Risk management in schools is an interesting and challenging problem. Firstly, there’s nothing in teachers’ training which helps them to understand the role and responsibilities of planning for and managing risk. Secondly, what actually are the risks? What could be considered a hazard or risk in the classroom, is vastly different from what could be considered a risk on the sports field, out on camp, or on an international study tour.
In years gone by, this wasn’t too much of a worry as most teachers weren’t involved with the sheer volume of additional co-curricular programs, excursions, activities and overseas trips which now form part of a normal year at school. Added to this, the focus of risk management in schools has also predominantly been on buildings, grounds, office spaces, classrooms and boarding houses and not on the specific activities which go on outside the school grounds on a daily basis.
The fact is, on-site risk management is quite different from off-site risk management. However, often there’s only training available for on-site risks. This makes no sense, as schools continue to run great education programs inside and outside of the confines of the school grounds. As an experienced outdoor education professional, if I were to do a walk-through of an entire school as part of a risk assessment, then I would most likely miss several things because it’s not my specific area of expertise. The same is true when Workplace Safety Professionals attempt to evaluate risk outside of the school. Unless you’re specifically trained in excursion and activity risk, you’re bound to miss something, which can lead to injuries and incidents which could have been avoided.
The only education that teachers seem to have in risk management is that at some point, they’re involved in a trip somewhere, doing something, and rather than having any actual training to be able to manage and help run the program, they’re entirely reliant on learning something about what they should be doing through osmosis. The expectation that they absorb something at some point in time, which then magically enables them to manage risk in a well-planned and professional way, is ridiculous in the extreme. Yet that’s basically what’s been the industry standard. People reference ISO31000 all the time. (This is the international standard for risk management). However, if you’ve ever had enough coffee to drink and made it all the way through the ISO, you’ll realise that it’s so broad and general that just reading this doesn’t give you any real idea about how to manage school excursion and activity risks. It does however, outline what the paperwork should look like.
Sadly, osmosis and reading ISOs is a rather unreliable means through which people gain even a decent baseline understanding of risk management. It’s like letting your English teachers learn about a text for the first time as they read it in class with their students, or your maths teacher, teach themselves by reading a chapter ahead and asking the other teachers a few questions about ‘this whole algebra thing.’ Schools and teachers have a professional responsibility to manage risk wherever their educational programs take them.
Whilst this is a significant concern, which the recent pandemic has focussed everyone’s minds on, rather than just continuing to say it’s a concern and something should be done about it, we decided to do something about it. From our 20+ years of running school excursions, camps, co-curricular programs, sports and international tours, we decided to create structured, professional development training for teachers in risk management that’s specific to excursions and activities. Risk management is not generic and for school activities, it cannot be covered effectively by workplace health and safety risk training. When you’re dealing with students, staff, transport, activities, airports, medical concerns, mental health issues, activities and a range of educational programs, teachers need to be trained and confident in their planning and management of these specific inherent risks to ensure programs are well run and enjoyable.
Nobody is ‘just a classroom teacher’ anymore. The more our school programs venture out into the real world, the more important it is to have teachers with great risk management skills. Every time teachers leave the school gates with a group, they’re responsible for the safety and well-being of that group and like the English teacher reading the text as they go, teachers regardless of subject expertise, should not be out on a trip, anywhere, doing anything and making it up as they go. This leads to disaster and at the end of the day, as educators, we want to run great programs which have well-planned safety built into them.
We decided to share our experience of risk management, through online and face to face professional development. Over the years, I’ve had the best moments of my teaching career and seen the most impact, when we’ve been out on some sort of excursion or activity. From this, we want to enable all those teachers who want to improve student learning through amazing real world experiences, to be able to gain confidence and strength in their risk management skills so that every trip of which they’re part, is a memorable one for their students for all the right reasons.
Unfortunately, when it comes to risk management, there’s no material safety data sheets, engineering limits or forecasts when it comes to people risks and how they’re going to act, react and behave in any given environment or situation. Even though it’s the most unpredictable and complex factor in the mix, it’s often the least considered and most underestimated. There’s no shortage of stupid people in the world. In fact, many people excel in this area every day of the week and should certainly not be trusted with open flames or power tools, or anything without smooth edges.
The problem is that when you're responsible for people who are unpredictable, or taken to doing idiotic things, it's vital that you watch them and actively manage them. Unlike finding a faulty or damaged piece of equipment and replacing it with a new one, the people risk is far more emotive and complex.
If you can exclude a student from activities who simply will not listen or engage, that could be the best solution, as they drag everyone else down with them. However, often schools are reluctant to take definitive action and sadly, sometimes as leaders, we’re stuck with a compounding people risk until their idiocy negatively impacts on the group and someone higher up in the organisation suddenly realises that what you said in assessing the participant risk has now come true. This is not a situation in which you want to find yourself. It’s worth having good behaviour management strategies in place, such as higher staff to student ratios or modified programs when the people factor has the increased potential for producing adverse risk to the staff and the group.
As with any other individual component of risk, behaviour alone isn’t necessarily critical and with a good leader more often than not, as with every other risk factor in isolation, is not a major concern. However, throw in a bit of bad weather, forget or misuse some vitally important piece of safety equipment and you’re now shaping up for some major issues.
When you’re reviewing your risk management systems, it’s well worth considering the interaction of these three components in the context of your organisation and how you can best address them when running any sort of program. Being aware of how the level of risks escalate as one or more aspects are compromised, will help you to build far greater situational awareness. This keeps your risk management practices alive to ensure safe operations and great educational outcomes.
Tin Tin is awesome! If you haven’t read any of the comics, or seen the cartoons or movies, where have you been hiding so shut off from the world? Tin Tin is the young investigative journalist who finds himself on all sorts of global adventures. From treasure hunting to jewel thieves, to kidnapper and opium smugglers, Tin Tin is a crime fighting machine. However, I really worry about him.
It’s not the fact that he gets shot at quite often nor that he finds himself in crazy pursuits in cars, on bikes, boats and planes. No, it’s the fact that he gets hit over the head and knocked out so many times. Yet a few hours later, he’s back chasing the bad guys around… until he gets hit over the head again. In most stories, this happens to Tin Tin two or three times and each time he’s ok. His dog, Snowy seems to get drunk quite often too, but that’s another issue entirely.
Whilst Tin Tin is just a story and cartoon characters can bounce back from pretty much anything, unfortunately in real life, we’re not quite built the same way and one knock to the head causing someone to go unconscious is a very serious matter and a second knock can be deadly. If Tin Tin were a real person, he’d either be in a coma, have serious onset of CTE or dead.
It doesn’t even take someone to be knocked out to suffer a serious concussion and if they don’t follow a recovery plan as directed by a medical professional, then they risk going back to an activity too soon and risk the second impact syndrome which can kill. If you don’t have a comprehensive return to play/sport or activity plan at your school or organisation, then you need one today! Yes today! Don’t wait for someone to be seriously injured or killed to do something about it. Whilst that may sound dramatic, it is because it’s one of those injuries which isn’t as obvious as someone bleeding profusely from their body and isn’t as easy to treat, as each person recovers differently and at different speeds. In many cases, this is a minimum of 21 days with a planned recovery process overseen by a doctor. However, again, 21 days is the current thinking around minimum recovery times and may change or be different for individuals depending on age, development, severity of the knock and so many other factors and could be months for someone to fully recover.
For most schools, the main causation of this type of injury is sport, not getting whomped over the back of the head by international drug smugglers. However, I remember going on an excursion once when I was in Year 4 to a deer farm in Tamworth, which then turned out to be an enormous drug plantation, so anything is possible and fighting crime and international drug smugglers is probably way more interesting than a normal day at school. However, failing that, your injuries are mostly going to be from sports. Therefore, you need to be able to do an initial concussion test and assessment and then if this assessment suggests a concussion in a student or player, you need to site them out and they need to be seen and assessed by a medical practitioner.
For the case of Tin Tin, he could probably afford to get knocked out maybe once a month or every second month and although his writing and bad guy chasing may suffer and he’d have to put a lot of activity on hold, he might be ok with the occasional blow to the head. Having said that, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. Added to his woes, if he’s not getting whomped over the back of the head, the bad guys are chloroforming him. All in all, Tin Tin by all measure should be dead by now. However, thanks to cartoon laws of reality and physics, he and his drunk dog are back again fighting crime and saving the day.
Since we can’t rely on these wonderful alternate reality laws of physics and health, make sure you have a concussion assessment and return to play with a plan in place so that you don’t risk the worst case scenarios that unfortunately happen to people back here in the real world.
How often do you review the programs you’re running and how they’re being run? Are there any specific activities which require specialised training, experience or knowledge? When it comes to experiential or outdoor education programs, there are often key activities which need specific training and or experience so they’re able to be run effectively, efficiently and safely. However, when one team member moves on, standards change or complacency creeps in, this can become a significant risk to your organisation and programs.
How often do you review your team dynamics and skill set? What are the strengths of your team? What are the gaps in your team? Can those gaps be amended through staff training or training courses? Do you have a system in place for constantly assessing and reviewing this?
To be clear, to begin with micromanagement of staff is definitely not needed here and can be massively counterproductive. However, the opposite is also true. If you have staff whose skills are never developed, reviewed or improved, this can lead to complacency, poor work and an ‘expert’ blind spot situation where everything will be ok, because it always has been. For your organisation, there needs to be a happy and effective medium for this. With no reviews or identification of key skills and experience, or the blind expectation that everyone has the same level of skill because you set a qualification as a minimum standard for employment, then you’re deluding yourself into a false sense of security and setting yourself up for problems down the track.
One place I worked, we had all field staff training as a minimum with a Cert IV in outdoor recreation. However, the skills and abilities of each member of staff varied enormously. Their ability to engage students in the group, their ability to setup ropes courses, expeditions and debrief activities all varied massively. Yet they all had the same qualifications. The potential risk in this situation is that you can’t simply allocate staff to activities without understanding their strengths and weaknesses in specific areas. However, the positive of this is that you need people with different and complementary skills to make it a fun and dynamic working environment.
That same organisation for which I was working, despite having gaps in training and skills, the team dynamics were really positive as the task and role allocations were done based upon those complementary skills. For example, I can’t reverse trailers. I try, but it never ends well. So one of my colleagues always reversed the trailer. Conversely, some of the team were squeamish with ticks, blood and open wounds, which I wasn’t, so I ended up removing all the ticks and patching up all the gaping open wounds.
At the end of the day, we worked well together. However, there were still gaps in skills and understanding of a range of things which caused a number of breakdowns in communications and challenges along the way. It’s therefore critical, even if things are running reasonably well, to review the skills needed to run the programs for which you’re responsible, as part of your ongoing risk management. So often people think of risk management as simply the documentation you’re creating. However, it’s far more than that and the skills and experience of your staff is critical to the way in which risk management is developed and implemented.
What are the strengths of your team? What are the gaps in their skills and what training do they need to help close these gaps? Often general risk management training is overlooked versus activity specific training. However, activity specific training, whilst it develops a great set of specific skills, is often the broader contexts of risk management that gets missed when we focus on one specific area. Hence, it’s important to keep this in mind when reviewing the training needs of your team.
Once you’ve been able to identify the gaps, then it’s important to provide opportunities for training, or on the job experience to help the team members to improve their skills in this area. This can make a huge difference to the safety and coherence of the organisation and the team dynamics.
External training is also critical to ensure that the right skills are being developed and being done in a way that’s also at arm’s length so that internal processes and procedures are also being challenged and tested to help ensure industry standards are up to date and being met. What are your gaps? If you haven’t reviewed where you’re at for a while, then it’s time to do so right now. Identify your skills’ gaps and ensure you get your team trained in each of those areas of need to ensure you’re running safe, awesome experiential outdoor programs for your students.
Catering is a really important part of your program. Any camp, school excursion or overseas school trip needs to have good food, with considerations made for any dietary needs. This could be based upon allergies, religion or preference.
The complexity of this can, at times, get a bit overwhelming. Some are justified, some are ridiculous and indulgent. The ongoing challenge is however, to ensure you push through the fact that some parents push stupid diets on their children and focus on the fact that getting the catering right for your critical needs students is vitally important.
For most students, it’s fairly clear and obvious that they’re a vegetarian, they can’t eat nuts or seafood or whatever the case may be and you simply provide this information to your camp catering team to sort out. However, it’s important not to set and forget this, as things can always slip through the cracks and when they do… you can have some of the most dangerous situations on hand.
On one program I was running, we were using a hardtop catered camp site for part of it. I walked in to have dinner and saw that it was a pasta dish with a tomato sauce. However, as I looked a bit closer, I saw some tiny prawns in it. I quickly looked around the room as this was not on the menu plan and one of our students was anaphylactic to shellfish. I spotted him down the back of the dining room, having just sat down to eat. I dashed down and immediately said not to eat the pasta. Despite being old enough to have some level or self-regulation, he hadn’t seen the prawns in the food. Thankfully, he hadn’t eaten anything and I arranged for another meal.
It turned out that the cook had a bag of spare prawns in the freezer and just thought he’d use that to ‘bulk-up’ the dish. The potential consequences of this could have been fatal. Even if you’re really careful with food allergies, it’s important that someone is monitoring this and not just ticking that box before the program and thinking it will have sorted itself out.
Another camp provider I was working with was completely dysfunctional and couldn’t understand dietary needs at all. This was obvious from the signs they had placed on the servery. ‘46 normal’. It wasn’t just the fact that they had odd signs, but then they hadn’t actually catered for any dietary needs at all, so the not-normal were given salad. I ended up having to go out at the last minute and buy some supplies because the caterers were so incompetent. Needless to say they were never used again. However, once again, if you don’t have someone actively monitoring this for your program, you can end up with all sorts of nightmares.
Even in-house, if you’re employing people who are supposedly well-experienced in food preparation and catering for school groups, this is no guarantee that things will go well. Once place I was working the cook (really couldn’t!) kept sending out meals raw. Now a raw hamburger is one thing, but when you have raw chicken breasts coming out for dinner, it’s obvious they’ve got no idea and time to replace them.
Whilst it’s often tempting for schools to contract out their camps to other people to organise and run for them, you’re still ultimately responsible for the health and safety of your students, so someone should be overseeing and observing meals, snacks and drinks throughout the day. In doing so, you can save yourself from far greater problems that can result from bad catering and a lack of attention to this part of your program. You don’t have to be over the top or hyper vigilant, but you do need to have your finger on the pulse as to what everyone is eating.
If some of your providers can’t cater, or the level of complexity of students’ food needs is too great for you to adequately cater for them, its important to have this conversation with parents and find an alternate solution.
In my experience. if you have someone who needs a specific brand or exact item from a gourmet food store, then it’s probably best to document in your program information that some cases might require self-catering. I’ve had this both for extreme allergies and extreme parenting. The extreme parenting and ‘fussy eater’ scenario aside, if you have serious concerns about major food allergies and triggers, then just work with the parents to provide the food themselves. We’ve done this on many occasions and have also provided separate cooking equipment for those students to ensure there’s no cross-contamination.
At times, this is a challenging part of running the program. It doesn’t have to be and putting those plans in place early, talking with parents and the students, as well as monitoring what’s being provided, will help ensure those catering nightmares are well and truly kept at bay.
A lot of people think more is better. The more information you have, the more documentation you have. The more plans you have, all make life so much easier, better and safer.
However, the reality is quite different. Ironically, the more information someone has, the harder it is to make an informed decision. I’ve seen risk management documents which run to 70 pages in length, which nobody is going to read for one, but also, even if you did read it all, there’s way too much information contained within those 70 pages for anyone to make a logical and informed decision. More is most definitely not better.
As humans, our brains can only take in so much info and analyse it before it gets overwhelmed. Too many possibilities become too hard to rationalise and think about logically and the more information and possibilities, the harder it is to respond and make any sort of informed decision.
This is why we see people in high stress situations make very poor decisions, which result in bad outcomes. It’s not the lack of information at hand. It’s too much. Instead of having reams of paperwork, which is supposedly there to help people run programs safely, you’re far better off to only look at key points of data to help you make a far more informed decision than the alternative.
Whilst this may seem counter-intuitive, the fact is that we’re not good at decision making as the stress level increases and the amount of information to analyse increases. We become myopic and our field of vision and understanding narrows. That’s why, sadly, so many coronial inquests on the surface seem so simple and straight forward. Why wasn’t this simple decision made at this point in time to prevent the fatality from happening? Chances are that there was too much information at hand.
We therefore need to simplify what we’re doing and how we’re doing it to improve our decision-making abilities. Nobody is going to read or even be able to use huge documents. They’re only really useful to lawyers post incident to spend more time than is reasonable for them to photocopy and read through so they can bill clients for it. Whilst that’s wonderfully profitable for lawyers, it’s actually not much help to you in the field.
How do you filter out the noise and get to the key information you need? That’s challenging, because each activity is situational. However, if you focus on your key risks and supervision responsibilities, then you’re well on the way to making good decisions. What’s the weather like? What’s the group dynamics like? What are the key activity risks? This is a great start. Also delegating responsibilities and positive team communications and dynamics, is a great way to reduce the burden of decision making on any one person to enable fast and effective reviews and analysis of the information at hand.
You often come across people who carry risk management documents on them as their way of effective risk management or responding if something doesn’t go to plan. However, this is problematic in that the time it takes to find something within that document that may be useful in a critical incident, is just time wasted in actually dealing with the issue at hand.
Whilst this doesn’t mean that this preparation is time wasted on developing good risk management systems, processes and documenting this, it does mean that you need competent people on the frontline running programs who can make informed decisions based on a reasonably small set of data. This takes training and practice, but if you realise that to begin with, the more information at hand, the more difficult it is to make informed decisions, then you’re well on the way to being able to more effectively handle stressful situations and incidents and come out of them with a positive outcome having managed and mitigated the situation at hand.
Therefore, don’t let yourself go down with myopic tunnel vision. Work out what’s important and filter out all the noise. Run some training scenarios and make sure you’re ready for whatever comes your way.
No you can’t do that! … It’s not safe!
This is the deafening catch cry of the fleet of helicopter and drone parents who put the apocalypse, now pilots to shame. Be safe! Take Care! Don’t do this! Don’t do that!
Stop! I wanna go home… take off this uniform and leave the show!
With such an increasingly large group of paranoid parents who don’t want anything to happen ever, unless it’s a participation award ceremony where the trophies have had their razor sharp edge buffed off, it’s difficult to know how damaging this will be over the long-run. But damaging it is and damaging it will continue to be for years to come.
In an attempt to make the world ‘safe and perfect’ for their wonderfully ‘perfect’ children, parents continue to cripple their kids into a false sense of security and confidence, or made them insanely dependent, depressed and anxious about the world. Either way, it’s not a healthy way to raise children.
Everyone learns and grows from taking risks, be they physical or emotional risks. If we don’t step outside of our comfort zone and do something, then we make little progress. We don’t learn from our mistakes and we’re unable to understand our true capabilities and grow as a result. Despite the world getting safer and being a far more stable place than it has ever been, for some reason, (probably social media driven) parents seem more fearful and paranoid about everything. They therefore aim to remove all risk and all potential challenges from their children’s lives. There’s just one massive problem with this. It’s insanely stupid and crippling for children and it increases the risk of harm to those children dramatically.
If you don’t know what it feels like to take a risk, then you have no way to gauge the level, severity or potential consequences of that risk. Teenagers struggle with this anyway, as their brains are wired to only seeing rewards out of any situation. However, couple this with absolutely neither perspective, experience nor understanding of taking risks, then you end up with an extremely dangerous combination of false confidence and the illusion of that everything will produce a positive outcome. This lack of experience and false confidence coupled with a parent who will never let a child take any risks, results in teenagers who will take completely unhealthy and dangerous risks with no thought of or perspective for the consequences.
However, if children are allowed to take risks, they’re going to injury themselves. They’re going to get dirty, scratched, knocked about, but each time this happens, they learn from this and develop a level of resilience. They gain understanding of what they’re capable and of what they’re not capable. They build a level of understanding of risk and from this are able to begin to self-regulate, because they know, if you jump out of a tree and land hard, this could result in a rolled ankle, broken wrist or something that’s unpleasant, but not exactly that bad.
We all learn best through our experiences, so those children whose parents don’t let them take any sort of risk, generally drive them to and from school no matter how close it is and don’t let them out of their sight ever. They don’t allow their children to develop a perspective or gauge for risk and consequently are more likely to take dangerous risks as all they have developed over the years is false confidence and nothing more.
Taking risks diminishes this false confidence and is critical to long term development so as children turn into teenagers, they’re far more switched on to identify real risks and approach them in a more responsible way. The next time parents ask why you’re doing this activity or that activity, have a positive conversation about the benefits of taking risks and growth in a great way from these experiences.
Recently, I was working on a residential program and despite students needing to have a phone on them for our risk management as part of the program, we collected everyone’s phones at night. Now this was something which had wide spread support of parents and limited support from students. No surprises there with the Pandora’s box that’s been opened on that front, which is the point of this article.
Whilst many students thought I was the worst person in the world for taking their phones every night, it made me realise something which I suspected, but didn’t quite have the evidence to support it until now.
The phones generally went on charge before homework time in the evening around 7:30 and after prep, bedtime was around 9:45 with lights out at 10pm. With all the phones being recharged in the duty office overnight, I noticed something when I went back to wrap things up for the evening. Depending on what time all the students were settled, I’d generally head back into the office somewhere between 10:30 and 11pm.
Sitting there, writing up the daily notes for the next day’s handover, I’d hear the buzz, bings and blips of the fifty odd phones going off the whole time I was there. To begin with, it was just annoying, but it became progressively more concerning. One evening, I was up past midnight and the phones were still going.
This gave me the sudden realisation of how overwhelming this must be for their minds. Phones are already addictive by nature. This helps us to understand the ongoing problem that teenagers are facing with the inability to switch off from the connected world. If their phones are still alive with notifications late at night and I mean every night, not just weekend, every single night, what chance do they have to be able to cope in class with tiredness and a constant craving for another dopamine hit.
Like coked up lab rats, they become slaves to the device that’s shaping and manipulating their behaviour almost every hour of the day. This is bound to be slowly destroying their ability to cope with the real world and doing unknown long-term emotional damage. Yet parents are still giving their children phones at a phenomenal rate.
We have well and truly thrown in the towel on this one in such a short period of time. We need to pick up that towel and get back in the ring. This is something worth fighting for as large social media companies care nothing for their users and everything about their profits. These companies have built intentionally addictive functionality into their platforms to keep people online and this is the result, endless distractions designed to manipulate the formative years of children. When you see this toxic mess for what it really is, it makes you wonder about the world 2.0 and how regressive social media has been for us.
Digital technology is amazing, but we still need everyone to have the opportunity to switch off from it and not be constantly bombarded with messages, notifications and whatever other crap comes through their phones. Despite the large tech companies doing nothing but giving lip-service to social responsibility, we have a responsibility to help students switch off from this potentially dangerous and destructive world and provide them with the opportunity to understand the life and circumstances in which they find themselves living.
It’s time we gave them the opportunity to switch off and build real relationships with real people and not just be mindless slaves, slowly losing their sleep and minds to the wonderful machine that goes bing.
Education without focus, is just like anything else without focus. It’s hap-hazardous at best and pointlessly time-wasting and counterproductive at its worst. However, this seems to be the way education goes these days. It’s all over the place where you’ve got a bit of this, a bit of that and a bit of everything. Yet if you’re trying to please everybody with everything, you invariably don’t end up pleasing anybody with anything. The fact is that the world has changed and in recognition of that, so must education.
Recently, I came across a number of different schools that are targeting specific areas for growth and development. I find this is a fascinating approach and one which has the potential to produce some amazing opportunities and educational results. However, how do you know what your child wants to focus on?
Often, it’s the parents who want their kids to do something, rather than the desire coming from the children themselves. I’ve seen this horrible and damaging sort of situation so often and you know what the end result will be, but it’s like watching a train wreck in motion. There’s not much you can do about it.
The fact is that if this is the case, then no matter how much a parent wants something, it's never really going to be something their son or daughter really wants to do. For example, my parents wanted me to learn the piano. I hated the piano. I didn't enjoy learning. I didn’t enjoy practicing. I didn't enjoy performing. I really didn’t enjoy anything about it. Despite loving to listen to music, I wasn’t someone who wanted to play an instrument of any kind. However, I enjoyed singing and I ended up doing some singing lessons and performances which I really enjoyed.
Yet without both these experiences, I would never have known what I liked and what I should focus on. To begin with, it’s well worth encouraging kids to experience a whole range of different activities and explore interests without the parental pressure and expectations to pick one thing that they really want themselves. This process can help students work out what makes them tick and therefore what they should be focusing on in their education, especially in their high school years.
I remember when I was in primary school at the end of one term, we did a week of trying out a different sort of activity. We were given a range of different options. We could choose bowling, squash, tennis or even roller skating and I don’t mean roller blading. I mean roller skating! Yes, it was still a thing back then and it was so much fun. You'd skate up to the DJ, request a song, then skate around the rink as fast as you could when your song came on! Unfortunately, the skating rink, ‘Skatehaven’ was turned into self-storage units years ago. Such a sad end to a wonderful venue, but back to the main point!
The fact was you were able to choose something and concentrate on it for a week. You’d learn different skills and techniques and you’d be able to challenge yourself doing something new and different. If you didn’t like it, at the end of the week you never have to do it again, but if you liked it, this just opened up a brand-new opportunity and interest for you. That week I chose squash!
This is something I really remember about primary school. Most of the time you don’t remember anything about primary school because it was so long ago and far away and but so much better than it is today. Every maths, English, geography and science lesson all blend into one with very little recollection at all of any that really happened. However, when you do something unique and different it stands out and becomes memorable.
To be honest, I’ve never played squash since, but I did really enjoy that week. I did however, go on to play tennis which is sort of the same thing anyway. Yet schools don’t tend to do many experiential education weeks like this. If they did, it would have a profound impact on a child’s education and development. Think about it this way. You have schools full of dedicated teachers, whose lessons will never be remembered. That to me seems like a complete waste of time and talent. Perhaps a few more memorable weeks each year doing something different wouldn’t hurt at all. In fact, even if you did a month a year throughout high school, that’s still only six months of a student’s education, which is six months more of experiences they will actually remember, learn from and cherish for the rest of their lives. Even taking this time out, they’ll still have five and a half years of blurred generic grey days in classrooms about which to forget.
With the stats suggesting that in Australia 40% of students are disengaged, why not try something different and meaningful to get at least some of those 40% back on track. In what are they interested? What do they love to do? Do you have any idea what drives them? If you don’t know that, you can’t tailor a program for them. Why not have a month every year that’s dedicated to doing different activities and I don’t mean outdoor ed activities, I mean a whole range of community, cultural, sporting and workplace activities to see what actually makes students get excited about their life and contribution to society. Some weeks they will like, some weeks they won’t like but it starts to develop a picture and it starts to give students a feeling for different activities, for different experiences and for different challenges. It lets them develop some ideas of a path that they enjoy and that they want to follow. It lets them explore what they want to explore and this can be tied back into the classroom and academic programs they need to be able to do to get into a specific field which interests them.
There’s a great benefit from this because once you have students re-engaged, they’re actually going to learn and so if you have someone who is learning and someone who is keen, they’re more likely to go on to further education or seek positive employment opportunities or contribute in a meaningful way to their communities. They’re less likely to be disillusioned, disengaged with the life, the universe and everything and sitting at home doing nothing.
With massive levels of youth unemployment in our country and a growing trend towards automation of many entry level and low-level repetitive jobs, it’s time to do something more useful and productive in education. At the end of the day, things like NAPLAN results and standardized tests are pointless numbers which are quickly forgotten like most classroom lessons. The emphasis that has been put on these things, would give you the impression that they’re useful indicators of long-term learning and employability, which they’re not.
At the end of the day, you want young men and women who can think for themselves and be able to help solve the terrible social, environmental and economic mess they’re been left with by previous generations. Finding meaningful experiential education experiences for them to have over the course of their schooling is critical to achieving this and it shouldn’t be lumped as a ‘co-curricular’ or one off activity. Build something useful into the daily lives of students and this will have a profound impact on the way in which they learn.
Why are schools so challenged by risk management? This is something I’ve been noticing a lot lately and whilst risk management in schools has never been strong, because it doesn’t form part of a teacher’s training, the fact that it’s so important baffles me as to the lack of attention given to it.
Whilst many a school will scream and curse at this suggestion, claiming that they have a great paperwork system, there lies the problem. A paperwork system based purely on checking boxes and approvals masks the fact that there’s a lack of real risk management understanding and implementation. Paperwork without training and experience is just that, paperwork. It can be dragged out to accuse staff of this or that in an attempt to deflect blame, rather than being a support mechanism for decision making and good operational practices.
One place I worked was obsessed by paperwork. One activity was determined unsafe because the paperwork wasn’t good enough. This was yet another ill-informed and idiotic comment from someone who knew nothing about risk management. The boss also insisted everyone sign every document, before going out on an activity, but when something within that document was materially affecting the safety of the program, nothing was done about it. Now, I admit this was an extreme case, but we learn a lot from these things and the reality is that if a teacher has not had any formal Risk Management training, the teacher shouldn’t be planning or running any sort of activity at all.
Anything from a practical lesson, to a quick trip down the road to a local park, gallery, courthouse or museum, right up to sports, camps and overseas trips, requires a risk management assessment. Teachers must take the time, not just to learn how to ‘do’ paperwork, which I could probably train a team of monkeys on typewriters to do quite a lot better than some of the risk assessments I’ve read over the years, but instead, the most important thing is that they need to train for situational awareness, contingency planning and how to be adaptable and flexible to ensure whatever the activity is, it’s run well.
The number of teachers who are taking groups of students out on activities who are untrained, unskilled and unprepared is worrying. You cannot contract out your duty of care nor your liability to a third party, so if you’re taking a group overseas, then you are responsible for everything that happens regardless of contract providers. These are some of the most dangerous trips to run, as far too many people see this as a holiday, rather than the significantly higher duty of care and potentially reduced resources, yet countless trips head out with a bit of paperwork and teachers who have no ideas what’s in that, nor how to really implement any of it.
This disconnect widens, the more schools employ people to ‘do’ their risk assessments for them. I’ve seen an increasing number of schools put this responsibility on one person and not the people running the trips. At the end of the day, if you aren’t trained and experienced in the management of risk, then you shouldn’t be planning and running a trip at all. This isn’t to say stop doing trips, because that would be stupid and pointless. Instead, get some training so that you can be confident in what you’re doing and start to build a culture within your organisation which understands and has great risk management systems so every trip goes out with confident pro-active teachers who are prepared and situationally aware so that you are always running great experiential education programs for everyone.
Before your next excursion, do a risk management training course and build your skills-set and start to address this disconnect between documentation, implementation and culture. The only way to truly run great programs, is to have that culture of risk management right throughout your organisation.