One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you, don't do anything at all
Before you get too worried about my state of mind, if you haven’t worked out the reference already, you should go and play White Rabbit by Jefferson Aeroplane. One, it’s a cool song and two, it’s suitably trippy for this article! If you don’t get what it all means, that’s ok. It’s basically a drug trip song that’s used in just about every TV and movie drug montage ever with the connection to Alice In Wonderland.
Anyway, before I explain it to death, this week, we’re talking about drugs!!!! Today there’s no shortage of them. Students are on just about everything you can imagine to get them moving and motivated, to slow them down and focus them. To stop them sleeping, to make them sleep. To make them more productive, to make them less destructive. To fight bacteria, to promote bacteria. To balance them out, to unbalance them out! To get them regular, to stop them being too regular!
It’s a wonderful world of pharmaceutical profits in every schoolbag! Doctors seem to give out drugs more often than candy… which they’re no longer allowed to give out, because candy may contain traces of nuts.
Whilst drugging kids up to their eyeballs is entirely up to the parents and their doctors, the problem is that teachers then get lumped with this huge responsibility of administering medications when they take students away on camps. Most teachers in my experience are ill-equipped to do this and lack the confidence to do it properly.
In most cases, giving medications is fairly straight forward. You look at the packet and what it says on the box and you follow the instructions. Generally, it’s usually no more than giving a pill, a puff or a small dose of some sort of liquid. If staff are being asked to provide an injecting service, perhaps mum, dad or the doctor should come on camp instead.
Even though it’s a fairly simple process, it can be overwhelming with everything else that’s going on during camp. I found this to be the case on one camp program where we had a lot of students who required daily medications and a lot of other things happening at the same time. It wasn’t until one teacher forgot a student’s ADHD medications in the morning that the problem became really apparent. If you can imagine Bart Simpson on steroids, that’s pretty much what the student turned into without his meds. It didn’t make for a good day at work. Instead, it was just containment and damage control until bedtime thirteen hours later. It’s not something I ever want to go through again. The problem is that it’s so easy to forget medication in this way as one distraction on camp can lead to another and whilst every teacher is trying their best to manage, sometimes things like this can slip through the cracks.
So, how did I solve this crack problem? Well I built an app to remind teachers when medications were due. It triggered alerts 5mins before the medication was due and then another 5mins afterwards if something was missed. Then it was a simple checkbox that showed the right medication, the right student and once it was administered, it was timestamped. This became a core feature of the Xcursion platform and now one of its most frequently used functions.
So now despite the tidal wave of speed coming your way to slow those manic kids down, you can be assured that you’ll be able to get every pill to every student that needs it, on time, every time. It will leave you comfortably numb and happy in the knowledge that you’ve supplied a stack of controlled drugs to small children and prevented them from go troppo all day.
But if you don’t have a way of tracking this with something like the Xcursion app and instead decide to go chasing rabbits, and you know you're going to fall. The best defence when things go completely wrong is to Tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call. Just ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall…
There are two major things with which humans aren’t great. Change and uncertainty. Unfortunately, for those who struggle with both of these things, modern life is becoming increasingly challenging, as they’re now a huge reality of the fast-paced digital world.
I don’t want to delve too much into the impact of change, as it’s a whole thing unto itself. However, what I’ve noticed is that avoidance of uncertainty in teenagers appears to becoming worse and worse and somewhat detrimental to their experience of life. However, I don’t want to blame teens for this. I want to blame their parents as they’re the ones predominantly responsible for bringing them up and providing a world view that either helps or hinders their ability to deal with uncertainty.
I’ve noticed this trend over the past few years on camps and expeditions. The desire for instant answers on everything caused by search engine education and a sense of every moment of the day being carefully scheduled without deviation, presents a massive problem when things don’t go to plan. The problem is that life isn’t always straight forward, nor is it predictable. In fact, quite the opposite is true and life can often be a chaotic mess of which at times, is hard to make sense. Yet, we find ourselves increasingly teaching students who are quite incapable of dealing with uncertainty.
This is a problem on many levels. Gone are the days in which someone could live their life with little to no change or variance in what they did. In times past, people could go to school, leave, get a job and stay in that job until they retired. For many people, leaving their own town or village would have been unheard of and travel wasn’t something that many people did to find work or simply move around. However, this has not only changed, but dramatically shifted to another extreme. Employment is becoming increasingly casualised in many parts of the world, with tech companies saying how wonderful the ‘gig’ economy is, which for the record it’s not! It’s forcing many people into serious underemployment and a constant need to change and re-invent what they’re doing.
Whilst the change of the workforce is a whole massive issue unto itself, it’s just part of the overall continuous change that is happening in our world. Change is constant and change can be taxing on the most dynamic and resilient of us.
What does this mean for students who want to avoid uncertainty? Unfortunately, it means they’re going to seriously struggle in life. Much of the resistance I’m seeing today for students to get involved in something, involves higher-order thinking. Problem solving and adaptability. Whenever they’re forced into taking a longer amount of time to work out an answer, they can’t do it, or more to the point, don’t even try. Instead, they give up because they can’t search for or quickly come to an answer.
It’s therefore important for us to help the avoider face uncertainty. The only way for them to develop the skills needed to cope in the modern world is for them to face uncertainty. In outdoor ed, we can do it by standing back and watching students figure things out for themselves and only step in if there’s a safety issue. This forces action and decision-making processes in students which aren’t being used on a day to day basis. No longer can they have the answer searched for them, nor will every minute of their day be scheduled so they know what’s happening next and at what time.
The spoon-feeding for exams approach that I’ve seen so many schools take, has only reinforced this practice of uncertainty avoidance and for us to adequately prepare students for an ever-changing world, then we need to do more to expose them to uncertainty and give them opportunities to work with that uncertainty, try something new and achieve an outcome that is not scripted in anyway. When we can be doing this for all education, then we might just be able to train the next generation to not only cope with change, but thrive in a very different environment that will continue to change and evolve in 5, 10, 20 and 50 years time. The ability to embrace and deal with uncertainty, is a far greater skill to have than simply knowing the answer to an exam, or where to find it. This is a huge challenge, but one that outdoor and experiential educators are well-equiped to not only meet, but exceed expectations for how well they can do this and ultimately equip students with the right skills for the new digital age.
Recently, our new team went on a bit of a shopping adventure to IKEA and Bunnings. Sadly, there was no sausage sizzle on at that point in time, so no chance to drop onion all over the ground, but it was fun all the same. It’s always great to get the perspective of new staff as they look upon what you’re doing with a set of fresh eyes that haven’t necessarily been tainted by time, repetition and entrenched ways of doing things. As a result, from their input you can discover something new and different without changing much at all.
Back to the shopping trip. The new team had arrived on campus a few days earlier. To say it was a stark expression of 1970s flat roof architecture, would be generous. The campus buildings were tired looking and have been well-loved, but starting to show their age. The rooms of each of the buildings, I’ve spent a lot of time in and had some wonderful moments teaching and socialising in these spaces. This time, however, we’d added in a new wall and converted an old space into a ‘sick bay.’
The room was basic with two beds a cupboard, a filing cabinet and a desk. Nothing special or even remotely interesting about that. In fact, it looked pretty crap and a Stazi hospital may have been slightly more luxurious and aesthetic in comparison. If you were sick, the new room would probably make you feel sicker. For many people, the simple fact that it was a practical room that served a function would be enough. However, thankfully a couple of fresh sets of eyes thought differently. They suggested we go shopping.
A trip to IKEA is not for the faint hearted. It’s enormous and if you want to get your daily steps up, it’s a great place to do that. Although if you eat the ice cream at the end, it kinda defeats the purpose. But anyway, we started wandering through and there’s so much cool stuff, I could get lost in there for days. Despite the risk of going in and never coming out, we wandered around the various sections of the store and I left the new guys to select whatever they needed for the room. I had no idea what they were going to come up with, but excited to find out.
We ended up leaving with a trolly full or stuff and about $1,000 later, I still had no idea how it was going to turn out. I left them to toil away in the room and after a couple of hours it was time for the big revelation! Stepping inside, it couldn’t have been more different. The room was remarkably changed. The horrible cupboard had gone. There was pleasing soft lighting, the doona covers were fresh and attractive and the soft plush puppy dog, made the room feel so much more homely than before. A scented defuser with a soft green glow sat on the desk and finally the peace lily had brought life to a once desolate and uninviting space.
The difference this small transition made in this room was remarkable. The space had changed in its tone and now was a pleasant, calming room in which someone could get some rest if needed, rather than the horrible bed and cupboard of before.
The clever use of space and application of thoughtfulness to something like this is so important for education, home life and business alike. It changes the mood and through this, changes the dynamics of behaviour and attitude. The more thought we put into something such as this, the more respect and use a space will have.
A friend of mine has been doing a similar thing with school playgrounds, taking ‘wasted’ empty or disused spaces and transforming them with low ropes courses, bouldering walls and nature play elements. Play Grounded has explored the outside play area dynamics in the same way that my wonderful team members did inside.
Is there somewhere in your school or campus that’s just a waste dump that even political dissidents would shun in favour of a KGB cell? If so, get thinking creatively and go shopping!
Transforming spaces in a similar way, will have a proud impact on that space and those using it. For us, it has changed the tone and made it such a relaxing and friendly place to visit.
Social media is something that, as we all know, is relatively new. However, we don’t really know the extent to which it will harm and damage our current generation – the children, teens and young adults. With the drive and desire for so many likes and so many followers, this can build people up to a false sense of security and to be perfectly honest, those who need thousands of followers or thousands of likes or that feeling of social rapport with other people that they don’t even know, are most likely going to be vulnerable people anyway. Whilst they exude confidence online in photos and posts and comments, and everything they do looks happy and wonderful, it’s merely a filtered view of the world and a very filtered approach that they’re projecting. Yet what’s behind that?
If you look at some of the classic meltdowns of many of the most successful singers, songwriters and performers as well as actors who are vulnerable, ego driven people, you can find a whole stack of them hanging out in rehab. Many of them form drug habits. Many of them get overweight very quickly and this happens when their fame starts to wane. It happens when people stop liking things. People stop liking their work. People stop following their fan clubs. Whilst this has been going on for years and years in the entertainment industry, it often happened reasonably slowly for many actors as the success of their movies or music faded or the success and people’s interests changed.
However, for many teens and young adults today, the fame or infamy that they gain through social media very quickly with that meteoric rise, will conversely result in a meteoric crash back down to earth. This is a real danger, because this increases people’s risk of mental health problems if vulnerable anyway.
Often people with a stack of followers end up being targeted by marketing companies to then put product placements in their posts to ensure that they’re selling more and more. So, they’re making money out of this now, based upon the fact a lot of people click a post and they like it. But you can be guaranteed that as soon as the numbers start dropping, the money dries up. This will only serve to compound the problem for people like this. So whilst these people seem to have money coming in and think that they’re actually building something that’s going to last, it’s a completely false sense of security, a false hope and a huge problem that’s being driven by social media and marketing companies.
This is a destructive force of which we really haven’t seen the impact yet. It’s only through education, building up strength of character and building up confidence in young people that we can help them avoid what can be a totally destructive experience to their lives. Some people will still grow huge audiences, have thousands or tens of thousands of people following them. But how shallow and pointless is their filtered life? What’s behind the lens is often just a toxic waste dump of sadness, depression and self loathing, with an increasing worry that the next post might not bring in the same number or more likes than the last. How fickle and pointless this is.
Therefore, it’s important when working with students to help them understand that some parts of social media can be fun. Some of it can be a good game but other parts can be dark, destructive and can absolutely destroy their lives. It’s an important message of not complete abstinence or outright banning social media, but being mindful of just how shallow and short lived this kind of experience can and will be. Just as the burnt out lives of child actors of the 80s and 90s are, it’s important to help the next generation to avoid this terrible fate that in moments can turn a successful ‘public figure’ into a forgotten nobody without any rhyme or reason.
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!