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 Despite people being aware and understanding that jobs have been replaced by computers or automated processes, this trend is only getting faster and more wide-spread and whilst many new jobs were created in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, the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.
Recently, a Victorian primary school placed a ban on students bringing balls to play with in the playground, citing an increase of injuries as the reason. Whilst I’m sure this isn't the first to ban balls, it's an idiotic and irrational decision to say the least. In terms of managing risk, unfortunately, it’s a sad reflection on a complete lack of understanding of the complexity of education, the need for students to understand risk and take reasonable risks to help them to understand how to actually assess and manage risk.
To put a blanket ban on something such as balls, robs students of some great social play activities. So instead of playing handball, cricket, basketball, soccer or dodge ball, instead bored students look for other less sociable pursuits. Having worked in a number of boarding schools, I’ve seen first hand what can happen when bored students start trying to find their own things to do to entertain themselves. It tends to result in far less social behaviour and can result in bullying to develop purely out of boredom.
Consequently, you can stop everyone from doing everything for their ‘own safety’, but you’re likely to create bigger problems than that of balls and a few minor injuries which are just part of life’s knocks and scrapes and are extremely healthy for children to have. Having said that, too many blows to the head with a football might need checking out.
The reality is that life’s not free of risks and trying to ‘eliminate’ any form of risk possible within the school environment is ludicrous and only setting students up for more significant failure in the future. Whatever the mistaken belief is for something such as a ball ban at school, it’s counter to any basic educational principles and is failing the students it’s supposedly designed to be ‘protecting.’
The world can sometimes go crazy when it comes to supposedly ‘managing’ risks. Often it’s a knee jerk reaction to an incident that doesn’t take into consideration other longer-term factors or specific incident circumstances. If you end up with a pattern of injures for whatever the activity is, then review it, but look for other options outside of blanket bans. What level of supervision was being provided? What level of first aid training and experience do staff have? Is it one ball activity in particular or everything? Did a teacher get hit with a ball by accident and has now had an hysterical meltdown? Yes things like this do happen. One place I worked had a ban on playing on the grass, because they wanted the place to ‘look nice’, which was never going to happen cause it was built on a misquote infested swamp, but anyway, the ban led to it becoming impossible to adequately supervise students with the staff we had and led to more problems and injuries because the boys spent the whole time spread out over a campus rumbling with each other. This was pure idiocy in my opinion!
Before someone throws a blanket ban out there on something fun, sociable and educational with the mistaken belief that they’re ‘saving’ everyone from themselves, then they should consider the wider implications and the potentially far greater negative impact that their decision will have on students. Managing risk is not about banning things. It’s about weighing up a series of competing factors which include the educational value of the activity, the risk of allowing the activity to occur and how it is to be supervised, as well as the risk of taking the experience away from students. Often people mistake the management of risk with their idea that they must stop everything from possibly ever happening to anyone. That’s just pure idiocy and something which fails to take into consideration how children learn from their playtime experiences and how keeping children actively engaged in an activity they love doing, will help build confidence, skills and social skills.
Before the fun police get away with banning the next cool activity at school, remember, ‘If you can dodge a spanner, you can dodge a dodge ball!’
On a visit to the US I took some time out to go skiing in Park City. It's a fantastic resort and an awesome historic township. It now even has an Australian run café, which meant I could have a decent coffee (all the important things being from Australia). I’d prepared myself to go a month without decent coffee, reliant on bitter or burnt espressos as a backup plan. I was however, pleasantly surprised to find myself standing in front of a recognisable Australian business and safely drinking a good cup of coffee.
Despite this extremely important tangent, what follows has nothing to do with coffee. It was early in the morning on a crisp crystal clear day over on the Canyons side of the resort. I was skiing past the ski school when a sign caught my attention, “Please, No Parents In The Learning Area!”
I laughed, as I knew exactly why there was a need for something like this the moment I saw it. Whilst it's very important for parents to be involved in their child’s education, there's a right way to go about it and a wrong way to go about it. More often than not, parents, generally through a lack of understanding go about things the wrong way and many of them constantly insert themselves into situations where they should just stand back and allow others to teach.
From what I’ve seen over my years of involvement with education, Helicopter & Tiger parents, need to relax, find themselves a hobby that doesn’t involve them living vicariously through their children. Whilst the underlying belief these parents have is that they’re ‘helping’ and making sure they get the ‘best’ for the child, the reality is that they’re doing more harm than good and wasting their own life and opportunities at the same time.
It’s probably easier to remove the salt from the ocean than it is to remove the helicopter from the parent, but seriously, they need to back off and let their kids breathe and experience a few things in life for themselves. This doesn’t mean that everything should be done at arms’ length, but I can understand the need for the sign as over-involvement of parents can be just as bad, or even worse than under-parenting.
I realise it is a challenging balance, but if you look at it from a work point of view, how would everyone feel if someone went from department to department telling everyone how their job should be done. From marketing, to finance and the janitorial services how would everyone feel if your clients hung around giving instructions on how their work should be done? It wouldn’t be long before security was called and the person was ejected from the building.
I would have thought the whole point of taking your kids to ski school is so that you could ski somewhere awesome yourself. Hanging around offering suggestions or taking photos would be the last thing on my mind. I would have ditched the kids and headed up the closest double black only lift. Ski school and school in general is a great sort of child minding service, which hopefully employs talented instructors and teachers who will be able to care for your children and teach them something far more effectively than you can. This, of course, eventually pays off later on, as you’ll be able to ski with your kids, until they get way better than you and then leave you for dead, suggesting perhaps you should go and have some lessons.
However, from this the most important thing is that sometimes parents need to be able to step away from a situation and allow their children to be taught by others. If they’re not prepared to do that, then why not teach them everything they need to know themselves? This would seem to be preferable for many parents, until they realise the reality of how much time, energy, experience and effort goes into teaching others.
At some point, parents must let go and if they haven’t by high-school years, then the damage they’re going to do over the proceeding years is significant. Again this doesn’t mean parents should have no involvement, but appropriate experiences should be looked for where that increasing independence can be gained. Some effective programs I’ve worked on have been medium and long-stay residential programs, in which there was little choice for those helicopter parents but to stay away. If medium and long stay programs aren’t an option for your school, then perhaps erecting a barrier near the entrance is the next best option. At the end of the day, it will enable students to have a far better educational experience than the endless hovering could ever provide.
For me, as I said, I’d just leave them at the ski school and allow them to try new things, slip, fall and get back up again all by themselves. It’s the learning through these experiences that make the best skiers and the snowboarders, not the manic parenting and suggestions from the side. Perhaps, as in Park City, a giant sign is just what’s needed for all of our programs to remind parents of the fact that it’s time to let go a bit and let their kids do something a bit ‘risky’ for themselves.
There’s a significant problem for kids today and that’s the fact that their generation is emotionally dislocated. There’s been a seismic shift in technology in the last fifteen years and, as a result, it’s caused significant changes to the way in which kids are growing up and the influences on their lives. Unfortunately, the pace of change has outpaced a lot of parents and schools’ ability to adapt. Often parents have used devices as makeshift babysitters and this has done immeasurable damage to their children’s abilities to think for themselves, problem-solve, develop real relationships, cope with real people and deal with complex situations. Whilst many would profess it’s all part of learning about technology, there’s a huge difference between learning about technology and being leveraged by it. Kids have now become disassociated from many important parts of society and the way in which those before us have grown up and matured into adulthood.
Now this could be a phenomenal advance in humankind, although I’m quite doubtful of that. The reality is that this dislocation is leading to long-term problems with mental health, with resilience, with the ability for a child to adapt to new circumstances and their ability to problem solve and relate to others.So many factors are involved in this social dislocation and much of it comes from overindulgence and the super reliance on technology. Therefore, how do we address this? How do we even get to the root cause of this, when so many parents are happy just to throw a device at their kids and consider it to be an acceptable method of babysitting. Job done! Parenting done!
For many ‘busy’ parents, it seems to make sense. The children aren’t making a noise and the justifications fly thick and fast. I’m busy with life. I’m busy answering emails, I’m busy with work or whatever other nonsense excuse they want to make to justify a lack of effort in being involved with their child’s life. However, for many parents in the early stages of their child’s life, it’s almost genius! I’ve thrown a device at them whether it be a laptop, a phone, a tablet or whatever and it’s keeping them occupied. Well, from one point of view, this is really handy because you can throw a device at the child and suddenly the problem is solved! No more screaming, no more ‘I’m bored!’ You can get back to sipping your latte with friends as they play with the device for hours and hours and hours and access all sorts of things that you don’t want them accessing, but because you’re too busy, sipping said latte, to provide any level or supervision, a firewall, content filters, content barriers or even a passcode on the device, they’re now interacting with an unfiltered adult world, full of marketing, phishing and bright flashing pop-ups to click on.
However, when we look at bit deeper than the general dangers of an unfiltered internet, what’s the real cost of this handy babysitting by device? One of the most obvious ones which we’re now seeing in education is that whenever kids are challenged with real world issues, this is where it all starts to fall apart. Whenever a child doesn’t get what they want, this reinforces the problem, because many kids have been indulged to the point where they have been told: ‘They’re perfect,’ or ‘they’re wonderful,’ or ‘they’re amazing!’ They can do anything they possibly want to. The world is theirs for them. Anyone who is half-intelligent and has experienced something of the world for themselves, realises this isn’t the case. Sadly, nobody’s told the students that, for fear of breaking the ‘everyone’s a winner rule’. The reality is when kids stumble, what happens? They look for somebody to blame. They look for excuses. They look for the magical, ‘Yeah, but solution’ which everyone knows does not contain a solution at all. I’ve seen this progressively building over the last ten years. The ‘Yeah, but’ approach has increased to a phenomenal level.
Previously, you still were given the ‘Yeah, but’ for many students however, the reality was it wasn’t that often and there wasn’t much behind it. Now, everything is questioned. Everything is ‘Yeah, but’ and there’s no real reason for this. It presumes that the child knows more about the world than those teaching them. In some subjects, that might be true, for example in coding. Whenever I’ve taught computer studies, I’ve always been blown away by the ability of some students who have taught themselves to code and do a stack of things on computers for which I don’t have the skills. However, how does this translate into an understanding of real world applications? They might have the skills to code. They might have the skills to develop something from a tech point of view but what happens when they have to socialise and communicate with others? The life experience of educators therefore becomes even more important when teaching, as the content might be easy to replicate, but the unpredictability of real world means only through our experiences can we truly learn and understand why we do something.
The ‘Yeah, but’ is just the tip of the iceberg for the lack of communication skills and this is where parents and schools and technology are failing kids. This is where all of these three factors are combining to create a significant long term problem that’s going to re-shape the work force. It’s going to cause issues with the next generation in terms of relationships, parenting and work. If we fail to address it as educators, we risk letting the dislocated generation waste years of their lives trying to find meaning and be able to build some muscle when they realise they’re not perfect and the world isn’t just there to serve them. Despite huge leaps and bounds in technology, we’re letting children develop into more emotionally vulnerable young adults because they can’t understand how to fail and bounce back and they can’t understand how to communicate with real people in real time.
However, this is something that can be addressed by parents. It’s something that can be addressed by schools and it’s something that needs to be addressed urgently before the horse that’s bolted rides too far off into the sunset. We can’t leave this for another ten years until suddenly everybody realises, ‘Wait a minute, it’s out of control!’ It’s already out of control. It’s already ridden away from us but being able to realise that now, means we’re ten years ahead of not doing anything about it at all.
What difference can you make to your own child’s life? What difference can you make to the life of the friends of your children? Are they going to be developing healthy, happy relationships? Are they going to be developing in a positive manner and become resilient and be able to face all of life’s challenges no matter how hard they might be? Or are they going to be in this fantasy world where suddenly, as soon as they’re challenged with something that’s difficult, they go to pieces. What if they don’t get in to the course they want? They go to pieces. What if they don’t get in to the sports team they want? They go to pieces. What if they don’t get the participation award that they want? They go to pieces. What if they don’t get the job they want? You get the picture?
This is a situation that is totally and utterly detrimental to society and one we must address. Again, the causes of it are the combination of poor parenting, overuse of technology and the failure of the education system to modernise. With all three areas failing at some point we may end up doing serious harm to our next generation.
Education has fallen behind so far it’s not funny. Teachers are still approaching education in the fantasy world that was 19th century education. We fill a classroom, you teach a lesson and they go to the next class. You do it over and over and over again and you basically teach the average and get the average result for the average students. That’s why they love their bell curves because you can be guaranteed that you will get a bell curve on every single assessment. Every single class will have the wonderful bell curve. It’s a total load of crap because why are we aiming for bell curves? Why are we not aiming for wins for everybody? Now that is a little bit of an overstatement because some people are just lazy and useless and will never move from their well defended position at the bottom. However, we’re not talking about them as, until they find their internal motivation, they will remain right at the bottom of everything they do. However, the more dislocated the group of students, the more chance they will be on the wrong end of the bell.
For educators one of the real challenges is helping students find that internal motivation. It can make average students brilliant and brilliant students actually find the job that they really want to be doing and not just become a doctor or a lawyer because they get good marks, bearing in mind lawyers will soon be automated to the point that we don’t need as many of them as we have today, a win in everyone’s books really.
When I do goal setting with students, I always pose this question to them: ‘Do you want a doctor who is passionate about helping people?’ Or ‘Do you want a doctor who is in it for the money?’ Every single time I get the answer: ‘Somebody who is passionate about helping patients.’ We all want that and this is a great opportunity because this generation has this belief that they can change the world. Many might claim this is a misguided belief, but I don’t believe that at all because I believe this next generation can change the world. We need to empower them with the confidence to try, to fail, to overcome massive obstacles and to endure. This can’t be done with social and emotional skills gained from having a digital device as a babysitter.
For parents and teachers, this creates a great opportunity. So in one sense, you have a group of young impressionable kids and young adults who want to make a difference and who believe they can, but what they really need is for somebody to show them how to make that difference. How to cope with challenges. How to cope with disappointment. How to cope with failure. How to face problems. How to solve problems. How to become resilient. How to contribute to the community to make that difference. This is where the teacher’s life experience now becomes so much more valuable than content knowledge and the ability to stand in front of a room and dictate the encyclopedia.
You can teach technical skills to almost anybody. That’s easy in comparison with the empathy, caring and the emotional resilience that’s needed for our next generation to thrive in the rapidly changing digital world. Whilst parents have had the mistaken belief that they can do this by telling their kids: ‘They’re perfect,’ ‘be safe’ and ‘don’t do this,’ ‘don’t do that,’ don’t take risks.’ However, this has caused immeasurable damage and needs to be addressed. It’s through a modern, proactive experiential educational framework that this can be achieved. We can create wonderful learning opportunities that last a lifetime. We can do it in schools. We can do it at home. We can do it to ensure that we have a wonderful and proactive generation of thoughtful, resilient young men and women leading our businesses, our communities and our governments into the next generation and those generations after that, but we cannot be idle in our approach and must do something about it now.
Technology has provided a vehicle to rapidly advance so many things in society and make them more efficient and more effective but without the core social and emotional skills to master technology and to master our own lives then we risk the technology mastering everyone who uses it instead. We risk the dislocated generation failing to make good on their vision to change the world and make it a better place, which is something none of us want to see.
If you want to keep your finger on the pulse of the traditional economy, then keeping an eye on the activity in the main streets of town is a great way to do it. I hear you saying, “Why do I care about economics? Isn’t this about experiential education?”
Good point! But bear with me on this, as there is a point. If we’re training students to be productive members of society who are independent, thoughtful problem solvers and are employable, then you need to understand some of the subtle, and not so subtle shifts happening in society today.
Everyone knows the digital world is here to stay (unless our politicians start a war they can’t finish and everything goes Mad Max on us!) Luckily I know Angry Anderson, so at least I’ll be able to join one of the lawless gangs roaming the desert without too much of a problem. However, before we sharpen our boomerangs, let’s pretend for a moment that we won’t be plunged back into the dark ages and have to fight for every litre of petrol as if it were our last.
Sorry, I’ve digressed slightly, maybe. Retail shops are closing at an alarming rate and what’s replacing them? Nothing! Maybe the occasional ‘pop-up’ shop that’s here and gone in the blink of an eye. However, ‘For Lease’ signs spatter our retail and office fronts and once popular Main Street locations are sitting vacant for longer and longer. Some of it can be attributed to high rent in these locations, which the market should eventually fix. However, often it’s the fact that businesses which were once main stays and anchors of our main streets are gone and nothing has replaced them.
Recently, I went book shopping. We had an end of program dinner and there were a number of prizes I wanted to give out, hence I was in a bookstore for the first time in years! Like many other book stores, it was in a prominent location. However, it was in the middle of a closing down sale. Everything was on special, so I bought quite a few books. When I went to pay, Jennifer, the lady behind the counter asked me if I’d like to join their book club. I guess she’d been instructed to ask everyone, but I didn’t see the point of joining a book club of a business that’s closing down. It’s like a free membership to the Roman Senate in the 5th Century AD. It’s better that you don’t accept it.
This is not to say I don’t read books. Well, to be honest, I actually don’t read as much now. Instead, I listen to them. I can get almost any book I want with a couple of clicks and the quality is generally excellent. Although some readers are “rubbish.” I have returned a few which almost put me to sleep. This is never good when listening to them in the car. So the reading of books is not declining, but the way in which we’re buying and reading them is.
The fact is that here is something that’s been a staple of society ever since Mr Gutenberg got all IT savvy in the 15th Century and decided that ‘copy and press’ with his fancy new International Book Machine (IBM) was a far better and cheaper way of plagiarising books than having teams of monks continuously write out copies with a quill pen under candle light. Monks were now freed up to go out and help do the valuable work of the church, which was mainly selling indulgences to fill the coffers of the Pope and adorn their monasteries with ornate silver and gold.
Despite the printing press replacing a lot of jobs, other jobs emerged from this. However, today we’re not seeing the same redevelopment and reinvention of jobs. Sure you might need someone to monitor automation systems, but this is only a fraction of the workforce that’s being replaced. The lack of new businesses coming to replace old ones in our main streets is a clear and real indication of this shift. The long-term outlook for employment of those we are teaching today, isn’t looking good.
The huge problem is that schools aren’t scrambling to address this. It’s massive. It’s already impacting on our communities and a profession that’s not well-known for being adaptable, is now on the front line of a seismic shift in an economic and social revolution. The traditional classroom, an invention of the industrial revolution, is ill-equipped for what’s coming.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel which is not just a marauding gang with sharp boomerangs and burning torches. To address this, experiential education needs to massively expand in schools. It needs to make up the majority of the curriculum. The school day shouldn’t just be sitting in a series of classes, going home, doing some homework and then coming back the next day to do it all over again. This only prepares students to be able to sit in a room and do exams, which in the workforce tends not to be very useful.
It’s time to get out of the classroom and change the style of teaching. Change the way in which teachers are being trained and include a significant practical, experiential education component to their training. This is not just more classroom prac work, but is working in a business or an industry totally unrelated to education. This can then translate into a far better understanding of the changing dynamics of the workforce in which our students are growing up and make them far better teachers with some real life experiences behind them.
We must do something about this massive problem now! We will continue to see the subtle shift on our streets. More shop fronts closed up and not rented. Fewer checkout chicks at the supermarket and bank tellers have all but been replaced by automation and machines. Whilst these are not bad things in themselves, efficiencies are great in any operation. However, the real problem that we need to address is the preparation of our students for a world in which there are fewer jobs and few opportunities for a single occupation approach. We must be leveraging our programs to train adaptability as the number one priority. The world is changing and our most successful students will be the ones who are able to not only cope, but thrive in an environment in which the goal posts are continuously changing. If you don’t believe me, go for a walk along the high street in any town. Chances are, we’re only seeing the beginning of this trend and we need to do something about it right now!
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of professional development. Most people will groan when they hear PD, as they’ve experienced the classic ‘first day(s) back’ professional development time, which could be just a complete waste of time and energy for all involved. From what I’ve experienced over the years, you may as well have another day of holidays and it would be far more beneficial. Whilst much of this is done to save money and meet the mandatory PD hours requirements for teachers, are teachers actually learning anything that will improve their teaching practice or professionalism, or is it just an exercise in futility?
Don’t get me wrong! PD is vitally important, but is self-initiated and directed learning a far better approach? What I’ve been doing recently for my own PD has been through two different forms. The first has been reconnoitering new areas of the countryside to further develop a program. This is always an exciting and challenging time as now you’re exploring new areas with which you’re unfamiliar and trying to find suitable tracks, trails, rivers and campsites which are suitable for the age and experience level of the group for which you’re planning. Sometimes, it’s easy and quickly falls into place. Other times, it’s like trying to get out of a darkened pit full of goblins whilst being stalked by a ring-obsessed weirdo.
On this occasion, it was closer to the latter, as we found out the new area was not a nice babbling brook surrounded by gentle countryside, but rather a vicious, shallow, rapid-flowing white water filled gorge. We were about 2km in when we realised how nasty it was getting and what was supposed to be a pleasant three hour paddle, took seven hours! Thankfully, we didn’t have to battle orcs along the way, but at some points I was hoping that eagles would come and rescue us. Sadly, it was not to be and we had to navigate and negotiate the gruelling gorge that went on for several kilometres.
During this time, we’d also looked at mountain biking, canoeing and hiking as options in and around Canberra as there are some amazing national park areas with great tracks and trails throughout. Despite the fact that a number of these options weren’t particularly suitable to take students on, this was an extremely successful trip. From a professional planning point of view, even if you’re not going to change your program in any measurable way, going on “reccies” is a useful exercise, as you’re reinforcing your own skill set for navigation, route assessment, logistics planning and risk management. It’s all these concerns that you suddenly find come back to the front of your mind when looking at new areas that can naturally feed-back into your existing program and help you re-think, re-assess and improve upon what you’re already doing.
The other PD I’ve been doing has been the more traditional kind, in terms of workshops and conferences. Sometimes these are hit and miss when it comes to helping you in your teaching role, but that mainly comes down to what sort of conference you’re going to and which sessions you attend. The first one I went to was a digital schools’ conference. It was basically exploring how technology can be better used in education. I sat in on a couple of sessions which were excellent as the presenters hit the nail on the head! It’s not really about the technology. It’s about the use of technology as part of a wider educational experience. When you boil it all down, the skills you’re learning in STEM and trying to innovate with are exactly the same as what’s being learnt through outdoor education.
The core principles of innovation are:
• Problem solving, risk taking, adaptability, teamwork and leadership.
The core principles of outdoor ed are:
• Problem solving, risk taking, adaptability, teamwork and leadership.
Simple right? Well sadly, it’s not always the case and often teachers can see the use of technology or coding as the end goal or the learning outcome. As in outdoor ed, often schools see the outcome as getting kids outdoor or learning how to ride a bike or canoe. These are all just the means through which these core cognitive and experiential skills are being developed.
I also had the wonderful opportunity to present on innovation and how the chaotic and imprecise science it is to develop an idea into something that solves a much wider real world problem. I also explored how this can be translated into the context of education and why this is now such an important part of the modernisation of education that might one day see us escape from the industrial revolution hangover upon which our curriculum’s based.
The second conference I went to was more closely related to outdoor education and covered some fascinating insights into concussion identification and management. This was a great up-skilling opportunity for me, as whilst I’d understood and had managed a number of concussions over the years, I was able to get a far greater understanding of what happens with the injury and how it manifests itself. This is something that a senior first aid course would never cover and even with the wilderness courses I’ve done, it was only ever touched on briefly. Yet attending a comprehensive keynote presentation by a leading medical specialist in the field, was an amazing learning opportunity.
PD can be both insanely frustrating if it’s done poorly, or immensely beneficial if it’s done well. Some people might perceive PD at conferences as junkets, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. From the Wilderness Risk Management Conference I attended last year to the various ones I’ve been to this year, it’s helped me attain a much greater understanding of my own professional practice and helped me to reflect and review what I do as an outdoor educator and how I go about doing it.
I have to admit I have great memories of the enforced PD days from school days past. At one school I was once part of an English/History faculty. We taught an integrated unit called Valley In Perspective, that combined English/History/Geography and Outdoor Education. It was in some ways a little heavy on the academics for my likings, but overall it worked quite well. We were always allocated a day at the start of term for ‘meetings,’ which was code for sitting in the office and wasting lots of time, something which I can’t stand doing. However, one of the teachers had a boat and so instead of sitting in the office, we went and spent the day on his boat. We would discuss work for about an hour, but then would relax for the rest of the day lazing about the deck or going sailing and usually having fish and chips for lunch. Whilst many a useless manager would say this was a waste of time, it was an excellent team building exercise and our team of four worked exceptionally well together, despite the school being a disastrous toxic mess in which to work.
Ultimately, PD is vitally important for renewing and up-skilling you in your professional life and can have great benefits when done well. Meetings can be of some value, so long as you limit their time and have clear goals and objectives from the outset. However, to get any real-residual benefit from professional development, you need to go out, test your existing skills and continually learn new ones which can help you to become a far more effective educator throughout your life.
Ok! You’re probably back at work this week after having had six or seven weeks off over the summer break. Sadly, as with pretty much every other year, you’re most likely sitting in a school hall/auditorium being talked at by someone with ‘great’ ideas about teaching. They’re probably talking endlessly about some new crappy research or study they’ve done over the break whilst you were just lazily stretched out on the beach.
I always enjoy the attempted guilt tripping by some people in schools, as it highlights how poorly they’ve thought through the whole back to school concept each year. One strange person I used to work with would regale everyone with stories of how hard he worked in the holidays. None of us ever knew on what exactly, as there was never anything that actually needed doing over this time, but all the same, apparently he’d turned up each day to do it.
However, rather than force everyone to politely sit in meetings all day on the first day back, why not carry on the spirit of the holiday season and have a day out! Since sitting in a room tends to achieve nothing anyway, what have you to lose?
Now what would be a far better use of time would be the welcome back staff initiatives day! Don’t tell them in advance. Surprise everyone with it. Come up with a day of challenging adventures and activities involving team building and problem solving. Start with something like a locked room scenario and then move onto a scavenger hunt style rogaine for which the clues ultimately lead to a central location where staff gather for a BBQ dinner to celebrate the start of a new year.
This not only would be awesome fun, but gets teachers in the frame of mind for a year ahead in which they might face challenges they’ve never come across before. Helping staff to build practical confidence working with others and solving problems can help with all sorts of unforeseen issues that crop up every year in schools. The dinner afterwards to celebrate is always a good way to show gratitude in advance. Often we only have parties or celebrations at the end of things, but what better way to motivate and build staff morale than saying thank you ahead of time.
The educational benefit for this sort of day for both staff and students is the fact that the more education needs to focus on the transference of experiences and the development of practical skills, the more teachers need to have this sort of skill set themselves. This is therefore not only a great way to start the year, but a great way to help positively develop staff in a fun and proactive way.
Unfortunately, if you’re reading this on the first day back this year, you’re probably sitting in a room filled with teachers dreading the next six hours. But hey, there’s always next year! Have a wonderful year ahead!
With the start of a new year, there’s always the hope and anticipation of something new and something better! People look for change and there are high hopes all around that that change will actually come.
However, we all know most people can’t keep a New Year’s resolution for more than a day or so, so let’s not even bother with that. Instead, I want to look at why teachers must be prepared to reinvent themselves over and over again.
For most people this can be difficult, but for teachers even more so. In the past year, I was running a program which had many challenges arise throughout, one of which was the chef walking out, leaving us to cater for eighty people ourselves. Now I won’t go into all the details surrounding this as we don’t have that much time, but when I expected other teachers to adapt, jump in and get cooking, I got the response from many of them, ‘We’re just teachers, we can’t be expected to cook.’ Having run a number of businesses, as well as residential programs, this approach doesn’t sit well with me, as sometimes we find ourselves in situations, not of our own making, but we have to find a solution one way or another.
This made me think, after I quickly worked out how to cook for eighty people with one other staff member who was prepared to give it a go. Why are so many teachers reluctant to try anything new?
To me, this seems at odds with the whole concept of teaching. You really do need to be able to think on your feet and adapt to situations as they change. Although most teachers will never be in a situation where you find yourself cooking for a lot of people, you never know what you might need to do to remain relevant in today’s changing world.
For me, teaching others has always been at the core of what I’ve done. Whilst I may move from business to education, to politics, to business and back to education, empowering others to develop and grow within themselves appears in every single context in which I’ve worked. However, to truly appreciate the place of education in today’s rapidly changing world, the experiences outside of education have been far more valuable than the experiences within education itself.
Ultimately, I’ve found myself reinventing myself time and time again. From electrical salesman to political staffer, computer technician, teacher, barista, café owner and tech entrepreneur, each time I’ve changed what I’ve been doing, I’ve felt far more energised and motivated than before and it has all helped me be a better teacher. Fancy that! Experiential Education is the best form of education possible.
However, most teachers and most people never reinvent themselves or what they do. If they start to feel stale in what they’re doing, they will often just grind it out and keep doing the same thing in the hope it will get better. The fact is that it won’t! Stale teachers, are hopeless teachers, incapable of doing anything useful, let alone teach. Now there’s not the need for anyone to reinvent themselves as many times as I have, unless you really feel like it. However, taking time out from teaching to work in another industry, or completely different role, is not only healthy, but moving forward, I believe, will be critical to the success of teachers in the modern world. If teachers are expected to teach their students how to be flexible, adaptable, dynamic, critical thinking problem solvers, then they themselves need these sorts of qualities and the only way you get these qualities is through real life experience, which often doesn’t happen inside the confines of a school.
Therefore, at the tipping point of the new year, are you feeling stale? Are you feeling like you’re no longer being challenged? If so, why not take some time off and go and work in another job, something completely different. The experience and skills you will gain from this will be more empowering and worthwhile than a thousand staff ‘development’ days and when you go back to teaching, this experience away from teaching will have made you a far better teacher than before. Having gone in and out of education for years, I’ve found every time I come back, I’ve learnt something new and useful, because it’s through our experiences that we always learn the most. Why not give something new a go this next year? With so much to be gained, it’s always well worth it!
This year has been an interesting one to say the least. When looking back, it’s hard to know where to start as every single month has been filled with adventure, drama, challenges and most of all, problem solving on the run. To say I’ve learnt a lot about leadership, business, politics and education would be somewhat of an understatement. I’ve also learnt very quickly how to cook for eighty people, but the details of that is a story for another time. For now, it was just another day in the life of random problem solving that needed to be done.
Sometimes we get so caught up in doing things, such as cooking for eighty people, we can forget just how much we achieve and grow in a year. If I look back at what I’ve done, I’ve actually hit many of the goals I set for myself around this time last year, but also, through the randomness of life, have ended up meeting new people, re-connecting with old friends and achieving so much more than I’d ever imagined. It’s not been an easy year by any stretch of the imagination and I’ve had days where things were almost overwhelming, but through our experiences we grow and I can safely say that I’ve grown a lot over the past twelve months.
Looking back on the year that was, I’ve travelled to the other side of the world twice, zigzagged the Australian countryside for work, business, politics and fun, been to New Zealand, Canada, USA and Tasmania - possibly another country… the jury’s still out on this! I’ve read many books and seen and experienced some amazing things. One of the proudest moments though was when I launched the Xperiential Education podcast, which was not only so much fun to do, the response to it was awesome and I can’t thank our listeners enough for tuning in and providing some cool ideas for the next season, which I haven’t had time to record yet. Sorry… It’s been a kind of hectic year!
Some goals however, still haven’t been achieved, but rather than be disheartened by that fact, it’s an opportunity to explore why they weren’t achieved and what’s the next steps that need to be put in place so that will bring me one more a step closer to achieving them? Sometimes, big goals take longer than a year to achieve, so it’s a better measure to track progress on these, rather than look at it from a binary success or failure point of view. Often in life, things turn out to be far more complicated than first thought, so we need to be able to adapt and quickly!
For me this happened on a number of fronts. The integration of the Xcursion software platform to a number of school databases took longer than I’d expected due to the complexity of the system, but it’s now done, having adapted and problem-solved throughout the year on this project. I found another program I was running needed to essentially be rebuilt from scratch, which always takes far more time to do. Whilst often a single job can be done in a short amount of time, when you find that it’s a repetitive job, it’s better to build a system that works, rather than reinvent the same thing time and time again. However, most people don’t do this, as it initially takes longer to build a system than it does to do a single job. Yet the long-term benefit of creating a system is massive and if you ever want to be truly successful in what you do, then you need to build repeatable and effective systems.
Throw in a state pre-selection, overseas travel, some cool expeditions and the premiere of a film I was involved in last year, then you have tens of thousands of kms travelled, lots of late nights, early mornings tons of coffee and a bunch of cool experiences which at the end of the day, all translate into great relatable, teachable moments for students. The more I adventure outside of ‘traditional’ education, the more I find I can use to relate back to effective teaching and learning practices.
It has indeed been a crazy year filled with so many challenges and both positive and negative experiences, but when we take stock of everything we’ve done over a year, we often find that despite the craziness, we’ve managed to do and achieve far more than we had ever hoped to. I encourage you to take a look back at your own year that’s just been, to see just how much you’ve been able to do and how you can apply this to those you’re teaching. I think you’ll surprise yourself at how much you’ve been able to achieve in such a short period of time!