About Karen Kettle
Karen Kettle is passionate about the power of student-led leadership programs. Throughout her career with the Durham District School Board, Karen has been a high school science teacher, a consultant, an international presenter, an author, and a course director for the York University Faculty of Education.
She has worked beside talented student leaders and dedicated colleagues to create and implement the Eastdale Eagles Leadership Camp and the Port Perry Rebels Leadership Camp. In retirement, Karen continues to explore new and creative pathways to share her love of leadership with the next generation!
Connect with Karen: Email
Personal note from Karen
Leadership Camp is a collaborative effort. I would like to thank all of the people who are partners in making camp happen.
Camp Committee Members
Camp & Club Advisors
Camp Program Staff
Secretaries & Custodians
A very special thank you goes out to the two camps that I have had the privilege of working with: Kilcoo Camp (Eastdale Eagles Leadership Camp) and Youth Leadership Camps Canada or YLCC (Port Perry Leadership Camp). Having talented camp staff to work with is priceless!
Countdown to Camp (Karen’s Most Recent Book)
The book Countdown to Camp is available at volumesdirect.com for $20
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:02):
Karen welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about who you are and why you’re passionate about the work you do with youth.
Karen Kettle (00:15):
Okay. my name is Karen Kettle and I am a retired science teacher. I taught for 30 years in the Durham school board. And my passion outside of science education is working with students to run student-led leadership camps. And I’ve had the opportunity to do that twice. I worked with a group of kids at Eastdale and also at port Perry high school. And we ran camps for about 130 or 140 students from the school that were mainly student run. So that’s, that’s my leadership passion outside of the biology classroom.
Sam Demma (01:06):
What brought you to that passion? How did you discover it and why do you think it’s important that students get involved in camp?
Karen Kettle (01:15):
Well, I spent a lot of time at summer camp growing up. I first went to camp when I was nine years old and I really badly wanted to come home on visitor’s day. And my mom left me there crying on the dock and told me I would learn to like it. And after that I went back every summer to that camp and also to the Ontario camp leadership center at bark lake until I was well in my twenties. And when I decided that I wanted to become a high school teacher, I wanted to be able to bring the best of that camp, spirit, that transformative experience into my teaching career.
Sam Demma (02:04):
That is awesome. And what, what, what were the steps you took to start building camp? So I would imagine being involved in a camp as a student is a different experience than organizing a camp as an educator. What, what were the initial steps you started taking to build the camp and tell, yeah, tell me a little bit more about that process on how it turned into its its own thing.
Karen Kettle (02:30):
Well, I was very lucky when I got to Eastdale I knew the principal very well and he was a principal that was a camp director in the summertime. And the year before a very talented leader had started a student retreat as part of a course. And so they wanted to continue it and they were looking for someone else with camp experience, there were some great teachers involved with it. And so I joined their team and then we just started to increase the length of time. We took students away until we were up to a four day camp and involve all sorts of different students from the school, from all sorts of clubs, like student council and music council and meet and we and athletic council and all of the social justice clubs and geeks unlimited and the gay straight Alliance and the ambassadors and the environment club and the business club. And so it became sort of an umbrella training ground for student leaders in the school. So that was my, that was my first experience with leadership camp. And then when I left and went to port Perry high school, I started from scratch again.
Sam Demma (04:06):
And now you are a camp pro or a camp in ninja, or I don’t even know what to call it, but you, you you’ve built out so many supports for camp and encouraging students to get involved in camps and encouraging students to lead camps and encouraging educators to understand the importance of camp. You’ve even, you know, written books about it. One that’s very, you know, new and fresh. Can you share a little bit about what inspired you to write the book and also why you think student led leadership camps are also really important?
Karen Kettle (04:45):
Okay, well in working with students over the years one of the things that they use to say to me is I kind of know what we need to do, but I sort of need a checklist to get there. And so during the, a pandemic, because I had lots of creative alone time I sat down and tried to pull all of the collective wisdom together from all of the other advisors I’d worked with and camp heads and camp committee members and my colleagues and support staff and put it together just in a way that someone who had never run a leadership camp could pick it up and know that they could start with simple steps. And then as their school got more involved and the student leaders in the school got more involved, all they could build it into whatever it was that they wanted and needed for the school.
Karen Kettle (05:51):
I think student leaders are incredible role models for their peers because the camp committee, which works together all year to get camp ready by designing it and implementing it and, and running everything other than high ropes course and waterfront they are just that little bit better at, at some of the leadership skills than their peers. And so it’s kind of like if you’re an athlete and you wanna learn to get better at tennis, you don’t want to play against world champions. You wanna play against someone who’s just that little bit better than you are and makes you stretch your skills. So the senior students are great role models for their less experienced peers, cuz the kids can look at them and say, you know, in two or three years, that’s who I wanna be. That’s what I wanna do. And it also keeps the ownership of the camp program in the, in the school. It, they’re not going somewhere and having someone else run everything, they’re working with a camp staff to, to run a program and, and the program belongs to them.
Sam Demma (07:16):
That makes a lot of sense. And, and I think giving students a voice is so important because thinking back to the educators that made a big impact on my life, their class was more so a discussion than it was a lecture. And because I was given a voice, I was more interested in the content they were teaching and speaking about out. And if I was running or organizing an event, I would be more inclined to get involved and also to promote it to my friends and to get other students in the school involved. Because I, I feel like ownership and interest are kind of tied together. Something you do a great job at, in your book countdown to can a, is breaking down this idea that student leadership is a year long process. What do you mean by that? And what does it look like? Or what does a typical year of planning in a student leadership position look like?
Karen Kettle (08:17):
Okay. well what would happen is at the beginning of the year students would apply to be on camp committee and this would be a group of about 20 students that really wanna put in the time because it takes a lot of time. They, they meet once a week for an hour and a half or two hours as a group. And so they go through a, a process where they start off with lots of team building within their group and getting to know each other, figuring out who has what skills and who can bring music who can bring organization, who can bring humor to the group. And then we basically start through a process where we develop a theme which holds camp together. And some of our past themes have been things like Dr. Sue or Harry Potter or Beatlemania or clue.
Karen Kettle (09:26):
And so they have to brainstorm all sorts of different themes and come up with what it might look like. And we take a lot of time to make sure that all of the themes are, are really, really strong. And then we have a process, a decision making process that we go through to help them come to a consensus on theme. And then after that’s done, we start through the same process again, to trying to decide what workshops we’re going to put into camp. And that is one of the places where you can really tailor camp to your own individual school, because you can pick out knowledge elements that the kids in your are clubs might need, they might wanna learn something about emotional intelligence or mental health. You can pick out skills that they might wanna develop, like communication skills or delegation or creativity.
Karen Kettle (10:33):
You can work on some values like attitude or kindness, and then you can also look at issues like inclusion or consent or anti-bullying or environmental issues. And so that becomes the, the part of camp. That’s the learning part of camp. The, we would then organize students in the teams, workshop teams, and they’d pick from the ones that they’d brainstorm and they’d work to put together their interactive workshops. And then we get to plan all the fun things at camp. And those are things like campfires and large group games and talent shows banquet. So there’s, there’s a lot of organization that goes on throughout the year. We also do a lot of fundraising to make sure that we can support kids financially, who might not otherwise be able to attend and that’s kind of fund too, because there’s a lot of experiential learning in, in running a, a fundraiser.
Karen Kettle (11:45):
Quite often the camp committee takes on some other challenges at port Perry high school. We used to run a minicamp day for the grade eight that were gonna come to our school the following year and run through our workshops with them and just help them come into the high school and feel comfortable in the high school. So all of that goes on throughout the year. And the culminate activity is the three day or four day experience with a camp partner where we take somewhere between a hundred and hundred 40 kids from the school. And, and they get to share in the experience.
Sam Demma (12:31):
What do you think are some of the really positive outcomes on a school’s culture when students within that school participate in a camp experience?
Karen Kettle (12:44):
Well, there’s a lot of them because there there’s individual learning and individual development with the people, especially the people of who are on camp committee. There are the skills and knowledge that advisors can take back with their students in their own clubs and apply those. But also I think students find that it’s, it’s intrinsically rewarding to do something that is sort of in the service of others. And, and so there’s, there’s a, a good feeling there. You get a large group and, and that’s, what’s different about student led leadership camp rather than sending an individual student to a conference is that you come back with like a hundred kids that have shared the experience and that increases cooperation and trust among the students. It increases cooperation with staff cause once you’ve boosted your vice principal up onto the ropes course, or you’ve, you know, what had your principal walk the plank because he was the villain story.
Karen Kettle (14:03):
They come back with a different sense of understanding that, you know, that the teachers and administrators are, are people and they’re there to, to help. So you get this sort of shared vision of, of what you can do as a, as a team. If everybody works together student thoughts will meet and interact and live with students that they wouldn’t otherwise meet at school. And so it breaks down social barriers in the building. It there’s more cooperation between clubs because each club knows what the other club is doing and what their purpose is and why they’re there. And then the other thing I find is that student leaders, when they come back, they look for or understand the deeper meaning in some of the activities that they’re running at the school. So they might be running like something really fun and silly on a Friday, but they know that they’re doing it to build community. Yeah. And they know if they put together something on study skills that they know that they’re providing a, a service for other students in the building, or they, sometimes they do things like they’ll come back and put up a kindness tree or something like that. So they understand that there’s a deeper purpose behind all of the extracurricular activities that, that they’re doing.
Sam Demma (15:41):
And how do you go about selecting what students in a school would get to participate in a camp? I would imagine that’s probably one of the most difficult aspects because you want everyone to have the experience, but you might have a li limited budget and a limited amount of students that you can bring with you to these four, five-day experiences.
Karen Kettle (16:03):
Yes. Well, one of the things is that with leadership camps, again, because you can fine tune it to your school, different schools have slightly different selection criteria. But the way we’ve always gone about getting students is that any student who’s already involved in the leadership club in the school gets an invitation to go grade nine and 10 students who are involved go through that process, or they can also self nominate themselves. So if you have maybe a shy grade nine student, who’s not yet involved in anything, they can just fill out an application form for an invitation and they get an invitation. We all also have our teachers that teach a lot of grade nine and 10 students nominate students that they think would benefit from the experience. And some of our teachers are really good at that.
Karen Kettle (17:08):
Really seeing that, you know, the little kid at the back of the room, who’s got all sorts of energy, but no focus might actually benefit from camp because once they find that focus then, then they’re set. They know what they wanna do. We also go to our teachers and coaches and guidance department and special ed department and adminis and ask if they wanna nominate kids. Sometimes students who are a little bit at risk because they’ve just moved into the area or something has happened in their family life. And they might just need that really to be part of a really supportive group. Sometimes kids who are just sort of there after school all the time, cuz they don’t really have anywhere else to go will get those kinds of students that are nominated. And then it basically becomes a first come first serve basis. After everyone who is interested through those categories receives an invitation,
Sam Demma (18:23):
Got you. And something else. Okay. Oh, go ahead. Some,
Karen Kettle (18:27):
Okay. Some schools because they wanna have they want diversify between grade nines, tens elevens and 12 do first come first serve based on grade. Mm. We, we’ve never done that. And we normally find that about 50%, 60% of our camp is grade nines and tens.
Sam Demma (18:48):
Got you. You mentioned briefly fundraising and you also do an amazing job in your book providing, you know, literally a template that you use in terms of a sponsorship letter. How, yeah. Can an educator who’s listening to this that wants to run a camp. What should they be thinking about in terms of sponsorship, how do obtain it and also what the letter it should include that they’re thinking to send outside of obviously buying your booking, check, checking it out.
Karen Kettle (19:17):
Well sponsorships are a good way to go sometimes what our sponsors do is they just provide items. So for example, our, our camp committee would go down the main street of port Perry with a letter explaining that we’re raising money to provide scholarships for students who might not be able to afford to go to camp. And quite often they will give us, you know, small items like candy or a t-shirt or something from their, their business. And so we put those together into something like a a draw or a silent auction, something like that. So that’s one way of, of finding sponsorship ships. We’ve also had service groups who have provided us with money sometimes connected to a, a, a service. So we went and helped out with a pancake breakfast and that group donated some money to our, our camp scholarship fund.
Karen Kettle (20:30):
I think if you’re writing a sending a letter to organizations, it has to really clearly state what your, what your leadership camp is, how it serves people. We put down a breakdown of costs per individual student. And then we basically just said, you know, if you’d like to make a contribution, here’s the, the camp advisors contact information and it’s sort of a contribution of whatever they would like to make. And we just basically had a bank account and we put money in from that and from our fundraisers, cuz we like to do silly fundraisers. And then on our application form for parents, there was a little line that sort of said we know that economic are tough for people. If your son or daughter requires some financial assistance, please contact. And there was a camp advisor’s email.
Karen Kettle (21:38):
And then when we got in touch with the parent, we basically said you know, what can you afford to pay towards your child going to camp? And then we can cover the rest of it. And, and that worked really well because it let us spread out the funds among the, the students who really needed it. For me, that, that I came to that realization when I actually had a parent call me and ask if she could pay for her son’s best friend to go to camp. Mm. And until that time we had sort of been fundraising to lower the cost for everyone. And after that experience I realized that it was probably better to target the money because some parents could easily afford to send their kids. And for some parents it was prohibitive. Mm. So that’s why we came up with that idea of, of scholarship funds.
Sam Demma (22:41):
That’s amazing. Another great resource that I pulled out of your book. I know I’m referring to it a lot and it’s because it’s jampacked with great stuff, the workshop topics, that was a phenomenal section that you created that, you know, encapsulated dozens of ideas that people could think about presenting or even bringing in someone else to present at their camps. What are some of the ideas that you found the great success with or would recommend that someone who’s planning their first camp should include in the programming somewhere?
Karen Kettle (23:19):
Well workshops that that list of workshops came about because one of the, the issues when you’re working with young people on a camp committee is that the only work ups they’ve seen are the workshops that were presented the year before the, or the two years before. Mm. And so they, and so they kept reinventing the same workshop and just changing its name. And it was normally about pushing your comfort zone. And it got to the point it’s like, we pushed our comfort zone enough. We know now need actually to do something else because you really want to not repeat anything sort of within the four years that that’s students could be in the school because we have some students that go for four, for three or four years. And so what I did is I basically just sat down and wrote like little teaser for 99 different workshops.
Karen Kettle (24:21):
And I think, I don’t really think that there are any, that you are essential that you start with. I think it’s more about giving the kids a, a list of a whole bunch of different things they could do, and then letting them select the ones that they have, that they truly have an interest in. Mm. And quite often what we used to do is we let the camp, if we, if we needed, let’s say six workshops, we let the camp committee pick four. We let the camp heads pick one. And then the camp advisors pick one because they do tend sometimes depending on the, the group of kids to try and they sometimes stay away from some of the more difficult topics. And so sometimes you need a little bit a push in that direction. And then the other thing we did with workshops is that we to connect them to our theme.
Karen Kettle (25:30):
So for example, the year we did Harry Potter, the mental health workshop became defense against the dark arts. Ah, and, and the, when we did Dr. Suess, the environment workshop became Lorax lesson. Mm. So you want tie in and, and tie it to to the theme, but it also, it depends on what the school needs like, do they need to do something on anti-bullying? Do they need to do something on digital leadership? Because really it’s what you do as workshops is completely wide open, as long as you have a mix of some that are really thought provoking and, and some that are, that are fun. Hmm. And we also try to make sure that, you know, if one workshop focused on skits that maybe the next one was gonna focus on a craft activity, or it was gonna focus on some kind of debate or discussion so that when students went from workshop to workshop, they were interactive and they were different. And it wasn’t like they weren’t being talked to, they, they were very HandsOn and involved in, in act in activities that brought them to the point of what the workshop was about. Understand. I don’t know what the, that
Sam Demma (27:04):
Yeah, it does. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all option. I was just really intrigued and impressed by how many ideas you pulled together and was wondering kinda well in
Karen Kettle (27:15):
A lot of the ones in the book we’ve actually done. And, and students come in with very distinct interest. And they take you places that as an advisor, you never thought you would be going because they have an interest in that area that, that resonates with their peers.
Sam Demma (27:39):
And what’s also interesting is extracurricular activities are not only the beneficial for students, but they’re also beneficial for teachers, you know, teachers benefit from being involved. What do you think are some of the benefits of the extracurricular involvement for teachers?
Karen Kettle (27:58):
Well, I think that they brought a lot of a joy in, into my life. I, I love the time that I spent with students outside of the classroom, because it gives you a different opportunity to mentor young people and also to learn from them. As teachers, you get to pick your extracurriculars. So if you are interested in sports coaching, a sport is great. Poor Perry high school had a phenomenal music program. And there were like some of the kids that were in that music program will be musicians throughout their lives, either as a career or as a, as a, as a joy, just for personal growth. So you get to follow your passion as a teacher and you meet up with kids that are also interested in it, and that’s sort of where that mentorship relationship comes from, because it, when you have someone who, who has knowledge in an area and someone who wants knowledge in the same area then that becomes a rich experience.
Karen Kettle (29:16):
It also has tremendous impacts on your classroom. I can remember on a grade eight tour day, listening to someone outside of my classroom going, this is Mrs. Kell’s classroom. She teaches science. I had her in grade nine. I really liked her. And then she takes us to camp. Well, if you have that kind of advertisement going on, when the kids come to your classroom, the next year, they expect that they’re gonna enjoy it. And all sorts of management issues just never come through your door because they know that even if it’s not something they wanna do, they know that you’re are interested in students in the school and that you are willing to put time in outside of the classroom. And it’s fun. Some of the students that I’ve worked with over the year have become really good friends. Some of them have become colleagues because a lot of the skills you learn at leadership camp work really well in the classroom. And so I, I think it’s a, it has a, a huge impact on your enjoyment of your teaching career. Yeah, and, and for kids, it’s great because they really get to interact in something that they’ve chosen, that they have ownership of, and they meet a positive peer group there that has similar interests.
Sam Demma (30:59):
Hmm. Kinda agree more if so, is interested in learning more about camps, more about the work you’ve done, where can they one pick up a copy of your book and two, get in touch with you.
Karen Kettle (31:13):
Okay. If they wanted to pick up up a copy of the book, the easiest way to do it is right from the publisher and the way to do that would be to Google volumesdirect.com. Countdown to camp is listed there. And you can just purchase it from that website if they want to contact me my email address and I’d be happy to talk to people. My email address is Karenkettle@gmail.com.
Sam Demma (32:05):
Awesome. Karen, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, talking about camps, your experience teaching, and also being involved in student leadership. Keep up the amazing work. I look forward to staying in touch and watching your, you know, adventures and work evolve. Thank you so much.
Karen Kettle (32:24):
Well, okay. And thank you very much. It’s lovely to talk to someone who is actually putting leadership into action at a fairly young age. And it sounds like you’re doing a great job.
Sam Demma (32:43):
Thanks so much, Karen.
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