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.