As I might have mentioned at some point, I love medieval history. Having studied the Vikings through to Elizabethan England for history at uni, it’s an amazing, disturbing and rather dysfunctional period of history, but what period isn’t? However, when it comes to anything but medieval Europe, I’m at a bit of a loss. Consequently, if asked about medieval Japan, all I could tell you was that there was some unpleasantness, a civil war, lots of people in armour and many in their pyjamas grabbed their swords and got stabby! For many it didn’t end well…
Yes, I know, for those Japanese historians amongst you, not a very detailed picture of the Shogunate! However, I recently had the chance to visit a number of castles in Japan and to read up on some of this history.
I started the day in Hiroshima. I visited the rebuilt Hiroshima castle, which I found out was in fact the main target of the Americans, not because they were trying to capture the castle from the Shogun, but because the Imperial High Command was based within the castle grounds.
The restoration work is amazing with the entrance and main keep having been rebuilt from scratch with original materials. The time, effort and care that’s gone into this is astounding and something you have to see to really appreciate. Hiroshima, in medieval times, was a centre of trade and power and its huge defensive advantage was the fact that it’s on an island. It may be difficult to see today, but as with many medieval Japanese castles, there are several outer layers that make up a fortified walled town before you even get close to the castle itself.
This layering of walls, outer perimeters, moats and fortified townships is often seen in European castles, but not to the same extent that the Japanese castles were. This gave a massive defensive advantage for the incumbent in the castle as they could still grow crops and have fresh water for longer periods of time before an enemy could get close to starving them out through a siege.
One interesting feature I saw in Hiroshima, that you don’t find in European castles, was that of the sliding wooden doors. These were a feature in the outer perimeter of the castle. If an enemy got in here, the guards could swiftly slide open the doors, fire a volley of arrows, then slide them shut. The outer-side of this part of the castle had holes in the walls for doing the same, but the rapid attack and withdrawing feature meant far more arrows could be poured on a visiting enemy.
As with European castles, Japanese castles have a keep, or an inner tower that’s the most secure part of the castle. For Japanese castles, these are massive wooden structures which are built up with progressively smaller levels until you reach the top, giving the classic and unique tiered look of the castle.
From Hiroshima I travelled to Himeji, less than an hour by bullet train and it was here I found the most stunning castle I’ve ever seen. One family held this continuously for 120 years and standing at the front entrance, you can see why. This is a grand imposing structure that can be seen from anywhere in the city, except now through skyscrapers. In its day, it would have commanded unbridled position in the Himeji skyline. Now world heritage listed, you really have to go there and experience it for yourself to understand the sheer size, scale and defensive capabilities of this castle. This left every European and English castle for dead that I’ve visited so far in terms of layout, design, functionality and standing the test of time.
To get to the keep is a relentless uphill climb through layer upon layer of walls, gates barricades and watch towers, all of which could decimate your army. Even if you managed to get inside the first or second layer, you still continued to have to battle through so many obstacles to try to even get close to the keep. I guess when you’ve got samurais and ninjas wanting to break in and kill you, then it makes perfect sense to build so many fail- safes into your house.
Himeji Castle, A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Himeji castle is distinctively white in design, which I can imagine on a moonlit night would have been a glowing beacon for the surrounding villages. This is a stunning and well-preserved building which is steeped in history. Despite massive cities having developed around both Hiroshima and Himeji castles, there are still obvious remnants of the original fortified townships. It’s easier to work out with Hiroshima, as you just have to look for the natural water ways. However, generally if you find a canal or small brook that’s been built with amazing stonework, then the chances are you’ve reached one of the defensive lines of the castle, often so far away from the castle itself. Without the context of the castle design in mind, it’s just another waterway next to a city street.
Having written about two major human risk factors involved with any outdoor program, the expert blind spot and the idiot blind spot, I thought it worth talking more about risk management training.
Despite the attention to risk management forms, this is one area which is seriously lacking in schools today and is unlikely to ever be covered by any education degree. However, as experiential education and outside of classroom learning expands, the need for risk management training will become critical to any uni course. However, this doesn’t mean that it will find its way into the curriculum at any point.
Unless you’re an outdoor ed person, for most teachers the first time they encounter risk management is when they’re taking a group of students away for the very first time. With puzzled looks, they ask someone else what to do. The equally uncertain colleague says something like, “Oh! I’ve gotta fill in a bunch of paperwork.”
It’s more often than not the blind leading the blind and one poor practice is followed by another, with the end result being that people think they’re doing the right thing, when they’re not even aware of most risks involved in a program, nor how to eliminate, mitigate or accept the risks.
Without any training, a school or organisation can stumble through, reliant mainly on luck for the success of their programs. This is never a good approach, since unless you’re a Marvel superhero, luck tends not to be a terribly effective way of managing risk. Instead, you need to build systems that are reliable, trackable and continuously reviewed. Risk management is a culture within your organisation and not a stand alone document that gathers dust until the lawyers and coroner want to take a look. Without a culture of risk management, then your organisation is leaving itself open to poor planning and potential operational disasters.
Swift Water Rescue Training
How do you avoid this? As with everything else you want to improve in, do some training! Learn to what risks you’re exposing staff and students. Learn how to effectively plan and implement good risk management systems and build a culture of risk managers. Also learn how to respond when things don’t go to plan. I’ve seen far too many teachers over the years start to fall apart when things don’t go to plan. Instead, train and practice for the worst case scenarios, to ensure you’re ready to deal with any scenario.
The more teachers take students outside the classroom, the more critical it is to be trained in proper risk management. You can’t rely on a third party provider to do everything. Despite what many people may think, you can’t subcontract your risk out to someone else. Therefore, to protect you, your staff and students, get trained in risk management, which incidentally our partner company Xcursion runs. Everything from basic risk management for new staff, to senior management programs to organisation-wide training can and should be covered. Pleading ignorance is no defence in court, so it’s not worth the risk of not understanding risk management.
One of the most interesting tours I’ve ever been on was in Vienna at the Schönnbrunn, which is a stunning palace made up of 1441 rooms! Built between the 16th & 17th century and further improved upon in the 18th century to its current standard and design, by Maria Theresa, who was given the estate as a wedding gift, which I’m sure would’ve been a nice surprise. This is one of the most magnificent palaces in the world and is World Heritage Listed. It remains the property of the Austrian people. However, it’s had a fascinating history of splendour, grandeur, victory and success, sadly contrasted with conflict, conquest, decline, depression and death.
Stepping into the grounds of the palace, I was immediately impressed by its sheer size and magnitude. I can imagine in its heyday, anyone riding into the city from the countryside would have been blown away by it. However, it’s not until you step inside that you get the true sense of just how magnificent it really is. The high fresco ceilings, intricate gold leafed embossed paneling, grand furnishings and sumptuous artwork, makes you feel somewhat insignificant in comparison with what has gone on within its walls.
When you add in the fact that Maria Theresa was the mother of Marie Antoinette (who most famously suggested the French to eat cake, before losing her head in a disagreement with some poorly dressed commoners wearing silly hats over the said comment), you start to see how important the business of the palace was to the political landscape of Renaissance and post Renaissance Europe. The palace was even suitably grand enough for Napoleon, who commandeered it and took up residence in 1805 when he captured Vienna. It was an ideal location for a visiting tyrant, as it has a very attractive backyard in which you could accommodate an entire army, right next to the zoo.
Palmenhaus Schönbrunn, A 128-Meter-Long Greenhouse
However, it wasn’t just the site of political power, diplomacy and a pleasant weekender for the invading French army. It was a central hub of the arts, music and culture, with Mozart playing his first ever concert here at the age of 5! “If the walls could talk,” has never been a more appropriate term uttered for a grand building that’s seen hundreds of years of fun, excitement, glamorous parties filled with ballroom dancing, as well as forced marriages, intrigue, poisonings, suicides, hostile occupations, declarations of war and finally capitulation after years of bloody conflict in the Great War that saw a family destroyed, an empire collapse, millions killed and the world changed forever.
The Schönbrunn Palace Park Is A UNESCO World Heritage Site
When we visit a palace such as Shönnbrunn, or Versailles, we can often romanticise what it would have been like living with everything. The land, the grandeur, the wealth, the armies, the servants, the parties, the decadence! The strolls through the gardens, the visiting envoys bringing gifts you don’t really need, the polite yet saucy lovers and the luxury to do whatever you wanted to do. Sounds wonderful right? Unfortunately however, the reality was quite different. Austria was on the frontier to the Middle East and the threat from the Turks was ever present. After the reformation, Austria was one of the few European countries that remained Catholic, which was yet another source of conflict within the Central European States. Suddenly the money, the palace, the fast sport carriage and the decadent parties feel a little less attractive when you have to deal with all the intrigue, wars, death, destruction and lots of people wanting to kill you all the time.
Despite these constant threats, Austria prospered and became an extremely powerful empire. Having gained control over Hungary, Tuscany and a few bits of Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Czech areas, Slovakia, Croatia and a bit of Poland for good measure. The empire was the third largest power in Europe by population and was an economic powerhouse. However, having everything was ultimately a poison challis for Emperor Franz Joseph I who was emperor from 1848 to 1916. During his reign, despite his best efforts, the empire started to decline. Plagued by ethnic problems, assassination attempts, economic strains and ultimately the Great War, Franz Joseph remained a diligent leader to the end. With the assassination of his nephew, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, being the catalyst for WWI, this was just another devastating event in what can only be described as a tragic life. Franz Joseph died in 1916 from pneumonia and although he was succeeded by Charles I, this reign was short-lived when Austria lost the war in 1918. Charles also died from pneumonia four years later in 1922 at the age of 34.
When you look at the history of such a magnificent palace, the Schönnbrunn, you only have to scrape away the thin veneer of wealth to see how fickle and empty life can be when you supposedly have everything.
In today’s world of endless consumption, marketing and imagery targeted at people for the desire to have it all, we must be mindful of the fact that having everything can come at a very heavy price. Power, wealth and material goods whilst on the surface look wonderful, scratch that surface and it can reveal that it’s nothing more than the same thin veneer covering another deeply unhappy and flawed core. Why in an age where we can have more than we’ve ever been able to have before, are mental health issues such as anxiety, body image and depression on the rise? It’s because our relationships are what is fulfilling in life and not all the stuff and power over others we can amass for ourselves. Vienna and its palaces are truly stunning, as are many throughout the world, but it’s always worth looking a little deeper at the true cost of those palaces and the lives lived within them.
This year, I’ve decided to coin a new term. Since FOMO seems to be all the rage these days and often used completely out of context, I began to think. There’s FOMO (fear of missing out), based upon the desperate desire to do everything that everyone else does. There’s JOMO (joy of missing out), based upon feeling happy that you’re not doing what everyone else is doing. However, for me there was still a gap in this mad acronym obsessed world and for my own FOMO, I felt I like had to create my own term as everyone else does, so then I can be happy in the fact that I no longer need to run with the crowd and be JOMO about it.
“What are you talking about?” I hear you shout at the screen! Well I suppose I should get to some sort of point here. My new term, which is not quite an acronym, but it’s close enough for artistic licence sake is MOTMO! Or Missing Out on The Moment! Yes I know it should be MOOTMO, but whatever, I’m not changing it, because it sounds cooler the other way.
MOTMO is basically missing out on all of the real world experiences going on around you. From what I’ve seen and experienced recently, this slaps FOMO in the face for the insane level of stupidity upon which it’s based.
From Sydney, to Auckland, to Himeji (Japan), to NYE back in Australia, I noticed so many people missing out on what was going on around them. Consumed by devices and the desire to ‘snap’ or film something and sending it to someone else instead of living through the experience they’re having, people are increasingly detaching themselves from the moment and appear to prefer a 2 dimensional version of life, rather than the experience of life itself.
A couple of years back, I went to a Village People Concert. (Yes, some of them were still alive). I had a great seat right at the front of the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah and of course had to snap a few shots of the performance, mainly for proof of life that they really were still breathing, although the Indian did stop to take in oxygen from a canister between each song, so partial proof of life really. Anyway, after I had a couple of photos, I put the phone away and watched the concert. However, many people around me, had their phones out the whole time recording everything, but for what end? Are they really going to go home and watch the concert over again and have the same feeling of being there? Or are they going to post it online for a quick ‘look at me’ moment? Or will it sit unwatched on their phone until they drop it and it’s smashed to pieces on the ground?
Whilst the digital world is an increasingly amazing place, it’s still not essentially real. It’s a filtered and distorted version of reality which can capture people’s attention and focus it on a device, but the cost is that people miss out on the real world experiences going on around them. On a completely different level, when I was walking around the Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine in Kyoto, there were countless people walking around the crowd filming everything as they went. For me, this is just an annoying thing to do, but what it really means is that your attention is divided between the camera and what’s actually happening around you and with technology as such a constant distraction, the moment is being completely lost. With the busy nature of life today, are you going to go back and watch the video of the shrines and get more out of it? Or are you going to quickly forget about your video footage, because there’s so much film you don’t have time to do anything with it. Classic MOTMO in action! Rather than walking around the shrines, exploring, seeing, feeling and living in the moment which could have a profoundly enlightening effect on someone, it’s now been an exercise in watching through a crowd with a camera to capture a moment that really never happened.
Experiencing unique destinations, cultures and activities is what makes travel, relationships and being human what it is. Even though many people might think that getting lots of likes for their fake version of a moment is the experience itself, that’s a sad reflection on how technology has shaped people’s behaviours in recent years. On New Years Eve, once again I was watching the fireworks and so many people stood there filming it, which makes no sense, because no matter how hard you try, you can’t replicate the sights, the thunderous booms and the emotive experience of actually being there and living in that moment and it’s those moments which are fun and memorable which can never be replicated nor replaced by a snap or a video.
One of the most amazing places I’ve been is the V&A museum in London and no matter how many times I’ve been there, I’ve experienced something new and so many things a photo can never come close to replicating. Next door in the Natural History Museum is the Aurora Collection of diamonds which is just stunning, but I have to keep going back, because it’s so beautiful to see and experience. However, time and time again I see more and more people around me being ‘zombiefied’ by their devices and completely missing out on the moments that are constantly going on around them.
So for all the MOFOs who have FOMO and need to video everything, you’re destined to continue to MOTMO some of the most amazing experiences in life. When you go somewhere, it’s not about the photos you take. It’s what you experience there in each and every moment that’s the most important thing. Keeping this in mind, for your next adventure somewhere, take a few photos as triggers for the memories of where you went, but most importantly, live in the moment whilst you’re there.
MOTMO definition in the Urban Dictionary
As soon as you read the title of this article, you either thought ‘hmmm how interesting’, or ‘wow this is going to be boring…’
One of my frustrations as an outdoor ed teacher and director has always been the quality and timelines of incident reports. They’re often too brief, fail to mention important details and arrive days after the event through a great deal of chasing! Sound familiar?
This comes down to a few things, which include the level of training and experience staff have had in responding to incidents and injuries, the culture within the organisation and the type of reporting methodology being used.
Training is an interesting one, as first aid training doesn’t usually cover the how and why you should do an incident report. Some of them do, but often it’s fairly basic training to call emergency services and let them handle things from there. However, if you’re responsible for students, you’d know that’s quite impossible from a practical point of view. More often than not, it’s not even a case of calling emergency services. It’s more about handling the situation at hand yourself. Therefore, some level of training is needed around what you should be putting in a report. Details such as time, location, circumstances, supervision, weather and others involved all become important to the equation. So if you haven’t read up or done anything around reporting, it’s definitely time to do that.
The second area is culture. Is there an expectation that you need to report? If not, I’d be concerned about the organisation. Legally, in Australia and most likely all other counties, you need to report any injuries or incidents as you have a duty of care within your organisation. Having said that, I’ve worked for places in the past that had a very casual approach to this, until something happened. Then it was a major drama, chasing reports and asking all the wrong questions way after the fact. Hence there needs to be a culture of reporting. Even if something were a near-miss. where no injury occurred, but could have been potentially catastrophic, you need to report it! I can’t stress this enough. There’s so much value that can be gained by reviewing near misses and incidents to develop better systems and practices for your organisation.
The last area is methodology. The harder it is for staff to do an incident report, the less likely you are to get one. Interestingly enough, this occurs at all levels of an organisation and just because someone is a manager, doesn’t mean they’re more likely to report. In fact, it’s the opposite. They’re less likely to report incidents which occur, maybe because they think ‘they’re in charge’ and don’t need to, or more likely, they address the issue and end up too busy with other things and forget about it. When nobody is chasing them the same way they chase others, then you can see why there’s an increased likelihood they won’t report something. This then feeds straight back into the cultural issue and has an overall negative impact on the organisation and its risk and reporting profile. This can end up with things just ‘slipping through the cracks’ to the point that the organisation suffers a major incident.
So basically from that, make it easy for yourself and everyone in the organisation to do a report. It was this arduous and cumbersome reporting process at one school I worked for which led me to designing and building the Xcursion platform. Basically, I had to solve my own problem to try and help what was in my opinion a dangerous and dysfunctional organisation get up to speed with its reporting. As a result, teachers could then have fast and secure access to student info and complete an incident report on their mobile which was sent back to school as soon as they hit the complete button.
Making this process easy for staff, not only massively improved the speed of reporting, but it steeled teachers through exactly what they needed to report. Consequently, this made a huge difference to the organisation’s attention to incident and injury reporting and helped to start building the culture of risk management which was so desperately needed.
Ask yourself, ‘How does your organisation look in terms of incident reporting? Is it easy and timely to do, or is it a time consuming pain? Is there an expectation that everyone reports incidents and near misses alike? Does everyone feel confident in the training they have to identify, manage and report on incidents as they happen?’
If you’re not confident of your response, then maybe it’s time for some staff training and new systems to be put in place to ensure that you are.
Waitangi in New Zealand is the birthplace of the nation! Visiting the scenic outlook in the Bay of Islands, you can’t help but be impressed by the place in which the signing of two completely different treaties was done, thus creating a united nation, that was about to become bitterly divided.
Wandering around the grounds and listening to the stories of this historic place, I felt a mix of emotions. Despite the tour guide calling Australians convicts and claiming that we copied their flag, which is obviously not true, because ours is clearly more original than theirs. However, that wasn’t the reason for my mixed emotions. Our guide gave an informative and what I thought was a balanced account of what was essentially a good way to unite a nation, that went terribly wrong. The good intentions of the tribal chiefs was certainly not reciprocated by the English, as they vied for control of every piece of land on which they could get their hands, so that the French, Dutch and the Spanish couldn’t.
New Zealand was another potential colony that was resource rich and another spot in the Pacific over which Britannia could rule some more waves. Australia has far more beaches and better surf than New Zealand. Despite having dodgy surf, beaches and hobbits, New Zealand remained an important piece of land for Britain which was at the time in the midst of various wars and skirmishes with almost all the other European powers in an attempt at securing land, resources and trade routes throughout the world.
It was also a time when a private company (The East India Company) found itself in charge of an army and running a nation. To say that colonial powers lacked a moral compass would be an understatement. However, this is not about dwelling on the past. It’s understanding it and putting the past into context with what has happened since. For years, Maori people were subjugated. However, they believed so strongly in the version of the treaty they signed, not the English version, they continued to fight for its fair and equatable application in law.
The Treaty House
The English being English, instead thought their version of the treaty was correct, which nobody in fact had signed other than the English themselves. Today that would be legally considered an unenforceable contract. However, when you have an enormous navy and a standing army with lots of muskets and cannons, it’s fairly hard to argue against that.
The end result was essentially a civil war between the Maori tribes and the English settlers that dragged on. However, the sheer size of the English forces eventually overwhelmed the Maoris and they had to seek alternate and more peaceful and political means of the proper application of their treaty. This came in the form of Maori representation in the New Zealand parliament and continued to build momentum over the next 100 years and remains a strength of their system of government today. Protests and a huge political protest walk from the north to the south of the island was also instrumental in improving the rights of the Maoris which had been lost through a version of a treaty to which they never agreed.
In the 1840s, Waitangi was also the largest trading port and commercial hub of New Zealand. With the signing of the treaty, this all moved to a new capital, in Auckland, which for the local area was devastating. However, the long term benefit for the Bay of Islands has been enormous. It’s preserved the natural beauty of the area and protected the land and waters from the impact that a major city such as Auckland has. The Waitangi site also fell into ruins, however, was bought by Lord Bledisloe who then donated it back to the New Zealand Government in perpetuity. This also preserved the site and the original house was restored and the accompanying Maori house, which uniquely faces south was turned into a place of living history.
To gain an understanding of the early Maori and European experience in New Zealand and why New Zealand is what it is as a nation today, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a must if you’re visiting the North. It was a remarkable experience and I met wonderful and friendly people.
I did a Q&A interview a while ago for an educational publication, so thought I’d put a bit of it up here as a summary of a few of my thoughts and experiences in Outdoor Ed and hopefully help shape a few ideas for the year ahead!
Q1. Why did you become an Outdoor Ed teacher?
Ironically, I became an outdoor ed teacher more by accident than anything else, but in the end it all made sense and was a perfect fit for me. I’d been involved in lots of camps when I was at school myself and really enjoyed the different experiences. However, when I finished my degree in History, I was working part time across three different jobs. A full-time position came up in Kangaroo Valley at Glengarry (Scots College’s outdoor campus). I was in the area at the time anyway and they needed someone who could teach history. The job combined both academic classes and outdoor education. Mentored by an excellent teacher, I learnt most of the outdoor skills on the job and subsequently completed by Cert IV in Outdoor Rec. Looking back on motivation though, I’ve always had that drive to learn new skills and learn by doing. That’s why it was such a natural fit. I found being in a classroom all the time teaching academic lessons didn’t feel right, whereas the experiential learning style of outdoor education suddenly opened up a world of opportunities to teach important problem solving, teamwork and leadership skills that could be beneficial to students throughout their life-time and not just help them get through an exam.
Q2. Why do you think Outdoor Ed is so important to students? What benefits have you seen?
Outdoor education is vital for the modernisation of our education system and provides massive social, emotional and academic benefits for students. It’s often just seen as this ‘fun’ part of education that’s disconnected from everything else. If done poorly, then it absolutely is! However, if outdoor ed programs are being run properly, they build strength, maturity and leadership within a school that’s not otherwise possible. In broad terms, the core principles of outdoor education are problem solving, risk taking, adaptability, teamwork and leadership. If you’re developing these key skills in students right across the year levels, this helps all other aspects of your students’ learning and sets them up with important life skills. This is becoming increasingly important as technology has negatively impacted on our children’s ability to problem solve and manage situations in which there’s no instant answer. We risk the situation now that technology will leverage and shape the next generation’s behaviours and emotional states to their detriment, rather than our next generation leveraging and shaping technology for their benefit. I believe if students have a strong and confident grounding in the ‘real-world,’ they can shape an increasingly digital world in a positive and pro-active way.
Whilst I’ve seen many students grow in confidence, face fears and develop friendships they would have otherwise not made, one powerful experience that’s stuck in my mind was when we were out in Bungonia Caves in the Southern Highlands of NSW. We had ventured through a number of caves that day. However, the most challenging one, was the shortest one. Taking the group down into the cave, we gathered in a small area at the bottom. Here I briefed the students on the challenge ahead of them. We had to work together to get out of the cave, however, we had to do it without our head torches!
You can imagine the gasps of horror from the students as they realised they had to make their way out in darkness, by which I mean total darkness! There were no luminescent glow worms to help them out. You couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face, which is hard to describe, but even when you’ve been in there before, the experience is unsettling. The only way out was to shuffle along a cramped passageway on your stomach, whilst holding onto the person in front of you.
This is a confronting exercise, yet one that can produce some powerful learning outcomes. It’s got nothing to do with the cave itself. That just provides the situation and framework for the activity. It’s about how the group works together to solve the problem of being robbed of one of their most important senses. It’s vitally important though that an activity like this is debriefed afterward, by which I mean each person in the group has the opportunity to share their feelings with the group and reflect on the experience. It’s through an effective debrief process such as this that the majority of the learning in outdoor education occurs.
When we finally emerged from the cave and debriefed the challenge, one student, who was afraid of the dark and had been extremely anxious to begin with said, “I could feel my friend holding my hand and he didn’t let go. He kept talking to me the whole time and I knew I'd be ok.” This then led into a wider discussion about the importance of looking after each other and how simple actions can make a huge difference to the life and experience of someone else.
You never know what to expect when reflecting on an activity, but the bottom line is that it’s a must for each and every program you’re running. It’s through this sort of reflection, that students, as well as teachers, are able to learn the most. This learning can have long-term ramifications for students facing all sorts of other fears. It helps them build confidence, strengthen friendships, and ultimately develop the critically important resilience everyone’s talking about in education today.
Q3. Do you think building resilience through outdoor education helps students who are affected by bullying?
Outdoor education also helps students deal with issues of bullying. On the one hand, students who have experienced bullying have a great opportunity to face their own fears, push the boundaries of their comfort zones and develop confidence in a supportive learning environment that’s totally focussed on building positive relationships. I’ve seen some wonderful turn-arounds over the years where students have been disengaged and fearful of group experiences, but, through the right peer support and mentoring, have re-gained their confidence despite previous experiences.
The flip side of this is that if you have an effective outdoor education program designed to foster positive supportive relationships, this ultimately filters back into the culture of your school to create a safe supportive environment in which bullying becomes totally unacceptable. Having experienced a terrible culture of bullying at the school I went to myself, this has always been one of my key drivers in education. If we as teachers, are creating safe, supportive places for all students, this translates into far better academic, sporting and cultural outcomes for each and every student.
Q4. What kind of training would you recommend to teachers wanting to teach outdoor ed?
From a hard skills point of view, you need the minimum of a Cert IV
in Outdoor Recreation to be an instructor. This covers your technical skills in roping, paddling, riding, skiing etc and helps you in operational group management. I’d also recommend you train and practice Wilderness First Aid and get yourself a bus licence. If possible, do a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) course in risk management. This is an American organisation. However, they’re standout leaders in outdoor education training and this would be hugely beneficial for you as an outdoor professional.
In addition to these activity-based skills, if you’re going to be a truly effective outdoor ed teacher, then you need get a job somewhere other than a school, do some travelling and gain some real life experiences. The work outside a school doesn’t mean working with an outdoor ed company either. It means a job as a waiter, in retail, in a workshop or some sort of job in a completely different industry.
Even though this might sound odd on the surface, no matter what activity you’re doing, (hiking, kayaking, canoeing, etc) your main role as an outdoor ed teacher is going to be reflective learning to develop life skills, adaptability, teamwork and leadership with your students. Since you’re working on such an emotional level, you need to be authentic in everything you’re saying and doing. You can’t be teaching students to be adaptable and resilient in the real world, unless you’ve experienced some of that world yourself. Being genuine and authentic with students is critical to your success as a teacher in this field. There have been a number of times where I’ve taken a break from teaching and worked in business, retail and hospitality. As a result, I’ve found myself looking at the world in very different ways and these non-teaching experiences have helped me to become far more reflective on my own teaching practices and helped me to continuously improve on them.
Q5. Do you have any advice for prospective and current Outdoor Ed teachers?
One of the biggest challenges for outdoor education teachers is to relinquish control and let students take ownership over their outdoor experiences. I will qualify this though, as you still need to consider the age and maturity level of the group. However, to be an effective outdoor ed teacher, your ideal role, especially in an extended journey- based program is to sit back and be the safety backup, only stepping to do something if you foresee elevated levels of risk or safety issues that need to be actively managed. Otherwise, let your students take the lead. Let them take ownership of their experience.
What's the point of spending time and energy setting up an outdoor ed program aimed at building leadership, teamwork and initiative, then subsequently provide no opportunities for students to actually take responsibility for any of this themselves?
So often, I see teachers ‘run’ programs, in that they take the students out, plan for them, navigate for them, constantly give instructions on how to do everything and determine the whole schedule for each and every day. For teachers, to give up the reigns and allow students to be challenged, experience new things and grow from this, might feel awkward and difficult at first. However, if you don’t allow this to happen, then you’re wasting some fantastic educational opportunities.
You need to stand back and let your students to take on the risks of leadership, decision making and self-management and allow them to have the chance to shine and the chance to fail! They're going to learn far more from this than they ever will if you were to jump in and stop them before they fail. All you need to do is frame an effective debrief if they aren’t successful, to create a great learning opportunity from this. Conversely, when they show initiative and leadership, use this to extend and challenge your students. You will be amazed the difference this makes.
Q6. What achievement are you most proud of being a teacher?
For me, there’s really not a single achievement of which I'm most proud. Instead there are lots of small moments that turned out to be extremely important moments for the students I was teaching. I think this is what makes me really proud to be a teacher and love the work I do in outdoor education. When you see one of your students overcoming fears or succeeding in something they’ve constantly told themselves they can't do, it's an amazing feeling. I think of the boy who overcame his fear of the dark in the cave, or another student who was able to swim at the beach after overcoming his fear of the ocean. These are the things which make teaching amazing. It’s not the big headline results of a standardised test. It’s all the little moments that have a lasting impact on a student’s confidence and helps to build the strength in who they are and what they can do life.
Last year I bought a keep cup! Being a coffee addict, who must have a decent coffee each day, after watching the ABC’s ‘War On Waste’ documentary, I realised there’s so many ways we can reduce our impact and ultimately save time money and energy. The first step was for me to stop using disposable cups for coffee and instead keep using the one cup each day. Plus I got the right size that maximises the coffee flavour and reduces the wasted milk, a win for good coffee all around. The places that give a 20¢ or 30¢ discount when you bring your own cup are fantastic, as that’s an even better incentive to use your own cup. From a business point of view, it’s costing around 10¢ to 20¢ per take-away cup anyway and add to this the storage space needed and cost of ordering and carrying disposables, then you’ve more than balanced out the cost on this.
However, stepping away from the business case for a moment, what impact can this have in a year. If I’m having at least one coffee a day or more likely, two, this is anywhere from 365 to 500ish cups a year that won’t go into landfill. If you then extend this over a large population, it suddenly turns into millions of cups and tons of waste that can’t be recycled. Now the ABC’s documentary covered all of this in great detail, so I won’t repeat it all here. What’s been interesting with people’s rhetoric about environmental impact is that when people say the problem is too big and we can’t do anything about it, then we must challenge this assumption because it’s a load of rubbish, quite literally.
Students today are faced with cleaning up a massive dilemma that’s been caused by cheap products and the disposable nature of everything. Like many problems I’ve encountered through work over the years, they were never of my making, but I ended up being tasked with the clean up job, which is often quite unpleasant to say the least, but ultimately needed to be done by someone to ensure sustainability and growth of something over the long-term.
I was recently in Kyoto and this reminded me of the fact that back in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was signed, which set targets for lowering emissions and tackling climate change. However, twenty one years on, we’re still facing the growing impact on the waste we produce. The US and Australia have recently claimed it’s all too hard and we shouldn’t really do anything about it until somebody else does. This is a massive cop out and it’s like a situation where someone has a heart attack in a crowded place. They’re less likely to be helped by anyone, because everyone else is waiting for someone else to do something about it. However, if we’re trying to teach and show leadership in this space, then we can buck this trend and help out despite everyone else’s hesitation.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not about becoming a tree hugging greeny and abandoning the modern world to go and live in a commune. If you’re thinking of doing that, well that’s nice for you, but not what I’m getting at. Instead, it’s about seeing the problem for what it is and its negative impact on the world. Most climate change ‘deniers’ are purely looking at it from what they think is an ‘industry’ point of view, which means if we do something about it, it will hurt jobs growth and our industries. Given the fact that businesses are more likely to look for opportunities to reduce waste, reduce costs and develop new ways of doing things, the political point of view is often in stark contrast with the opportunity for new ventures. It’s these new ventures which our students of today will not only want to do, but if we don’t approach the issue now, they’ll be forced to do, but at a greater cost.
So how can we examine and reduce our impact over the next year? Either from a personal perspective or at school, why not create some measurable metrics that you, your family and/or the students create?
Firstly, identify areas in which you create a significant amount of waste and organise it into what can be reduced, reused or recycled. Put a big visual chart on the wall where you can record what was done, used, or not used each day, or week, making sure that the time periods and what you’re recording is measurable. The coffee cup is a great place to start, as Australians are overwhelmingly addicted to their daily coffee. What about getting your newspaper online? What about annoying checkout chicks by combining fruit and veg in a single bag? What about walking instead of driving? Look at all of the daily routines and consumption and see what could be reduced? How much money could this save you in a year?
When you’ve worked all of this out, why not also get a piggybank and for every time you make a saving, why not put that 5, 10, 20¢ or $1 or 2 in the piggybank and see how much you have reduced your costs by the end of the year. This is a great project to do at home with the family or at school with the students and a valuable environmental and business exercise.
The reality is that we do have an impact on our environment and we also have a responsibility to look after the environment, because the more damage we do now, the greater the mess will be for the next generation to clean up. Whilst I enjoy walking away from a cleaned up mess, the time, energy and effort that goes into the clean up, it is always far greater than preventing the mess in the first place. Next year, look at what you can do to help address a global issue that affects us all. Even if your neighbours aren’t doing their bit, forget them. Show some leadership and take the responsibility into your own hands, because the difference you make, can help shape a better future for everyone.
Ok! You’re probably back at work this week after having had six or seven weeks off over the summer break. Sadly, as with pretty much every other year, you’re most likely sitting in a school hall/auditorium being talked at by someone with ‘great’ ideas about teaching. They’re probably talking endlessly about some new crappy research or study they’ve done over the break whilst you were just lazily stretched out on the beach.
I always enjoy the attempted guilt tripping by some people in schools, as it highlights how poorly they’ve thought through the whole back to school concept each year. One strange person I used to work with would regale everyone with stories of how hard he worked in the holidays. None of us ever knew on what exactly, as there was never anything that actually needed doing over this time, but all the same, apparently he’d turned up each day to do it.
However, rather than force everyone to politely sit in meetings all day on the first day back, why not carry on the spirit of the holiday season and have a day out! Since sitting in a room tends to achieve nothing anyway, what have you to lose?
Now what would be a far better use of time would be the welcome back staff initiatives day! Don’t tell them in advance. Surprise everyone with it. Come up with a day of challenging adventures and activities involving team building and problem solving. Start with something like a locked room scenario and then move onto a scavenger hunt style rogaine for which the clues ultimately lead to a central location where staff gather for a BBQ dinner to celebrate the start of a new year.
This not only would be awesome fun, but gets teachers in the frame of mind for a year ahead in which they might face challenges they’ve never come across before. Helping staff to build practical confidence working with others and solving problems can help with all sorts of unforeseen issues that crop up every year in schools. The dinner afterwards to celebrate is always a good way to show gratitude in advance. Often we only have parties or celebrations at the end of things, but what better way to motivate and build staff morale than saying thank you ahead of time.
The educational benefit for this sort of day for both staff and students is the fact that the more education needs to focus on the transference of experiences and the development of practical skills, the more teachers need to have this sort of skill set themselves. This is therefore not only a great way to start the year, but a great way to help positively develop staff in a fun and proactive way.
Unfortunately, if you’re reading this on the first day back this year, you’re probably sitting in a room filled with teachers dreading the next six hours. But hey, there’s always next year! Have a wonderful year ahead!
With the start of a new year, there’s always the hope and anticipation of something new and something better! People look for change and there are high hopes all around that that change will actually come.
However, we all know most people can’t keep a New Year’s resolution for more than a day or so, so let’s not even bother with that. Instead, I want to look at why teachers must be prepared to reinvent themselves over and over again.
For most people this can be difficult, but for teachers even more so. In the past year, I was running a program which had many challenges arise throughout, one of which was the chef walking out, leaving us to cater for eighty people ourselves. Now I won’t go into all the details surrounding this as we don’t have that much time, but when I expected other teachers to adapt, jump in and get cooking, I got the response from many of them, ‘We’re just teachers, we can’t be expected to cook.’ Having run a number of businesses, as well as residential programs, this approach doesn’t sit well with me, as sometimes we find ourselves in situations, not of our own making, but we have to find a solution one way or another.
This made me think, after I quickly worked out how to cook for eighty people with one other staff member who was prepared to give it a go. Why are so many teachers reluctant to try anything new?
To me, this seems at odds with the whole concept of teaching. You really do need to be able to think on your feet and adapt to situations as they change. Although most teachers will never be in a situation where you find yourself cooking for a lot of people, you never know what you might need to do to remain relevant in today’s changing world.
For me, teaching others has always been at the core of what I’ve done. Whilst I may move from business to education, to politics, to business and back to education, empowering others to develop and grow within themselves appears in every single context in which I’ve worked. However, to truly appreciate the place of education in today’s rapidly changing world, the experiences outside of education have been far more valuable than the experiences within education itself.
Ultimately, I’ve found myself reinventing myself time and time again. From electrical salesman to political staffer, computer technician, teacher, barista, café owner and tech entrepreneur, each time I’ve changed what I’ve been doing, I’ve felt far more energised and motivated than before and it has all helped me be a better teacher. Fancy that! Experiential Education is the best form of education possible.
However, most teachers and most people never reinvent themselves or what they do. If they start to feel stale in what they’re doing, they will often just grind it out and keep doing the same thing in the hope it will get better. The fact is that it won’t! Stale teachers, are hopeless teachers, incapable of doing anything useful, let alone teach. Now there’s not the need for anyone to reinvent themselves as many times as I have, unless you really feel like it. However, taking time out from teaching to work in another industry, or completely different role, is not only healthy, but moving forward, I believe, will be critical to the success of teachers in the modern world. If teachers are expected to teach their students how to be flexible, adaptable, dynamic, critical thinking problem solvers, then they themselves need these sorts of qualities and the only way you get these qualities is through real life experience, which often doesn’t happen inside the confines of a school.
Therefore, at the tipping point of the new year, are you feeling stale? Are you feeling like you’re no longer being challenged? If so, why not take some time off and go and work in another job, something completely different. The experience and skills you will gain from this will be more empowering and worthwhile than a thousand staff ‘development’ days and when you go back to teaching, this experience away from teaching will have made you a far better teacher than before. Having gone in and out of education for years, I’ve found every time I come back, I’ve learnt something new and useful, because it’s through our experiences that we always learn the most. Why not give something new a go this next year? With so much to be gained, it’s always well worth it!