Last year I bought a keep cup! Being a coffee addict, who must have a decent coffee each day, after watching the ABC’s ‘War On Waste’ documentary, I realised there’s so many ways we can reduce our impact and ultimately save time money and energy. The first step was for me to stop using disposable cups for coffee and instead keep using the one cup each day. Plus I got the right size that maximises the coffee flavour and reduces the wasted milk, a win for good coffee all around. The places that give a 20¢ or 30¢ discount when you bring your own cup are fantastic, as that’s an even better incentive to use your own cup. From a business point of view, it’s costing around 10¢ to 20¢ per take-away cup anyway and add to this the storage space needed and cost of ordering and carrying disposables, then you’ve more than balanced out the cost on this.
However, stepping away from the business case for a moment, what impact can this have in a year. If I’m having at least one coffee a day or more likely, two, this is anywhere from 365 to 500ish cups a year that won’t go into landfill. If you then extend this over a large population, it suddenly turns into millions of cups and tons of waste that can’t be recycled. Now the ABC’s documentary covered all of this in great detail, so I won’t repeat it all here. What’s been interesting with people’s rhetoric about environmental impact is that when people say the problem is too big and we can’t do anything about it, then we must challenge this assumption because it’s a load of rubbish, quite literally.
Students today are faced with cleaning up a massive dilemma that’s been caused by cheap products and the disposable nature of everything. Like many problems I’ve encountered through work over the years, they were never of my making, but I ended up being tasked with the clean up job, which is often quite unpleasant to say the least, but ultimately needed to be done by someone to ensure sustainability and growth of something over the long-term.
I was recently in Kyoto and this reminded me of the fact that back in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was signed, which set targets for lowering emissions and tackling climate change. However, twenty one years on, we’re still facing the growing impact on the waste we produce. The US and Australia have recently claimed it’s all too hard and we shouldn’t really do anything about it until somebody else does. This is a massive cop out and it’s like a situation where someone has a heart attack in a crowded place. They’re less likely to be helped by anyone, because everyone else is waiting for someone else to do something about it. However, if we’re trying to teach and show leadership in this space, then we can buck this trend and help out despite everyone else’s hesitation.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not about becoming a tree hugging greeny and abandoning the modern world to go and live in a commune. If you’re thinking of doing that, well that’s nice for you, but not what I’m getting at. Instead, it’s about seeing the problem for what it is and its negative impact on the world. Most climate change ‘deniers’ are purely looking at it from what they think is an ‘industry’ point of view, which means if we do something about it, it will hurt jobs growth and our industries. Given the fact that businesses are more likely to look for opportunities to reduce waste, reduce costs and develop new ways of doing things, the political point of view is often in stark contrast with the opportunity for new ventures. It’s these new ventures which our students of today will not only want to do, but if we don’t approach the issue now, they’ll be forced to do, but at a greater cost.
So how can we examine and reduce our impact over the next year? Either from a personal perspective or at school, why not create some measurable metrics that you, your family and/or the students create?
Firstly, identify areas in which you create a significant amount of waste and organise it into what can be reduced, reused or recycled. Put a big visual chart on the wall where you can record what was done, used, or not used each day, or week, making sure that the time periods and what you’re recording is measurable. The coffee cup is a great place to start, as Australians are overwhelmingly addicted to their daily coffee. What about getting your newspaper online? What about annoying checkout chicks by combining fruit and veg in a single bag? What about walking instead of driving? Look at all of the daily routines and consumption and see what could be reduced? How much money could this save you in a year?
When you’ve worked all of this out, why not also get a piggybank and for every time you make a saving, why not put that 5, 10, 20¢ or $1 or 2 in the piggybank and see how much you have reduced your costs by the end of the year. This is a great project to do at home with the family or at school with the students and a valuable environmental and business exercise.
The reality is that we do have an impact on our environment and we also have a responsibility to look after the environment, because the more damage we do now, the greater the mess will be for the next generation to clean up. Whilst I enjoy walking away from a cleaned up mess, the time, energy and effort that goes into the clean up, it is always far greater than preventing the mess in the first place. Next year, look at what you can do to help address a global issue that affects us all. Even if your neighbours aren’t doing their bit, forget them. Show some leadership and take the responsibility into your own hands, because the difference you make, can help shape a better future for everyone.
Ok! You’re probably back at work this week after having had six or seven weeks off over the summer break. Sadly, as with pretty much every other year, you’re most likely sitting in a school hall/auditorium being talked at by someone with ‘great’ ideas about teaching. They’re probably talking endlessly about some new crappy research or study they’ve done over the break whilst you were just lazily stretched out on the beach.
I always enjoy the attempted guilt tripping by some people in schools, as it highlights how poorly they’ve thought through the whole back to school concept each year. One strange person I used to work with would regale everyone with stories of how hard he worked in the holidays. None of us ever knew on what exactly, as there was never anything that actually needed doing over this time, but all the same, apparently he’d turned up each day to do it.
However, rather than force everyone to politely sit in meetings all day on the first day back, why not carry on the spirit of the holiday season and have a day out! Since sitting in a room tends to achieve nothing anyway, what have you to lose?
Now what would be a far better use of time would be the welcome back staff initiatives day! Don’t tell them in advance. Surprise everyone with it. Come up with a day of challenging adventures and activities involving team building and problem solving. Start with something like a locked room scenario and then move onto a scavenger hunt style rogaine for which the clues ultimately lead to a central location where staff gather for a BBQ dinner to celebrate the start of a new year.
This not only would be awesome fun, but gets teachers in the frame of mind for a year ahead in which they might face challenges they’ve never come across before. Helping staff to build practical confidence working with others and solving problems can help with all sorts of unforeseen issues that crop up every year in schools. The dinner afterwards to celebrate is always a good way to show gratitude in advance. Often we only have parties or celebrations at the end of things, but what better way to motivate and build staff morale than saying thank you ahead of time.
The educational benefit for this sort of day for both staff and students is the fact that the more education needs to focus on the transference of experiences and the development of practical skills, the more teachers need to have this sort of skill set themselves. This is therefore not only a great way to start the year, but a great way to help positively develop staff in a fun and proactive way.
Unfortunately, if you’re reading this on the first day back this year, you’re probably sitting in a room filled with teachers dreading the next six hours. But hey, there’s always next year! Have a wonderful year ahead!
With the start of a new year, there’s always the hope and anticipation of something new and something better! People look for change and there are high hopes all around that that change will actually come.
However, we all know most people can’t keep a New Year’s resolution for more than a day or so, so let’s not even bother with that. Instead, I want to look at why teachers must be prepared to reinvent themselves over and over again.
For most people this can be difficult, but for teachers even more so. In the past year, I was running a program which had many challenges arise throughout, one of which was the chef walking out, leaving us to cater for eighty people ourselves. Now I won’t go into all the details surrounding this as we don’t have that much time, but when I expected other teachers to adapt, jump in and get cooking, I got the response from many of them, ‘We’re just teachers, we can’t be expected to cook.’ Having run a number of businesses, as well as residential programs, this approach doesn’t sit well with me, as sometimes we find ourselves in situations, not of our own making, but we have to find a solution one way or another.
This made me think, after I quickly worked out how to cook for eighty people with one other staff member who was prepared to give it a go. Why are so many teachers reluctant to try anything new?
To me, this seems at odds with the whole concept of teaching. You really do need to be able to think on your feet and adapt to situations as they change. Although most teachers will never be in a situation where you find yourself cooking for a lot of people, you never know what you might need to do to remain relevant in today’s changing world.
For me, teaching others has always been at the core of what I’ve done. Whilst I may move from business to education, to politics, to business and back to education, empowering others to develop and grow within themselves appears in every single context in which I’ve worked. However, to truly appreciate the place of education in today’s rapidly changing world, the experiences outside of education have been far more valuable than the experiences within education itself.
Ultimately, I’ve found myself reinventing myself time and time again. From electrical salesman to political staffer, computer technician, teacher, barista, café owner and tech entrepreneur, each time I’ve changed what I’ve been doing, I’ve felt far more energised and motivated than before and it has all helped me be a better teacher. Fancy that! Experiential Education is the best form of education possible.
However, most teachers and most people never reinvent themselves or what they do. If they start to feel stale in what they’re doing, they will often just grind it out and keep doing the same thing in the hope it will get better. The fact is that it won’t! Stale teachers, are hopeless teachers, incapable of doing anything useful, let alone teach. Now there’s not the need for anyone to reinvent themselves as many times as I have, unless you really feel like it. However, taking time out from teaching to work in another industry, or completely different role, is not only healthy, but moving forward, I believe, will be critical to the success of teachers in the modern world. If teachers are expected to teach their students how to be flexible, adaptable, dynamic, critical thinking problem solvers, then they themselves need these sorts of qualities and the only way you get these qualities is through real life experience, which often doesn’t happen inside the confines of a school.
Therefore, at the tipping point of the new year, are you feeling stale? Are you feeling like you’re no longer being challenged? If so, why not take some time off and go and work in another job, something completely different. The experience and skills you will gain from this will be more empowering and worthwhile than a thousand staff ‘development’ days and when you go back to teaching, this experience away from teaching will have made you a far better teacher than before. Having gone in and out of education for years, I’ve found every time I come back, I’ve learnt something new and useful, because it’s through our experiences that we always learn the most. Why not give something new a go this next year? With so much to be gained, it’s always well worth it!
This year has been an interesting one to say the least. When looking back, it’s hard to know where to start as every single month has been filled with adventure, drama, challenges and most of all, problem solving on the run. To say I’ve learnt a lot about leadership, business, politics and education would be somewhat of an understatement. I’ve also learnt very quickly how to cook for eighty people, but the details of that is a story for another time. For now, it was just another day in the life of random problem solving that needed to be done.
Sometimes we get so caught up in doing things, such as cooking for eighty people, we can forget just how much we achieve and grow in a year. If I look back at what I’ve done, I’ve actually hit many of the goals I set for myself around this time last year, but also, through the randomness of life, have ended up meeting new people, re-connecting with old friends and achieving so much more than I’d ever imagined. It’s not been an easy year by any stretch of the imagination and I’ve had days where things were almost overwhelming, but through our experiences we grow and I can safely say that I’ve grown a lot over the past twelve months.
Looking back on the year that was, I’ve travelled to the other side of the world twice, zigzagged the Australian countryside for work, business, politics and fun, been to New Zealand, Canada, USA and Tasmania - possibly another country… the jury’s still out on this! I’ve read many books and seen and experienced some amazing things. One of the proudest moments though was when I launched the Xperiential Education podcast, which was not only so much fun to do, the response to it was awesome and I can’t thank our listeners enough for tuning in and providing some cool ideas for the next season, which I haven’t had time to record yet. Sorry… It’s been a kind of hectic year!
Some goals however, still haven’t been achieved, but rather than be disheartened by that fact, it’s an opportunity to explore why they weren’t achieved and what’s the next steps that need to be put in place so that will bring me one more a step closer to achieving them? Sometimes, big goals take longer than a year to achieve, so it’s a better measure to track progress on these, rather than look at it from a binary success or failure point of view. Often in life, things turn out to be far more complicated than first thought, so we need to be able to adapt and quickly!
For me this happened on a number of fronts. The integration of the Xcursion software platform to a number of school databases took longer than I’d expected due to the complexity of the system, but it’s now done, having adapted and problem-solved throughout the year on this project. I found another program I was running needed to essentially be rebuilt from scratch, which always takes far more time to do. Whilst often a single job can be done in a short amount of time, when you find that it’s a repetitive job, it’s better to build a system that works, rather than reinvent the same thing time and time again. However, most people don’t do this, as it initially takes longer to build a system than it does to do a single job. Yet the long-term benefit of creating a system is massive and if you ever want to be truly successful in what you do, then you need to build repeatable and effective systems.
Throw in a state pre-selection, overseas travel, some cool expeditions and the premiere of a film I was involved in last year, then you have tens of thousands of kms travelled, lots of late nights, early mornings tons of coffee and a bunch of cool experiences which at the end of the day, all translate into great relatable, teachable moments for students. The more I adventure outside of ‘traditional’ education, the more I find I can use to relate back to effective teaching and learning practices.
It has indeed been a crazy year filled with so many challenges and both positive and negative experiences, but when we take stock of everything we’ve done over a year, we often find that despite the craziness, we’ve managed to do and achieve far more than we had ever hoped to. I encourage you to take a look back at your own year that’s just been, to see just how much you’ve been able to do and how you can apply this to those you’re teaching. I think you’ll surprise yourself at how much you’ve been able to achieve in such a short period of time!
This year has been an amazing transformative one! The more we learn ourselves, the more effective we are as educators. From working out how to hack together a series of audio recordings into a cohesive podcast series to running a long-stay residential outdoor education program, I learnt a lot about problem solving, adaptability and resilience.
When faced with problems, which to many might seem insurmountable, I’ve learnt there are always ways around them. It’s just taking the time to be resourceful enough to find a workable solution. This is something that from my own experiences, I’ve been able to model and reflect upon with staff and students. I saw an interesting presentation about healthy habits for the brain. One part really stood out. The presenter commented, when working with students, don’t allow anyone, including yourself to say, ‘I can’t do this’. Instead reframe everything into, ‘How can I do this?’ One blocks the creative process. The other opens your mind to endless possibilities. This simple shift has helped me find the answers to countless challenges this year and is something I’ve worked hard to instill in my students, so no matter what is thrown at them, they can open their minds, adapt and find innovative solutions to anything.
Merry Christmas and thanks for reading throughout the year, it really means lot I hope you've had a wonderful challenging year and all the best for 2019!
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?
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.
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?”
There’s always a lot to think about when preparing for an outdoor ed camp. Assuming you know where you’re going and what you’re doing sorted, then it’s time to prepare the finer details.
For most teachers, this is where it can become overwhelming. Often the feeling is, “I want to run an enjoyable and safe trip… but where do I start?”
The first thing to do is develop your risk management plan. Many other things will simply fall into place once this is done. Although the bane of many teachers’ existence, a good risk management plan can save you considerable time and effort down the line.
When building your plan, look at your daily routine and work out what the key risks are for each activity and how you will accept, eliminate or mitigate these risks. You’ll need to consider things such as time of year (season), weather, temperatures, location and emergency exit points. Add to this the specific risks for each activity in those locations at that time of the year and you’ll start to build a picture of what your key risks are and how you’re going to address them.
With your risk management strategy created, remember, this is a living document not a copy and paste job which just makes up part of the ‘annoying paperwork.’ All staff need to be aware of risks and mitigation strategies and be prepared to react and respond if and when it’s needed.
The next step is to sort permission notes, get updated medicals and provide a student packing list with all the items they need to bring (and things they shouldn’t). Have a detailed plan ready to go before you send this out to parents. You’re bound to get lots of questions so the more detailed the itinerary you can provide upfront, the better.
For the equipment list, clearly specify quantity and quality of what’s required. Whilst I know some parents might not be able to supply this, as a matter of safety, it’s important that you’re able to cater for any shortfall. One of the most important pieces of equipment is a set of thermals. Even in warmer months, it’s good safety practice to carry some thermals in case of emergency and if you’re running an autumn or winter camp, it’s essential that all students have a set. The reason being (not just to support our great wool industry), hypothermia is always a significant environmental risk due to wet and windy conditions in Australia.
With permissions notes, medicals and gear all sorted, it’s time to brief everyone! This is often overlooked, but it’s vitally important to run a pre-camp briefing for staff and students. This goes back to pro-active risk management. Set the scene, set the expectations and build the excitement for camp. After all, you’ve just spent weeks preparing something very special it’s now time to tell everyone about it! Showing images from a previous camp and location on a map, is a great way to put into perspective some of the experiences they’re about to have.
With all this done, it’s down to the last items and you’re ready to go! First Aid kits, spare Asthma Puffer, spare EpiPen, any medications, groups lists, medical summaries, food and you’re good to go! By the way… did anyone book the buses?
If you’ve ever read anything about organisational management, be it on teambuilding or leadership in the workplace, you’re bombarded with discussions on ‘culture.’ Culture is basically the shared values and beliefs that a group of people see as important and sets the standard for social and behavioural expectations within the group.
I’ve worked for schools which have had good cultures and some, unfortunately, which have had very bad cultures. The result of a school’s culture, good, bad or indifferent, impacts on the quality of the educational experience, the welfare of students and ultimately their growth, development and ability to transition out of school and mature over the long-term. You only have to look at recent examples of initiations happening at some university colleges in Australia to see how bad culture can lead to horrendous situations. Consequently, developing a positive culture with clear behavioural expectations within the school is vitally important for both social and academic growth. How exactly can outdoor education help?
Outdoor ed is a fertile ground for helping build a positive culture within your school as the learning space provides a far more emotional context for learning. It’s this emotional and empathetic side of students with which you need to connect, to be able to build trust and help students develop understanding and empathy for others. To begin with, the outdoors provides us with unique spaces, contexts and experiences which are vastly different from that of the regular classroom. It changes people’s states of mind and when you change your state of mind, you can learn, grow and develop far more effectively.
In a noise-filled digital world, an outdoor education experience is an opportunity for students to disconnect from the noise and reconnect with themselves and their peers. Taking a group out into a wilderness setting will change the dynamics for them and often students will become more open to discuss feelings, concerns and share stories and experiences which they would otherwise never share. When they have the time and headspace to do this, it enables you to work on all the soft skills such as empathy, teamwork and helping others, not because they have to, but because it’s the right thing to do. It’s often hard to convey these sorts of ideals within the structure and busyness of a normal school day, but when students are put in a situation where they have to live and experience something for themselves, that’s when you can get significant gains in a short period of time.
However, outdoor education experiences are not a quick fix solution and it can’t be done in isolation. What happens in the outdoors needs to be effectively transferred and translated back to daily school life for it to have any real impact. To begin with, ask yourself, what do you want to achieve from your outdoor program? Is it just a fun experience for students hiking or canoeing in the bush? Or is it far deeper than that? Are you aiming to push comfort zones, test thresholds and building resilience? Are you aiming to develop students’ empathy for others? Understand diversity? Gain independence? Build healthy relationships? To maximise the effectiveness of your outdoor ed programs and consequently use them to help build a positive culture within your school, you need to be clear about your objectives. They need to be natural, genuine and acceptable within the school body so you can get strong buy-in from the staff, parents and students before you even think about going off site somewhere.
This buy-in across the board is extremely important, as you can’t develop culture in isolation. One residential program I worked on a number of years ago had a few cultural problems to say the least. One of them was a confusion over what the actual aims and objectives were for the program. On the one hand you had experienced outdoor education staff who would lead the expeditions with clear set expectations that the students were leading each trip and were responsible for everything. The only time we would step in was if there were a safety issue. On the other hand, you had teachers back at base who were teaching lessons during the day and providing an old style of boarding house supervision at night with an overwhelming sense that the students needed to be constantly directed and told what to do. This was a massive disconnect, which ultimately left students confused and feeling disempowered, as they were expected to be independent problem solvers one moment and mindless regimented robots the next. Admittedly, this was an unusual situation. However, it highlights how an outdoor program can’t successfully shape culture in isolation. The learning and expectations need to be carried and supported back into the classroom and daily life at school, otherwise the value of the experience can become seriously diminished.
In contrast, I was working for a school in Melbourne and had the great opportunity to go out on a rock climbing expedition with a group of year 10 students. One of the students we took out with us was a special needs student who usually had a carer with him. However, this time there was no carer. I went on the trip fully expecting to spend most of my time looking after this one student, but to my great surprise all of the students in the group took it in turns to help him. They made sure he was included in the group, made sure that at meal times he was looked after and they genuinely encouraged him every day when rock climbing, even though he couldn’t do any of the climbs the other students were doing. This was an amazing thing to see. Each night after dinner, we ran a debrief about the day and discussed some wider issues around social responsibilities. The thoughtful ideas that were expressed by the students blew me away. This was a school that had instilled in its students a wonderful and genuine culture of caring for others. There was no confusion. There was no disconnect. There was a natural clarity of responsibility and purpose.
When I looked back at the way in which the outdoor education program was sequentially structured at that school from year 5 through to year 10, I could see how the clear aims and objectives, the staff, student and parent buy-in and the continuation of the same themes of community service and social responsibility back at school were all working together to help build this very positive culture. This is the critical key to success and can provide enormous benefits for students and staff throughout their time at the school. If you want to develop and shape positive culture in your school, then leverage outdoor experiences by setting clear goals and expectations and transferring them from what happened in the outdoor context, back into the wider context of life at your school. The process does take time, but the benefits that you’ll see over the long-term can be astounding.