Where Does Outdoor Ed Fit?
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.
What's Wrong With This Picture?
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.
Staff Without Passion
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.
With the world flooded with toxic, attention-grabbing software that is specifically designed to divert your attention and emotions, it’s easy to become very cynical about the place mobile devices and software play in people’s lives. However, as with everything, there are good sides and bad sides to things such as technology and software.
The challenge is not just to ignore what’s going on around us or decide that we should smash it all. That didn’t end well for the luddites and nor will it end well for a rejection of technology. This is just disconnected from the reality of the digital world, and whilst it might be a lot of fun to smash a few servers with a sledgehammer every now and then, it doesn’t really help much over the long-term.
Instead, the challenge is to build a more human element into technology. ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ I hear your cry! ‘We don’t want human robots!’ No, actually I agree with you on that too. We definitely don’t want human looking robots. That just opens up so many questionable moral issues that falsely suggests human-like characteristics. Whilst it can be fun to imagine a sentient being created out of digital circuit boards, this is still just a computer with as many real human qualities as Kermit the Frog has and every other talking animal on TV.
What do we need and want? As a software developer, I believe we have a moral obligation to develop software that improves our ability to be human and build relationships, not disconnect and filter them, which seems to be the fashion of the tech world right now. Therefore, it’s important than any new platform or feature should consider the human impact. What will the end result be for the users? Is it going to help, hinder, or completely manipulate them?
We should be looking for cool ways in which we can leverage technology to benefit others and not to just benefit marketing companies or venture capitalists. At the end of the day, digital technologies allow us to create massive advantages for humanity as a whole. They bring people out of poverty, eliminate pointless repetitive tasks and enable a whole new level of attention to detail and personalised service. Why not focus our energies on looking for ways to improve experiences through software? Time, which is everyone’s most expensive and limited resource, can be better spent with friends, family and being part of a real community with real people, which has kept our societies going for thousands of years.
One of the things we built into our software platform was reminders to check on students who have been sick or injured. Sure, it’s another notification on your phone, of which there are many. However, what’s the impact of this? On a busy day, you get a reminder to check up on a student. You go and check up on the student, see how he or she is feeling and if there’s anything else you can do to help that student. What impact have you just had on the student’s day? What positive feelings are left about your care and concern for the student?
This is something I believe is critically important to the design of all systems. What is the end result going to be? What positive human impact have we helped to facilitate? I also noticed this on a flight recently. It was a long-haul flight from Sydney to the UK. One of the stewards came up to me to chat. He knew my name, but called me Mr Gregory, which was nice, but completely unnecessary. He asked how the flight was going and if he could get anything else for me before we landed. Again, this is clever use of software to help facilitate the positive experience for someone on a 23 hour flight. This makes flying from A to B a slightly less stressful and far better experience as the human touch of relationship-building and individual care and management was leveraged through smart and appropriate use of technology.
The more we can build systems like these to assist us in being better humans and remind us to take the time to talk with others and help them out, the better the situation. I should also highlight at this point that it’s not just about ticking a box. The person using the technology must also have the skills and demeanour to genuinely care and about those being helped. Technology is just a useful means through which what people do is able to be improved and enhanced.
Before we take the sledgehammer to the server room to try and recapture life as we knew it, it’s worth considering the benefit of responsible and ethical software development. The digital world is here to stay. At least it is until someone blows everything up and the planet gets over-run by apes who somehow learn how to speak English and enslave humanity. Anyway, until that happens, how can we develop better use technology that enables us to leverage all the positive traits of humanity to support us in being part of a real community and allow us to spend less time ‘online’ and more time thoughtfully engaged in real human activities with real people? What is it in your job, your workplace or industry that could leverage such an approach and embrace the use of technology to help improve the human connections? This is the challenge and the responsibility of software developers. Build something that’s useful and helps people in their lives to better connect with others. Spend time saved by technology with others and not just drowning in a bottomless sea of shallow likes.
Let’s build something useful and real. If nothing else, at least it’ll keep the apes at bay for a few more years.