What an amazing week in the desert! Not quite the desert, but the town of Albuquerque was certainly surrounded by some stunning desert landscapes. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get to Roswell, which I think would be awesome. No doubt a massive tourist trap, but you don’t get to go to an alien landing site every day. What baffles me about alien landing or kidnappings is that they always seem to kidnap super rural bogans. I mean to learn what??? If aliens truly are an advanced life form, then what are they going to achieve by kidnapping and probing bogans?
Anyway, I’m sure that’s an entire topic on its own and if anyone can give me an answer to that or if you’ve been kidnapped and proved by an alien recently, please email me. I’m really keen to understand this mystery of the universe.
Once again, I find myself off on a useful tangent, which we will hopefully pick up on again later. For the past week in New Mexico, I’ve been involved in both risk management training as well as the world renown NOLS Wilderness Risk Management Conference. Whilst many people will have switched off by now and want to keep talking about alien probes, those of you who are still reading, good to see, because in terms of risk management, I learnt a lot over the last week and met some of the most pro-active risk management leaders in the world.
A lot of what we ran through in the two days of risk management training prior to the conference were things we're already implementing. However, having a chance to refresh these and bring them to the front of your mind again, helps us to review the systems we have in place for being able to run awesome programs, in a thoughtful and well-planned way. One highlight for me however, is the need for schools and other organisations to have a risk management committee which is separate from the WHS/OHS committee. Whilst at one school I worked, the groundsman sat in on all of our outdoor education meetings and offered up wide-ranging advice on everything. Whilst I’m sure groundskeeper Willie had a wealth of experience in something, it was not outdoor ed and at the end of the day, advice from people who know nothing, is far worse than no advice at all. Keep the committees focused and with the right mix of experience.
Having an executive team who understands the management in the world outside the school grounds is critically important in understanding the risk tolerance and organisational preparedness to respond to an incident which might happen when students are away somewhere. Now this isn’t just about camps and outdoor education. The management of risk is far more comprehensive than this and it’s best not to pigeon-hole this as an outdoor education risk management committee, as overseas trips now make up a huge component of schools’ programs and carry far more risk than most camps and activities. Unfortunately, these are often run by teachers with limited experience. As I’ve said before, relying on good luck as a risk management strategy is idiotic.
Therefore, with a risk management committee could involve stake holders such as the principal or deputy, a board member and or the school’s lawyer, the school’s insurance company and the heads of section directly responsible for the activities and trips that require significant planning and have inherent risks involved. It’s also a good idea to rotate other staff who accompany trips through this, so they understand and buy into the culture of risk management within the organisation.
Essentially, the role of the committee is to have a clear understanding of the risks and systems in place to manage them on all the trips, camps and activities which the organisation is running or contracting out and how this should be managed and the preparedness for emergencies and incidents to ensure you have the capability and capacity to respond or have clear 3rd party resources available if that day ever comes. This was a huge take away for me and one which I’ll be ensuring we have in place ready for the new year.
The rest of the training days were great refreshers for a lot of other things which reinforced some of our practices and highlights a few where we can do even better, which comes to the point that no matter how much experience you have, you can always make improvements.
The conference itself was once again excellent with a huge range of interesting sessions which unfortunately, you just can’t get to all of them. A really cool experiential education program I came across though was a medical youth corps in one of the schools in Albuquerque. Essentially, they train sophomores and higher as first aid first responders. Their training is similar to a Wilderness First Responder, so well above what we would call Senior First Aid and below what we would consider an EMT or paramedic. The fact that they leave class to go and respond to sick or injured peers is awesome and one of the coolest in-school experiential ed programs I’ve seen. Such a great confidence-building skill set and one for life! Look out for an episode on this in season 2 of The Xperiential Education podcast!
A few other sessions I went to were on medical forms and leveraging collected medical data, which was really interesting as that’s exactly what we’ve done with the Xcursion app by making all of the student medical information dynamic and responsive, not just another version of a flat spreadsheet. Way too many people focus on the collection of medical data and then do nothing with it. What’s the point of this if you don’t make information dynamic and usable? Thinking of Xcursion, and some of my own risk management work at the conference, I presented a poster session on how Xcursion came to be. From the systemic problems and failing leadership I had seen and experienced at one school (yes that same one) and how several significant incidents led me to a hospital waiting room with a student who had taken a dive in a bed of oysters and I realised how many gaps there were in the school’s entire risk management systems. Actually, I already knew this, but at this point the idea hit me for the app which fixed 80% of their systemic problems, but sadly the other 20% were human factors and other than moving those staff on, there was no fixing that.
Anyway, it was a fun experience presenting on how a crisis and an horrendously toxic workplace can trigger an awesome idea which helps other pro-actively manage risk. I had a really fun time, as well reading the range of poster topics and meeting so many other pro-active outdoor education professionals who run awesome programs all around the world.
One cool presentation I went to was by Misha Golfman. He spoke on positive risk management conversations with parents and not apologising for the fact that programs must have risk in them from an early age, otherwise with the sanitised and theoretically ‘safe world’ in which many parents think their children should be living, makes it an increasingly unsafe place for them and healthy risks such as climbing trees, riding bikes, trekking and all sorts of other things are replaced with unhealthy risks that reinforce the instant gratification to which children today are exposed. These unhealthy risks include drugs, alcohol, irresponsible driving and a false sense of over-confidence. The presenter made a very interesting point in that children who take healthy risks from a young age and are not over-protected at every step of the way, are better at negotiating the potential pitfalls of the teenage over-confidence in everything. Basically, he’s saying helicopter and drone parents are misguided idiots who are crippling their children and slowly destroying their ability to cope with the real world. I liked this guy! Such a great presenter and a successful educator with almost 40 years’ experience!
The other point he made was that a huge number of risks for people today are no longer physical, but emotional risks and this is just throwing fuel on the already raging fire of mental health problems within our communities. I think crappy parenting books, crappy parenting and social media have a lot to answer for on this. However, this is a huge topic for another day.
The other sessions were all fascinating, on all sorts of things from good field practices, to legal and financial considerations, to crisis response and management. We did a search and rescue scenario in one session which was a lot of fun and thankfully we managed to locate the student.
Another highlight for me was ending up on some random bar bike riding through the streets of Albuquerque late at night on Halloween.
The week was capped off with the conference dinner on Friday night and the guest speaker, Kit DesLauriers, who was the first person to ski down Everest and the seven summits (the highest peak on each continent). An awesome and fascinating story involved a lot of skiing and I felt somewhat dismayed at my skiing ability when she mentioned that her eleven year old daughter skied Corbet’s Couloir in Jackson Hole, which is one of the most extreme in resort runs in the world. (See knowing your limits for some context on this).
The keynote speech capped off an amazing week of experiences, new friends and wonderful insights into how the industry is ensuring students can learn from real experience and not just be mindlessly and pointlessly sitting in a classroom counting down the clock until bell-time. For anyone who hasn’t been, I highly recommend it and I’m looking forward to heading back again in 2020 to Burlington Vermont for another awesome experience. It will be an opportunity to continue to build upon my own experience and ways in which this can be used to help others run awesome experiential programs.
Let’s be honest! Nobody likes writing incident reports. They’re kind of annoying, time consuming and just another bit of paper work that you have to do on top of everything else! Added to this, so many schools and organisations make it difficult for their teachers and instructors to complete.
Consequently, when you combine added work with difficult to complete, this results in poor reporting, late reporting and quite often non-reporting of incidents. Ironically, WHS research has shown that the more senior a staff member, the less likely they are to complete a report. Added to this is the deterioration of memory that adversely impacts the accuracy and validity of any report. No matter how good someone thinks their memory is, the longer they delay in writing an incident report, the fuzzier and less accurate it becomes. Important details can be overlooked and left out. Such details about actions taken, mitigation or treatment, could become vitally important years down the track and without a rock-solid incident report, the person and the organisation can be massively exposed to a variety of potential liabilities. However, everyday things happen. The writing of an incident report is put off until ‘later’ and when ‘later’ comes, the events of yesterday or last week are nothing but a distant memory in amongst a busy life of work, family, traffic and cups of coffee.
Yet incident reports are critical to our understanding of what happened, causation, consequence and how to avoid it happening again. The ‘bury your head in the sand,’ ‘it’ll be right’ and ‘I’ll do it later’ options are not options at all and all incidents, no matter how seemingly minor or insignificant, need to be reported in a timely and accurate manner. Consistent and timely reporting can highlight patterns or risks which might otherwise have been missed.
With so many potential negatives of trying to get someone to write an incident report, no wonder they’re done so poorly. Add remoteness or overseas to the equation and you’re not getting anything wonderful or insightful anytime soon. The end result is an unintended exposure to liability and the inability to learn vital lessons from what went wrong. It was this exact situation and combination of factors which led me to develop the Xcursion software platform. I didn’t want to be doing incident reports at the end of a multi day expedition when I was tired and about to have a day off. I wanted to have it all done way before then. However, at the same time as a director of outdoor ed, I wanted incident reports sent to me from the field as fast as possible, so I could understand what had happened and help provide an appropriate response. Hence, I built the Xcursion mobile app to solve both my problems at once and in doing so, came up with a solution that made it easier, faster and a far more reliable way of doing incident reports.
What was the result? Suddenly, there was an increase in incidents!!! Well that’s probably not quite true. There were the same number of incidents, but now they were actually being reported. From this we could finally understand the prevalence of the type, severity and causation of incidents, with some reliable level of detail and accuracy, rather than… nothing.
Essentially, as soon as you make something easy for someone to do, then you have a greater chance of it being done. The more difficult and complex the task, the less likely you are to get anything. It baffles me that something so important is often such a low priority until a major incident occurs and everyone is demanding answers. Why not make it easy on everyone? No more inaccurate hand-written reports which are days or weeks old that you have to scan and file somewhere. Just leverage a bit of mobile tech to do it all for you and what can often take ages or not get done at all, could just take a couple of minutes and give you more detail than ever before, helping protect the first responder, students and with greater insight, help you reduce risk for every activity you do.
This week I’m in New Mexico for the NOLS WRMC (Wilderness Risk Management Conference).
Whilst it’s been a few years since I went to the last one, which was in Salt Lake City, I’m excited to get back for what I know will be an interesting, thought-provoking and challenging time exploring risk, incidents and activities which make up some of the most amazing educational experiences possible.
After my last trip, I went to debrief the conference with the school I worked for then. One of the new staff commented, why would you go there? Americans don’t know anything about risk. I just shook my head at this comment and walked off. The same person also thought it was a good idea to run a game of ‘capture the flag’ in a snake invested paddock that was filled with barbed wire and rusted metal posts. Kids running around could have easily impaled themselves on this metal. If you want more fascinating insight into the organisation for which I used to work, a good starting point for this would be my article titled, ‘The Idiot Blind Spot!’
Needless to say I don’t work there anymore and haven’t for some time. However, it was an interesting experience all the same, which highlighted how important it is for ongoing training, networking and collaboration in terms of good risk management principles and being able to build effective teams who understand and implement good practices as a part of the culture of the organisation.
I believe the WRMC is a meeting of the best minds in educational risk management in the world. The practices which are presented here are based upon experience and reflection of so many years of outdoor education experience. Some are good, some bad, some tragic. Whilst it’s never easy talking about the bad and the tragic, if we stick our heads in the sand and pretend nothing will ever happen to us, then we set ourselves up for failure and give ourselves a sense of invulnerability, which is always a false sense, as no matter how well we plan, something can always go wrong, especially if it’s out of our control.
Once again at the conference, there’s a number of different streams and this is the only conference I’ve ever been to where I really have FOMO for the competing sessions. There are so many great topics, valuable workshops and insights, it’s sometimes hard to know which ones to attend. Very rarely do I find this problem at a conference, however, with a mix of sessions based upon, Emergency Planning & Crisis Response, Field Practices, Legal Issues, Program Admin and Social & Emotional Health, there are so many really good options.
Regardless of which sessions I end up going to, what’s important is the fact that there is such a strong community of great educational professionals who are focussed on developing awesome life-changing experiences for their students within an effective risk management framework. Being able to build that cultural framework within your organisation is critical to the long-term success of any program you’re running and the safety of your students.
On another note, I’m excited to get back to the US and visit another state to which I’ve never been! Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll have time to get to Roswell and catchup with the aliens down there, but you never know… Anything can and does happen when you’re out in the field exploring new things. See you in Albuquerque!
There’s nothing quite like immersing yourself in a foreign culture and living the experience, to gain an understanding and appreciation for it.
So, what better way to teach students about language, culture and history, than to go to where it all happens. I’m a strong believer in learning through experience and the only way to truly understand another culture is to experience it first-hand. In fact, one of the key skills which I believe is a requirement for students to be successful in the future, is cultural understanding.
This is not just knowing about a culture from reading about it or sitting in class and hearing about it. It’s about truly understanding other cultures and gaining an appreciation for a different kind of world view and life experience. Living this sort of experience, can put into perspective the history, the geography and the global perspective of another culture which in turn can help develop and shape students into truly global citizens. Immersing students in a different country and culture in this way, can create a life changing experience which they can’t get any other way.
However, before we all grab our passports and rush for the airport, there’s a few additional considerations to make when planning an overseas trip, versus one closer to home.
Is this a holiday? Is this an educational experience? What educational value is this trip providing? By clearly defining what you’re aiming to achieve from an educational point of view, this will help in the approval process and the core value of the trip. Wanting to go overseas because it sounds interesting and could be fun, versus going to Japan to visit a range of historic temples and immerse students in the religious culture of the country for studies in comparative religion is dramatically different. Having a clear educational outcome is the basis for a really good experience.
Local guides or DIY?
Do you know enough about the local area to take the group yourself? Should you employ a guide to do this? There are a few considerations around this, which form a mix of risk management considerations and immersive experiential education considerations. What you can do on your own holiday, isn’t quite the same as what you’re able to do with a group of students in tow. It’s usually best to have a local guide who has clear support systems in place if something doesn’t go to plan. Where are the nearest shops, medical facilities, suitable accommodation? Which sites and locations should you go to? Which areas should you avoid? What communications, systems and backups are in place? Without this local knowledge, the risk posed by a DIY approach is considerably higher and depending on the country, the risk can be quite extreme. However, with a good, experienced and reputable guide, this will help you focus on the educational value of the experience and helps ensure you have good systems in place to support your students for a well-planned and effective trip.
Another major consideration is security. We’re blessed in Australia to have a safe and stable society, but unfortunately, this is not the case for many other countries. Always check and monitor the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Smart Traveller website for the latest updates for the country you’re visiting and ensure you register your group with the Department before you go.
Briefing students on what is and isn’t acceptable in different cultures is critical prior to the trip, otherwise a selfie in front of a government building in some countries, could end up with someone being arrested. Chewing gum and graffiti can get you caned in one SE Asian country and this has happened to a teenager in the past. Whilst these are things which in Australia, nobody would care too much about, it could be illegal to do in many other countries. Therefore, staff and students should be aware that this isn’t just another trip away. They need to be aware of cultural and local differences which could significantly impact on their experience.
However, despite the additional considerations and preparations which go into an international trip, these can be some of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences you and your students will ever have.
One of the most amazing international trips I’ve organised was a trip to Japan. Japan is such a dramatically different cultural experience from Australia. With such a warm, friendly culture, it was a great experience for everyone involved. The educational aim was to provide an immersive experience in the history and culture of Japan with a focus on the medieval Shogunate. You can never really appreciate the history of somewhere until you stand before an enormous castle that dominates the landscape and then step inside to see the magnificent design and complex layering of a fortified medieval fortress such as Himeji Castle.
Himeji Castle is distinctively white in design, which I can imagine on a moonlit night would have been a glowing beacon for the surrounding villages. One family held this castle continuously for 120 years and standing at the front entrance with a group of students who were staring up at it with their mouths wide open, you can see why. This is a grand, imposing structure that can be seen from anywhere in the modern-day city. In its day, it would have commanded an unbridled position in the Himeji skyline. Without standing there and experiencing it for ourselves, the students would never have been able to understand the sheer size, scale and defensive capabilities of this castle and the context in which it was built. Seeing how the town has developed around it, provides further depth to the students’ understanding of the wider medieval society, as well as how and why modern Japanese culture is the way it is today.
On top of some amazing castles, we also visited medieval Shinto shrines and one of the oldest and most famous Buddhist temples in Japan, Zenkō-ji Temple. Zenkō-ji was built in the 7th century AD. The temple has a massive statue of the Buddha concealed inside it. However, nobody has seen the statue since 654 AD, when the temple was built around it. Therefore, it actually might or might not be there, which led to a great philosophical discussion amongst the group. If a statue exists inside a concealed chamber where nobody can see it, does it really exist? Hmmmm… perplexing indeed!
These sorts of fascinating discussions are something which you just don’t get in the context of a regular classroom, or at least never in the same way as when you’re out and about on an experiential adventure such as this. Add Japanese signs, not many people who spoke English, a traditional tea ceremony, some unusual foods and sleeping on a futon on a bamboo matted floor each night, you have a wonderful immersive and unique experience which I know the students thoroughly enjoyed and will cherish for a lifetime.
Whilst there are many additional considerations and preparations for all overseas trips to ensure they’re well-planned and well-supported, the value of these experiences, is immense. They can be some of the most valuable and memorable educational experiences students will ever have. This year, why not plan something new? Grab that passport and get to the airport. It’s time for wheels up for the adventure of a lifetime!
As the world becomes increasingly connected, yet disconnected at the same time, there’s been a phenomenal trend towards addiction and reliance on technology.
Whilst some technology is great and having built a tech company, I could hardly argue otherwise. Yet other parts of it are insanely destructive. I was running a program recently with a group of 7th Grade students, which is nothing new or unusual for me as I’ve run a number of these over the years. They tend to be the extremely fun, activity-filled programs which are so exhausting the kids and staff are so tired, they don’t have time to think about anything else other than what the next day of fun activities will hold for them.
However, what happens to an awesome fun camp, when the messaging from parents leading into camp (and often during) is all wrong? Suddenly, one of the most exciting and memorable experiences turns into a battle for survival! A short day hike becomes an epic hobbit filled journey through the badlands with constant threats of demons and sheer cliffs to fall off at every turn. A canoe on a lake becomes a hazardous sea crossing and don’t even mention archery...
So what’s the source of all of this? It’s often separation anxiety of the parents who have been connected with their child so much, having read lots of rubbish parenting books which have resulted in them paranoidly giving their kids a mobile phone, so that when they’re at school or not in their direct line of sight, then can have that constant re-assurance that they’re only a text message away. I often wonder, how did anyone survive without this?
The other problem is the language which parents use with their children as they say goodbye. I can’t take all the credit for this observation, as there’s a great book called “Feel The Fear, And Do It Anyway,” by Susan Jeffers, which goes through some unhelpful messaging that parents often use that doesn’t not actually keep them ‘safe’ on demon filled camps, but holds them back from so many opportunities the world provides.
I won’t ruin the book for you, as it is a great read, but basically telling children to be ‘safe’ all the time rather than give everything a red hot go! This holds back growth and development and undermines the potential to build any real resilience, when faced with real danger or real problems. So with the toxic mix of goodbye messages and constant communications through a mobile phone, the scene is set for a hard week ahead, caused by the lack of trust and understanding on the part of the parent and that’s a lack of trust in both staff and their own child.
How can we address something like this as it is a risk to smooth operation and functioning of the program? The first step is to inform and educate parents. If they know where their child is going and what they’re going to do on camp, then this will start to build trust as well as defuse some of the anxieties which parents are really good at transferring to their children.
Simply sending out a single page letter about camp isn’t quite enough now in our distracted world. Instead, a pre-camp briefing after the letter is a far better way to approach it. Having a clear and to the point presentation about the camp is a great way to engage and educate parents about outdoor and experiential education and where it fits into the wider context of education. Focusing on the skills and relationship benefits is often a good way to highlight the value of camp to a broad audience whose opinions many vary dramatically. It also give you an opportunity to disclose important information about risk and risk management. As part of your presentation, this is important to address, as any potential major issues or questions which go unanswered will either lead to wild speculation, a level of distrust or both.
In amongst this, you don’t want to tell parents how to do their job. Instead, suggest talking about the excitement of camp and what opportunities the students going to have for some fun, rather than instilling worry, fear and loathing. It all becomes this great self-fulfilling prophecy. If kids think that it’s scary, they’ll miss their parents and are worried they’ll have a bad time, it’ll be a scary bad time and they’ll be homesick. If kids think that it’s an exciting adventure where they’ll face challenges and be able to get away from mum and dad for a bit, then they’ll have an exciting adventurous time, enjoy their experience and have lasting fond memories of it.
A lot of this can’t be done at school, but must be done at home in the days, weeks and months before camp. This not only sets them up for success on a camp, but sets them up for success in school and in life.
It’s through setting the scene that can determine how students engage with and are able to enjoy the experience. Before any big new camp or escalated stage of your outdoor education program, take the time to provide a thorough and informative presentation to parents to help reassure them and get them onboard with why camps and outdoor education are so important in the overall growth and development of their child.
This week, a little big of a side step for another video!
I’ve been reading a number of articles lately which have had a common theme that is essentially asking this very question! Given the number of theories on how people learn and retain information best, it always strikes me as odd when experienced educators, in management positions, suddenly think that more time in a classroom equates to greater results for the school. Whilst this might work for some students, what’s the point of having a cohort of super intelligent and well educated doctors who have the bedside manner of a pathologist? Many big companies pay people such as myself, large amounts of money to run team building and leadership programs for their staff. Just as an aside, if you are from a big company and you have a large amount of money to give away, I’m more than happy to run a team building weekend for you!
Why then is it so hard for so many schools to see the value in what outdoor education does? I can’t for the life of me work it out? Many schools have it as a token gesture as an annual year level camp and get someone else to run it for them. However, activities in isolation don't add up to the long-term benefit that a well-structured outdoor ed program can deliver and it's these long-term benefits that make all the difference to the overall educational experience.
The whole point of modern education should be to provide students with a dynamic skill set to tackle the challenges of life, not just academic, but social and emotional as well! Yet so much of education remains and will remain in the 19th century. So many schools believe that by throwing in a few buzz words that appear from time to time in educational papers and what’s hot now in the media, there’s still little impetus to implement the significant change that’s needed for education to remain relevant and equip students with the skill set to thrive in a rapidly evolving world.
Back to outdoor ed. It’s still amazes me how many schools haven’t made the connection between life skills and STEM skills which are critical for education. Outdoor education is merely another way of building these skills in a very direct and tactile way. The randomness of life is something that often can’t be replicated in a classroom, but is a natural part of outdoor ed.
However, without being explicit about the connections between the two, many people don’t see it. When you highlight how it connects, it’s like a light switch has been turned on! Suddenly, there’s their realisation that what you’re doing out on camp or on expeditions can translate into better critical thinking, problem solving and team work skills for the classroom.
Where does your outdoor education program sit with the rest of the educational experience at the school? Is it a foundation through which so many other complementary subjects are enhanced, or is it a random ‘fun’ camp filled with activities that don’t quite have a strong vision behind it? If it’s the latter, then don’t worry. It’s an opportunity to start building those direct and explicit connections between your outdoor programs and the wider school context. Once you start to approach outdoor education in this way, then the opportunities for growth and buy-in from teachers, parents and students will significantly increase.
As outdoor educators, we are leaders in the modernisation of education. Why not take a look at what you’re doing today and see how those connections between outdoor ed, classroom lessons and, most importantly, the overall social and emotional education of students all fit in your school. Start to build or improve those clear connections today.
Right now, I’m sitting in an airport lounge waiting for a flight to London. Ok! I know when you’re reading this, I probably won’t be still sitting in the airport, unless the flight is massively delayed, which if that’s the case, please come and save me!!!
Regardless of where I am right now, basically as I write this, I’m at the airport having lunch. On a table opposite me, there’s a lady working away on her laptop and her son who is about 5, sitting there eating lunch, with headphones on and stuffing food in his mouth whilst watching something on his iPad. Mum seems oblivious to what he’s up to and he appear transfixed on the screen.
Having worked countless hours in airport lounges, on planes and any random place I can, I understand deadlines and the need to get things done. But why can’t it wait until after lunch? The disturbing picture for me, is that this appears so ‘normal’ to the mother and son, which it shouldn’t be! The dining table, regardless of whether at home or about to travel, shouldn’t be about work. Now you might object and say that I’m working by writing this, but actually I have finished lunch and now I’m having coffee… so yeah…
Anyway, back to the point of all of this. When you look at some of the problems facing education today, this highlights the disconnect between social anchors such as family dinners and the reality of life. The problems this causes years down the track is already being felt as the current generation of school aged students have been “baby sat” by devices, which manipulate behaviours and undermine the ability for them to relate to others and have normal conversations and experiences.
The toxicity of the effect of technology on children is vastly underrated and a new ‘normal’ which increasingly disconnects them from other people, is a massive social and emotional problem just waiting to happen. Next time you’re travelling with the kids, don’t give them an iPad at lunch so they won’t bother you for a bit. Enjoy the moment for what it is. Talk with them. Talk about the trip, what they’re looking forward to and what’s going to be something new, interesting and challenging. Otherwise, the alternative of the babysitting mobile device, is just like Cat Steven’s cats in the cradle on steroids. What you’re gaining in ‘productivity,’ you’re simply losing at the cost of your family and their own well-being.
Now if you’re reading this, you’re probably not in that category at all, but the reality is that we’re teaching students like this every day and understanding the crippling upbringing they’ve had, can help us to understand on what we need to be able to focus and try to help our students recover. At the end of the day, humans desire real relationships with real people and it’s often up to us as educators to show other people how this can be done.
Ok supplemental… I’m still in the lounge. The lady just walked past me with her headphones on and looking down at her phone whilst her son is trying to ask her questions and talk to her. If only they could see the damage they’re doing… very sad indeed.
If you’ve ever worked with someone who lacks or has lost their passion for what they’re doing, it’s often an unpleasant experience to say the least. Now I’m not here to say that long relentless hours equate to passion. In fact, it can be quite the opposite having worked with some people who equated hours at work to the measure of their work. Sadly, no matter how long some of them spent at work, it was never going to add up to anything more than a wasted car space in the car park.
As I’m a strong believer in delivering good, effective programs for students, hours spent don’t always come into this mix. Instead, it’s the ability of staff to engage with students, inspire and be effective that are the most important components of this.
Anyone can sit at a desk or in a classroom and use up lots of hours. It literally takes no talent at all to do this. A former colleague of mine was just amazed at this. He could be at work for 12-16 hours and do nothing. In fact, it was worse than that. Many days, it was less than nothing and that created more problems for everyone else to fix. However, thankfully people like this usually get moved on quickly, or should be.
Tired, exhausted teachers no matter how passionate they might be, can never be truly effective. Therefore, there needs to be that mystical balance that everyone seems to talk about, but like Eldorado and Saadam’s WMDs, nobody can find.
Most people go into careers because they’re passionate about it. However, many work places manage to smash that enthusiasm right out of them, which at the end of the day is a wasted opportunity. I’d rather have passionate staff who keep throwing ideas at me for how we can do things better or how we can build things up, rather than staff who like the status quo and you have to drag them kicking and screaming through any modicum of change.
Consequently, the real challenge is often not the development of passion in staff, but creating an environment in which passion is valued. Too often, I’ve seen passion and enthusiasm destroyed by hopeless organisations that think that doing the same thing over and over again is the only way to do it. The world changes, people change and if you don’t like change, then perhaps education is not the right place for you.
This doesn’t mean you have to take on every crazy new idea that staff come up with, but what it does mean is that developing a culture in which new ideas are welcomed and valued, is a vital basis to build and retain staff who have a great passion for what they do and are motivated by what will produce the best educational outcomes for students. If this means trying something new, then try something new! It’s better to listen to twenty crazy ideas, three of which could be brilliant and the other seventeen pointless, but those three ideas could have a massive and lasting impact on the lives of countless staff and students and flow on to the community and generations to come. However, stamping out ideas has the opposite effect and an organisation can become so stale and ineffective that it loses staff, it loses new fresh ideas and just becomes as standardised factor for processing students.
You don’t want a scenario like this, because trying to deal with unmotivated staff is hard work!! It’s much harder, in my experience, than encouraging new ideas to be shared, trialed and implemented in a process of continuous improvement. In this scenario, it’s the lazy and dispassionate staff that self-select their way out of the organisation to go and do something less challenging or to find another school that’s going nowhere fast.
The only way we can face the rapidly changing world is through embracing new ideas and encouraging those around us to share their passion. Through this, we can build cultures that value how fluid and dynamic education can and should be to ensure we’re producing the best results for everyone.
Everyone seems to be anxious these days and it’s often difficult to understand why this is. The problem is that this is presenting itself in a significant way in education. The number of students who are labelled as ‘suffering from anxiety,’ is increasingly noticeable. Is the world becoming a more dangerous place? Are gangs of kidnappers roaming the streets of our nation, just waiting to find a child out playing on a bike? Or art thou just fatal vision… Drawing parents into a paranoia about child safety and pushing their own failings onto their children?
The problem with anxiety is that it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. Much like the way in which Macbeth was goaded into murdering a stack of people by three witches, due to a bunch a false prophesies, parents are making their children anxious shut-ins for no reason at all. Now this isn’t to say there aren’t bad people in the world, but there’s more chance that a child will be abused by a family member or close friend of the family, rather than marauding gangs of pedos in trench coats and white vans. Yet this is the way in which many parents are now behaving.
“Don’t do this, don’t do that. You can’t go out and play…” Whilst kids need to build some awareness and defences around stranger danger, shutting them inside with a video game for supervision is certainly not a good alternative to going out, riding a bike, running around building forts and playing with real friends. Sure, they’ll get scratches, bumps and bruises, but at the same time, they develop social skills and the resilience to laugh off those scratches, bumps and bruises and go and find more suitable trouble into which to get themselves. This has been a healthy way to develop for hundreds of millions of children over centuries. The bonus in Western countries now is that most children over 10 don’t have to leave school and go and work in factories fifty hours a week.
Unfortunately, there’s an increased tendency for children to be kept shut in at home or within their parents’ line of sight every moment of the day. How frustratingly boring this must be for everyone involved. It’s not only the fact that this is just weird. It’s also the fact that whenever there’s an opportunity for time to be spent away from the family, it can end up in a situation of separation anxiety. There’s really no winning in this situation as we’re back to the self-fulfilling prophecy in that parents are making their children unnecessarily anxious.
I recently read an article about a pilot program in Queensland, Australia that’s encouraging children to go out exploring and hanging out with friends… Unsupervised!!! The ‘pilot’ was a success, but the organisation is asking for more money so they can expand their program. Wait… what does that mean? The government is spending money to try and get parents to do what they should be doing anyway, which will help develop social skills and reduce obesity… What’s the government even doing funding this in the first place? It should be parents driving this to help ensure their children grow up active, healthy and resilient.
The unfortunate reality is however, that parents are not doing this. They’re disempowering their children and making them feel fearful of anything new, anything different and anything without a clear end result! I would like to blame terrible parenting books and rubbish advice from idiots, who don’t know anything about the reality of life. However, you can only blame stupid authors so much and at the end of the day, parents need to take responsibility for the anxiety they cause their own children.
Let’s face it! Getting covered head to toe in mud never really hurt anyone. Cuts, bruises and bumps are just a part of life and failure is not a four letter word! (It’s actually a seven letter word, but you get the point). The desire to try and create a ‘perfect’ world for their children, has in fact resulted in the exact opposite. For many children who are the ‘world’s most amazing child,’ they face so many additional challenges from this rubbish parenting and they struggle with some of the most basic of tasks when faced with a challenge. The fact that they can’t achieve even the most basic of things without the help and supervision of their parents, then suddenly… they become anxious and once you have an anxiety about something, the prophesy inevitably comes true. Not quite Macbeth true with all those murders, but all the same, true. The child becomes disempowered and crippled by the parents’ neediness and reluctance to let them face the realities of an often challenging and harsh world.
So how do we help students deal with anxiety? By enabling them to try and fail with a sense of a way forward. If something doesn’t work, then try something different. For camps, that seems to create massive anxiety for so many students now, tell them to deal with it. Don’t sugar coat an experience or help them escape it. Help them to face the reality that it could be a challenge, but, they’re capable of fulfilling that challenge. The only way to help address anxiety in anyone is to expose them to the thing they’re anxious about. Now I should put in here that some anxieties are quite real and beyond the remit of schools and outdoor ed programs to help solve. However, for all the other imaginary, self-fulfilling ones, reassure students and help them get involved in the activities. At the end of the day, what’s the worst that will happen?
With so many over the top parents who shut their kids in and try to stop them from ‘failing’ in anyway they can, this poses a massive problem for education, yet at the same time a massive opportunity. So long as the school or organisation is clear in what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, then that’s a good start to help save these children from their anxious, paranoid parents. I recently heard that a counsellor is increasingly dealing with the breakdown of parent/child relationships due to this style of over-parenting. This is not something anyone really wants or needs for their lives, so why not prevent it before it happens. It’s good that parents are involved in their children’s lives, but it’s time they also faced the harsh reality that over-involvement can damage and destroy their children’s lives.
There’s no reason why children should be increasingly anxious today. The world is safer, despite what the media may tell you, people are healthier and living longer and a few bumps and scratches running around playing with friends never really hurt anyone. Sadly, it all comes down to poor parenting and the false belief that parents can save their children from the reality of the world. As educators, we need to set a stand, send clear messages about how and why we do things and cut parents off when their involvement is detrimental to the welfare of their children. It may seem harsh, but the alternative of the Scottish Play, is far worse for everyone involved.