Technology is evolving so rapidly, it’s near impossible to keep up with the relentless pace of change. From one month to the next, we see yet another new development, a new ground-breaking idea, a new way of doing things that will forever change the world! With this amazing digital transformation, which has brought with it so many benefits, it’s important to pause for a moment and think about what the consequences are for education.
Despite the immense benefit that technology has brought to the world, education is a unique field that on the one hand can benefit from efficiencies that technology can bring, but on the other, is at significant risk of failing the next generation of students the more it relies on technology to achieve its aims. The irony of owning a software company and being against technology as an educational driver, is not lost on me, but there’s a reason why I believe the over-use and over-reliance on technology is extremely concerning, as I’m also a teacher.
Firstly, our model of education is all wrong. Despite what some schools will tell you, creating an open-plan classroom is merely window dressing on a system and process that’s essentially not changed since the dark and smoky days of the industrial revolution. You get a group of students, put them in a room, teacher teaches them something, teacher assesses them and students get a mark! Congratulations! You’ve now done the exact same thing the old grumpy guy in the 1890s did, but just without the cane in your hand.
Many people will claim today’s classroom is different because they’ve integrated technology! In most current job descriptions for teachers, there’s a line about your ability to integrate said technology into said classroom, but what does this mean? If you’re still teaching basically the same way that the old grumpy misogynist was back in the 19th century, then throwing in a computer will serve no real purpose, other than making the cost of education go up.
Consequently, it’s worrying to think that by simply adding technology to outdated practices, that it will produce better results. Technology based learning systems are expensive and pointless without real teachers teaching a set of modern skills, which are focused on critical thinking, communications, problem-solving, teamwork and most importantly, adaptability. You can’t get any of this from either traditional education, nor creating virtual teachers and virtual classrooms.
Education for the 21st century needs to be far more experiential. We’re seeing an increasing reliance on devices amongst children and teens that appear to be leading to great prevalence of mental health issues and an inability to form real, healthy and long-lasting relationships. As some of the most important skills needed for the future are all to do with building effective relationships and being able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, this disconnect needs to be addressed as a priority before we throw any more technology into the classroom in the hope that it will magically address the problem.
The current state of education today is ill-equipped to handle the reality of what our next generation needs to be successful in a world that is changing so rapidly. Critical to the success of education into the future is not technology itself, but the ability of students to understand technology and leverage it for a real purpose. The risk is that our current generation and education system has been caught off guard by the enormous digital dislocation that’s happened in the last 10-15 years. This has resulted in many students and young people today being so reliant on devices that they’re now leveraged by technology. When this happens, we’ve failed as educators and we’ve opened the next generation to a serious risk of failure, if and when that technology fails.
To truly create an education system that helps students to grow in a positive, healthy and pro-active way and set them up for success, far more emphasis is needed on relationship building, teamwork, being able to fail and learning from failure. This needs to be done in the real world, through real world experiences. Technology can and should be a part of this, if it’s a natural fit, but technology doesn’t always need to be in the mix, as often we learn more from other experiences that don’t involve technology. It’s often from the ability of the teacher to identify a teachable moment and use this that students learn the most. It can be unplanned, unexpected, but something happens, or is said or done and the teacher leverages this moment for the benefit of their students.
This comes back to my earlier point that it’s through experiential education that students learn best. Teachers who have a wealth of experience can often find and react to teachable moments that would never be possible with virtual AI type teachers no matter how well-programmed they were.
Whilst in the past you could adequately prepare students for the future by teaching fairly narrow content that needed to be retained for a specific job for life, this is no longer the case. It’s important for the future of education, that we have teachers who have had real life experiences outside of the classroom and the academic world, who can provide real, genuine guidance for our next generation. It’s through the ability of an experienced teacher to react and teach future focussed skills that we will see the best results for our students into the future.
I love to try new things! The fact is that if we’re not living somewhat outside our comfort zones, we’re not doing much living at all. Life is about growth and without growth, we start to go backwards. When I recently jumped in the deep end and created a podcast about experiential education, it was not only a new experience, but a challenging one into which I had to put a lot of thought, time and effort to make it work.
It started out from listening to someone else’s podcast. Since I travel a lot for work, I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts in the car. What struck me though, was the fact that most of them were just conversations about topics I was interested in. However, there was nothing there in terms of really interesting experiential education. Certainly, there were shows out there about education, but they weren’t looking at the future of education. They were looking more at doing the same sort of things that have been done for about 200 years, but adding in a computer to the equation to make everyone feel that that’s progress. I’ll let you in on a secret… “It’s not!”
So I thought, who are some interesting people with whom I want to talk about what cool unique programs are they running? This was the starting point. I reached out to my first guest, explained what I was up to and asked if she were interested in being on the show. I was excited to get a very fast response. The only problem was, I had no recording equipment, never interviewed anyone before and massive time pressures from work.
Often people get to a point with an idea and even though it’s a great idea about which they’re excited, sometimes the first or second hurdle put a nail in the coffin of the idea and it falls onto the trash heap of dreams. That was not to be the case for me. Having already set a bunch of ludicrous goals, this was just another on the list. With my first guest lined up and booked in, I went out and bought a couple of lapel microphones which plugged into my iPhones. Buying stuff is the easy part. Everyone’s great at spending money. It’s what you do next with your purchase that either makes it worthwhile, or just another bit of gear that gathers dust.
With my tech equipment ready, I now needed some questions… This was probably the most challenging part of the whole process. I needed to research my guest and what cool things were being done in experiential education. Since I ended up with a broad range of guests, this meant that no single interview was going to be the same as another. I’d originally come up with a range of generic questions, which I promptly threw out. In researching the individual programs and backgrounds of the different guests, I found that I needed to explore more specific topics with each guest, rather than just try to ask the same questions of different people.
Added to this, when the interview was in progress, half the questions went out the window, as I found myself exploring other topics and issues which the guest brought up. By diving down the rabbit hole, it produced a far more interesting interview as well. For each subsequent guest, I was able to improve my listening skills and ask far better follow up questions on something said. For the first few interviews, I was too nervous for this and preferred to stick to my script, but as I became more comfortable with the fact that I could ask unscripted questions on the fly, it made it far easier to conduct a better interview. After all, the interviews were all aimed to explore their work in experiential education, not just for me to make it to the end of the script. In the end, out of roughly ten questions, I was usually only asking five or six. Everything else was simply further exploration of what had already been said.
As I conducted all the interviews in person, this added to the slight challenge of distance as some guests lived down the road and others in different countries. The craziest two recording days I had was towards the end of 2017. I had two days off work and I needed to record three interviews in two different states! I flew from Canberra to Melbourne first thing in the morning, hired a car, drove to rural Victoria, recorded the interview, back in the car to Melbourne, caught another plane to Adelaide! After staying with a friend overnight, I was off the next morning, to record two interviews one after another. Next, I was back on the plane to Canberra that evening and a 2.5 hour drive home! It was hectic, but worth it!
With a bunch of raw interviews recorded which covered a range of topics, it was now down to editing and adding some theme music. This wasn’t that hard, but still time consuming to ensure that each episode sounded good and wasn’t full of sound errors.
I won’t delve into the technical side of the whole podcast process but looking back on Season 1 for me I’ve learnt so much from the whole experience. On the one hand I now know how to conduct an interview with someone and draw out some key points from the work they do. I also learnt so much about other ways of doing things in education. There really is a huge gap that’s only growing bigger and bigger as schools are so slow to adapt to the changing world. Seeing some amazing standout programs such as the Australian Science & Maths School, really showed me what’s possible for education today, rather than just doing the same thing over and over… ‘because that’s the way we’ve always done it!’ type of attitudes with which so many schools are still battling.
I’m now in the process of recording Season 2 of the podcast, so if you’re running a unique experiential education program, I’d love to hear from you before I fill all the guests, but hey, if we can’t fit it in this time, there’s always Season 3!
Ultimately, if there’s some sort of fantastic idea you have, then no matter what the obstacles are that crop up, you can find a way around them. It was a lot work to complete this project, but anything worth doing always involves some significant effort. I encourage everyone to find something cool that can contribute to either education or helping others from your own experience. The best time to do it is always right now, so don’t delay. Get your next project up and running today and let me know how it goes!
After talking about how awesome Twisted Sister were, I might have got you excited about the classic Chumbawamba song Tubthumping! Such a great song, but again another one-hit wonder that now occasionally finds its way to be played at awkward school reunions and trivia nights. However, as interesting as random bands are and as pointless as school reunions are, I am not going to talk about either. Instead, let’s talk head injuries!
Whilst for many people, a head injury might be preferable to going to their school reunion, I don’t want to seem blasé about one of the most significant issues with which we have to deal as teachers, coaches and outdoor instructors.
Concussions are what I would describe as a hidden injury. Whilst sometimes it’s extremely obvious that someone has suffered a concussion, when they’re struggling to remember what you said to them 30 seconds ago, there are also times where the injury goes quite unnoticed. Sometimes, after a hit to the head or a massive body collision, a proper assessment isn’t done and the student continues to play on.
One of the biggest problems with concussions, from a first aid point of view, is that the signs and symptoms are not blatantly obvious. If for example someone breaks an arm, especially if it’s a protruding injury, you can see it’s broken from satellite imagery. If it’s graze or laceration, there’s usually lots of blood and so it’s time to glove up and stop that bleeding. There is a reason why people say “bleedingly obvious,” and you’ll understand exactly what they mean, if you’ve treated someone with an open wound, let alone someone who’s taken a dive in a bed of oysters… but that’s a story for another time.
Head injuries and concussions however, that don’t involve lots of bleeding, aren’t always so obvious and nor is the recovery process. When you’ve broken that arm at right angles and passers by with no first aid training feel nauseated just looking at it, it’s obvious you need to get that looked at by a doctor. The process is quite clear from now on in. You go to the hospital, the triage nurse looks at you and goes ‘Oh woah! That’s broken!’ The old lady you sit down next to in the waiting room goes ‘Oh woah! That’s broken!’ and finally after a 6 hour wait in emergency, the doctor said ‘Oh woah! That’s broken, but we’d better get it X-rayed just to be sure!’
However, with head injuries, it’s not so clear cut. Because we can’t see an obvious trauma, we can often risk not even considering that an injury has occurred. The student after all got back up and is playing again. The student might not feel too bad, just a little dazed… but can ‘walk it off’. Unfortunately, inside the student’s head, the brain has just been bounced around and is suffering the effects of a mild concussion. If however, a student has a major concussion, it’s far easier to notice and remove the student from the field or activity. Thankfully, our awareness of and attention to major concussions has improved dramatically in recent years. However, it’s the mild concussions that worry me, as they can remain hidden for an extended period of time.
When someone suffers a concussion, they should seek medical advice and have a clear recovery plan laid out for them. However, with a mild concussion, medical advice is not always sought and the student doesn’t rest and recover, but instead, goes to the next training session increasing the risk of more significant trauma and then onto the next game, once again at increased risk. A concussion on top of another concussion, on top of another one can have a massive multiplier effect and lead to further damage to the brain being caused. Traumatic brain injury and/or CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) can result.
As I’m not a doctor, and there’s far better medical information and advice on the specifics around TBI and CTE I won’t go into all the details here. But as a first teacher, coach or instructor and often the first responder, we should be ensuring we are baseline testing our students prior to commencing high risk activists such as extreme sports and contact sports. We should be mandating helmets or head gear wherever possible and also remaining situationally aware throughout the activity or game looking for big hits to the body or head that might result in the mild concussion that can be so easily overlooked as it’s not bleedingly obvious to the old lady in the emergency department. It’s easy to test for a concussion, but much much harder to deal with the fallout if you don’t.
As educators, we want to challenge our students and help them get the most out of sports, the outdoors and every other opportunity that school affords them. We want them to out-live us and be forced to go to those awkward school reunions, so they can pretend to be far more successful than all the people they hated at school and claim they invented the ‘Post It Note’ or are now an internet Billionaire having invented ‘Fake Block’. Making our students suffer awkward conversations at school reunions to which we don’t have to go, is good! However, letting them suffer from a traumatic brain injury or CTE from multiple concussions when we can so easily check with something like the International Diagnostic tool, is unacceptable.
We do have a very high duty of care for our students and being aware of the risks involved in concussions and also how we can effectively respond and manage them, is vital for us as teachers, coaches and instructors. If you haven’t done so already, do some research, go to a seminar or listen to a podcast on this. The more we understand about concussions, the more we can do to recognise and treat them as we would any other traumatic injury.
For more clinic information speak with your doctor and a few useful resources below:
Malcolm Gladwell – Revisionist History Podcast
Pocket Concussion Recognition Tool - updated 2017
This is a bit different in some ways from what I usually talk about. However, at the same time it's exactly what I'm on about. I was watching a documentary on Twisted Sister the other night. For those of you who don't know who they are, they're a 70-80s glam rock band that took stage performance to the next level. Google them and watch some of their film clips. My two favourite songs are We’re not Gonna take it! And I Wanna Rock! There pretty cool film clips, especially if you don't like classrooms and psycho teachers!
Anyway, even though they’re not one of my favourite bands, they have such a fascinating history of adversity and rising to the challenges that were constantly thrown up in front of them. It shows how such drive and determination paid off, despite what seemed to be a world conspiring against them at every turn.
From the start, they were weird! A bunch of glam rockers dressed up in outrageous costumes and performing on the fringe of the rock scene. Unlike many performers today who think the only way to get their big break is through a contest, they played the pub scene in New York State. Despite everyone having rough and quiet beginnings, not knowing if anyone were going to show up to their performance, they quickly found a following of dedicated fans who followed them from venue to venue for each of their shows.
They became so popular in the live rock scene, they were selling out shows wherever they went. However, they could land a record deal. If they'd started today they could've recorded their own songs and have them playing on YouTube and ITunes within days. However, the world was a very different place in the 70s & 80s and getting heard by anyone in the music industry was tough. But they continued to play and do what they loved to do.
They got their big break where they were going to perform at the Palladium theatre. The show sold out in record time, but one of the band members collapsed and the performance had to be postponed. Instead of record executives who were originally booked in to see the big show, they got secretaries and assistants showing up the next time around. As a result, no record deal was struck. This went on and on. Then they finally managed to sign a deal, but the executive died of a heart attack on the way home. So that fell through. Then they signed a deal in the U.K. But the record company went bust and back home they were black listed by Atlantic Records who threatened to fire anyone who tried to sign them.
By this point most people would've given up. Generation Y certainly would have, but not Twisted Sister. They kept going and going and trying to find new ways of opening doors every time one slammed shut in their face. At one point they drove 56 hours across America to play a 29min show! Now that's determination!
This endless struggle would’ve destroyed most people and they probably would've given up and begun resentfully making coffee somewhere and claiming they could've been big, but the universe stopped them. Well Twisted Sister grabbed the universe and bent it to its will! Their big break finally came in England when they were doing a live show and did such an epic performance, they got the attention of a British Atlantic Records executive who signed them up for a record deal! Much to the disgust, it would appear of the head of Atlantic Records US, who had blocked an album deal for so long, obviously realising there was money to be made from this deal, he finally capitulated and with this deal their album went platinum!
This shows how being tenacious and persistent can pay off. If you truly believe in something, even when the odds are not only stacked against you, but people are actively working against you, if you stick to your guns and keep working towards your goal, you can achieve anything. If it doesn't work to start with, or if doors keep closing, instead of giving up in five minutes and blaming the world for stopping you, keep working on it. Keep knocking on doors. Keep coming back. Keep fighting to do what you love and despite the odds against you, if you stick with it, you can achieve some amazing things.
To get the full understanding of the roller coaster ride they had, watch the documentary We Are Twisted Sister. It really is an eye-opening journey of how what seemed a hopeless pursuit, ended in a platinum record deal and one of the greatest live performance rock acts in history.
Work satisfaction is always an interesting challenge. Often people are in jobs just because of the money and I can’t criticize that as a motivation. After all, people need to live. However, what do you really want to be doing? A vitally important question for those looking at jobs, looking at careers, and setting goals is “Do you really want to be working in the job you’re in?” Or do you want to be doing something else? Often we look at other people’s jobs and think, ‘Wow, that looks amazing! I really want to be doing that!’
However, job envy is an interesting problem. For example, often people look at the work I’ve done over the years and say to me, ‘Oh, you have the best job!’ You work in the best location.’ Some of the time, they’re quite right, because I’ve shaped the way in which I’ve worked, to be in jobs and locations that I’ve really enjoyed. However, sometimes no matter how fun the job might appear, due to of the culture within an organisation, it can be a horrible place in which to turn up to work everyday.
The best job I had to date, was as Director of Outdoor Education for a Victorian School. Unfortunately, it was only a long service leave replacement role and for some reason, the person I was replacing wanted his job back!! Unbelieveable!!!
When I started this job, I was thrown in the deep end. It was the busiest time of the year. All the camps and activities were happening one after the other. I had three weeks to prepare the entire program for hundreds of students and staffing to match, the remaining six weeks were to run the program. It was intense! A non-stop ride, as I was responsible for three campuses. It meant back to back meetings, travel, reccies, risk assessments, medical reviews and a wide range of other preparations to ensure everything ran smoothly. However, despite the long hours, I really enjoyed the job.
Another intense job I had, was on a winter snowsports program and it was fantastic. We were up first thing in the morning, had breakfast, drove to Thredbo, skied the morning, drove back down to Jindabyne and had lunch before teaching classes until 5 o’clock. There was a short break between the end of lessons and dinner, then back into prep for the evening. This was a relentless job, but what made it enjoyable was the team with which I worked.
In another outdoor education role I had many years ago, the culture within that school was so toxic and so destructive that no matter how enjoyable the activities might have been, it was horrendous to go to work everyday. The bottom line was that staff weren’t valued. When there were important issues to discuss, staff members were ignored and marginalised. This led to resentment and total dysfuntion within the organisation. Ultimately, it was a situation where you had an insanely enjoyable program in which we ran mountain biking, kayaking, sea kayaking, hiking and an enviable fitness program over six months, but as the culture grew more toxic, it didn’t matter how much fun it could have been. It ended up completely unfulfilling. Sadly, people employed to help the social and emotional development of teenagers, were totally incapable of growth themselves.
When you have incompetent management within an organisation, it destroys teams and destroys the integrity and character of a workplace. What I came into years before, which was a happy and exciting place in which to work, turned into a miserable, arduous, horrendous place that was turning over staff faster than you could blink.
As you can see on the outside, being able to turn up to work everyday in shorts and a t-shirt, teach a few lessons then go for a bike ride sounds fantastic! At one point it was. However, throw in poor management and a toxic, cancerous culture, then no matter how good it looks on the outdside, the rotting core destroys the organisation from within. The end result for us was that the programs being run were only ever half-assessed and from an educational point of view, quite ineffective.
So, one of the really critical things you need to consider whenever you’re looking at a new job or re-evaluating your current one, you have to enjoy what you’re doing because enjoyment and fulfillment sparks the next level of commitment. It sparks you to have ideas. It enables continuous improvement and it enables growth within an organisation. As that organisation grows and flourishes, so can everything else about your life. However, if you stay in a job just for the sake of the money, no matter how good that money is, eventually, you’ll end up bitter and twisted and resentful only damaging your life and the lives of those around you.
Are you happy at work? Is your job fulfilling? Are you feeling that what you’re doing everyday is important and valued? Or are you just collecting money? When you can honestly answer these questions of yourself, then you’re ready to assess how worthwhile what you’re doing truly is. If it’s just for the money, it’s time to start looking for new opportunities. However, if you feel valued and enjoy what you do, then you’re already in the right place!
I've been reading a lot of business books lately. Some are amazing, some are total crap and some are just repeating everything else that everyone else has already said, yet still pretending that they thought of it first. Whilst business books are great to read, I reached saturation point last week and everything started appearing to be exactly the same. I've also been driving thousands of kilometres to get to meetings and listening to audio books along the way, but again everyone's sounding the same, telling me the same thing over and over and I needed a break. Ok, so quick sidebar and for those of you thinking about writing a book on business. Please resist the temptation of reading the audio book yourself, unless you have some form of training in media production. It's a rare thing to come across someone who can write logically and fluently and perform their own work with an entertaining flair, most business writers can't!
Having said that however, in my frustration of endless repetition in business tomes and the drones of their authors reading them to me, I woke the other morning to an offer I couldn't refuse! It was a free gift from my purveyor of fine audio books, obviously because I either spend too much money with them, or just not enough. Anyway, the gift was in the form of Girt, (a mysterious word whose usage came to prominence when written into Australia’s national anthem and means surrounded).
The book Girt is about the settlement history of Australia. “Ugh! Yuck! Australian history,” I hear you cry. “How boring!” Well having a degree in Medieval European History, I thought that too. However, nothing could be further from the truth (with the exception perhaps of Hilary's approach to online messaging). I downloaded my free gift and started listening to it right away. Written and narrated by historian David Hunt, this is an astoundingly hilarious account of the unspoken tales of Australian history that show how a nation was discovered by accident more than design and built on the back of dodgy deals generally involving rum and settled predominantly by people who really didn't want to be here. However, due to their rampant compulsion to blow their noses on something nice, rather than wipe it on their sleeves, they were transported here for all the handkerchiefs they borrowed!
I won't go into all the details of the book as I can hardly do it justice and, after all, you can read or listen to it yourself. I will say however, that it was a rolling barrel of laughs as David explored how dysfunctional the early days were in the new British Colony of New South Wales. Although I do note some important general guidelines for those future empire builders looking to send their criminals far far away:
1 Don't make the currency of your new penal colony an alcoholic beverage. If I have to explain why an entire country's economic system shouldn’t be rum-based then please close this window now and go and update your fb status to stupid.
2 Beware the high number of seamstresses in the phonebook. You might get more than your seams taken up.
3 Quickly trademark the name Macquarie and register all the domains you can. You’re guaranteed to make a fortune licensing the use of this name.
4 Don't go to hospital!
If I'm not making any sense, it's either because I'm writing this late at night, or you still haven't read the book!
Ok, so there is a point to all this, other than recommending a fantastic book. The book was so far removed from business, it was the refreshing break I needed from my business. When we focus on something so much, we often lose touch with other things which excite us and make us happy and that's been the case for me. Listening to a wonderful and interesting history that had nothing to do with work or business was great. It gave me the chance to switch off and really enjoy myself and that's so important for anyone, not just entrepreneurs, to be able to do. Take some time for yourself, recharge, refocus and just take the time to enjoy life.
As for Girt, even if you're not into history, read it. It's the most engaging and interesting history book I've ever come across and you will be richer for the experience.
A while ago I wrote about finding myself outside my comfort zone on a reccie trip with some colleagues. We were white water canoeing, something I’d never done before. It was something I found quite challenging, but a rewarding learning experience.
Learning new skills in outdoor education is a great way to keep things interesting and expand your skill set. However, what happens with something you’re very experienced in? Should you be practising it outside of work? Is what you do on the job enough practice for something at which you’re good?
Snow skiing is something I’ve done since I was 5 years old and an industry I’ve worked in for around 7 years. In terms of outdoor skills, I can safely say, snow skiing is my strongest one. However, despite this experience, I still have plenty to learn and so much more upon which to improve. However, it’s not until your skills are actually put to the test, that you realise just how much more there is to learn and why it’s so important to continually up-skill.
Recently I spent a couple of weeks overseas skiing, as it’s been a number of years since I’ve done an entire season of work at the snow. When doing seasons, you have the time to truly build your skill-set and challenge yourself in so many different ways. However, it’s surprising how quickly you lose some of your finer skills when the season’s over.
Getting back on skis for the first time in a year is always an interesting experience. I love the sound of the boot clicking into the binding, fixing my helmet and lowering my goggles ready to jump on the lift. However, despite having skied many double black diamond runs over the years, I’m not going to head for the highest peak and fang it down the most hectic run as fast as I can, launching off everything I can find. No, that would be idiotic. Instead, I like to find a nice green or blue trail to run up and down to warm up and get a feel for everything again. I’ll probably spend an entire day doing this.
When I’ve had a chance to get my balance back and regain the feel for my skis, I’m ready to start rebuilding my deteriorated skill set that time has eroded. With any outdoor skill, you’ll reach a point where you’re highly competent and things will come back to you quickly. However, without practice, similar to physical fitness, all these hard skills, deteriorate over time. For an instructor, this deterioration is not good and can come from both lack of practice, or only operating at a much lower level of intensity.
If for example I was with a group skiing day in and day out, as is often the case for experienced instructors of any outdoor activity, I might just be cruising all the time on green or blue runs to match the level of ability of the group. However, cruising can lead to complacency and dull your senses to the wider challenges and risks of the activity that you’re leading. To avoid complacency, often called an expert blind spot, you must therefore continually practise and test your own skills at a much higher level to ensure you’re prepared for any contingency. You never know when you’ll need to quickly switch up from cruising instructor to rapid situational risk assessor and responder.
For me, this realisation came when I took a ‘short-cut’ on Whistler Mountain. I wanted to get to the furthest section of the mountain and I could see the lift to where I wanted to reach. I’d been skiing along the top of a ridge line, on a blue home trail. However, I saw what appeared to be a nice descent into the next valley and onto the lift. It was soft and powdery to begin with, but suddenly, on my right appeared a cliff and in front of me was a massively steep chute littered with rocks.
Most skiers have a home mountain, which they know like the back of their hand. For me this is Thredbo and so I can criss-cross it all day knowing where my random short cuts will take me. However, again this home mountain confidence can lead to complacency and over-confidence in other situations. Practising your skills on different mountains however, and getting into situations such as I did, is a real reminder of how aware and vigilant you need to be in the outdoors.
Rather than panicking, as I stared down the incredibly steep descent, I quickly dug in and attacked the chute, swiftly switching back and forth one sharp turn after another to control my descent, whilst avoiding the jagged rocks protruding from the snow. With a few crunching sounds from under my skis, I cleared the worst of it and glided out the bottom into a wide open section of deep soft snow. Glancing back up, I could now see the insanity of the ‘short cut’ in all its glory. Let’s do that again! I thought…
Whilst this wasn’t an ideal situation in which to find myself, the ability to switch up to a higher level of thinking and respond swiftly is an important thing to be able to do with any of your outdoor skills. This requires practice and pushing your own limits outside of your regular work. Whilst you’d never take a group with you into a situation like this, this sort of experience reminds you of the risks that are inherent with an activity such as skiing, as well as the need to continuously build and improve upon your own skills.
Expertise does lead to complacency and as outdoor educators and instructors we need to practise our own skills and be reminded that there are always limits to our experience and expertise. This helps us to be aware that there are always going to be risks involved and that we must eliminate, manage or mitigate those risks for our programs. However, if we don’t practise and test our hard skills outside of work, the chances are, your comfortable daily operations will become increasingly exposed to potential complacency as the instructor skill-sets deteriorate and activity risks don’t appear as dangerous as they really are.
To help resolve my over confidence and need to rebuild my alpine skill set, it was time for me to go back to ski school and take some lessons again.
Just a short one this week about an interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed over the years in outdoor ed programs has been that of clustering. What I mean by this is the group dynamic of needing to be close together when in large open spaces. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s interesting to watch how this can change over a longer-term program as students become more comfortable with their surroundings and the natural environment. For students from cities, most of the groups with which I’ve worked, big open spaces tend to be uncomfortable. When it comes to hiking, canoeing and camping, no matter how much space you have, the students tend to need to be very close together, even if they’re not friends.
I started to notice this across a number of canoeing expeditions where we were paddling on quite wide lakes. Whilst you never want a canoe group to be too far away from boats to boat, quite often students will paddle right on top of each other, rather than giving everyone else room to move. The same is true when they’re setting up their tents at the campsite. No matter how large and unoccupied the camp ground, the students tend to cluster together with tents almost on top of each other and rather than use free time to socialise with friends, they often cluster into one large group.
This is definitely a very primitive comfort zone issue and the fact that students feel safer in large groups when out in the wilderness. From a management point of view, this is great, as it’s easier to keep track of where everyone is. Just look for the massive group and listen for the noise. However, the problem with this is that as a group they can miss so much about the environment around them. They can miss the opportunity to switch off and just enjoy the peace and quiet of the unique landscapes and environments they will most likely never see again.
As I mentioned however, for longer programs, this distance seems to increase. Students feel more comfortable in the environment in which they’re in and as this comfort increases, they don’t need to be as close together to each other as before. They also develop an attitude that it is quite safe and this adds to the de-clustering effect. It’s interesting to watch this transition too as it creates greater moments for reflection and relaxation and opens students’ minds to so much more. It enables them to switch off from a massively connected world. It enables them to focus on the beauty of the world. Students can focus also on how much bigger the world is than just their own lives and their own experiences.
I know what you’re thinking! This is going to be about a trip to Disneyland. Well, in a word, no! Although I have been to Magic Mountain in Disneyland, this is about an environmentally sensitive power station in Wales that’s built inside a mountain.
Before going to Llandberis, I’d never been to Wales, let alone heard of Electric Mountain. The drive there in my tiny rental car was challenging to say the least as that morning it had started to snow in the English Midlands and continued throughout the day. Although no stranger to driving in the snow, it’s usually been in a 4WD or with chains on. Driving the smallest, cheapest front wheel drive rental I could find through an unfamiliar landscape and foreign country is an experience not to be missed, especially in England, where nobody seems to be used to driving in the snow and the entire road system seems to shut down at the first hint of a snowflake.
Consequently, the four and a half hour drive, turned into a seven hour white knuckle ride and at one point it was snowing so hard I could barely see out the window. It was a great relief to finally reach the hotel without having skidded on ice or become lost in the Welsh Highlands.
Waking up the next day, it was amazing to see the snow-capped countryside through which I’d unknowingly driven in the dark. There were mountains, a lake and a wonderful town filled with slate roofed houses. Nearby, I was told there was a hydro electric power station called Electric Mountain. Whilst the landscape was scarred from centuries of slate mining, there was no power station to be seen. Deciding to go on a tour of the mysterious (and somewhat invisible) power station, there was nothing more than an information building to suggest it existed. However, once the introductory video started, it began to come clear, the entire power station was built into the mountain, not on the top, nor on the side. An enormous cavern was dug out and the entire station was built inside the mountain.
Similar to other hydro electric stations I’ve seen, this is one which works by releasing water from an upper holding dam to produce electricity in peak times of demand and then pumps the water back up during off peak times. Not a sustainable form of energy, but a really clever one. Add to this the fact that they can bring the power station generators online in twelve seconds, rather than hours for a standard plant, then you have one amazing feat of engineering.
Apart from the insanely brilliant idea of hiding the power station in the mountain, the other environmental sensitive aspects of the design include venting the water uphill to slow its speed, before it enters the lake. This ensures that there’s no visible output of water, as well as protecting the integrity of the lake and the fish that live inside. They also built a tunnel for the fish to go through so they can leave the dammed lake and head back upstream to spawn.
Inside the mountain itself, the enormous cavern houses the power generators into which the water rushes, to spin the turbines at 500rpm and produce electricity. The ability to rapidly switch on or off means continuity of power supply across the UK.
From an educational point of view, this is a wonderful day trip if you’re in Wales. It’s an opportunity for students to see how innovation, industry and environmental concerns can all be effectively managed without a detrimental effect. With a power crisis looming in Australia, it might be worth building a couple of these and a nuclear plant for good measure to provide clean and reliable sources of energy.
For thousands of years, society has had social anchors for young people when they're growing up, developing and transitioning into adulthood. However, with the digital dislocation that’s occurred, many of these social anchors have been hacked away and have left our youth floating aimlessly in the infinite digital world. The process of self-discovery has suddenly changed into something quite different.
Often, youth would have parents, mentors or peers with whom they’d have a whole range of different experiences. From this, they would learn and experience the world from within supportive smaller community groups. They would learn about expectations within the social group and within society and through a process which is often seen as an important transitional coming-of-age, children were brought into the adult world reasonably well equipped to face the challenges that life can bring, but also prepared for all the subsequent opportunities and responsibilities that come with adult life.
However, for many cultures, this process has been completely scuttled by the digital age. Consequently, children are not finding mentors from within communities. Instead they’re trying to find out how they fit into the world through sites such as Google. The problem is that Google is not exactly the best place to find out reasonable answers when in search of complex emotional questions such as, Who am I? If searching for your place in the world has come to this, you are most likely to find some random spiritual nonsense websites or links to a cool Jackie Chan movie in which he has amnesia and spends the entire movie running around, yelling ‘Who am I?’ at people. Unless you want your life evolving as a Jackie Chan movie in which amnesia is the main theme, perhaps a more traditional approach is needed. There are certainly better ways of developing a sense of identity and a sense of self, than asking the soulless digital world what it thinks.
One thing that we should be asking ourselves is, who has created the digital age? Has it been people with huge amounts of life experience? Has it been created by people that you would trust with your kids? If you actually looked at some of the real back stories of the people who developed and built the major infrastructure and the major platforms on the internet, you’d be horrified at the lack of moral sense and the total lack of understanding of anything outside of greed and profit. Two great books which explore the horrific and idiot world of tech companies are Disrupted and Chaos Monkeys. These provide just a glimpse inside a world driven by immature, greedy profiteers. Is that from where you want your children to get their moral compass?
It's a sad reflection on society when some of the most influential things are run by people whom you wouldn't let near your children. Yet everyday, they’re being invited into homes, workplaces and school without a second thought. It's like allowing the Pied Piper free reign and access to an entire generation of kids and we all know how that turned out the first time around!
Unfortunately, digital devices have become a fantastic means of babysitting and are justified by people who pretend that, ‘It’s digital learning.’ It’s not. It’s just lazy parenting, the consequences of which are now starting to be felt, with an over-reliance on devices and an underwhelming sense of place and self worth in many children and teenagers. Congratulations modern parenting tactics! You’ve kept them entertained whilst you’ve been sipping your latte, but at what cost?
Ok! I might be being a little harsh here, however, it is a danger if over-relied upon. What are some of the core social anchors of which we need to be aware and we need to re-secure to ensure that we’re bringing up kids in the most positive and proactive way? Family first! It’s important to have a strong, loving family unit, in which both parents communicate well with each other, set expectations and provide love and boundaries for children. Next, they need a wider set of older role models, mentors, who may well be outside the direct family structure, but as the children develop into teenagers, these older mentors become very important in the transition of the teenage boy or girl into young adulthood. These connections are some of the most challenging to find these days, as this is one of the anchors that’s been torn apart by technology and modern society. However, be it through school, sports or a workplace, teenagers need this older type of role model to help them transition from being a child and acting like a child to being an adult and taking on the responsibilities of an adult.
Another important social anchor is that of one-on-one time spent with either mum or dad, away from the rest of the family and disconnected from the digital world. Getting away and hiking together, or riding bikes, or some sort of special one-on-one time is really important to have without the phone or the digital device adding noise. It’s times like this that can help build important bonds and give opportunities for relationship building and building trust that can lead to important, honest and open discussion about any issues that might be being faced by their son or daughter at that time. If parents are providing time, space and opportunities for this to happen, then this is a good way of reinforcing a vitally important social anchor of the family. However, if they’re too busy and leaving these questions to be answered by the frat boys who have built social media, then they’re going to be spending a lot more time later on in life trying to undo this damage.
Technology has significantly impacted on many traditional social anchors for children and young adults in their learning, development and transition into adulthood. Many of these anchors have been torn away to the point that they’ve left many young people lost in a noisy, soulless digital world searching for meaning that isn’t really to be found there. However, despite this sudden impact of technology, being aware of this fact and the potential damage it can have on the development of children and teenagers, parents and teachers can do something about it and through paying more attention to the changing emotional needs of children as they grow and supporting them through time spent together, along with other adult mentors, can have a massive impact on their self esteem and their ability to come of age and thrive in a fluid and ever-changing world.