I love Christmas decorations! The vibrant magic they bring to this time of the year is so special and something to which I always look forward. Ever since I travelled to Germany for a student exchange and experienced a wonderful snow laden town with its windows lit up with the flickering of candles and shrouded in red and green, I’ve loved it!
Having said that, I must also qualify this with the fact that I don’t like the crappy tacky decoration people buy whilst shopping for their groceries and the sort of things people like to adorn themselves with at their work Christmas party. No, this is trash and I don’t like that in the slightest.
For me, Christmas decorations have depth and meaning. How does a decoration have depth and meaning I hear you yelling at your device?! Are you insane??? Well, possibly, but the jury’s still out on that one. Anyway, decorations, as with many other things people like to collect, derive meaning through the way in which you come to have them. If you did get all your decorations in aisle 17 next to the chips, dips and some plastic plates, then perhaps not, but if you’ve collected them from around the world, then they take on a whole different meaning.
A couple of years ago when I began travelling a lot more than I had ever done before, I started collecting Christmas decorations from all the places I visited. Since I didn’t want to waste money on pointless souvenirs that are great for five minutes, but once you’ve arrived home and shown everyone, it’s then put down and forgotten, often placed in a cupboard to gather dust. I have an entire collection of teaspoons and badges which has suffered this fate and is somewhere lost in the garage. However, unlike most souvenirs which suffer this fate, Christmas decorations appear each year! It might only be for a month, but for that month, all of those wonderful memories of travel and experiences you’ve had around the world, come flooding back.
For example, when I was in Japan a few years ago, it was really hard to find Christmas decorations. It’s not something the Japanese celebrate, but being a westerner, I was not deterred by their cultural indifference to this important festival that I thought they should have filling their stores and so was determined to find a Christmas decoration somewhere. I received many strange looks when trying to ask Japanese people without much English where I could buy Christmas decorations. What I thought would be an easy task, turned out not to be. I was told that the only place to find them would be in some western stores in the major cities. However, I wasn’t in a major city. They had snow, they should have Christmas decorations. It was like a pre-High King & Queen Narnia.
However, one day I decided to give skiing a break and went for a day trip to the seaside town of O, which is renowned for its seafood and glass blowing. Walking up and down the streets for hours, I finally came across this out of the way place where I had a delicious lunch of tempura prawns. Next to this restaurant, were a series of different glass blowing shops. After buying what I thought was a custard bun, which turned out to be an awful tasting black bean bun, I wandered through the glass shops, which had some astounding pieces of artwork as well as other beautiful and ornate glassware. Casually wandering through, looking at all the cool things I couldn’t afford, I came across a tiny shelf in one of the shops. It had about dozen tiny little glass objects in the shape of reindeer and a tiny Santa! I had finally discovered Christmas decorations in Japan!!!
Quickly buying them so no other sneaky westerner would take them before I could, although the chance of that was probably slim, I’d found some really cool decorations for home. For me however, it’s not the decoration itself. It’s the story that goes with it. When I see those little glass decorations, they not only look cool, but more importantly they remind me of my first adventure to Japan, which was planned and booked in about ten minutes whilst sitting on the front deck of a boat at work as we were in the process of reconnoitering a new outdoor trip. Another one I have is a wooden Santa from Breckenridge in Colorado. This was my first trip to the USA, when I was cooking for a snowboarding training school. One of the best days I had there was when Peak 10 opened and I was able to ski down chest-deep double black runs all day... it was awesome!
However, back to the decorations. The more I travel or the more experiences I have, the more I collect and when they’re all out each Christmas, they bring back wonderful memories which brings so much more meaning to this time of the year so. Next time you’re travelling or on an adventure, instead of buying a crappy souvenir pen or snow globe that will disappear into the abyss of your garage five minutes after you arrive home, buy a Christmas decoration, which you can put out every year that will bring back all the cool memories of the experiences you had when you first received it.
Have a Merry Christmas and a Wonderful New Year!
Once again, it's that time of the year! Suddenly, which means the day after Fathers’ Day in September, the shops fill up with Christmas decorations, chocolates and all sorts of other things ‘Christmassy’ on which people like to waste money. Whilst it’s always a little bit of shock to see Christmas things in the store so early, it doesn't take long for Christmas to actually creep up on us and we find ourselves wishing a Merry Christmas to just about any random person on the street, which can be both a good and bad thing, depending on how genuine you are about it.
I must admit I have mixed feelings about this time of year, as it should be a time of great joy and happiness. On the surface, it’s wonderful to wish people good tidings, treat people with a greater level of respect and say hello to people you ordinarily wouldn’t. However, ask yourself, are you being genuine with what you’re saying and doing, or are you just caught up in a cycle of pointless shallow greetings, parties and a manic argument ridden time with families that all ends on New Year’s Day when everyone breaks all those resolutions that they literally did nothing to achieve?
Many people just use this time of the year as an excuse to have parties and get drunk, something which is not really in the spirit of Christmas either. As work winds down, you're suddenly invited to lots of parties and events with people with whom you either don't spend much time, or more to the point, people with whom you don't want to spend time. When you're faced with this sort of situation, it's worth considering whether or not to go. Are you going because that's what is expected of you? Or are you going because you genuinely want to? If you're going because you're expected to, you’re really wasting your time and should really reconsider going. Instead, spend it with someone you actually care about. Often people can get caught up in the seemingly endless opportunities for Christmas gatherings, however, at the same time they fail to spend quality time with those who really matter.
On the positive side of things however, it signifies the end of what we would hope was a good year and a time to catch up with friends and family we haven’t seen in a long time, most likely last Christmas. I’ve caught myself doing the ‘Christmas’ catch up countless times and social media is such a great enabler for something so shallow. It really hit home last year, when I was going through my list of friends and by Facebook standards I don’t have that many, probably around 250 at a guess. (You can see how much I care about this number.) I do know most of my friends in ‘real life’, however, when I clicked on messenger to wish some friends a Merry Christmas, I saw my message from last Christmas glaring at me with distain. ‘Oh... Why has a year gone by and I haven’t even as much as said ‘Hey,’ let alone kept in touch in any meaningful way? One of the problems is that social media enables us to connect and disconnect with people in such a shallow way. We’re friends now, but we don’t need to talk anymore. However, I’m not here to social media bash. Well, not today!
Seeing a message that hadn’t been followed up on for a year started me thinking. Why wasn’t I staying in touch and should I be reconnecting? In some ways, it’s easy to say, no, the friendship isn’t that great and obviously everyone’s moved on, but I would suggest another answer. If I messaged everyone of my Facebook friends I would actually be being disingenuous as quite a few of them I don’t know at all, but that’s another matter and I don’t care much, because I’m never on there and I think Facebook is a toxic waste dump increasingly reliant on battering its users with a relentless number of pointless ads, rather than a platform that is helping humanity in a meaningful way. However, I digress.
Sending a Christmas message isn’t just a pointless waste of time. Even if you haven’t been close with one of your friends for some time, it’s a good excuse to reach out and say hello again. Our lives have become so manic, that often we don’t take the time just to say hello and focus on what’s really important in life and just as a hint, it’s not emptying your inbox.
This year, instead of just an online message that says something like, “Hi [insert name here], How have you been? Hope you have a wonderful Christmas! Best wishes for the new year!” write an actual Christmas card to each of those old friends with whom you want to reconnect. To this card however, add in an action plan, with an invite for coffee or dinner and be specific about it too, as vague plans of ‘sometime’ usually result in never! Think about it. What would you rather do? Would you rather go to a series of pointless Christmas functions with people you really don’t care about and watch them get drunk and embarrass themselves, or would you rather say no to all of that and use this precious and important time of the year to reconnect with someone in a meaningful way you should have taken the time to message a long time ago?
For some time, I’d been wanting to go to the Bay of Islands. It’s a subtropical region at the northern end of the North Island of New Zealand. There are over 100 islands within the Bay of Islands and it’s a wonderful, tranquil environment that’s been well-protected by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.
In addition to being a place of great beauty, it was also the first port of call for Lieutenant Cook who was apparently on his way to discover the ‘Great Southern Land,’ after a massively unsuccessful attempt at observing the transect of Venus in Tahiti. Cook was in need of some good luck, although he really needed it later in life when visiting Hawaii for his comeback tour! Like most come-back tours, it did not end well, as Cook was part of a tasty farewell feast on his final night.
As with a number of Cook’s voyagers, he managed run his ship, The Endeavour, around on a rock, which is called Whale Rock, as Cook first thought he’d run into a whale. He only worked out that it was actually a rock, when he hit it again on the way out!
Most of the islands are protected areas and a significant effort has been put into the eradication of introduced predators and pests. Many islands have had their natural beauty restored having eradicated feral cats, rats, foxes, dogs and possums. Yes… possums. Despite them being cute and protected in Australia, they’re horrible, rabid and evil in New Zealand and make nice warm blankets.
The boat headed out to the Hole In The Rock, which is an amazing hole in a rock that’s been eroded by the sea over time. The vaulting cliffs above the wall are dressed with a beautiful light canopy of greenery and passing through the hole in the rock on the boat is a wonderful experience. On the other side, you can see the old lighthouse, once kerosene, then diesel, now replaced by an automated solar powered beacon. The lighthouse keeper’s house also remains and I was informed it’s listed as $15 per night to stay, although it’s a six hour walk to get there and possibly haunted! Still… $15 for one of the most spectacular views imaginable!
It’s quite ironic that this area of first contact with Europeans in New Zealand and the start of introduced species, is at the forefront of removing introduced species. The exception is the “introduced” tourist who help fund the conservation work being done.
Once off the boat, I managed to go for a hike to the top of some amazing cliffs. Looking down with slight trepidation, I could see the clear azure water and slight swell splashing into one of the tiny bays. Heading to the highest point on the island, I could see 360 degrees of amazing rugged coast line, open ocean and islands dotted all over the place. A truly spectacular area of natural beauty and one in which ground dwelling birds such as the native Kiwi are being protected and their numbers rebuilt having previously been decimated by the possum. Not quite, but it sounds more dramatic than foxes and dogs which get blamed for many things.
Going somewhere like this helps you to appreciate the importance of protecting our natural environment. Humans and natural wonders can live hand in hand, but it requires us to think about how we’re impacting on an ecosystem and what we need to do to effectively care for and manage our surroundings. As the world decreases the number of mindless jobs with automation, perhaps this will allow that with more time, energy and resources, these can be spent on protecting the environment we have.
Due to the efforts of NZ Department of Conservation, numerous endangered species of birds, plants and animals have been given a second chance to live in a balanced and natural environment, once shattered by the inevitable colonisation and modernisation of the world and now restored. Let’s just hope that the New Zealanders don’t release the Kiwi on our shores as revenge for the possum. Apparently, they’re very territorial and have a long pointy beak which could wreak havoc on our nation!
Whilst I know it’s ironic that I don’t have a great love of university, considering I’ve managed to collect several degrees over the years, that’s not the point and this is not about me!
The other day I was having a discussion with a graduating teacher and what were the most important things which had or hadn’t been part of the course. The one thing which emerged was the fact that nothing was ever taught, workshopped or even covered about effectively building rapport with students. Thinking back to my days at uni, my course was the same. There was plenty of time wasted on pointless nonsense, but nothing on the most important thing a teacher needs to be able to do.
It seems for universities, that building effective relationships in the classroom is just an afterthought. One of the problems is however, the fact that uni lecturers don’t spend any real time in real school classrooms. Therefore, all of their educational knowledge is heavily theoretical. The lack of practical application becomes obvious throughout teachers’ careers and it’s often something teachers can really struggle with, especially as they become increasingly a facilitator and not someone who has an expert body of knowledge. Consequently, if developing positive rapport in the classroom wasn’t important enough before, it’s now absolutely critical to the success of students’ education, as we learn best from those people to whom we relate.
Previously, a lot of teachers could get away with a strong content knowledge and poor ability to relate to anyone. You would often find these people hiding in boarding schools behind canes. They knew the one textbook back to front and were great at mindlessly reciting it. There’s also the unskilled “yelly type” whose only way of interacting with students is through a raised voice. These types of teachers are great at building fear and contempt, two worthless qualities in education and only lead to further student disengagement.
Why, when it’s abundantly clear that students learn best when they have a positive rapport with their teachers, is this skill not taught at uni? Is it because it’s too hard? Is it because uni lecturers don’t know what rapport is or is it because it can’t easily be tested?
Working in outdoor ed, it’s often hard to assess outcomes for students, as the effects of outdoor education might not be immediately apparent. Sometimes, it takes years for an experience or series of experiences to really solidify into a life changing one for a student. Does this mean we just don’t bother doing it? Does it mean we accept that things such as building rapport and relationships, is often difficult to gauge, but so important that we must do it anyway.
I’ve seen many new and experienced teachers with no ability to relate to students. They could just be hopeless teachers, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge that it probably wasn’t part of their training.
However, to improve classroom practice, we need teachers who can build a positive and effective rapport with students. It’s no longer the case of ‘Us and Them!’ the teachers versus the students, those with knowledge and those without. If you still look at education in those terms, it’s time to retire or become a dog trainer, as you’re quickly becoming a dinosaur as we speak.
Most of the work we do in outdoor ed revolves around rapport and relationships. Why? Because life’s all about relationships and working with others. If you want someone to be open to learning from you and your experiences, then you need to develop trust and respect. How do you do this? By listening to students, understanding what their lives are like and what challenges they face. What goals do they have? What makes them happy? What really engages them in something? This takes time, but it’s worth every minute of yours to ensure a positive learning environment.
This is something that can and should be worked on at uni, not just expected of a teacher ‘down the track’. The sooner training can be adapted to focus on what’s important, the faster our schools can become far more engaging and effective places in which to learn.
One of the biggest problems in any outdoor program is the blindness of experts. They’re generally people who are experts in their specific field or activity and become over-confident and blind to situations in which risk can be quite dangerous to themselves and others. However, I’m not going to be covering that right now. Instead I’d like to coin the term, ‘The Idiot Blindspot!’ What happens when inexperienced and incompetent people think they know what they’re doing when they truly don’t?
The idiot blindspot is a dangerous place in which to be operating, as there’s actually no consideration of risk at all. It’s merely given lip service and no real implementation of any considerations about risk are thought about nor are there any systems in place to manage risks. These are the people you want to avoid like they plague. They are your classic copy and paste crew who think that a risk management document is what risk management is about and once you have that document (copied and pasted from someone else), that whatever you do after that is ok.
The ‘whatever you do after that is ok’ approach can be a strange and nerve wracking experience for someone who is able to read situations. Sadly, if unaddressed, the idiots involved tend to end up in front of coroners having caused life-shattering damage to those they should have been protecting. They will then make excuses for their behaviour and lack of judgment.
I’ve experienced a few idiots over the years and despite going to great lengths to explain the reasons why we should or should not do something, they would invariably not see reason. In fact, they would get quite defensive and hostile at the suggestion that what they were considering was perhaps not that well thought out.
Unfortunately, I can think of a number of occasions that this has happened. One was a rafting exercise where the activity was being conducted in a tidal creek, which had a sucky mud base and was murky to the point that you couldn’t see 10cm below the surface. What better way to run a raft building exercise than to have students testing their make-shift crafts in this environment with no life jackets on. But wait, there’s more! Not only were there no personal flotation devices being used, the activity spontaneously changed into students wrestling with each other on the makeshift rafts attempting to throw each other off into the murky water. For someone with at least half a brain, you could reasonably foresee problems with this activity. Sadly, the idiots running it could not.
“Why didn’t you stop the activity?” I hear you shouting in disbelief!!! Well, I wasn’t actually there. The idiots had filmed all of this and could be heard encouraging the wrestling on the dodgy rafts. I already had my doubts about these members of staff, and now here we were seeing their stupidity in full-flight. Operating your risk management based upon pure luck is not something that should ever be done. Nor is letting an idiot run an activity such as this, with no regard for even the most basic notions of student safety. The difficulty in this situation was that the person running the activity was my boss, which only added to the dangerous nature of the organisation’s idiot blindspot.
On a number of different occasions, I’ve found myself in a bizarre arguments over weather warnings, equipment usage and group dynamics, all of which materially impact on safety. However, there’s a difference between a robust discussion with experienced and knowledgable colleagues versus complete idiots, especially when the complete idiots think they’re amazing and know what they’re doing. No advice is better than any advice from someone who knows nothing about risk management. A very dangerous mix, which if left unaddressed has the potential to put you in front of the coroner. Sadly, it’s usually the death of an innocent child that the coroner is investigating and not the idiot whose lack of judgment and understanding led to the accident.
If your organisation has people like this in it, get rid of them as fast as possible. They’re not going to benefit from any sort of professional development or training, as they completely lack the understanding and ability to understand risk and how to be situationally aware. It’s often not until an activity or expedition is in motion that risks (which were copied and pasted on that dusty document) become apparent. Being able to read situations is critical to good risk management and ensuring that all your activities and programs run well and are beneficial to everyone involved.
Before you let any staff loose on programs with any level of risk, then they’re well trained and are mentored along the way. It does take time and experience to develop situational awareness. However, once you’ve detected the idiots, you know they have to go. You don’t need the idiots. They contribute nothing other than red flags and an immense danger to you and everyone around you and the faster you can understand their blindness to risk and take them out of the mix, the better off your organisation will be.
Recently, I listened to a really rubbish attempt at a debrief that tried to explain FOMO (fear of missing out) to a group of high school students. As I listened to what was being said, it made me think. To be honest, it was approaching the issue from the wrong angle.
The world is a noisy place, filled with pointless distractions and mindless nonsense that really shouldn’t be given the time of day, yet most people focus on the nonsense and miss what’s important in life. The digital world has provided great opportunities for us, but at the same time has provided us with a toxic waste dump of thoughtless opinions from people who have experienced nothing of life.
The teen ‘influencer’ is a classic example of this idiotic gravitation of countless people towards someone whose only talent is taking selfies and vocalising how distressed they are about growing up and how this piece of clothing makes them feel. It’s a sad and pathetic time that will no doubt be looked back upon in years to come with great distain. Revolting youth is no longer about a punk rock movement wanting to change the world. Instead it’s become about marketing companies manipulating our youth in the most revolting ways.
The problem is however, that so many of our youth are captivated by this stupidity. The device addiction that is on the increase is fuelled by the idea that if you don’t get enough likes for a post, or you don’t like enough of other people’s posts, your world will come crashing down. If this is your world, it’s time to find another one in which to live because it’s all a load of rubbish!
I’ve heard a number of people talk about FOMO and each time, I get the sense that it’s the wrong approach, focussing on all the things that people are worried about missing out on, rather than being excited to miss out on things that are meaningless. We shouldn’t be talking about the fear of missing out. Instead, we should be talking about the Joy of Missing Out and why being able to get away from the pointless noise is the best thing we can do!
The first thing we need to do is acknowledge that the digital world is filled with rubbish. Unfortunately, we have a generation of kids who have been baby sat by smartphones. (Receive another look of distain from our future descendants). Despite some great technology that’s been invented and some amazing digital gems out there, most of what occupies the digital world is noisy rubbish, deliberately designed to capture and hold our attention for ridiculous amounts of time. The idea that ‘something is happening in the world and I’m not part of it,’ is a mantra that marketing people want you to believe. The more we think we’re missing out, the more we need to be online getting bombarded by marketing messages. Therefore, the first thing we need to do is take it out of the equation and realise that what we’re actually missing out on are real relationships and experiences with real people.
The problem is that if we focus our attention on the fear of missing out on something. We actually miss the opportunity to be excited about the fact we can happily miss out on something and the world will not collapse. It will not implode if we don’t go online for a month or miss seeing what some random stranger ate for breakfast. It’s a challenge for us to retrain a generation addicted to the noise. However, it can be exciting missing out on something because through doing so, you can have an experience that nobody else is having.
Consequently, we should be focusing on the great benefits of missing out. One program I worked on, we took everyone’s phones for 24 days. The impact this had was so positive. Time was spent with each other, not with a random digital stranger that could now even be a chat bot. Students started to appreciate the fact that it really didn’t matter that they weren’t connected for extended periods of time. Their experiences were real and far more fulfilling than before. It’s a wonderful experience being able to disconnect from the world. Forget the FOMO and start focusing on the JOMO! It’s great not to have to worry about the endless noise and once we’ve instilled in others that it really is just noise, then we can start to help and support them to enjoy the moments they miss out. Enjoy the quiet. Enjoy finding his or her own fun and not relying on what the rest of the world tells them is fun.
The noisier the world gets, the more important it is for us as outdoor educators to help our students cut through that noise and appreciate the fact that sometimes missing out on what ‘everyone else is doing’ is the most joyful experience you can imagine.
Today we find ourselves at an exciting time in history. The digital revolution has dramatically changed the world and continues to do so at a frantic pace. Unfortunately, many people haven’t yet realized the scope of what’s going on. We’re in the midst of the second greatest Renaissance in the history of the world! Never before have we seen such upheaval and rapid change than that of the digital age. However, before we explore how the digital age is swiftly destroying the effectiveness of our traditional education system, let’s look back at the last Renaissance which took roughly 300 years to run its course.
From the 14th Century onwards, a radical shift in thinking occurred in Europe. Rather than just mindlessly stabbing each other with swords, knowledge was emerging as power. This social and cultural ‘rebirth’ which started in Italy, was driven by powerful families such as the Medici who sought out ancient texts from Greece, Rome and the Middle East. From this came different ways of thinking and monumental shifts in Art and Culture that transformed the world. A form of education known as Humanism reintroduced philosophy, poetry and progressive thinking to a Europe that was still emerging from the dark ages. The result was that now, nation states had more intelligent and well-educated people who could crack a witty joke before stabbing you with their sword.
Unlike today, during the Renaissance, England was in the process of exiting Europe after the 100 Years War, Russia had a slightly aggressive foreign policy stance and there was conflict in the Middle East. It was a time when the world was flat, the sun revolved around the earth and the printing press had just been invented. The Chinese had already invented similar mass production printing approximately 600 years earlier, but we shouldn’t let the facts get in the way of a good European story!
Legendary artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo were busy sculpting and painting naked frescoes all over the Vatican. However, the Council of Trent in 1564, decided that nudity was shockingly unnatural and consequently employed another artist, Daniele da Volterra to take his paint brush to the shocking nudes and paint underpants on them, thus ending the constantly whispered sniggers of blushing visiting nuns.
Let’s now race ahead to the 18th and 19th centuries to the next period of massive upheaval, known as the Industrial Revolution. This was a time when Britannia ruled the waves, the Prussian government had just limited the working week for children to 51 hours and everyone was smart enough to realise that ‘clean coal’ was complete nonsense. Jobs were being lost to automation and children were far better at using new steam powered technology than their Luddite parents. From steam trains to ships and cotton mills, everything in England was being exponentially scaled up, including the mass production of education.
In 1833, the British Government passed the Factory Act, making it compulsory for children in factories to receive two hours of education a day. By 1880, it was compulsory for children up to the age of 10 to go to school and in 1902 a system of secondary schools was established. Thus the ‘modern’ education system was born most of which still remains in place today.
Born from the dark satanic mills of Industrial England, the world of 1902 is a far cry from the world of 2018! However, what’s both exciting and worrying at the same time is the fact that the world of 2030 can, and most likely will, be vastly different from today.
The first Renaissance took around 300 years to run its course. However, in the next 10 - 15 years, we face an enormous challenge as the digital tsunami of change bears down upon us! To be honest, teenagers being able to use snapchat to communicate has not been a huge leap for mankind. Despite the average teen’s ability to play with technological devices that have more processing power in them than the first moon landing, this has done little to prepare them for the change that’s upon us. According to a recent Four Corners report, over 5 million jobs will either disappear or be significantly restructured over the next 10 - 15 years, which is around 40% of the entire Australian workforce. We’re not talking 100 years. We’re not talking generational change over 50 years. We’re talking 10 Christmas’ dinners away and almost half the jobs in Australia will have permanently changed!
Where does that leave us as educators? To put it into a school context, for those of you who lead a K-12 school, the students who are now in Kindergarten will be graduating into a vastly different social and economic world. Businesses are automating every single process they can to reduce the need for and cost of human labour, as well as leveraging emerging technologies such as AI (Artificial Intelligence) and robots that can learn. Consequently, many ‘white collar’ jobs are now disappearing.
How do we address the new reality that’s bearing down upon us faster than a handshaking, baby-kissing politician on election day? Do we A). stick some more computers and a robot in a classroom and hope a bit more eLearning ‘fixes’ it? Or B) radically shift our thinking and approach, to prepare staff and students for a rapidly changing world?
For me, the only answer is B). However, the radical shift, is basically not so radical after all and something which was originally suggested over 100 years ago by Kurt Hahn and John Dewey that learning through experience and reflection is the best educational approach to help prepare students for the challenges and complexities of life.
After watching the Four Corners episode, I decided to start my research project and learn how other experiential educators are addressing the tsunami of change. Since podcasts are trendy right now, what better way than to create a podcast about experiential education? Turns out, it’s a great way to meet interesting people and learn from their experiences.
Added to this, I love to try new things and it’s something I’ve always encouraged staff and students, to do! If we’re not living somewhat outside our comfort zones, we’re not living much at all. When I recently jumped in the deep end and created Xperiential Education (the podcast), it was not only a new experience, but a challenging one into which I had to put a lot of thought, time and energy to make it work. From this, a really valuable picture emerged of shifts in education, preparing students for an unknown future.
As an outdoor education teacher, the first episode was all about outdoor education and I travelled to New Zealand to Tihoi Venture School near Lake Taupo where I spoke with the Director Cyn Smith about their long-stay residential program for Year 10 boys. It’s a back to basics program without technology that focusses on relationships and social and emotional growth through experience and reflection. Conversely, the final interview I did with Glenys Thompson, Deputy Principal of the Australian Science & Mathematics School (ASMS) in Adelaide with its STEM focus, is heavily tech-based. However, the educational methodology for this program is essentially the same as the Tihoi Venture School’s back to basics program. Ultimately, the ASMS program is not about the technology itself, which is often a trap into which STEM programs fall. It’s all about learning and growth through experience and reflection and has produced some amazing outcomes for students.
From outdoor ed, to science, to art, to drama and ultimately to the workplace, I’ve found the core principles needed for our students to be successful in a world of constant change regardless of the environment are: critical thinking, problem solving, risk taking, adaptability and teamwork. The only way to effectively build and develop these skills is from within the students themselves through practical experiential education. Real experiences, creating authentic teachable moments, lead to reflective practices and growth within students.
Teachers who are still spoon feeding all the answers to their students to ensure they do well in exams, are failing their classes dismally. Although schools that approach education this way may get some great ‘headline’ marks for their glossy brochures, their graduating students will find it increasinly difficult to cope in a world 10 - 15 years from now that requires a flexible and adaptable skill-set that cannot be rote learnt. It has to be through interactions with others and experiences that involve levels of risk and potential for failure that students learn best.
From this, a couple of key questions for school leaders come to mind, “What are we preparing our students for?” and “How can we prepare them?”
The ‘let’s keep doing what we’ve always done’ approach is bound to fail on every level, as it did during the first Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. Let’s forget about those who don’t like change for the moment. They’re going to be left behind anyway. One of the most powerful drivers of our younger generation today is that of social justice. Millennials love a good cause, so why not leverage that in their education? The ASMS is doing exactly that, as they’ve structured their entire program around taking massive global social and economic issues that need addressing and empowering their students to develop practical solutions that leverage technology to create a better outcome for others in the world. Unless your students have that social and emotional context and skill set, this isn’t going to work well, but it’s exactly what’s needed to maximise the educational opportunities for students and prepare them for the challenges of the unknown future.
To help prepare your school, staff and students for those 10 short Christmases away and the seismic social and economic shift that’s happening around us, here’s a few suggestions:
1. If you don’t have an outdoor ed program, start one. The skills developed are the exact same critical thinking, adaptability and teamwork skills your students need to be successful in life. It also helps to build that elusive ‘resilience’ that everyone’s talking about these days.
2. Create some industry partnerships to allow students to work in businesses, social enterprises or community groups as part of an integrated, experiential education program. Many new jobs will be service-based and increasingly reliant on a person’s ability to socially interact with others. Create some authentic and mutually beneficial situations in which these interactions can occur.
3. Find ways to empower staff and students to adopt real causes and make a difference in the world. This sets the scene for a life of responsibility and consideration for others and will empower our students to shape this radically changing world with the values and moral compass they’ve been encouraged to build throughout their formative years at school.
However, the most important and the easiest thing to build into your school’s program is reflective practices.
“We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” - John Dewy
The time spent on reviewing what worked, what didn’t and how to improve next time, is far more powerful than any other approach and is adaptable to any subject and situation. This allows students to take risks and fail, yet not be afraid of failure and that’s key to surviving and thriving in a world of constant change.
We’re now in the middle of the second renaissance or global rebirth, driven by the rapid changes in technology which are reshaping our world. Whilst our traditional education system still needs to be majorly overhauled to address this shift, we shouldn’t worry too much about the future. We have a generation of students who genuinely care about the world and we still have the ability to develop unique educational programs in our own schools which can develop the social and emotional skills needed for students to succeed in whatever they choose. We are living in the most exciting time in history and as educators, we can help shape a wonderful future for our students and the world no matter what happens in 5, 10, 20 or 100 years’ time!
Recently, I wrapped up a program with a few words at the end of the night. Often these can be events which contain lots of words, but mean very little and by the end of the night you need a punchy statement that cuts through to ensure you leave a lasting impression.
I’d wrestled with my speech for days. First writing it and then rewriting it a number of times. To be honest, I do this for every speech I present, and often what is expressed during the speech is completely different from anything I’ve actually written down.
The evening had dragged on a little and the cook who’d had all day to prepare for one single meal had managed to serve dinner an hour late… but that’s another story for another time! I had a three page speech ready to go with a bunch of last minute notes scrawled all over it in marker pen for good measure. However, the energy of the room had changed and once this happens, if you go with plan A speech (which was already plan H speech), then you’re going to lose the audience and miss an opportunity to deliver something thoughtful and meaningful which leaves a lasting impression.
Hence, despite all the time and effort I put into the speech, out of the original six pages of ideas, one paragraph survived! It was a quick and witty interlude which set some historical context. Everything else was gone and it was impromptu speaking time!
At the start of the program, I’d asked all the students, “What’s something special about you that you bring to the community?” This stumped everyone, as they weren’t expecting this sort of question. However, the question wasn’t designed to confound everyone. It was designed to get them thinking. Therefore, I referred back to this conversation and asked again but in the past tense, “What did you bring to the community?”
This then led me to the most important point of the evening. I always find myself doing this at business functions, parties and any sort of gathering. One of the first questions I ask is, “What do you do?” This is an easy, yet rubbish question. Great for small talk, but it preloads so many false assumptions about someone based upon a job. The extension of this to the school context is that teachers always ask, “What do you want to do?” This expects a student to have all their plans in place, despite the fact that due to the rapidly changing digital world, by the time they graduate, a stack of jobs that exist today will no longer exist.
Instead, as educators we should be asking a far more powerful and meaningful question, “Who do you want to be?” Thus, I put this to them! After ten weeks of living in a community and building real relationships with real people, what have you learnt about the importance of community? What qualities and skills did you end up bringing to our community? What did you learn about yourself and others?
It’s so important that we impress on our students that their lives are not defined by a job. It’s not defined by a single result as they leave school. Instead, it’s defined by that simple statement, “Who do you want to be?” What are the qualities you bring to a community? How do you treat others? How do you take the skills you’ve learnt and not only grow within yourself, but to work within and lead others in a community?
Our measure of success for students should be their ability to answer this question! As the world becomes increasingly automated, jobs change. However, relationships and being able to help solve global problems through technology and communities, will become even more important for every single person so…
“Who do you want to be?”
Ok! Before everyone switches off and says that’s an Australian state specific topic, just hold up for a sec, as this is an important discussion that all primary and secondary education systems need to be having.
To put this in some context, New South Wales (NSW), which is in fact nowhere near South Wales, has one of the biggest centralised departments of education in the world! It’s a behemoth, that’s responsible for over 2,000 schools and soon to have around 1 Million students! So whatever direction they decide to head in, it will have a lasting impact on Australian education moving forward and ultimately our competitive positioning in the world.
It’s the first time since the 1980s that a serious revision of the curriculum has been undertaken. Long gone are the outrageous hair styles, the punchy electro synth music and stunning block colours of the 80s, which mostly went out of style 5 years before it came in. However, we still have a curriculum that was shaped by the thoughts, ideas and social influences of that time. It’s a scary thought if you’ve ever seen Devo!
This is concerning and disturbing on many levels. However, it highlights the fact that despite how rapidly our world has changed, the systems of education and what’s being taught have essentially remained the same. The world seems to have lurched forward into the 21st century whilst the old school masters remain yelling from the front of the room at students, ‘What do you want to do with your life????’ (Insert kid saying, ‘I Wanna Rock!’ and have a glam rock band appear for dramatic effect)!
So with my future focused mind, I wrote a submission for the new curriculum and highlighted the need for more experiential education as part of the curriculum. This shouldn’t be co-curricula. This shouldn’t be an optional extra that students do after school in code clubs, or through Duke of Ed. This should be completely integrated into the curriculum. So many teachers visit Norway to see what they’re doing in terms of in and out of classroom work there. They come back raving about Norway and hold it up as a model to be followed, but why don’t we see this sort of system being implemented here in reality?
People often cite the restrictive curriculum that stops them from reshaping their broken systems, so if that’s really the case, it’s now time to make that curriculum less restrictive and more experiential based. Throw out the HSC or whatever other leaving certificate that’s being done. This is essentially a waste of time for most students who never go close to going to uni and is just another outdated metric, like Madonna’s lace gloves.
I also love the German system of education, which enables choice with three different streams. If you want to go to uni, then take that stream. If you want to do a trade, take that stream. If you’re not sure, but want a balanced education, take that stream. We only have one stream in Australia and it’s neither experiential, nor beneficial to the majority of our students, so another massive point for improvement there!
Education needs to be reshaped to meet the needs of a new era. We have all the information we could possibly want at our finger tips, so let’s stop wasting time trying to memorise it. Instead, learn how to use that knowledge and apply it to global problems which affect our lives and the lives of others around the world. The most effective way of doing this is through practical experience. Learning to apply problem solving skills and reflecting on the outcome is critical to the success of any future education system. If your local education office, district or state start to review what’s being taught, jump in there and insist that it really does need to be more like Norway or Hahnish and that experience will always be the best form of education.
Canberra is an awesome place for mountain biking. With a range of well-maintained tracks close to town, they're convenient, accessible and a great way to spend a day or just wind down after work.
Mount Stromlo is a premiere location for Mountain Biking, with hundreds of different interconnected tracks and trails, all maintained by the local council. There's something for everyone here. For the beginner, there's an awesome playground area which is sign-posted with handy hints on how to ride each section. Full of logs, obstacles, berms, rollovers, seesaws and a pump track, this is great for basic training and skills development.
On the mountain itself, there are six major courses to ride, which can be combined or chopped and changed to create countless unique riding experiences. There's everything from the green beginner tracks to some wild double black diamonds for the expert rider. Stromlo has many days worth of tracks to ride and it's well worth planning a trip there with this in mind. From skills development to adrenaline pumping down hills, this is one fantastic place to ride.