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!
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.
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?”
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.
Work satisfaction is always an interesting challenge. Often people are in jobs just because of the money and I can’t criticize that as a motivation. After all, people need to live. However, what do you really want to be doing? A vitally important question for those looking at jobs, looking at careers, and setting goals is “Do you really want to be working in the job you’re in?” Or do you want to be doing something else? Often we look at other people’s jobs and think, ‘Wow, that looks amazing! I really want to be doing that!’
However, job envy is an interesting problem. For example, often people look at the work I’ve done over the years and say to me, ‘Oh, you have the best job!’ You work in the best location.’ Some of the time, they’re quite right, because I’ve shaped the way in which I’ve worked, to be in jobs and locations that I’ve really enjoyed. However, sometimes no matter how fun the job might appear, due to of the culture within an organisation, it can be a horrible place in which to turn up to work everyday.
The best job I had to date, was as Director of Outdoor Education for a Victorian School. Unfortunately, it was only a long service leave replacement role and for some reason, the person I was replacing wanted his job back!! Unbelieveable!!!
When I started this job, I was thrown in the deep end. It was the busiest time of the year. All the camps and activities were happening one after the other. I had three weeks to prepare the entire program for hundreds of students and staffing to match, the remaining six weeks were to run the program. It was intense! A non-stop ride, as I was responsible for three campuses. It meant back to back meetings, travel, reccies, risk assessments, medical reviews and a wide range of other preparations to ensure everything ran smoothly. However, despite the long hours, I really enjoyed the job.
Another intense job I had, was on a winter snowsports program and it was fantastic. We were up first thing in the morning, had breakfast, drove to Thredbo, skied the morning, drove back down to Jindabyne and had lunch before teaching classes until 5 o’clock. There was a short break between the end of lessons and dinner, then back into prep for the evening. This was a relentless job, but what made it enjoyable was the team with which I worked.
In another outdoor education role I had many years ago, the culture within that school was so toxic and so destructive that no matter how enjoyable the activities might have been, it was horrendous to go to work everyday. The bottom line was that staff weren’t valued. When there were important issues to discuss, staff members were ignored and marginalised. This led to resentment and total dysfuntion within the organisation. Ultimately, it was a situation where you had an insanely enjoyable program in which we ran mountain biking, kayaking, sea kayaking, hiking and an enviable fitness program over six months, but as the culture grew more toxic, it didn’t matter how much fun it could have been. It ended up completely unfulfilling. Sadly, people employed to help the social and emotional development of teenagers, were totally incapable of growth themselves.
When you have incompetent management within an organisation, it destroys teams and destroys the integrity and character of a workplace. What I came into years before, which was a happy and exciting place in which to work, turned into a miserable, arduous, horrendous place that was turning over staff faster than you could blink.
As you can see on the outside, being able to turn up to work everyday in shorts and a t-shirt, teach a few lessons then go for a bike ride sounds fantastic! At one point it was. However, throw in poor management and a toxic, cancerous culture, then no matter how good it looks on the outdside, the rotting core destroys the organisation from within. The end result for us was that the programs being run were only ever half-assessed and from an educational point of view, quite ineffective.
So, one of the really critical things you need to consider whenever you’re looking at a new job or re-evaluating your current one, you have to enjoy what you’re doing because enjoyment and fulfillment sparks the next level of commitment. It sparks you to have ideas. It enables continuous improvement and it enables growth within an organisation. As that organisation grows and flourishes, so can everything else about your life. However, if you stay in a job just for the sake of the money, no matter how good that money is, eventually, you’ll end up bitter and twisted and resentful only damaging your life and the lives of those around you.
Are you happy at work? Is your job fulfilling? Are you feeling that what you’re doing everyday is important and valued? Or are you just collecting money? When you can honestly answer these questions of yourself, then you’re ready to assess how worthwhile what you’re doing truly is. If it’s just for the money, it’s time to start looking for new opportunities. However, if you feel valued and enjoy what you do, then you’re already in the right place!
A while ago I wrote about finding myself outside my comfort zone on a reccie trip with some colleagues. We were white water canoeing, something I’d never done before. It was something I found quite challenging, but a rewarding learning experience.
Learning new skills in outdoor education is a great way to keep things interesting and expand your skill set. However, what happens with something you’re very experienced in? Should you be practising it outside of work? Is what you do on the job enough practice for something at which you’re good?
Snow skiing is something I’ve done since I was 5 years old and an industry I’ve worked in for around 7 years. In terms of outdoor skills, I can safely say, snow skiing is my strongest one. However, despite this experience, I still have plenty to learn and so much more upon which to improve. However, it’s not until your skills are actually put to the test, that you realise just how much more there is to learn and why it’s so important to continually up-skill.
Recently I spent a couple of weeks overseas skiing, as it’s been a number of years since I’ve done an entire season of work at the snow. When doing seasons, you have the time to truly build your skill-set and challenge yourself in so many different ways. However, it’s surprising how quickly you lose some of your finer skills when the season’s over.
Getting back on skis for the first time in a year is always an interesting experience. I love the sound of the boot clicking into the binding, fixing my helmet and lowering my goggles ready to jump on the lift. However, despite having skied many double black diamond runs over the years, I’m not going to head for the highest peak and fang it down the most hectic run as fast as I can, launching off everything I can find. No, that would be idiotic. Instead, I like to find a nice green or blue trail to run up and down to warm up and get a feel for everything again. I’ll probably spend an entire day doing this.
When I’ve had a chance to get my balance back and regain the feel for my skis, I’m ready to start rebuilding my deteriorated skill set that time has eroded. With any outdoor skill, you’ll reach a point where you’re highly competent and things will come back to you quickly. However, without practice, similar to physical fitness, all these hard skills, deteriorate over time. For an instructor, this deterioration is not good and can come from both lack of practice, or only operating at a much lower level of intensity.
If for example I was with a group skiing day in and day out, as is often the case for experienced instructors of any outdoor activity, I might just be cruising all the time on green or blue runs to match the level of ability of the group. However, cruising can lead to complacency and dull your senses to the wider challenges and risks of the activity that you’re leading. To avoid complacency, often called an expert blind spot, you must therefore continually practise and test your own skills at a much higher level to ensure you’re prepared for any contingency. You never know when you’ll need to quickly switch up from cruising instructor to rapid situational risk assessor and responder.
For me, this realisation came when I took a ‘short-cut’ on Whistler Mountain. I wanted to get to the furthest section of the mountain and I could see the lift to where I wanted to reach. I’d been skiing along the top of a ridge line, on a blue home trail. However, I saw what appeared to be a nice descent into the next valley and onto the lift. It was soft and powdery to begin with, but suddenly, on my right appeared a cliff and in front of me was a massively steep chute littered with rocks.
Most skiers have a home mountain, which they know like the back of their hand. For me this is Thredbo and so I can criss-cross it all day knowing where my random short cuts will take me. However, again this home mountain confidence can lead to complacency and over-confidence in other situations. Practising your skills on different mountains however, and getting into situations such as I did, is a real reminder of how aware and vigilant you need to be in the outdoors.
Rather than panicking, as I stared down the incredibly steep descent, I quickly dug in and attacked the chute, swiftly switching back and forth one sharp turn after another to control my descent, whilst avoiding the jagged rocks protruding from the snow. With a few crunching sounds from under my skis, I cleared the worst of it and glided out the bottom into a wide open section of deep soft snow. Glancing back up, I could now see the insanity of the ‘short cut’ in all its glory. Let’s do that again! I thought…
Whilst this wasn’t an ideal situation in which to find myself, the ability to switch up to a higher level of thinking and respond swiftly is an important thing to be able to do with any of your outdoor skills. This requires practice and pushing your own limits outside of your regular work. Whilst you’d never take a group with you into a situation like this, this sort of experience reminds you of the risks that are inherent with an activity such as skiing, as well as the need to continuously build and improve upon your own skills.
Expertise does lead to complacency and as outdoor educators and instructors we need to practise our own skills and be reminded that there are always limits to our experience and expertise. This helps us to be aware that there are always going to be risks involved and that we must eliminate, manage or mitigate those risks for our programs. However, if we don’t practise and test our hard skills outside of work, the chances are, your comfortable daily operations will become increasingly exposed to potential complacency as the instructor skill-sets deteriorate and activity risks don’t appear as dangerous as they really are.
To help resolve my over confidence and need to rebuild my alpine skill set, it was time for me to go back to ski school and take some lessons again.