I know it’s been a year longer than we had hoped, but now, despite the current global issues, which reminds me of the Billy Joel song, ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, we’re back for season 2 of the Xperiential Education podcast!
This season, we cover all sorts of great programs from art, to science, to risk management, to outdoor ed, to a really wonderful student-led medical program and a few things in between. The depth and breadth of the podcast and our guests, highlights how important it is for students today to learn to be adaptable problem solvers.
Season 2 is brought to you by Xcursion Risk Management, for all of your risk management training and software needs for running great experiential education programs.
For more info, guest suggestions and other feedback visit:
In life, we can always come up with ten reasons for not doing something. The negative talk of most people determines why something shouldn’t be done more often than why it should be done. In general, people don’t like to take risks and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
However, taking risks is how we grow and develop. If we’re so risk averse that we’re not willing to try anything new, then this really doesn’t allow us to reach our potential on any level. Yet when most people encounter something new or different, they will run through in their minds all the reasons why it won’t work, rather than all the reasons why it will.
This is common at work and in people’s social lives. The comfort of knowing the outcome is a wonderful thing to be able to hold onto as it gives us certainty, which is always comfortable to have. However, this certainty can often hold us back from interesting and exciting experiences.
One really good example of this is abseiling. Over the years, despite this being a really safe activity to do, abseilling has been the most challenging activity I’ve seen for many students and teachers alike. You can see them talking themselves down, even before you get started. Some people won’t even put on a harness because they’re afraid of heights, rock falls, ropes breaking, slipping back, falling off the cliff, being dropped off the cliff, the rope being cut, the anchor giving way, the double anchor giving way, looking stupid or afraid whilst on the rope. Despite this huge bunch of negative talk, what’s the one reason you should forget all of this and just go for it?
Now I can’t answer this for anyone, but what’s important is that we encourage people we’re working with to find the one reason for doing something. This might not be easy, as the easiest thing to often do is nothing, but where does that get us? It disempowers people and means they will never be able to live up to their potential.
The irony of all this is that often by not doing anything, or taking any risks, people end up with a false sense of what real risks are and often the risk of doing nothing is far greater than the risk of giving something a go.
When you’re setting up an activity which might have a high-level of perceived risk and a high-level of resistance from participants, why not chat with them about the benefits of taking a risk on something. Use a tangible example of that as well, to ensure they can see how and why finding the one reason to do something, versus the ten reasons not to. This is massively beneficial to their own personal development and growth.
There will always be plenty of reasons not to do something in life, but if nobody took any sort of risk, then we’d still be living in caves. Even if something doesn’t work out the way we thought it would, taking that risk can mean we end up having a wonderful and unexpected experience and learn and grow from this. This is followed by other experiences we have as a result of finding that one reason why, versus the ten reasons why not.
Take a risk today! Try something new and different and surprise yourself as to how wonderful that new experience can be.
Over 50 years ago, the first year 9 residential outdoor ed programs started to emerge. It was a good idea! Nobody likes year 9s. (14-15 years old) They’re moody, annoying, think they know everything and don’t pay any attention in class. Consequently, sending them out to the bush somewhere where they were someone else’s problem was a genius idea. Why not send Year 8 as well? In fact, let’s send any students that regular classroom teachers struggle with! It would probably make their lives better.
Rather than address the fact that ‘main stream’ education is a complete waste of time, getting rid of students from the school is a much simpler solution to a far more complex problem. However, I’ll avoid going off on too much of a tangent for the moment in why our whole education system is broken and focus on the real issue. Sending year 9s away is now a huge waste of time.
Granted, everyone still loves to get rid of their year 9 students. I’ve never heard a single teacher say, “Oh I’m going to miss having my year 9s here.” No, the resounding sound of champagne corks popping throughout the school can still be heard every time a bus departs for a year 9 campus. Parents equally love the chance to make their dysfunctional year 9s someone else’s problem and spend time travelling or just enjoying going out for romantic dinners again. Which is all very nice, but to what real end?
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a year 9 residential program, most of them are structured around a rural or remote setting in which both outdoor pursuits are undertaken, as well as an academic program. Many that I have come across are just boarding schools in the bush, so not really outdoor Ed programs as such, but a seemingly great way to hide and lock up your year 9s from the outside world.
Having worked on year 9 residential programs for many years, they’ve either been too long, too short or have lacked clarity and purpose. The students, in my experience, have only really benefited through osmosis and the true educational value of a residential program more often than not, was completely lost on them and the school. Sure, it was a good piece of marketing for the school and you could dump a whole year group somewhere else for a bit, but what was the point? Other than getting all students into a regular daily routine and doing a few jobs, very little else in terms of longer lasting growth was ever achieved.
From all the years of running programs and expeditions with year 9s, I was convinced that we were running them for the wrong year group entirely. The concepts of goal setting, leadership, teamwork and sacrifice are somewhat foreign to the self-centred, self-focussed year 9s. More often than not, you barely shifted the dial in their lives. They simply lack the maturity to truly benefit from a residential experience in which expectations are high and independence is the key theme. Sure, they still get something out of it, but let’s be honest. Take anyone away for an extended period of time and something will happen. Therefore, why not rethink this flawed concept and move to a year 10 program instead?
One year makes a huge difference in the level of maturity and adolescents’ ability to appreciate, engage with and learn from a residential experience. If you want to introduce concepts such as leadership, introduce it with students who are starting to have some idea of what that means and an understanding of its implementation and benefit. Too often I see teachers insert the word leadership and they have no idea and understanding themselves as to what this really means. For year 9s who struggle with the concept, it can be overwhelming and confusing, or else set them up with the idea of how great they are… when they’re really not.
However, Year 10s (15-16 year olds) are at a tipping point. If you want to have a far greater impact on a young person’s life, it’s going to be during this year. Much of the unruly, lame attitude and behaviour of year 9 has been dispensed with and now, they’re far more open to self-reflection and growth. You can realistically approach them and the residential program with a far greater focus on being independent, critical thinking risk takers and problem solvers than you can with year 9s. Working with year 10s gives you a far greater opportunity to help them build character, explore what’s important to them in life and focus on leadership and life skills in preparation for their senior years, thus setting them up for life.
The difference in maturity in these two year groups is stark and the results would be too. For year 9s, you spend 80% of the program battering them around the head with rules and program structures to help stop them from doing dumb things and making stupid decisions. When they finally get it, you’ve only got 20% of the program left to be able to do anything useful with them. However, with year 10s, you have the potential to reverse this and instead spend 20% on structure and 80% on the experiential learning and reflection.
To continue to run year 9 residential programs is a phenomenal waste of time and missed educational opportunity. As the world changes and we need to up-skill students with a far more diverse set of flexible, adaptable critical thinking and adaptable experiential skills, we need to look at ways of maximising the impact of this during their time at school. Why waste all that time, energy and effort on rule enforcement with a year group that will struggle to truly understand and embrace the opportunity before them? Instead, it’s time we ditched year 9 programs and move them to year 10. As a result, the long-term benefit to students and the community will be vastly different and truly set students up for success.
For me and many others in Australia, the transition from Christmas to the New Year has been incredibly stressful and disconnected from what we would usually think is a wonderful holiday period. We’ve finished 2019 and started 2020 having experienced some of the most horrendous bush fire conditions anyone has ever seen and at such a large scale.
Whilst some of the most catastrophic days have past, there remains a clear and present danger in terms of fires. However, with any risk, it’s in the assessment and active review of that risk that we’re able to effectively manage those risks.
In recent days, I’ve heard of a number of schools cancelling their entire outdoor education programs. I have absolutely no idea what idiotic thought process was involved in these decisions. In fact, it’s worse than that. If you have people running these programs who are willing to take them all out of the field on such a thin premise, then those people shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an outdoor ed program, let alone a school, as it doesn’t demonstrate any level of reasonable thought nor leadership on what has been a devastating concern, yet at the same time, not an insurmountable risk.
Being able to understand the difference between perceived risk and real risk is important for those running an outdoor ed program, or any school excursion or activity for that matter. Certainly, parent perception is a risk, but it’s not a dangerous risk, it’s more of an unpleasant risk in the grand scheme of things. However, if you clearly explain decisions based upon real evidence and have professional, well-trained and experienced risk managers running your programs, then this is not a real risk at all.
On the surface, it would appear that schools have cancelled programs because of this perceived risk and perceived parental opinion, rather than any real risk. The real risk in all of this, is that it reinforces the fear that many students might have about the outdoors and it’s much easier just to give up than to actually manage the risks at hand. As camp is the only thing many students remember about their schooling, sorry to say kids, for some of you 2020 won’t be very memorable.
Whilst we should never underestimate the dangers which come with bushfires, it’s important that as an industry and educators, we don’t waste an opportunity for students to learn. With all outdoor education in Australia, the level of real risk is quite low and when it’s managed and run by experienced professionals, the prevalence of injuries and significant events is also very, very low. Why then would a school ignore the industry’s high standards and simply cancel everything? Are their risk management systems and staff so inadequate that they’re incapable of managing an environmental risk? Or have they taken advice from idiots who have never worked in the field before?
Even though we can’t be blasé about safety nor the potential real risks involved with bushfires in the summer months, we also can’t afford to be so risk averse that it damages a student’s experience and builds fear into them about the outdoors and the natural environment. Throughout my career in outdoor education and risk management, we’ve had to pull the pin on a number of programs because of a change in conditions or circumstances and you could see the elevation of the level of risk heading to the point of an unacceptable risk. Therefore, it was time to adapt to the circumstances and change what we were doing. However, every time we did this, it was based upon real risk management and operational thresholds that have not changed the way in which we would, nor should view the current situation in Australia. Our risk management systems are progressive and leverage all of the available information, from public sourced services, news reports and real-time information on the ground. Basing decisions on good risk management practices is always critical to the success of your programs, no matter what. These fire events have not changed that in any way, shape or form and the core principles of good risk and program management remain the same.
The reason why we manage risk in a professional and systematic way is so that we can make well-informed decisions based upon current circumstances and conditions and despite the impact of major social and environmental events, we can continue to operate in a safe and professional manner. The reverse is also true, when people don’t understand how to effectively manage risk, they make ill-informed and rash decisions which either result in serious injuries or ridiculous decisions such as cancelling everything because those responsible for these programs don’t have the skills, knowledge or confidence to pro-actively understand and manage the risks involved.
Just last year several people were injured in a pre-Christmas shopping centre crush as an ill-conceived giveaway promotion went horribly wrong! Many people also die on our roads travelling at this time of the year. Do we cancel Christmas? No that would be stupid… and so is this.
What a fascinating place! Just off the coast of Perth, Rottnest Island is a rugged wind swept island on the Western most part of Australia. The island has been a salt mine, a defensive base and now a unique wildlife sanctuary.
The island was named by the early Dutch explorers who mistook the cutest marsupial in the world for a rat! This probably says more about the Dutch explorers than anything else, as rats look horrible and Quokkas are the most adorable things in the world. The Dutch explorers also spent much of their time sailing the world and nailing pewter dishes in random places, so trusting them to know the difference between two vastly different animals was perhaps a bridge too far.
Anyway, that aside, if the island had been called “amazing, cute, fury animal island,” the cutest animal in the world might have been run into extinction. For a day trip out with a group, this is an awesome place to go. Most of the travel around the island is on bikes, which makes it an ideal school excursion and can combine both an active day of riding, with an educational science or history based day of learning.
I guess we should start with what everyone really wants to see when they go to the island and that’s the Quokkas. They’re about the size of a small dog and are part of the kangaroo family. There’s around 10,000 of them on the island and they’re adorable. Strangely, they have no real fear of humans and so you can get up quite close. Sadly, idiots feed them all the time, so part of the population near the settlement are a bit mangy looking from all the crap people have fed them. When you take a group, don’t feed the Quokkas. Perhaps instead, feed some idiots some Quokka food and hopefully they’ll turn mangy instead. Here’s hoping! Anyway, you can still get up close and have a wonderful experience seeing a wild one of these that’s not going to be phased by your standing or kneeling nearby. Also, it’s not a good idea to try and pet them, especially if you have a group of students with you.
They do look like they’re smiling all the time, so make their lives happy by keeping your distance. There are daily tours which will take you around to see a few of the wild ones close to the settlement before you head out on a bike riding adventure.
The rest of the island has a variety of wonderful coves and beaches, some of which are suitable for swimming, but not patrolled, so if you’re thinking of swimming or snorkelling as part of the activity, make sure you have suitably qualified and experienced open water rescue and snorkel instructors. The island is ideal for this and the swim can form part of either just a break from the bike ride, or a wider marine ecology study during your trip.
The third part of the island that’s worth checking out are the WWII tunnels. As a first line of defence to protect Fremantle from the Germans and Japanese in WWII, a gun emplacement and underground fort was built on the island. On top of one of the hills, sits a huge artillery piece which is loaded from below and able to fire upon ships trying to attack or land in or around the city and its ports. Now the gun stands idle, but probably could be put into action again if someone were to try and kidnap the quokkas.
To do justice to a trip to Rottnest, you really need more than a day and there’s plenty of accommodation on the island. To get there, you’ll need to catch a ferry from Fremantle which runs back and forth each day. Perhaps as part of a multi day trip you could build in a community service component as the island has over 400 volunteers but could always do with a few more hands to help protect this wonderful sanctuary.
Whatever you decide to do when visiting the island, it’s an amazing place to be. From the coastline to the bike trails, the history, the salt lakes and the cutest animals in the world, this is one awesome, educational experience that students will never forget and well worth the trip to our most Western state.
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…
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.
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.
I was reading a book recently called ‘Robot Proof’ by Joseph Aoun which explores the way in which automation and AIs are reshaping the world as we know it and creating a new dynamic in which any sort of repeatable job will ultimately be taken over by robots. Why shouldn’t it? What’s the point of doing something over and over again in an extraordinarily inefficient way? This is not progress. This is just time wasting. Surely humans are better equipped and more suited to more complex things than this!
I strongly believe that society is yet to come to terms with this phenomenal transformation of the workplace. Despite people being aware and understanding that jobs have been replaced by computers or automated processes, this trend is only getting faster and more wide-spread and whilst many new jobs were created in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, the number of new jobs being created is diminishing versus the number that were previously being created.
Therefore, how do we protect ourselves and the next generation from the robots? No, I’m not talking about fighting Skynet, in an apocalyptic battle for survival. I’m talking about the real threat of mass automation and the implementation of artificial intelligences that will be able to replace large numbers of both manual and professional jobs.
The answer, of course, is experiential education. Whilst all the theories and knowledge in the world can be digitised and regurgitated, this doesn’t have the same impact that a real world experience has. There’s a defining factor in humans and the world which AIs and robots are not good with and that’s randomness.
Whilst a computer may be able to generate random numbers, it can’t understand emotion and the randomness of human thought and action. You only need to look at recent events in politics to see how extraordinarily stupid people can be. Decisions made on the run, irrational national emergencies and a whole host of decisions made on emotion and without any of the constraints that a computer using logic may have to deal with. Whilst this is not always good, it’s human and this total randomness that is a feature of human behaviour is one defining trait. If people are experienced in dealing with this, it can protect them from the threat of being replaced by a machine.
Consequently, the more we’re exposed to the randomness of life and the uncertainty of what could happen next, the more we will be prepared for any situation. Therefore, experiential education opens the world to real experiences and forces everyone to face the randomness of life. Some of the most interesting trips I’ve ever been on have come from having to actively manage random events, emotions and changing conditions. If you were for example to have a virtual reality excursion (which technology will increasingly enable), you would have the immersive, yet sanitised experience that is dictated by computer programming and logic, rather than the complete randomness of the natural world.
On expeditions, encounters with wildlife, with other groups, with storms, with discomfort, with teachable moments, these could never be produced by an AI, all because of the randomness of the world around us. It’s important that we continue to prepare students for uncertainty and the best way to do it is to get out into the real world and live the experience. No matter what the work place is, no matter what the experience is, no matter what the challenge is, we will always need to be prepared for the random nature of life. Those who can react and adapt, will be successful. Those who can’t cope with this, will not.
The more the world digitises, and logic systems are put in place to run repeatable processes, the more important it is for educators to engage their students with real life experiences and allow them to face the randomness of the world and build a skill set so they can adapt and thrive in this new world that comes a step closer every single day.
Long gone are the days of going on camp for the sake of going on camp. Education is changing, and outdoor education is playing an increasingly important role in that change, helping to develop a vitally important skill-set of problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork, which is needed in a rapidly changing world.
Having worked on many different outdoor education programs, we’ve always needed to ensure we were setting the right level of challenge and hitting the right social and emotional developmental goals for our students. If we make things too soft and it’s just ‘a walk in the park,’ it results in complaints. If we make things too hard, and it’s like trekking to Mordor, it results in tears and complaints. Therefore, how do you find that happy medium?
Essentially, finding that balance is through understanding the needs of your students and clearly setting out what you want them to achieve from the experience. Are you developing teamwork? Are you developing resilience? Are you developing relationships? Are you developing personal responsibility? Are you developing leadership? An answer to each of these questions will help shape your approach to ensure your students are getting the most out of their outdoor experiences.
What you want is an authentic approach to address your students’ needs and not just a camp for the sake of it. To make your outdoor education programs as authentic as possible, it’s extremely important to understand the cultural and social context of your school. What are the biggest challenges your students are facing at school and at home? How does the culture of your school influence planning? What are the right teachable moments needed for your students? How much have they been pushed outside their comfort zone in the past? How much further can they be pushed in the future?
There truly is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to this and understanding the skill-set and level of maturity of your students, is critical in designing the right type of program. For example, one school I worked for, their Year 9 program was massively challenging with 5 days of a relentless expedition which saw students moving from sunrise to sunset every day. It pushed the limits in every way and was about personal challenge, teamwork and strength through adversity. However, they’d been building up to this from year 3 with a graduated, sequential program that pushed the limits a bit further every successive year.
Conversely, another group of year 9s I worked with, who had no other real outdoor education experience simply needed to be able to work together on a very basic level. Therefore, canoeing 20km in a day, followed by 19km of hiking the next day was out of the question. Instead, problem-solving and initiative games followed by a short canoe trip and a mountain bike ride was the most beneficial approach, because this was all new to them. It was a bit challenging, and far enough outside their comfort zone to create some teachable moments on which to reflect, but not enough that it was going to end in tears.
Some of the most powerful and memorable learning experiences come from outdoor education. However, as with every other aspect of education, this can be significantly improved through careful and authentic design to support and build upon any specific areas of need for your students. The more outdoor education is targeted at the specific social and emotional needs of your school and your students, the more effective it will be in producing great results for your students. Be it problem solving, teamwork, resilience, leadership or simply understanding the needs of others, focussing on these outcomes can have a profound effect on everyone that goes out on one of your school programs.