Dining Hall tweeting. On my computer, I set up a powerpoint and allowed cabin groups to post messages to others in the Dining Hall.  They added creative hashtags to their short posts and they appeared on a screen for all to see thanks to the camp’s projector.  They thanked specific staff members for great sessions that day, shared successful experiences their cabin group had accomplished, and posted welcoming messages to one another. I sat at the table closest to the projector and just moved the slides of the powerpoint forward when each new cabin group came to post.   It took a few days for this to really take off but, by Tuesday, it was an extremely popular dinner time activity and campers looked forward to contributing to the positive messages shared with the entire camp.

Before arriving at camp for the week, I had gathered hundreds of quotes that reinforced the mission of S.T.A.N.D..  Each day, I taped up the quotes that applied to the day’s letter and, by the end of the week, they could be seen all over camp.  I posted them around the lodge, in the dining hall, in the kitchen, in the washrooms, everywhere.  The early risers loved to find me to be the first to read the day’s messages as I added the new ones to the growing pile.  I felt, by leaving them up through the week, I was allowing more opportunities for the words to be ingrained in the teens’ minds as they lined up for meals, brushed their teeth, or walked to their next program area.  I was thrilled when I heard them discussing the quotes and what the words meant to them.

There is a Wailing Wall in Israel where people write their prayers on pieces of paper and place them between the stones.  Borrowing from that idea, I created a Rejoicing Wall just outside the Dining Hall.  A wonderful alumnus who was volunteering time at camp, created the actual wall part and I left instructions and supplies on a bench beside it.  Campers and staff were invited to record on coloured strips of paper behaviours they had witnessed during the day and to place it between the ‘stones’ of the wall.  Blue strips indicated examples of trustworthiness, yellow strips - respect, green strips - responsibility, white strips - fairness, violet strips - caring, and red strips - community.  Folks could write just the names of people who had shown one of these characteristics or they could go further and explain the situation a little.  By the end of the week, it was a colourful demonstration of a caring community of difference-makers.  Cabins groups were encouraged to add to the Wall whenever they happened to walk by.

Just as we began each day together with a focus on the day’s message, we ended each night with vespers at campfire.  I had prepared something different for each evening.  I did everything from tell stories to involve the campers in activities with candles and other visual aids - whatever I could think of to make an impact.   I even memorized a poem called, Touchscreen, which emphasizes how we have lost so much of our humanity to technology.  I did this at campfire on the first full day (S - Social Graces, if you please) when we had discussed not allowing technology to get in the way of treating each other politely.  Here’s the link to the writer, Marshall Davis Jones, and his rendition which far outshone my own.  It was a lot of work to memorize the words and actions but it was totally worth.  I really got the teens’ attention and completely ‘upped’ my cool factor!

Marshall Davis Jones: Touchscreen

Our week culminated with a live internet programme at 8:00 pm on Friday evening, August 23rd.  We were fortunate enough to have a camp alumnus who owns a company called Where It’s At TV, Toronto’s premier public access webcasting channel (  He graciously donated his time and talent, drove himself and his family to camp, and put it on the air for us live. It never ceases to amaze me how generous camp alumni can be!

I had asked the campers for volunteers who would like to talk about what they had learned during the week.  Two campers were chosen to discuss each letter of S.T.A.N.D.  The campers were interviewed by the Co-Directors and the show was peppered with camp songs, funny and much adored camp characters, and a ton of enthusiasm from all the campers and staff.  We even had some very gifted campers show off some of their talents and they were amazing!

If you’d like to see the program they recorded, here’s the link: It’s a great blast of summer on a cold February day!  You can hear the pride of the campers and staff as they share a bit of themselves right from the very first notes they belt out.  I was so proud of how they conducted themselves;  the audience members were incredibly respectful and eager to support their fellow campers.  The interviewees brilliantly shared what they had learned (I had met with them on Friday afternoon to go over some talking points but they all confidently told me “we got this” and so what you will hear are their words and theirs alone). 

The campers wrapped up their week with a 10:00 am campfire on the Saturday morning.  I had one last chance to emphasize the importance of standing up for what you believe in.  I ended the week with a short ‘show and tell’ after breakfast and thought that wrapped things up.  Little did I know, the campers had a surprise for me at the end of campfire.  On Friday after lunch, they had gathered together in the courtyard, spelled out the word STAND with their bodies and had the social media director take a photo from the Lodge roof.  They had added our hashtags of the week at the bottom of the photo and had it beautifully framed.  I felt very privileged to receive such a thoughtful gift and it now proudly has a place honour on the wall above my desk in my office.

It has been over 5 months since that experience with S.T.A.N.D. and I can still see so many moments of the week as clearly as if they happened this morning.  It was a week of such positivity and affirmation.  It was a lot of work to be so intentional but the rewards were astounding.  I think we made a REAL difference.  I could never have pulled it off without such dedicated staff members who worked so hard in their program areas and with all their other responsibilities but somehow managed to have enough time and energy left to devote to S.T.A.N.D.  Their enthusiasm and example was contagious.  The Co-Directors of the camp allowed me a lot of leeway and supported all my requests. I could never have done it without them.  As grateful as I was to the staff, I was not all that surprised. They had a reputation for being extraordinary.  What surprised me and made the week for me were the campers.  This group of teens rose to every challenge I extended and surpassed them.  They were patient with me as I jostled them out of their comfort zones and they responded enthusiastically to my unending invitations to go further, to dismiss the ways we often treat one another in today’s society and to instead respect and care for one another in a desire to make positive change.  The kindness they showed, the community they built, and the thoughtfulness they displayed absolutely blew me away.  I wish I had had another week, month or year to work with them.  These teens will go on to move mountains.

I hope in the many posts about the S.T.A.N.D. project I have inspired you to be incredibly intentional in what you do at camp, to make every moment teachable, and to not be afraid to offer your campers and staff an alternative way to, sadly, much of what they are experiencing in school or their communities.  Insist on a better way, a kind, gentler, more respectful way and I guarantee your campers and staff will be thrilled to take up the torch.  My best to all of you who are out there creating difference-makers this summer.  I would LOVE to hear your stories.

Email Topaz

Click here to read the rest of the S.T.A.N.D. articles.

S.T.A.N.D. Leadership - Do All Things with Integrity

Developing Integrity in Teen Leaders at Summer Camp


Our last morning session together began as all had, with the teens lining up outside in cabin groups and listening to the song of the day I had chosen.  When they entered the lodge this time around, we had placed the long dining hall benches in a large circle in the centre of the room, enough benches so that every participant could stand on one in the circle.  Behind each of the benches, I had placed construction paper sheets and big, colourful markers - enough for everyone.  

As always, I frontloaded the morning in the courtyard, explaining that they were to enter in silence, gather behind the appropriate benches and sit in circle.  I once again combined cabin groups up in yet another different pairing and had them sit down together and await instruction.

We discussed how great it would be if we could clearly see what people stood for the minute we met them.  I posed the question, asking if people could tell what each of them stood for upon meeting them for the first time.  After the appropriate pause to let that thought sink in, I asked each of the new groupings to discuss with one another what they stand for and why.  At first, it took some time for them to get going but, with the help of the encouraging staff, they began to open up and share their ideas.  

With fitting music playing in the background, I asked each person to then take 1 sheet of coloured construction paper and choose 1 word or short phrase to represent one of the most important things they stand for.  I gave them a few minutes to think and complete the task and asked that they be respectful of others and do this entire part of the activity in silence.  

As you may have noticed (and will further in my next instalment), music is a really important part of training sessions for me.  I spend a lot of time researching and choosing songs that fit my themes.  I find they are helpful in gathering, wrapping up, and in times when I ask for silence from the participants.  

When everyone was ready, I asked them to stand upon a bench in the circle and hold their sheet in front of them with the word(s) facing them.  Again, it was important that this be done without any talking. I frontloaded what would happen next.   When a new song began to play, I had a staff member begin by turning over his page.  The person on his left did the same and then all in turn until we had completed the circle and all the words were displayed.  When the last person had revealed her sheet, that first staff member came down off the bench, placed his paper in the middle of the floor and returned to his place.  Again the person to his left did the same until everyone had added their sheet to a colourful and meaningful quilt of paper that lay in the middle of the lodge floor.  This entire exercise was done in silence with me using hand gestures and the music playing in the background.  It was compelling to read what they had written.

My goal was to complete this exercise twice more.  The second discussion was to be what they do not stand for, will not tolerate.  I was going to ask them to once again to choose a word or short phrase to describe something they do not stand for, write it on a new sheet of construction paper and then circle the word(s) and put a diagonal line through it to show that it is a behaviour they will not permit or accept.  We were to go through the whole experience again of revealing our sheets one person at a time standing upon the benches and then adding the new words to the quilt on the floor.  

The third time, there was to be no discussion in small groups prior to writing on their last sheet.  I was going to ask them to write down a word(s) which represents something they wish they had more courage to stand for and no one was to see what they had written.  We were to repeat the entire circle activity one last time but, prior to turning over their pages, I was going to collect them all, mix them up, and then hand out a sheet to each person so that no one would know whose was whose.  I was planning to tell them this in advance so that they would have felt confident to write what they truly felt.

 Young STAND Leaders at Summer Camp

I say “was going to” because I cut the session short and I’ll explain why shortly.  I decided at that point to do the wrap up of the morning and finish early.  I asked everyone to take a seat on the benches.  Beside the quilt on the floor, I had placed 3 rings of webbing in a circle.  Each one overlay the other slightly so that there was a point in the centre where all 3 overlapped. I drew their attention to them and explained that there are ways that we act and things that we do (I placed a sheet in one of the webbing circles with the words “do” and “act” on it), there are things that we think and say (again “think” and “say” were printed on a sheet and placed in the next webbing circle) and things that we “believe” and “feel” (a 3rd sheet in the last webbing).  When all 3 of these overlap, we have integrity.  

I placed a large banner over all three webbings which read integrity and we shared in a large group discussion about the importance of integrity - how it is defined, how it can be hard sometimes to live with integrity, and why it is so important that we try.  I explained that if what we say and think, act and do, believe and feel are all in alignment, we can accomplish great things.  I asked them to once again examine the quilt on the floor and explained that, in order for the words that they placed on their sheets to be how they blanketed every act, every statement, how they treated every person that they met, they must have integrity.  I then took the banner and placed it across the middle of the quilt.  I asked them to think of what amazing changes and differences they could make if their people and their places were cared for in this way.

At this time, one of the great moments of the week occurred.  I reinforced that it can be very difficult to live each day with integrity of spirit and encouraged them to be strong but also to lean on others for support.  I stated, “you do not have to do it alone”.  As I had prearranged with the staff the day before, one counsellor then stood in the circle and said “I will stand with you”.  Then another staff member stood and repeated the same phrase and then another and another until all the staff members were standing, united in belief that these teens could change the world.  It was an incredibly powerful moment.

At that time, I shared that the camp’s L.I.T.s were participating in their graduation ceremony down in the chapel at that very moment and, because all of the staff were up in the lodge helping with S.T.A.N.D., no one representing camp was there to sit in the pews and support these young people who had spent the last 4 weeks working so terribly hard to become future counsellors.  It didn’t seem right to me that we had spent the last week training these teen campers to be intentional leaders and were not present to celebrate and acknowledge those who had given up a month of their summer to do just that.  All agreed! complete and utter silence (they had gotten really good at this with me this week!), the entire camp walked together down to the chapel and filled every nook and cranny of the space to be with the L.I.T.s, their directors, and the families of the graduates as they received their certificates and honoured their accomplishments.  It meant a great deal to these members of the camp community and to their leaders and, in retrospect, to the teen campers as they not only saw the possibilities for themselves at camp but knew they had given something very special to some very deserving people.  

Well, that takes us from S through D.  So much happened in that week that I just can’t fit it all in 5 instalments so...there will be one more about this grand adventure.  In it, I will share many of the special touches that were added throughout the week to round out the experience.  

I must say that, as I sit down to write about these days, many months later, it makes me miss these campers and staff a great deal.  It was a tremendous week and I will never forget the many moments, big and small, that we shared.  

If you have any questions leave them in the comments section or email Beth.

S.T.A.N.D. Leadership - Never Miss an Opportunity to Pay a Kindness

What it’s like when people are kind and thoughtful and filled with joy

 Christmas Tree at #STANDatCAIRN

Christmas Tree at #STANDatCAIRN

What a perfect time of year to be writing about this day of S.T.A.N.D..  Although it happened many months ago on a sufferably hot August day, much of what occurred is happening all around me right now.

I wanted to get the campers and staff into the mindset of what it’s like when people are kind and thoughtful and filled with joy.  I could have used any number of celebrations but, as Cairn is a Christian camp, I chose to celebrate Christmas with them.  I wanted them to think about family and dear friends gathered today, wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen, decorations sparkling on the tree, familiar and favourite music all around them, and the feeling of joy and peace they have for all humankind at Christmas.

When I drove to the camp the Friday before, I shared my air-conditioned car with many of my own Christmas decorations for the long 3 ½ hour ride to Muskoka.  As the campers gathered outside the lodge for our morning session, already sweating in the morning sun of that humid August day, they had no idea that the dining hall would look like a winter wonderland.  We had decorated with ornaments, bells, Santa’s, snowmen, garlands, and a nativity scene.  We even had a tree with a golden star and it’s very own tree skirt.  The kitchen staff had prepared hot chocolate for all and the wonderful special needs adult team had baked Christmas cookies!  The decorations were out on benches that corralled the teens into the centre of the room in a nice cozy group focused on the tree.  

As always, the teens lined up in cabin groups outside and, with my signal. entered the room in silence listening to the song of the day.  This morning one of my favourite Christmas CD’s by the Indigo Girls was playing.  As the campers sat squished together on the floor, I joyfully announced that we would be celebrating Christmas.  I had the hot chocolate brought out on trays and the beautifully decorated cookies passed out.  I encouraged them to share with one another their favourite Christmas traditions and what made the celebration so special and meaningful to them.  The room was...very quiet...and hot...really hot.

 Presents around the Tree

Presents around the Tree

I had forgotten one of my own golden rules:  “people before program”.  I was so excited to share with them my own favourite time of year and to get them into that wonderful spirit that I ignored the elements and the comfort of the participants.  They would much rather have been spread out in the shade with cool glasses of water or, better yet, in the lake.  Even as a team of carollers strolled the room while singing the most cherished Christmas hymns in 4 part harmony, the teens seemed thoroughly unimpressed.  The carollers, such dedicated staff members, had even dressed the part and were just dripping with sweat.  

As we collected the mugs (not many of them empty), I began to ask the teens and staff to share their treasured Christmas moments with the whole group.  Many of the staff members were helpful in getting the discussion going.  Listening to the shared traditions began to lift the mood and folks began to smile and nod in understanding.  I had thankfully salvaged some of what I had tried to create.

We talked about how their worlds are different at Christmas time.  We shared how people seem kinder, gentler, more ready to speak to strangers and wish them well.  As we delved into today’s “World Vision”, we discussed what our world would look like if every day was Christmas day.  We ended off this time of sharing by asking ourselves why we don’t treat one another with this kindness and thoughtfulness every day.

It was time to get them up and moving.  Once again, I paired them with a new cabin group and they shook hands with one another and introduced themselves.  I was thrilled to note today that I didn’t even need to ask them to do this but they started all on their own.  Each new grouping became a team and, today and on purpose, they were made up of one male and one female cabin.  I had them run a relay race in which the first person ran to the other side of the room, left his or her shoes and ran back to the back of their line.  The next person then ran to the shoes, took off his or her own, put on the first person’s shoes (as best they could) and ran back.  This continued until the last person returned and sat down.  Pairing them as male and female cabins got a great mixture of feet sizes!  Some found it quite difficult to run in shoes either far too small or far too big.  

Of course we debriefed the activity.  It did not take them long to get to the point of the exercise.  Everyone has a different walk in life and sometimes we need to understand other's situations in order to show them kindness and goodness.  Sometimes we need to “walk a mile in another’s shoes”.  



Under the tree, there was a gift for each cabin.  They were beautifully wrapped and loving prepared by members of the senior staff.  At Cairn, program staff and leadership team members have the opportunity to be “grandparents”.  They are given a cabin group and get to visit, have the occasional meal with, say goodnight, and generally spoil the campers.  And, just like grandparents, they leave the disciplining to the “parents” or counsellors but are there to offer advice and support.  I had asked the “grandparents” to write a letter to their cabin group days before.  It was to be a letter highlighting what they appreciated about each person and outlining their hopes and dreams for them all.  I asked one person from each cabin to get their gift from the tree and to go back to their cabin group, circle up and have one volunteer open the gift and share it with the others.  I asked them to do it quietly so as to be respectful to all those others reading in the room at the same time.  While they opened their gifts and read their letters, another Christmas hymn played.

I was hoping the gift would have several effects;  I wanted them to have that warm and wonderful feeling from hearing someone they admired and respected say such kind and thoughtful things and I hoped they would see that it did not take a physical item to be a wonderful gift. It was very fulfilling to watch their faces as the letters were read.

We came together again and shared ways in which we can begin to be kind to others right here and now.  The campers decided that huge extravagant means are not necessary to be kind and generous.  We discussed that there are 2 types of people in the world - the I-centred, me-first people and the others-centred people.  I asked them 2 questions:  which kind of person are you?  Which kind of person would you like to be? We ended this group chat with the idea that if one person has the courage to care perhaps others will be inspired to care too and what amazing changes we could see in the world.

As usual, I had planned far too many activities for the hour but had time for 1 more. I asked them to decide what gift they had to give.  What could they put out there and share with the world.  In silence they wrote a letter to God and promised to share their gift.  The carollers sang in the background as they wrote and, one by one, the campers came to the tree and put their gifts in a box with a gift tag made out to God.  They were assured no one would ever read what they had written.

As they ended their morning session, they turned to one another, wished each other well, and headed out.  As they left the dining hall, I handed each cabin group a note asking them to give a gift to another cabin sometime during the day (I made sure to name the cabin to be certain each group would receive something).

With lessons learned (by all of us) and hearts filled, these kind and wonderful campers went out to face the day - caring for one another, treating each other with respect and dignity, and doing their best to stay cool!

Happy Holidays To You All

At this time of year, I wish you all a joyous season.  No matter what you celebrate this time of year, may you and your family and friends set aside time to gather, share fellowship, laughter, and memories, count your blessings and be kind to all you meet.  Any may you carry that feeling with you all year round.  

Until next time...


S.T.A.N.D. Leadership - Ask Intelligent Questions


Training Summer Camp Leaders to notice and confront problems

 S.T.A.N.D. Leadership Training Teen Campers

This morning began moving one step back.  As I had been frontloading my expectations each morning at breakfast throughout the week, I thought that perhaps it was not necessary to do so again this morning.  I figured they had it all down.  I was wrong.

During the breakfast announcements each morning, I had let them know, through a funny skit or other creative means, that they were to line up in their cabin groups as soon as they heard the bell ring and to silently await my instructions while listening to our song of the day. We had so much to cover and I needed the whole hour to get through it all and certainly did not want them to be late for their 1st program session of the morning.  

It was a lovely day, sunny and warm.  People had gathered in the courtyard and were sitting on benches, chatting on the deck and generally milling around. And when the bell rang, no one moved.  No one.  I rang the bell a second time and still very few made their way into their cabin line ups.  One of the directors had to come out of her office and help me hussle people along.  

I chose to wait until we were inside before addressing the issue.  As I was going over my disappointment in the behaviour in my head, I realized that, although I had given them my expectations on several mornings, I had never told them why.  This was my fault.  Over my years of camp directing, I had seen a change in staff and campers.  Teens today need an explanation for expectations and do not necessarily accept them simply because they are told to.  It is not enough for them to be informed of them; they need to understand the reasons behind them. I had missed this. So...I explained to them what had occurred outside and how that did not follow the expectations set out.  I let them know it was not respectful of my time or theirs and asked that it was something that did not happen again.  I was a bit worried I had lost them for the morning at this point as I had called them out on their actions but, as we did not dwell on what happened but got right into the activities, the campers were willing to come along for the ride.  And I never saw this lack of respect at anytime during the rest of the camp session.

We began in new cabin groupings. I had the counselors divide the teens into pairs and stand back to back. I explained they were going to take turns trying to outsmart one another.  They would take turns changing something about their physical appearance (ex. putting their hair into a ponytail, taking off their earrings, moving a bracelet or watch to their other arm).  On my signal, they both turned around to face one another. The other person had time to guess what their partner changed.  We played it a few times to get them comfortable with someone new and continue to build community and also to introduce the idea of needing to pay attention to details and not be fooled into accepting everything at face value.

Our next activity worked exceedingly well because of the generosity of the camp directors and the willingness of staff members to get dressed up and play along.  We played a game of “Real or No Real” complete with models carrying briefcases and “Mowie Handel” hosting.  Prior to this session, I had made up some construction paper briefcases and written inside prizes the entire camp could win.  I sat down with the directors earlier in the week and got their permission for the prizes offered.  The staff members who dressed up as models for me did an outstanding job.  They entered the room on “Mowie’s” invitation and stood on benches and tables they had set up to resemble the risers the models stand on in the tv show.  A representative from each cabin had the opportunity to choose a briefcase, answer a question and, if answered correctly, win for the entire camp. Some of the prizes included: a special dessert for dinner, a musical performance by certain staff members at campfire, the opportunity to dress their counselors up for a meal, marshmallows to roast at campfire, and a 15 minute extra sleep-in.  

I had prepared true of false questions ahead of time and campers needed to guess correctly in order to win the prize.  I had googled facts from Guinness World Book of Records as well as celebrity gossip and science articles and come up with statements that seemed ridiculous.  Some were true and the object of the game was to get them to really think things through before accepting them as reality.  

As we continued to play, the teens got more and more into the game, and their enthusiasm was contagious.  They were excited by the prizes especially because everyone was going to benefit.  Even though the clocks are set back at Teen Week to allow an extra hour of sleep anyway, the campers were most excited by the 15 minutes more sleep and chose this as their top prize! (Because of their great enthusiasm and involvement in the rest of the morning’s exercises, I wound up giving them several of their other top choices as well at the end of the session.  They absolutely deserved them!)

I asked if they were then ready for some serious grown-up discussion.  They felt they were and their counsellors heartily agreed.  I explained that, as children of this planet, we have a responsibility to be able to discern real from not real.  We need to be able to stop and ask really good questions so that we are living as authentically as possible.  We talked about the definition of discernment and what it means to be authentic.

I had them circle up in their individual cabin groups and showed them ads in a powerpoint presentation. The photos included fashion models, weight loss products and other advertisements, music video stills, and pictures from news stories.  I asked them to share in small group discussion about the kinds of questions they should be asking themselves when presented with these images.  Once finished, we had a large group discussion.  I asked them to share an insightful answer they had heard from someone else in their group.  This way of debriefing showed their fellow campers that they were listening and also that they respected what they had to say.  We discussed ads with promises too good to be true, reality shows that promote conflict, and images to which we have become de-sensitized. We talked about what is being marketed to them and how.  The teens were extremely invested in this process and asked intelligent and thoughtful questions.  I was most impressed with their insights.

We ended off this discussion with a great video from Ellen DeGeneres.  It was a short clip in which Ellen shows us, as only Ellen can, that we need to ask really intelligent questions when confronted with new products.  I’ve included it here for your enjoyment:


As we neared the end of this morning’s session, we talked about another great question to ask ourselves:  What can I control?  With the help of some staff members who acted out the scenarios, we shared events that can happen to teens and discussed what they could control in any given situation.  The campers certainly had a lot to say.  We focused on pulling out what is truly important in the scenarios and what is just drama.  

Because the teens were so invested in the last 2 activities, we ran out of time to do some sharing in concentric circles.  I had prepared some questions they could ask their ever-changing partners and practice being authentic and genuine with their answers.  In the words of Margaret Wheatley, I had wanted them to “be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.”  Although we ran out of time to do this exercise, it was worth sacrificing for the amazing discussions that we had shared this morning.  

We all learned a lot that day. The incident which began the morning allowed us to get on the same page and impressed upon them that they have responsibilities if they wish to become people willing to make a difference.  They learned the importance of asking intelligent questions and what consequences can arise if they miss those opportunities.  

I re-learned the importance of explanations for expectations and reinforced for myself the value of treating others with respect even when sharing my disappointment in their behaviour.  I also was reminded of a few other valuable lessons:  creating activities which offer teens opportunities to gain something for themselves really catches and holds their interest and expecting mature answers from them and telling them we feel they are capable, encourages them and allows them an opportunity to live up to those expectations.  

Without question, this was our most exciting session of the week.  The teens really bought into the discussions and were open and honest with their answers.  They astounded me with their mature insight and willingness to share their views.  I think we reached a new plateau in our S.T.A.N.D. relationship that day and I am forever grateful for all that we took in.  



S.T.A.N.D. Leadership - Take Responsibility for Your Own Actions

Learning How to Apologize and other Responsibilities

 CAIRN's Teen Week S.T.A.N.D. Leadership campers

CAIRN's Teen Week S.T.A.N.D. Leadership campers

The morning of “T” began with a few special touches that I’ll get into at a later date.  There were so many throughout the week, I thought I would give them their own article at the end of this series.  It was important to start the day’s session giving them yet another opportunity to use their social graces.  I divided them again into pairs of cabin groups - different ones so that they were continuing to meet new people every day.  The counsellors then facilitated putting them into partners, one person from each cabin per pair.  Before the game began, they introduced themselves to their new teammate and shook hands.  They looked a lot less awkward than yesterday and the teens didn’t even shoot me those strange looks I got the day before when I asked them to do the same!

The simple activity that we used was to give them 3 minutes to find as many things as possible that they had in common with their partner.  They were not allowed to use the obvious - ‘we both have a nose, eyes, etc.’  After 3 minutes, we had a contest to see who found the most things in common and who found the most unique thing in common.  The answers were quite remarkable and the campers surprisingly invested in the process.  It was important for them to understand that we, as people, have so much more in common than we think and that one of the ways we change community is to get to know people.  

A few skits followed, thanks once again to the wonderful resource staff of the camp who were willing to allow themselves to look a bit silly and, specifically today, a bit irresponsible.  Of course, at the end, it was important to tell the campers that our skits were just that and that the staff members who helped me were actually very responsible and, that if they had not been, I would never have shared my disappointment with a room full of people.  

Through both skits, which I had thought were relatively clever and funny, I got very little reaction from the teens.  They were attentive and polite but did not show any emotion while they watched. The staff members in the ‘audience’, however, reacted as I had hoped. This was a fascinating eye-opener for me.  The information presented in the skits was geared to the campers’ age group but they did not seem as invested as I had anticipated.  As the week continued, I think I began to understand why and know what I need to change in the future but more about that on “A” day.  

Both sketches lead us into group discussions on responsibility and my fears of how the morning was going dissolved a bit as the teens became more involved. First we agreed on a definition.  We decided that “responsibility = own your ______”.  We made a long list to fill in the blank and had small cabin group discussions about how it feels when people are responsible.   We came together to report on our conversations and, in our “World Vision” portion of the morning, chatted about what the world looks like when people do not “own their _______” and how that affects us all.  We ended off this section by having volunteers record the campers answers to “what are ways we can practice and show responsibility here at camp?”.  These answers took a bit to pull out of them but we got there.

The mood changed considerably in the second half of “T”’s session.  

 World Vision exercise at S.T.A.N.D.

World Vision exercise at S.T.A.N.D.

We talked about what to do when we screw up.  We discussed that sometimes we drop the ball, we make mistakes, we forget things, we hurt our friends’ feelings and we let people down.  With a fun activity I learned years ago from Michael Brandwein, I had them change partners within their cabin groupings (of course, they introduced themselves and shook hands first).  Each pairing was given a tennis ball and, over the course of 5 minutes, threw it back and forth to one another while, with signals from me, they moved further and further apart.  Now picture over 100 people doing this in the lodge.  Of course, many people dropped the ball but, every so often with my interruptions to move further apart, I instructed them what to say if a ball was dropped.  I changed the responses several times throughout the activity.  Of course, there was much laughter.  At first, it was the embarrassed kind and, as the activity continued, it was just the “this is okay and I’m having fun” kind.  

We debriefed the exercise and talked about how much easier it was to own up to a slip-up when their partner said things like, “It’s okay, everyone makes mistakes.  Just try again.”  Of course, we also examined the fact that botching our responsibilities and making mistakes is not always this fun.  Sometimes it’s really hard to admit you goofed.  Sometimes it can be really painful to take responsibility for your own actions.  I had frontloaded with a number of staff members that I would be asking how they deal with these kinds of situations.  They had had a day or so to think about it and gave really thoughtful answers.  I think hearing from the counsellors and senior staff that the teens really looked up to was a moving experience for them.

Nearing the end of our session, we talked about apologies.  This is when the campers really came to life.  They had a LOT to say on this issue;  they were eager to share their examples of a really bad apology and how it made them feel.  We reviewed the 3 steps of apologizing and went over the one step that makes us truly responsible human beings.

We wrapped up talking about owning our mistakes and learning from them so that they can empower us to be better people.  We ended our morning by making a physical representation of our commitment to show what can be built if we are all responsible for our own actions.  Ahead of time, a lovely volunteer made us a bridge using poster paper.  It was 2 dimensional and pretty big because it needed to hold a lot of hand prints.  The campers and staff each took turns putting their hands in washable tempera paint and placing a handprint somewhere on the bridge.  It was a lasting and colourful work of art symbolizing their pledge to change the world for the better by owning their own actions.

From a morning that began like me pulling teeth to get responses from the teens, it ended in really great place.  I look forward to sharing all about “Asking Intelligent Questions” in my next instalment.  It was one difference-making session!

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S.T.A.N.D. Leadership - Social Graces

Social Graces, if you please…


 Social Graces STAND at Cairn

One of my favourite days of the S.T.A.N.D. project was definitely day 1.  In it, we saw the biggest shifts from awkward, stand-offish teens to cordial, welcoming young adults.  And many of these changes occurred after just one hour of open, honest discussion.  The day before, during the Opening Staff Meeting, I had frontloaded with the counseling staff the importance of a good introduction and explained in detail how I wanted them to introduce their campers the following morning.  The camp at which I ran the pilot program, Glen Mhor in Baysville, Ontario, was already extremely good at welcoming campers and parents on Opening Days but this was taking it all a bit further.  With the understanding of a good introduction, we were demonstrating just one step in the lost art of social graces.

I began by introducing myself in the courtyard and explaining what an honour it was to work with them all.  We then had a senior staff member demonstrate how to give a “good, firm” handshake.  And then...we practiced.  This was the most important part of the lesson - giving the teens an opportunity to practice - to feel awkward, uncomfortable, and a little silly and try it again.  No one was centered out because everyone was practicing all together.

Cabins were paired up (all done in advance throughout the week so things began with same genders and ages and changed every day so that all cabins had time to intentionally interact).  Counselors introduced their own campers with phrases like “it is my pleasure to introduce you to” or “I am thrilled to have you meet”.  A game was played to help the cabin pairings learn one another’s names and, before they even entered the lodge for their first session, the campers knew more people, had had a few giggles, and had learned to ‘break the ice’.  

One of my favourite skits of the week introduced our lesson of the day.  I was fortunate to work with 4 well-seasoned senior staff members who fully understood the importance of intentional teaching and who are also, if I do say so myself, pretty darn funny people.  We ran a series of the same vignette 12 times, each time a different century, complete with very quick costume changes.  The campers saw the year change on the screen behind the actors and watched how different generations of people handled the same scenario.  Two people pass in the street, one carrying packages which she drops.  The reaction of the the other person changes with each passing year.  We began as cavemen and worked our way up to present day, highlighting Shakespearean England, 1890’s cow “folk”, and the 1950’s, just to name a few.  We saw how the greatest changes occurred in the last several decades.  The giggles were plentiful for the first 10 exchanges but not so many as we got to the 1990’s and present day.  As entertaining and thought-provoking as the skit was, the most important part of came in the debrief.  We chatted about what they saw and why they thought we, as a people, had changed.  

 S.T.A.N.D. Leadership campers learning about Social Graces.   

S.T.A.N.D. Leadership campers learning about Social Graces.


The session continued with several more activities, the campers divided once again in those same cabin pairings, and another skit depicting our inability to communicate effectively face-to-face due to all the technology quite literally at our fingertips.  Although the Camp Director and I thought we were quite amusing, our skit did not get the laughs from the teens that we had expected.  In reflection, I think we hit a little too close to home.  The point of the skit, however, was not missed by our campers.

With the sketches and exercises out the way, it was time for some serious discussion.  Together we examined very specifically what constitutes social graces and why we think we, as a society, don’t use them much anymore, and shared concrete examples of social graces we could use starting right that minute at camp.

And, as became part of our daily routine, we took part in “World Vision” and talked about what our world would look like today if everyone used social graces.  Before leaving for their first program area of the morning, campers were asked to shake hands with the people around them and wish them a great morning.  Again, this was pretty awkward on day 1 but it got better each day and, by the end of the week, they didn’t even need to be reminded. It was pretty amazing to watch that small practice turn into such a powerful ritual.

Being purposeful with expectations of social graces was pretty new to some of these campers.  They had never shaken someone’s hand before, had never properly introduced themselves, or said hello to people they didn’t know but on this day, after just one hour of being completely intentional, things happened.

I witnessed small changes at first but, once it gained momentum, it was like a landslide.  Campers held doors open for one another, made eye contact when they spoke, offered their seats, introduced themselves to new people, used ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’ a whole lot, helped one another with tasks without being asked, and made sure no one felt left out.  Now camp is always a great place for people to feel ‘at home’;  I witnessed this for years as a Camp Director but this, this was different.  

Many special touches were added throughout the day but I’ll fill you in on all of those after we get through the other 4 letters!  In my next installment, I’ll take you through day 2, T - Take Responsibility for Your Own Actions. The campers sure had a lot to say on day 2.

Thank you for taking the time to read.  It was my pleasure to spend these moments with you and I wish you a wonderful day.  

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