There’s nothing like a few random events and incidents to shape how exciting an expedition can be. One time, I had a group of Year 9s out on a mountain biking expedition and we headed to Canberra to ride Mount Stromlo.
Mount Stromlo, just south of Canberra, is an amazing area to mountain bike. We’d been doing a number of training and skills’ development sessions leading up to this final expedition. To start with, we’d done an introductory mountain bike course, an overnight down at Mogo, which has an awesome downhill called the snake track, and now, Stromlo was the biggest and final challenge for the students.
Getting down there in the afternoon, with a few coffee breaks along the way, we started riding the playground area. The playground is a cool part of the mountain which has different obstacles, drop downs, seesaws, berms and all sorts of things you might encounter on a ride up or down the mountain. It’s a great area to teach and reinforce some basic mountain biking skills before tackling something much harder. This went really well and we had a great ride that afternoon. That evening, we went into camp, set up, cooked dinner and settled in for the night. The only thing was that it wasn’t the warmest of evenings, dropping down to -3 C overnight. Waking up the next morning, the tents were covered in a thick layer of frost. To be honest, this is typical camp weather at this time of year, but it’s still bracing when getting out of the tent.
The morning was also thick with fog. Again, typical in and around Canberra due to the confluence of all the hot air that’s created in parliament and settles each morning to blanket the city with a layer that’s harder to see through than a public service investigation report. Whilst this layer usually burns off by about 11am, it didn’t disperse until well after lunch, making it a still cold, but now crystal clear afternoon.
Having ridden up and down the summit once that day and after lunch we were out on an extended ride. Being Canberra, a lot of the tracks are named after political things or euphemisms. So, for example, Pork Barrel, Double Dissolution and Party Line are all different tracks on the mountain.
Going down Pork Barrel, which is an awesome run, one of the boys hadn’t quite judged the steepness of the run as well as he should have. Flying over his handle bars, he didn’t bounce very well and managed to land hard on his knee. With a fairly obvious tear in his pants and a laceration to the side of his knee, I pulled out my first aid kit, put my gloves on and had a look. It was quite deep and deep to the point where you’re seeing the whiteness underneath the top layers of skin. I cleaned out the wound that had a nice bit of grit in it, attached some steri-strips to hold it together and put a sterile dressing over the top. It was one of those border-line cuts that if you were at home, you wouldn’t bother with stitches, but if you’re out on an expedition and not able to take things easy, then it’s probably worth getting them just to be sure.
Not deterred by this, the boy jumped back on his bike and kept riding. We continued along a different track which headed back towards the base of the mountain. With a few more ups and downs, and what I thought was some fairly light afternoon riding, suddenly, the next boy was off his bike and landed hard on his wrist. For this one, I took a look at his wrist. Despite having gloves on, he’d landed on his palm and a sharp rock had torn through the glove and a gritty bloody residue remained.
I cut his glove off with my shears, inspected the wound and quickly stopped the bleeding before cleaning it as best I could and bandaging. Because it was so deep, getting in there and trying to clean anything out was a little bit beyond what I wanted to be trying by the side of the track. Added to this, the complaint of the hot pain in his wrist was a worry as well. Rather than patch and keep riding on this one, I strapped the boy’s wrist, bandaged it up and walked the rest of the way down the hill with him and the other walking wounded to the car park and finished for the day.
Since both students required a little bit more medical assistance than I could provide, I decided to take them into the hospital. The last time I was in Canberra hospital, I was supposed to be in and out of there in an hour. However, it turned out to be seven hours and I had to stay overnight. Given this was the last experience, I decided that we should have dinner first, which was nachos that the boys had made with guacamole dip, salsa and sour cream. It was great meal, one of the best camping meals I’ve had in a long time. We quickly had that before we jumped into the troopie and headed off to hospital.
It’s always interesting when you turn up to hospital with multiple students with injuries for the same activity. You get the ‘you’re an irresponsible teacher look from everyone around you.’ So after checking both of the boys in with the triage nurse, we sat and waited whilst getting stared at by those around us. Remarkably enough, we probably only waited about twenty minutes at the most, which was exceptionally good timing considering the last time that I had to wait in Canberra Hospital. The boys were seen by two different doctors who were quite amused by the whole afternoon’s events and being mountain bike riders themselves, didn’t give me the ‘you’re irresponsible look’ after I explained what had happened.
It turned out though, because one of the boys was over the age of 15, under the ACT Laws, due to an accident in a public place, he had to undergo a mandatory blood alcohol testing. As a result, this boy had his blood taken and sent off to the police for analysis, which he thought was pretty exciting.
The other boy, as his tetanus shot was out of date, he had to get a tetanus injection. Hence we had the needle nurse who came to take blood out of one and then back to jab the other. I saw all of this as I moved between the two emergency beds and chatted with both the doctors. The end result was one student with six stitches and a blood alcohol test, but thankfully no fractures in his wrist. The other had three stitches and a painful jab in the arm. All in all, a reasonable result!
The boys were quickly discharged from hospital and on the way back, we had to for the ‘mandatory fast food run after a trip to hospital’ drive. I managed to make my calls to their parents from the warmth of McDonald’s whilst eating a caramel sundae. It was sub zero outside, so we were in no hurry to get back. After dessert, we went to the shops, grabbed a few things such as milk and chocolate and back to camp.
Everyone was asleep when we arrived around 10pm and it was even colder here than it had been in town. I quickly sorted myself out for bed. Jumping inside my sleeping bag, I had a pleasant, long, cosy sleep.
The next morning, I checked on the boys and unfortunately given the injuries, we decided that we couldn’t ride because we didn’t have any spare staff to look after the injured and effectively supervise the rest of the group. Hence I decided that as we were in Canberra, we could have a look at a few things around the place.
We started at The Australian War Memorial, but turned up too early, so we ended up going to the cafe for coffee and cakes before heading inside. I always love going to The War Memorial and to hear a really interesting interview with the Memorial’s director, Dr Brendan Nelson, check out Xperiential Education. We never seem to have enough time there, but on every trip, I always learn something new.
After this, I rang the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office. Yes, I know he’s now no longer the Deputy PM, but before his philandering day, I worked on his campaign, after running against him at preselection. Unfortunately, he had back to back meetings but his secretary organised for us to have a tour in Parliament and tickets to Question Time.
Question Time is a big thing in Australia where all the politicians are in the house and questions are asked of the Prime Minister or the various ministers. Some questions are with notice so they are pre-known by the questionee and some questions are without notice, but generally still known to the person. It’s more theatrics than anything else. I’ve actually done some of the preparation work for this in the past where you prepare a briefing for each question that’s going to be asked. Generally, the politician doesn’t bother answering the question anyway and instead answers something else completely.
Before going in, we’d parked in the basement. The troop carriers that we were in were too tall to go in the general car park and so I drove up to the oversize vehicle car park, took a ticket from the machine and drove in. Glancing back in the rear view mirror I notice the other 4WD drive in straight after me. Despite the bright yellow boom gate, the driver had not realised that he had to actually stop and press the button for a ticket. Now we’d managed to get two vehicles into the parking lot with only one ticket. ‘Well, that’s going to be an interesting problem to solve when we’re leaving.’
After explaining to my colleague that the big yellow barrier means stop and collect a ticket, we headed up to security and through into Parliament where our guide was waiting in the foyer. We’d managed to all get through security without issue, or that was what we thought until the other instructor was marched over to us by a security guard to let me know to start the tour, as he’d been caught with a credit card knife in his wallet and had to go and have a chat with the federal police as it’s a prohibited weapon in the ACT.
I was trying not to laugh in front of the boys because even though it was pretty funny, it wouldn’t have looked good laughing about it. Unfortunately, this didn’t work when the boys all broke out in laughter. I wished him luck and off we went, with the boys speculating on whether or not we would have to bail him out of jail that afternoon.
On the tour, I ran into a couple of politicians I knew, briefly saying hello and moving on so as not to distract the guide from his talk. We finally caught up with the other instructor at the end of the tour. Luckily for him, he wasn’t charged with anything but he had to surrender the knife to the police.
We headed back out the front of Parliament, where we made our lunches before heading back in for Question Time. Since the Deputy PM’s secretary had organised tickets, we managed to skip the line and were ushered straight in to the southern gallery which looks straight down on the government benches. Question time was the usual back and forth and nowhere near as exciting as one time years ago when people were getting dragged out by security and the place went into lock down. Having said that, it was an entertaining afternoon and kept us out of the cold for a bit.
Finishing up at Parliament, we managed to drive both 4WDs out of the parking lot by running them bumper to bumper. Ok, so there were probably other better solutions, but this was the most challenging and fun one to try. Then we drove back out to camp. It was now later afternoon and getting quite cold, but despite the random change of plans, the boys had a solo activity to do. They had one hour to write a final reflection on their experience on camp and what they had learnt from these experiences. Whilst most of them probably wrote about the instructor getting taken by security for possessing an illegal weapon, hopefully others wrote a little more reflectively.
By the end of the hour, the sun had dropped behind the hills and it was freezing cold. I wrapped up the activity at 5pm then we were all ready and headed back into town for dinner.
Wait a minute! What did we go to Canberra for again? Sometimes, in outdoor ed, events can dictate the program, or at least changes to the program if and when things don’t go to plan. The best thing to do is to be flexible, adaptable and always know there’s another learning experience and teachable moments outside of what was originally planned. Going forward with an activity just for the sake of the activity more often than not can lead to negative outcomes. It’s always good to be able to adapt and change plans if circumstances dictate. In this case, we had to do it because of injuries, but in other cases it could be weather, equipment or a range of other random possibilities that are sometimes hard to predict. Ultimately, it was still an interesting couple of days and a memorable expedition and adventure for all involved.
The Fushimi Shrine in Kyoto is one of the most iconic temples in Japan. Its distinctive path of orange gates wind their way up the side of a mountain, which is revered as sacred. Along this path of gates as it winds it way up the mountain, are a series of small shrines and grave stones and of course shops for everyone along the way.
The visit to this amazing site was both cultural and outdoor ed in its experience. At the very base is a market place filled with food stalls which emanate a wonderful aroma of hot Japanese delicacies. There are many girls dressed up in traditional Japanese Kimonos and if you really want, you can rent one in the many rental shops nearby. Despite the crowds, it was well worth getting something to eat here before going into the temple. I managed to find a beef skewer that I could afford. The standard ones were 500yen (about AUD$6.00). However the wagyu ones were 2,000yen (about $24.00). As meat on a stick goes, $24 is a bit out of my league, so I went for the cheaper option. However, the food’s not limited to this and you can get all sorts of things on a stick, from weird dessert like buns to octopus that look as if they’ve just had a visit from Vlad The Impailer.
Before going there, I hadn’t really read up much on it, so I thought that it was a few gates that arched around in a bit of a circle. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The gates do loop around, but they go all the way up the mountain and back. A truly remarkable feat of design.
A Thousand Of Bright Orange Torii Gates
The place was crowded and of course everyone was trying to get a photo (or fifty) right at the start. The noise of the bustling crowd really made it hard to appreciate the significance and wonder of this site. I shuffled through the crowd, which once inside the gates, there was little chance of getting away from, until the crowd popped out at another temple and some shops. Looking at a ‘You Are Here!’ type map, I suddenly realised that this was just the beginning and the gates went on and on, all the way up the mountain. I continued to follow the crowd up the hill as it got steeper and the path turned into steps. Rising up to the next intersection, the path split and the crowd suddenly thinned out. Obviously, people had already taken enough photos of themselves with the orange gates that the thought of hiking to the top was too much for them to bear.
However, for me the experience of the temple and the sacred mountain only began at this point. There’s something very serene about walking through bamboo scattered forests and the bright orange contrast of the gates. There were hardly any people up here to ruin the experience with endless selfies, although I do admit to taking a few at the top. The absence of the crowd also meant that I was able to see more of the amazing details and the work that’s gone into building such a phenomenal structure.
One Of The Many Fox Statues Across The Shrine Grounds
Once I reached the top, which was gated by some rather unhappy looking fox-like statutes, I had a look around the highest shrine before descending into another gulley. As I walked down the many steps, suddenly a wind rippled through the bamboo. It was directional, by which I mean it was concentrated above my head in a very narrow band. You could imagine in years gone by, those making a pilgrimage to the mountain could have seen something like this as a passing dragon spirit. Hopefully the happy dragon type from ‘The Never Ending Story,’ rather than the angry, greedy type from ‘The Hobbit.’
Regardless of this, it was a wonderful moment as the golden coloured autumn leaves were dislodged from their branches and glided down to the ground around me.
Continuing back down, the closer I came to the intersection, the greater the number of people there were until I finally popped out, just past the enormous frog shrine, back at the main temple at the base of the mountain.
This was both a great hike and a fascinating cultural experience. If you’re ever in Kyoto, this is a must, but wear your hiking boots as the real experience is only to be found beyond where most people give up.
This is probably one of the single most unpleasant things to read as an outdoor education and risk management professional, but it’s vitally important that any teacher taking a group of students anywhere reads and learns from the extremely tragic experiences that are outlined in any coronial inquest. The lessons learnt from these, must inform our approach to risk management and safety for every program we run.
There are often two dramatically different types of coronial reports. Firstly, the tragic accident, which could not be reasonably foreseen, and despite all efforts to respond, a life is lost. However, more often than not, it’s the second type of report and coronial finding that clearly demonstrates systemic failure and usually a series of events which with each step/poor decision/delay, leads to a fatality.
Whilst both are undeniably tragic, the second leaves families, schools and all those involved destroyed for life. As you read through one of these, the warning signs, deterioration of conditions and clear evidence that there’s a problem is usually abundantly clear. Whilst many would say it’s easy to see that in the rear-view mirror, which I agree is entirely true, as hindsight is very powerful, but often the obvious warning signs are there. Thus, understanding your environment, your group and the risks involved in what you’re doing, should have already provided you with enough insight to take the action needed to prevent a situation deteriorating into a critical or fatal situation.
What’s vitally important from this is the need for situational awareness. Instructors and teachers need to be aware of a range of factors (which are usually outlined in a risk assessment) and ensure they’re proactively considered and managed. Reading coronial reports is a horrible, but important part of that skills development for being aware of conditions and situations which have led to irreversible and tragic consequences.
I found myself in one such situation a number of years ago. We were out hiking west of Nowra and heading in towards Kangaroo Valley. It was a bright sunny and hot afternoon in February and a massive, angry storm rolled in faster than crazed shoe shoppers on Boxing Day. We were suddenly trapped on a ridge with pelting rain, lightning striking all around us and drilling the ground with no pause between the lightning and the deafening concussion of the thunder. Strike after strike after strike, it pinned us down. Perched on our packs in the ‘lightning position’ we could do nothing else other than stay clear of trees and wait out the storm. However, the storm persisted and hour after hour we had no option but to stay put.
Suddenly there was a break in the storm and the other group leader had the idea that we should keep going despite the conditions around us. We were heading towards a river which needed to be crossed to get to the camp site. We had saturated gortexes and some students were showing early signs of hyperthermia. It was not a good idea to press on, but full of bravado and telling the group that if we didn’t, the other group would think we were weak, a nauseating feeling hit me. This didn’t feel right. We had too many factors at play. The extreme weather, the equipment failure and the condition of the students. When something feels wrong, then you must act immediately. It’s not a matter of waiting to see what happens. Stop, regroup, bring in other resources and respond before things spiral out of control.
This is the critical tipping point of any coronial inquest. You can often determine the point of no return where the decision to continue inevitably led to the fatality and often it’s based upon poor thoughtless decision making, where there is plenty of evidence that it’s time to stop, regroup and rethink everything. Thankfully, the nauseating feeling on the mentioned trip, was telling me things are deteriorating and we need to change tactics. We waited until the main storm passed, went and grabbed the 4WD and then moved the group to an alternate campsite. Soon after setting up we had a fire going and everyone had something warm to drink.
Whilst it’s painful and distressing to read coronial inquests, it’s vitally important that you do as part of your ongoing risk management training and professional development. Understanding the experiences of others and the tragedies of the past can help us to make better decisions and ensure the safety of our groups into the future. It’s those lessons learned, that are powerful and stark reminders that risk management must be a living, breathing approach to running any program and not just a document which is dusted off when it’s subpoenaed by the coroner.
As part of your on going risk management, it’s well worth regularly reviewing and workshopping coronial reports with your team to ensure the situational awareness and those tipping points are at the forefront of everyone’s minds every time they’re out with a group to ensure everyone has a safe, challenging and enjoyable experience.
Free time in the outdoors is challenging. As an experienced outdoor ed teacher other than lightning, high winds and trees falling over, free time is always my biggest concern. “Why’s that?” you ask. “Isn’t this just quiet down time?”
No!!!! Who told you that? It’s actually the causation of the majority of injuries on outdoor programs. “What?” I hear parents scream in the distance. Yes, that’s true, it’s not the activities such as abseiling, or high ropes which have a very high level of perceived risk that are the problem and causation of many injuries. It’s the sitting around doing nothing at outdoor centres which leads to many of the injuries we see in outdoor programs.
The Budawang and Etrema Wilderness areas are some of the most rugged and challenging areas in which to hike in NSW. Having led many groups through both these wilderness areas over the years, filled with snakes, hippies, crazed possums and often a shortage of access to fresh water and evacuation routes, the thought of simply hanging around on an outdoor campus with a group of students for free time, is more worrying than anything I ever could have and did encounter in those tough, unforgiving wilderness areas.
In recent years, I’ve noticed a changing phenomenon. Kids are really rubbish at doing free time, especially when there’s no structured activity going on. Most children’s lives, especially with two working parents, have become so over-structured that the idea that they might have to entertain themselves or find happiness in quiet time is something completely foreign. This is a real problem for our over-stimulated children, who on camp generally don’t have the option of pulling out their phone to play pointless addictive and life-wasting games to stave off the threat of a lack of over-stimulation and having to socialise in a meaningful way.
Unfortunately, what happens as a result of children who are not used to free-time being given lots of free time, is that stupid and poorly thought out games start. These can often result in running around dangerously in areas with which they’re unfamiliar and not always well-supervised in. The other potential negative scenario is that to cure their boredom, they look for other unhealthy things to do, such as picking on each other in unpleasant ways. It’s no surprise that the majority of outdoor education injuries occur during this time.
There’s a false sense of security which goes with being in a hard-top cabin style outdoor ed location. The idea is that it’s not really that risky compared with the activities that were being done during the day. How can you compare that high ropes course which scared the life out of everyone, with sitting around talking or more likely running around madly. Sometimes, teachers can think that once the activities are over, then it’s also their own ‘free time,’ so they can relax a little. Sadly I’ve seen far too much of this over the years and ultimately, if you’re on duty and sitting on the lounge inside a building where you can’t see any children and thinking you’re providing suitable supervision and an effective duty of care, then you’re a moron and should not be teaching. If you’re reading this blog, I would suggest that’s not you, but I’ve seen it first hand and it’s unsurprising the majority of injuries on outdoor programs happen during free time at outdoor centres.
How do we reduce the incidence of injuries when we know kids are finding it increasingly difficult to do free-time? Firstly, don’t employ idiots! This is a good basis upon which to start. However, if you’re lucky enough to have a good staff, as part of your pre-program safety briefing, highlight this as a key risk that you need everyone to look out for. Give a couple of examples if you’ve seen things as I have of what can and does happen when supervision becomes laxed, or a false sense of security is created by the differential between an activity such as abseiling and hanging around dorms.
However, one huge opportunity is to run some structured games during this free time. Sure, it means teachers have to run another activity, but that’s far preferable to the trip to hospital and the awkward phone calls back to home and school to explain what happened and why there’s a student in hospital after ‘free-time’ injury. To be honest, I’ve had to make a lot of phone calls over the years in regards to injuries, but the most awkward and difficult ones to deal with are the free-time ones, because they’re really hard to explain the reasons as to why they happened. A fall from a mountain bike which caused a broken wrist is far easier to explain and manage and has less blow back, than trying to explain why a shoulder was dislocated inside a dormitory.
The reality is that children do find free-time increasingly difficult due to the over-stimulation and over scheduling of their lives. Whilst it would be great to think they can have some much needed free-time, this has often proven to be some of the most risky periods of time during outdoor ed programs where the most injuries occur. The best option is to ease students into the idea of free-time by structuring some initiative games, group activities, or light exercise during these times, rather than just ‘free-time.’ As a result, you’ll spend less time patching kids up, going to hospital and having awkward conversations.
How casually everyone walks past cenotaphs these days. With the world filled with phone tranced zombies who barely see anything, how are they expected to see the ultimate sacrifice of others? Chances are, many people are more likely just to walk head-long into the memorial due to distraction, rather than noticing it for what it’s worth.
However, ANZAC Day helps focus people’s attention on the importance of sacrifice, love and friendship for a set of beliefs about how life should be. It’s not to glorify war, but to honour the stand against tyranny and the fight for what is right in this world for everyone to live free from fear, hate and oppression and have the opportunity to live a life of their choosing.
Sadly, our world is still a long way from this ideal. In Australia, we live in relative safety and security, but the recent events in our neighbouring New Zealand, highlight that we still have a long way to go and we should never lose sight of the fact that the lessons of the past must inform our decisions into the future.
In a time when communication across the globe has become instant, and often overwhelming, it’s worth reflecting on the experience of soldiers on the front line. It took weeks or months for mail to get to or from the front. Letters from the front were read by someone else before being redacted and then sent on. Even innocuous remarks about the experience on the front line might have been struck out, in case they could cause disquiet back home. Yet most tragically, of the many letters that were sent, by the time the letters were received in the home country, the soldiers who wrote them had been killed in action, or missing, presumed dead.
With instant messaging and the ability for news media to live stream coverage of war-torn areas twenty four hours a day, it’s hard to fathom and comprehend the lack of information, and the slowness of communication back and forth between loved ones during the wars of the past 100 years. Yet the value of those communications were timeless. Letters were kept and cherished as an important connection from back home, to those who had left to serve.
There’s nothing glorious about war and the scars and emptiness with which it has left so many people, but the fight to defend democracy and freedom is why we must always remain vigilant to protect a way of life that allows freedom of speech, movement, association and the ability for so many to walk around like zombies and see nothing of the world around them. Consequently, on ANZAC Day, it’s important for us to honour those who made a stand against tyranny and oppression, so rather than having heads bowed staring mindlessly at a phone, it’s an opportunity for our nation to bow its head in honour and respect for all those who served to protect the wonderful nation and life we enjoy in Australia today.
If you want to keep your finger on the pulse of the traditional economy, then keeping an eye on the activity in the main streets of town is a great way to do it. I hear you saying, “Why do I care about economics? Isn’t this about experiential education?”
Good point! But bear with me on this, as there is a point. If we’re training students to be productive members of society who are independent, thoughtful problem solvers and are employable, then you need to understand some of the subtle, and not so subtle shifts happening in society today.
Everyone knows the digital world is here to stay (unless our politicians start a war they can’t finish and everything goes Mad Max on us!) Luckily I know Angry Anderson, so at least I’ll be able to join one of the lawless gangs roaming the desert without too much of a problem. However, before we sharpen our boomerangs, let’s pretend for a moment that we won’t be plunged back into the dark ages and have to fight for every litre of petrol as if it were our last.
Sorry, I’ve digressed slightly, maybe. Retail shops are closing at an alarming rate and what’s replacing them? Nothing! Maybe the occasional ‘pop-up’ shop that’s here and gone in the blink of an eye. However, ‘For Lease’ signs spatter our retail and office fronts and once popular Main Street locations are sitting vacant for longer and longer. Some of it can be attributed to high rent in these locations, which the market should eventually fix. However, often it’s the fact that businesses which were once main stays and anchors of our main streets are gone and nothing has replaced them.
Recently, I went book shopping. We had an end of program dinner and there were a number of prizes I wanted to give out, hence I was in a bookstore for the first time in years! Like many other book stores, it was in a prominent location. However, it was in the middle of a closing down sale. Everything was on special, so I bought quite a few books. When I went to pay, Jennifer, the lady behind the counter asked me if I’d like to join their book club. I guess she’d been instructed to ask everyone, but I didn’t see the point of joining a book club of a business that’s closing down. It’s like a free membership to the Roman Senate in the 5th Century AD. It’s better that you don’t accept it.
This is not to say I don’t read books. Well, to be honest, I actually don’t read as much now. Instead, I listen to them. I can get almost any book I want with a couple of clicks and the quality is generally excellent. Although some readers are “rubbish.” I have returned a few which almost put me to sleep. This is never good when listening to them in the car. So the reading of books is not declining, but the way in which we’re buying and reading them is.
The fact is that here is something that’s been a staple of society ever since Mr Gutenberg got all IT savvy in the 15th Century and decided that ‘copy and press’ with his fancy new International Book Machine (IBM) was a far better and cheaper way of plagiarising books than having teams of monks continuously write out copies with a quill pen under candle light. Monks were now freed up to go out and help do the valuable work of the church, which was mainly selling indulgences to fill the coffers of the Pope and adorn their monasteries with ornate silver and gold.
Despite the printing press replacing a lot of jobs, other jobs emerged from this. However, today we’re not seeing the same redevelopment and reinvention of jobs. Sure you might need someone to monitor automation systems, but this is only a fraction of the workforce that’s being replaced. The lack of new businesses coming to replace old ones in our main streets is a clear and real indication of this shift. The long-term outlook for employment of those we are teaching today, isn’t looking good.
The huge problem is that schools aren’t scrambling to address this. It’s massive. It’s already impacting on our communities and a profession that’s not well-known for being adaptable, is now on the front line of a seismic shift in an economic and social revolution. The traditional classroom, an invention of the industrial revolution, is ill-equipped for what’s coming.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel which is not just a marauding gang with sharp boomerangs and burning torches. To address this, experiential education needs to massively expand in schools. It needs to make up the majority of the curriculum. The school day shouldn’t just be sitting in a series of classes, going home, doing some homework and then coming back the next day to do it all over again. This only prepares students to be able to sit in a room and do exams, which in the workforce tends not to be very useful.
It’s time to get out of the classroom and change the style of teaching. Change the way in which teachers are being trained and include a significant practical, experiential education component to their training. This is not just more classroom prac work, but is working in a business or an industry totally unrelated to education. This can then translate into a far better understanding of the changing dynamics of the workforce in which our students are growing up and make them far better teachers with some real life experiences behind them.
We must do something about this massive problem now! We will continue to see the subtle shift on our streets. More shop fronts closed up and not rented. Fewer checkout chicks at the supermarket and bank tellers have all but been replaced by automation and machines. Whilst these are not bad things in themselves, efficiencies are great in any operation. However, the real problem that we need to address is the preparation of our students for a world in which there are fewer jobs and few opportunities for a single occupation approach. We must be leveraging our programs to train adaptability as the number one priority. The world is changing and our most successful students will be the ones who are able to not only cope, but thrive in an environment in which the goal posts are continuously changing. If you don’t believe me, go for a walk along the high street in any town. Chances are, we’re only seeing the beginning of this trend and we need to do something about it right now!
Kyoto is an amazing city of contrasts. A bustling city of around 1.5 million people, which is central Kyoto, not the surrounding areas, this mega city seems to go on and on and is connected to Osaka through an unbroken series of medium and high rise apartment buildings. It’s crazy to think that this combined urban area consists of around 20 million people.
It’s an astonishing and busy place. I arrived by Shinkansen, aka the bullet train, from Tokyo and managed to find my way through the crowded station onto the subway and eventually to the hotel. Not trying to get through a crowded train station carrying a pair of skis was a wonderful bonus this time around. Instead of skiing, I was out exploring some of the astounding history and culture of Japan.
Other than trying to get through Tokyo station in peak hour, I’d not been out into any major Japanese cities before and this was a fascinating experience. The outward impression I have of Japanese cities is that they’re kind of ugly. There are lots of tall buildings which on the outside look dull and grotty, interspersed with a few amazing ancient castles, temples and traditional styled houses.
A massive population, random sprawling developments, recessions and years of deflation, haven’t helped the look of many of the cities in Japan. Functionally, over design seems to have been the thought at the time. Despite this outward appearance, once inside one of these mega cities, you can find endless hidden gems of the ancient world, living right alongside colossal skyscrapers. The cities have simply grown up around and consumed so many of these places that were once focal points of small villages and townships.
Kyoto, for example, has a lot of temples and I mean a lot! Everywhere you turn, there’s another temple staring back at you. You can be walking down a laneway and a simple old wooden doorway can take you into another world. I came across many of these by chance. I had a fairly general map from the hotel which indicated areas where the major temples were, but on the way there I found temples in the middle of shopping centres and in amongst suburban housing areas.
The moment you step through one of these doorways, it feels as if you’ve stepped back in time and out of the city. The change of atmosphere is stark. Gone are the bustling noises of traffic and the manic pace of the city. Instead, you’re surrounded by a serenity that’s further enhanced by delicately tended gardens and bamboo water features that continue to flow gently. No wonder the zen garden is such an art form, as it can dramatically transform and create a quiet space, even amongst millions of people.
I found the same experience time and time again as I stepped inside an ancient building. It feels a world away from the hectic pace of the surrounding city. The Imperial Palace, nearby castles and countless temples were all the same. Somehow, time has stood still inside these spaces, whilst the city has exploded around them.
Another interesting place which provided the same dramatic contrast, was the Japanese Gardens next to Himeji Castle. There’s a major four lane road right out in front and a massive car park opposite. Inside, however, is a serene series of masterfully designed and maintained gardens where I heard the birds chirping for the first time in days and saw huge koi fish swim lazily through the ponds, expectantly popping their mouths out whenever someone’s shadow appeared over the water. Buffeted by solid traditional Japanese walls, these gardens are a wonderful example how the old and the new within huge cities co-exist.
Koko-en Garden Near Himeji Castle
From here, you can walk ten minutes down the road to a gaudy neon lit mall, filled with seemingly endless shops and constantly swiftly moving crowds of shoppers and commuters rushing through one of seven identical Starbucks stores that line the streets. This dramatic contrast shows the underlying complexity of the modern world and the desire to escape to quieter and more relaxing times and spaces from the past.
There’s something wonderful about both sides of this mix of old and new. It’s important to preserve and value our global heritage and cultures and at the same time we still need to build cities which can leverage the technological advances and advantages that are being continuously designed and developed in the digital age. Whilst we can all hope that city design into the future will be less ugly than what it is now, the reality is that this is just the surface and once you step inside, you’re only moments away from a serene green space or a preserved vast estate. Working out how to best link all of this together with some thoughtful design, is definitely going to be an ongoing challenge for the next few generations, but the possibilities of future cities which connect both old and new in a seamless manner is an exciting prospect to anticipate.
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of professional development. Most people will groan when they hear PD, as they’ve experienced the classic ‘first day(s) back’ professional development time, which could be just a complete waste of time and energy for all involved. From what I’ve experienced over the years, you may as well have another day of holidays and it would be far more beneficial. Whilst much of this is done to save money and meet the mandatory PD hours requirements for teachers, are teachers actually learning anything that will improve their teaching practice or professionalism, or is it just an exercise in futility?
Don’t get me wrong! PD is vitally important, but is self-initiated and directed learning a far better approach? What I’ve been doing recently for my own PD has been through two different forms. The first has been reconnoitering new areas of the countryside to further develop a program. This is always an exciting and challenging time as now you’re exploring new areas with which you’re unfamiliar and trying to find suitable tracks, trails, rivers and campsites which are suitable for the age and experience level of the group for which you’re planning. Sometimes, it’s easy and quickly falls into place. Other times, it’s like trying to get out of a darkened pit full of goblins whilst being stalked by a ring-obsessed weirdo.
On this occasion, it was closer to the latter, as we found out the new area was not a nice babbling brook surrounded by gentle countryside, but rather a vicious, shallow, rapid-flowing white water filled gorge. We were about 2km in when we realised how nasty it was getting and what was supposed to be a pleasant three hour paddle, took seven hours! Thankfully, we didn’t have to battle orcs along the way, but at some points I was hoping that eagles would come and rescue us. Sadly, it was not to be and we had to navigate and negotiate the gruelling gorge that went on for several kilometres.
During this time, we’d also looked at mountain biking, canoeing and hiking as options in and around Canberra as there are some amazing national park areas with great tracks and trails throughout. Despite the fact that a number of these options weren’t particularly suitable to take students on, this was an extremely successful trip. From a professional planning point of view, even if you’re not going to change your program in any measurable way, going on “reccies” is a useful exercise, as you’re reinforcing your own skill set for navigation, route assessment, logistics planning and risk management. It’s all these concerns that you suddenly find come back to the front of your mind when looking at new areas that can naturally feed-back into your existing program and help you re-think, re-assess and improve upon what you’re already doing.
The other PD I’ve been doing has been the more traditional kind, in terms of workshops and conferences. Sometimes these are hit and miss when it comes to helping you in your teaching role, but that mainly comes down to what sort of conference you’re going to and which sessions you attend. The first one I went to was a digital schools’ conference. It was basically exploring how technology can be better used in education. I sat in on a couple of sessions which were excellent as the presenters hit the nail on the head! It’s not really about the technology. It’s about the use of technology as part of a wider educational experience. When you boil it all down, the skills you’re learning in STEM and trying to innovate with are exactly the same as what’s being learnt through outdoor education.
The core principles of innovation are:
• Problem solving, risk taking, adaptability, teamwork and leadership.
The core principles of outdoor ed are:
• Problem solving, risk taking, adaptability, teamwork and leadership.
Simple right? Well sadly, it’s not always the case and often teachers can see the use of technology or coding as the end goal or the learning outcome. As in outdoor ed, often schools see the outcome as getting kids outdoor or learning how to ride a bike or canoe. These are all just the means through which these core cognitive and experiential skills are being developed.
I also had the wonderful opportunity to present on innovation and how the chaotic and imprecise science it is to develop an idea into something that solves a much wider real world problem. I also explored how this can be translated into the context of education and why this is now such an important part of the modernisation of education that might one day see us escape from the industrial revolution hangover upon which our curriculum’s based.
The second conference I went to was more closely related to outdoor education and covered some fascinating insights into concussion identification and management. This was a great up-skilling opportunity for me, as whilst I’d understood and had managed a number of concussions over the years, I was able to get a far greater understanding of what happens with the injury and how it manifests itself. This is something that a senior first aid course would never cover and even with the wilderness courses I’ve done, it was only ever touched on briefly. Yet attending a comprehensive keynote presentation by a leading medical specialist in the field, was an amazing learning opportunity.
PD can be both insanely frustrating if it’s done poorly, or immensely beneficial if it’s done well. Some people might perceive PD at conferences as junkets, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. From the Wilderness Risk Management Conference I attended last year to the various ones I’ve been to this year, it’s helped me attain a much greater understanding of my own professional practice and helped me to reflect and review what I do as an outdoor educator and how I go about doing it.
I have to admit I have great memories of the enforced PD days from school days past. At one school I was once part of an English/History faculty. We taught an integrated unit called Valley In Perspective, that combined English/History/Geography and Outdoor Education. It was in some ways a little heavy on the academics for my likings, but overall it worked quite well. We were always allocated a day at the start of term for ‘meetings,’ which was code for sitting in the office and wasting lots of time, something which I can’t stand doing. However, one of the teachers had a boat and so instead of sitting in the office, we went and spent the day on his boat. We would discuss work for about an hour, but then would relax for the rest of the day lazing about the deck or going sailing and usually having fish and chips for lunch. Whilst many a useless manager would say this was a waste of time, it was an excellent team building exercise and our team of four worked exceptionally well together, despite the school being a disastrous toxic mess in which to work.
Ultimately, PD is vitally important for renewing and up-skilling you in your professional life and can have great benefits when done well. Meetings can be of some value, so long as you limit their time and have clear goals and objectives from the outset. However, to get any real-residual benefit from professional development, you need to go out, test your existing skills and continually learn new ones which can help you to become a far more effective educator throughout your life.
Having traveled quite a bit for work and for fun, I’ve never learnt more about a new culture than immersing myself in it. We always learn best through our experiences, yet most of what’s taught is still inside a classroom. Now if it’s maths, that’s fair enough as there are many basic concepts that need to be worked through in a fairly structured way, but if it’s cultural understanding for which you’re aiming, then it’s near impossible to truly learn anything unless you immerse everyone in the cultural experience.
There’s a lot of schools doing just this with countless overseas trips happening each holiday period. But why should this be just an optimal extra in a holiday program? Firstly, the cost involved to take an entire school away each year on some sort of cultural experience would potentially be prohibitively expensive. However, there are other options. Why not explore the cost of chartering an entire plane? If you’ve got to move a few hundred people, surely one of the airlines could come up with a special deal, plus it removes the often annoying feeling for other passengers of being surrounded by a group of school students.
Anyway, major logistics aside, which I’m sure when you think of it aren’t insurmountable, there are some massive benefits to taking students away to experience another culture. Students today are getting a very distorted view on life due to the bombardment of marketing and digital noise that’s constantly around them. For many, it’s all about image and consumption, which creates a disconnect with relationships and so many aspects of the world. This is not of their own making, but conditioning being experienced in their every day lives.
What many students and teachers need is a good shock to the system to snap out of the sometimes monotonous grind of every day classrooms and experience something different and amazing that can never be taught. Immersing students in a different culture, can create a life changing experience which they can’t get any other way. It can provide them with a completely different perspective on life and enhance their appreciation of others. For any worthwhile cultural experience, it has to be dramatically different. It doesn’t have to be the shockingly inappropriate orphan tourism which so many schools have enabled in recent years, but is does need to be something remarkably different from our own culture.
Thankfully, we don’t even need to go outside of our own country for this as we have some unique local cultures and aboriginal communities in places such as Arnhem Land that welcome school groups for extended stays to experience a more simple way of life that’s focused on relationships, rather than consumption.
An Aboriginal Person - Tjapukai Cultural Centre
Māori Cultural Performance - Waitangi
Another great place to go, which is only a couple of hours flight from Darwin is East Timor. With a mix of Tetem, Portuguese and Indonesian influences, this is a remarkable country with a unique culture. Whilst still a very poor nation, the Timorese people are big on education and are in the process of rebuilding their nation after years of conflict. Whilst now a relatively safe country, it’s worth connecting with the Department of Foreign Affairs for the latest assessment. However, from an educational point of view, immersion in this type of culture that’s so close to our own country, is a great way of developing the global citizenship within our community.
Until going to East Timor, I had no idea how devastated it still was from years of war, but contrasted with this was the positivity within the community that with democratic freedom, they could now build a nation of their design and not one imposed from outside. Having been occupied by the Portuguese and more recently the Indonesians, this is something we can’t fathom as Europeans, who have done most of the occupying.
One of the key skills required for students to be successful into the future, is cultural understanding. It’s not just knowing about a culture from reading about it. It’s about truly understanding other cultures and gaining an appreciation for a different kind of world view and life experience. This doesn’t need to be limited to our own regional ‘backyard,’ but can extend to all sorts of places around the world. Living this sort of experience can put into perspective the history, the geography and the global perspective of another culture which in turn can help develop an appreciation for others and a greater understanding and appreciation of our own culture. Whilst it may not be possible for everyone to go away every year and experience a cultural immersion, (although you could charter an A380), it should however, be part of an integrated Yr 7-12 curriculum. The long-term educational benefit for students and the development of global citizenship would be profoundly impacted on in such a positive way.
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.