When looking at any activity or required skill within an organisation, there are four levels of competency. As we learn and develop, no matter what the skill or activity is, we all go through these stages from knowing nothing about what we’re doing to being unconsciously competent in what we do.
As we move through each of these stages, it can be quite confronting for many people, especially if they’ve been doing something which isn’t quite right or there’s more to what they’re doing than they’ve ever imagined.
The first stage and often the most confronting realisation for people is unconscious incompetence. This is where you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s the most frustrating point at which we find ourselves and in terms of risk management, the most dangerous point and position someone can be in if they’re responsible for an outdoor or experiential program which involves a level of risk.
The worrying thing about this is that over many years, I’ve come across countless people in the head of outdoor education or experiential education positions who are unconsciously incompetent. They’ve been promoted as a teacher into a role for which they might have had an interest, but no real or extensive experience. In this case, whoever is put into this role is being failed by the organisation. Having an interest in something versus understanding the role and inherent risks is a totally different thing. If you don’t know the risks of an activity or program, how can you be expected to manage them effectively?
Getting some basic training in the skill or activity then helps someone to move from this first stage to the second one, which is conscious incompetence. This is where you realise you lack certain skills and understand the need to train in, practise and develop those skills. In terms of risk management, this is key to getting things right within your school or organisation. For many of those teachers who have been promoted to positions of responsibility to oversee programs with a range of risks involved, it’s vital that each understands the risks to which they and their staff are exposed and how to effectively manage these risks. Once someone has this realisation, then they can start to plan to address this skills’ gap in themselves and in their organisation.
Further training and experience at this point, then gets you to a position where you’re consciously competent. You still have to work on many parts of the programs and continue to practise and develop your skills, but overall, you’re good at what you do and are able to support and develop others as well.
The final stage is unconscious competence. You know what you’re doing without thinking about it. You have a level of experience and initiation, which guides your decision-making process to support the programs you’re running. In your mind, you have a picture of what a standard program, day or experience should look and feel like and you automatically react and respond if something doesn’t quite fit. For example, if a series of different weather conditions or warnings present themselves, you unconsciously play out various scenarios in your mind as to the potential impact and consequences of this.
A realisation of this for me was on one program. There was a pattern of illness and student behaviours emerging which pointed toward a series of potential injuries. The change of energy in the group, the apparent fatigue that was emerging, meant that a change of plans was needed. Due to the different level of skills and experience amongst the staff team, only a couple of staff could see this pattern emerging and others couldn’t see the problem at hand. The potential negative consequences of not being able to identify risks as they’re emerging can be huge. It’s critical to ensure that you have unconsciously competent staff in your team to help advise you and others on hazards and risks which might not be obvious to others who are still at the lower levels of skills’ development.
Whilst some of these four different levels can be addressed through training, which is vitally important to begin with, the other levels are grown and developed through practice and experience in whatever it is you’re doing. Further training can reinforce this. However, practice really does make perfect. Whatever level you and your colleagues are at now, you will benefit immensely from training and experience to ensure that all your staff are unconsciously competent in whatever it is they’re doing.
Recently, I was working on a residential program and despite students needing to have a phone on them for our risk management as part of the program, we collected everyone’s phones at night. Now this was something which had wide spread support of parents and limited support from students. No surprises there with the Pandora’s box that’s been opened on that front, which is the point of this article.
Whilst many students thought I was the worst person in the world for taking their phones every night, it made me realise something which I suspected, but didn’t quite have the evidence to support it until now.
The phones generally went on charge before homework time in the evening around 7:30 and after prep, bedtime was around 9:45 with lights out at 10pm. With all the phones being recharged in the duty office overnight, I noticed something when I went back to wrap things up for the evening. Depending on what time all the students were settled, I’d generally head back into the office somewhere between 10:30 and 11pm.
Sitting there, writing up the daily notes for the next day’s handover, I’d hear the buzz, bings and blips of the fifty odd phones going off the whole time I was there. To begin with, it was just annoying, but it became progressively more concerning. One evening, I was up past midnight and the phones were still going.
This gave me the sudden realisation of how overwhelming this must be for their minds. Phones are already addictive by nature. This helps us to understand the ongoing problem that teenagers are facing with the inability to switch off from the connected world. If their phones are still alive with notifications late at night and I mean every night, not just weekend, every single night, what chance do they have to be able to cope in class with tiredness and a constant craving for another dopamine hit.
Like coked up lab rats, they become slaves to the device that’s shaping and manipulating their behaviour almost every hour of the day. This is bound to be slowly destroying their ability to cope with the real world and doing unknown long-term emotional damage. Yet parents are still giving their children phones at a phenomenal rate.
We have well and truly thrown in the towel on this one in such a short period of time. We need to pick up that towel and get back in the ring. This is something worth fighting for as large social media companies care nothing for their users and everything about their profits. These companies have built intentionally addictive functionality into their platforms to keep people online and this is the result, endless distractions designed to manipulate the formative years of children. When you see this toxic mess for what it really is, it makes you wonder about the world 2.0 and how regressive social media has been for us.
Digital technology is amazing, but we still need everyone to have the opportunity to switch off from it and not be constantly bombarded with messages, notifications and whatever other crap comes through their phones. Despite the large tech companies doing nothing but giving lip-service to social responsibility, we have a responsibility to help students switch off from this potentially dangerous and destructive world and provide them with the opportunity to understand the life and circumstances in which they find themselves living.
It’s time we gave them the opportunity to switch off and build real relationships with real people and not just be mindless slaves, slowly losing their sleep and minds to the wonderful machine that goes bing.
Education without focus, is just like anything else without focus. It’s hap-hazardous at best and pointlessly time-wasting and counterproductive at its worst. However, this seems to be the way education goes these days. It’s all over the place where you’ve got a bit of this, a bit of that and a bit of everything. Yet if you’re trying to please everybody with everything, you invariably don’t end up pleasing anybody with anything. The fact is that the world has changed and in recognition of that, so must education.
Recently, I came across a number of different schools that are targeting specific areas for growth and development. I find this is a fascinating approach and one which has the potential to produce some amazing opportunities and educational results. However, how do you know what your child wants to focus on?
Often, it’s the parents who want their kids to do something, rather than the desire coming from the children themselves. I’ve seen this horrible and damaging sort of situation so often and you know what the end result will be, but it’s like watching a train wreck in motion. There’s not much you can do about it.
The fact is that if this is the case, then no matter how much a parent wants something, it's never really going to be something their son or daughter really wants to do. For example, my parents wanted me to learn the piano. I hated the piano. I didn't enjoy learning. I didn’t enjoy practicing. I didn't enjoy performing. I really didn’t enjoy anything about it. Despite loving to listen to music, I wasn’t someone who wanted to play an instrument of any kind. However, I enjoyed singing and I ended up doing some singing lessons and performances which I really enjoyed.
Yet without both these experiences, I would never have known what I liked and what I should focus on. To begin with, it’s well worth encouraging kids to experience a whole range of different activities and explore interests without the parental pressure and expectations to pick one thing that they really want themselves. This process can help students work out what makes them tick and therefore what they should be focusing on in their education, especially in their high school years.
I remember when I was in primary school at the end of one term, we did a week of trying out a different sort of activity. We were given a range of different options. We could choose bowling, squash, tennis or even roller skating and I don’t mean roller blading. I mean roller skating! Yes, it was still a thing back then and it was so much fun. You'd skate up to the DJ, request a song, then skate around the rink as fast as you could when your song came on! Unfortunately, the skating rink, ‘Skatehaven’ was turned into self-storage units years ago. Such a sad end to a wonderful venue, but back to the main point!
The fact was you were able to choose something and concentrate on it for a week. You’d learn different skills and techniques and you’d be able to challenge yourself doing something new and different. If you didn’t like it, at the end of the week you never have to do it again, but if you liked it, this just opened up a brand-new opportunity and interest for you. That week I chose squash!
This is something I really remember about primary school. Most of the time you don’t remember anything about primary school because it was so long ago and far away and but so much better than it is today. Every maths, English, geography and science lesson all blend into one with very little recollection at all of any that really happened. However, when you do something unique and different it stands out and becomes memorable.
To be honest, I’ve never played squash since, but I did really enjoy that week. I did however, go on to play tennis which is sort of the same thing anyway. Yet schools don’t tend to do many experiential education weeks like this. If they did, it would have a profound impact on a child’s education and development. Think about it this way. You have schools full of dedicated teachers, whose lessons will never be remembered. That to me seems like a complete waste of time and talent. Perhaps a few more memorable weeks each year doing something different wouldn’t hurt at all. In fact, even if you did a month a year throughout high school, that’s still only six months of a student’s education, which is six months more of experiences they will actually remember, learn from and cherish for the rest of their lives. Even taking this time out, they’ll still have five and a half years of blurred generic grey days in classrooms about which to forget.
With the stats suggesting that in Australia 40% of students are disengaged, why not try something different and meaningful to get at least some of those 40% back on track. In what are they interested? What do they love to do? Do you have any idea what drives them? If you don’t know that, you can’t tailor a program for them. Why not have a month every year that’s dedicated to doing different activities and I don’t mean outdoor ed activities, I mean a whole range of community, cultural, sporting and workplace activities to see what actually makes students get excited about their life and contribution to society. Some weeks they will like, some weeks they won’t like but it starts to develop a picture and it starts to give students a feeling for different activities, for different experiences and for different challenges. It lets them develop some ideas of a path that they enjoy and that they want to follow. It lets them explore what they want to explore and this can be tied back into the classroom and academic programs they need to be able to do to get into a specific field which interests them.
There’s a great benefit from this because once you have students re-engaged, they’re actually going to learn and so if you have someone who is learning and someone who is keen, they’re more likely to go on to further education or seek positive employment opportunities or contribute in a meaningful way to their communities. They’re less likely to be disillusioned, disengaged with the life, the universe and everything and sitting at home doing nothing.
With massive levels of youth unemployment in our country and a growing trend towards automation of many entry level and low-level repetitive jobs, it’s time to do something more useful and productive in education. At the end of the day, things like NAPLAN results and standardized tests are pointless numbers which are quickly forgotten like most classroom lessons. The emphasis that has been put on these things, would give you the impression that they’re useful indicators of long-term learning and employability, which they’re not.
At the end of the day, you want young men and women who can think for themselves and be able to help solve the terrible social, environmental and economic mess they’re been left with by previous generations. Finding meaningful experiential education experiences for them to have over the course of their schooling is critical to achieving this and it shouldn’t be lumped as a ‘co-curricular’ or one off activity. Build something useful into the daily lives of students and this will have a profound impact on the way in which they learn.
Where do you start with Risk Management? With any experiential education, you have a professional responsibility to pro-actively manage risk. This is an ever-evolving and dynamic skill-set that you develop over the years through training and experience. It’s something we can never take for granted. We take a look at some of the challenges we face in managing risk and what can happen, when things don’t go to plan.
In this episode, we talk with Paul Tame, who is a leading risk management trainer with Xcursion Risk Management Training, Lead corporate management trainer for Zen Training & Senior lecturer at Western State Uni Colorado. We take a dive into risk management for experiential education and touch on a few challenges we all face when planning and running programs.
Risk Management Podcast Episode - Paul Tame & David Gregory Talk Risk Management!
Often things look great on paper. However, how does that translate into the real world? With risk management for any sort of activity, it needs to be a living and breathing culture within your organisation and not just a bit of paperwork someone completed and then filed away.
For more information on Paul’s work and the organisations he’s worked with over the years, check out:
Zen For Business
Xcursion Risk Management
Western State Uni
And Crested Butte a fun ski resort we’ve skied together at:
For more information on Denali:
Smart phones are one of the most addictive things you could give to children! Forget gambling, cigarettes and alcohol! Phones are the completely next level in their addictive and manipulative nature and yet parents hand them out to their kids without a thought!
Why does a primary school student need a phone? Are their lives so hectic that they need to ensure they’re reminded of their next appointment coming up on the calendar? Do they need to be in constant communication with ‘head office’ so that the mission critical operations of the day’s play with Jimmy is guaranteed 99.9% uptime?
To be perfectly honest, children don’t need phones at all. This is a massive failing of parents today who have either convinced themselves that they’re doing the right thing by giving their child a phone to ‘keep them safe’ or massive marketing and peer pressure from other children, parents and social media for which resistance is futile. Whatever the deluded rationale behind it is, it’s just wrong. Phones are dangerous, addictive and manipulative devices which are clearly contributing to the increasingly poor mental health of children today and their inability to cope with so many situations that can’t be resolved instantly.
Since this is so clearly self-evident, what don’t parents just cut to the chase and give their kids a nice big plate of cocaine to snort. Same basic effect: addiction, behavioural change and damage to mental health. For what are they waiting? They’re already creating dependencies and junkie type behaviours so, rather than doing it slowly over years with a gateway addiction, why not just cut to the chase, cut some lines and make it happen?!!
Whilst some people may think this comparison is over the top, I’m not the first person to make this comparison, nor will I be the last, so let’s look at it in some more detail.
Do any schools allow, smoking, drugs or alcohol to be consumed on site on a daily basis? In my experience, no! This will get you suspended or expelled, yet it’s common practice for students to be using their phones constantly throughout the day. Using a smart phone and all the buzzes and bings, notifications and ‘rewards’ which come from using it and giving it your attention all the time releases dopamine, which makes you feel good and re-enforces the behaviour surrounding the activity which just gave you that hit. Other than turning people into wandering zombies, what’s this constant deluge of notifications, stimulations and reliance doing to children?
Although it’s still only early days of this phenomenon, studies have shown that it’s further lowering children’s attention span, manipulating their daily activities and behaviours and reducing their ability to cope without constant stimulation and activity. Add this to the already challenging teenage years of relationships and body image and let them get bombarded by fake images of fake people throughout the world. You’re just setting them up for further trauma and mental health issues from which people are finding it more difficult to recover.
Is this what parents think is a good way of keeping their children ‘safe’? It seems rather idiotic to me and so far removed from any notion of safety, you may as well just get them hooked on a few random drugs instead and therefore save everyone a huge amount of time as the damage will occur far more quickly and efficiently. The next cry will be from parents for schools to conduct ‘phone testing’ to see if their child’s phone is ‘safe’ to use. Therefore, taking yet another step away from actual useful action and taking responsibility for themselves to not give their child a phone to begin with.
The actual danger and long-term damage associated with giving children smart phones, far outweighs the potential risk of their not having a phone so they can be contacted 24/7 ‘just in case.’ Generations of children have survived throughout the ages and managed to find their way home every day without the use of mobile phones, ride-sharing and GPS locationing, yet some parents would have you believe that the world is far more dangerous than it’s ever been and justify giving their child this dangerous device out of ‘safety.’ The fact is that in this situation, the phone, what it does and what it can access is the real risk and is doing real harm to children and adults alike. The random gangs of child kidnappers in white panel vans from whom parents are believing they are protecting their childing, are predominantly the perceived risk in the modern world and an extra-ordinarily rare occurrence. Yet parents seem willing to give their children smart-phones which open the door to a highly addictive, manipulative and unfiltered adult world, that’s far more dangerous and destructive at home than it is for their children to go down to the park or ride a bike with a friend or two and be ‘unsupervised’ and ‘out-of-communications range.’ If you’re really worried about the roaming white panel vans, perhaps paying for some martial arts lessons is a far better investment than the phone.
We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg for this problem. It’s impacting student behaviour, and engagement as well as their mental health and well-being. Schools and teachers are now being expected to clean up yet another mess which is not of their making. However, until parents realise the difference between the real risk of giving their child a smart-phone versus the perceived risk of not giving them one, it’s going to be a hard uphill battle ahead.
Some further interesting reading on the subject:
At the moment, the world seems out of control. A virus which we’d never heard of before appeared suddenly and is wreaking havoc on the lives of billions of people throughout the world. International travel has stopped, restaurants, cafes and shops have closed. The once busy streets are silent and businesses have retreated to operating as a distributed network of people work from homes around the world. For even the most resilient and flexible of us, this is a challenging situation.
However, despite this global dislocation, there are some key things we can do to turn this crisis into an opportunity and I don’t mean setting up bootleg gin joints and secret bars called cougheasies!
For many, it can feel as if we’ve completely lost control of everything. However, that’s not the case. I don’t for one minute underestimate the challenge we’re facing, both medically and economically, but if we only focus on what we can’t control, like all of the masses of people gathering on the beach in a huge disregard for the social distancing rules, then we’re doomed to end up depressed and destroyed as a result of this current global crisis.
This is not the first massive crisis in history, nor is it the worst, nor will it be the last. But for many, it is the most challenging thing that has happened to them in their lives and the lack of control over events that have just suddenly consumed the world can be really hard to deal with. The fact, however, is that we can’t control most of the things which happen in our world anyway and the more we focus on what we can’t control, the more difficult and frustrating it becomes for us, as the risk is that we will become angry and resentful. We’re seeing that now with people in shopping centres taking their anger out on people who are doing their best to serve the community. If you’re the type of person who gets angry over a supermarket employee over the lack of non-essential items like toilet paper, then you’re a selfish idiot. You clearly struggle with all sorts of other things in your life already.
However, toilet paper obsessed idiots aside, the fact is that if we only focus on all of the negative news stories, over which we have no control, it’s going to make it harder for us to get through and come out of this in a good way. Rather than looking at and focussing on all the things we can’t control, use this as a great opportunity to focus on the things we can control. We can control how we treat others. We can control how we approach each day. We can control our own hygiene and social interactions. If we have the technology, we can setup and can control our own workspace. We can also control how we look for opportunities in this crisis. What goods and services are needed now? What skill set do you have to be flexible and adaptable to be able to help? What service gaps are there in the community? Are there vulnerable people or groups you could help to support? Is this the greatest opportunity in years to be spending more time with your family, playing board games and talking and sharing this time together?
Rather than becoming frustrated by everything that’s wrong, much of which there certainly is at this point in time, by focussing on what we can control, this gives us an opportunity to examine our busy modern lives and see what’s really important to us and improve our ability to not only get through this crisis, but to come out the other side stronger and more resilient to take on whatever else is thrown at us into the future.
Over the next days, weeks and months, what’s your focus going to be?
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.
Ok, so if you watch the Simpsons, you would’ve already kinda realised what were about to talk about. If not, why haven’t you been watching the Simpsons?
We face all sorts challenges in life. Some big, some small. Most people are ok with the small stuff. You miss the bus, you can’t find where you left your glasses (they’re actually sitting on your head), you forget to pick up your children from school…, you leave them in the car at the Casino… It’s annoying but manageable and everyone gets over it, eventually.
However, what happens when that small challenge turns into a real crisis? How well equipped are we and those around us to deal with these sorts of situations? For most people, it’s impossible. If something doesn’t go to plan, everything falls apart. However, for those who can keep a calm demeanour, whatever the situation might be, they’re able to see a way through the crisis.
When everything was falling apart for Homer in one episode of the Simpsons, he’s saying how hopeless everything is. However, Lisa jumps in to say that the Chinese word for crisis and opportunity is the same. To which Homer replies, ‘Crisitunity!’
Whilst crises are never a good time, they are what often sparks innovation and prompt us to rethinking what we’ve been doing and make changes to improve the situation. Essentially, we want the crisis to stop and we want to return to normal operations and daily life again. This however, could mean that daily life is not quite the same, but has changed for the better. The only failure in a crisis is to do nothing and learn nothing from it. If that’s the case, you’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over and over again until you’re ultimately rewarded for your efforts with a Darwin Award.
To be able to see the opportunity in a crisis, you do need some lateral thinking skills and have an openness and willingness to adapt. Too many people are so comfortable in the way they’ve always done something, they’re unable to cope with the rapid and fluid thinking needed to bring a crisis back from the brink and turn it into a wonderful opportunity.
Recently, I was running a residential program and we had two crises in two days. Firstly, we ran out of water. I discovered this fact late at night when I went to have a shower and the shower head angrily spat air at me, so I tried the tap, which did the same. “Hmmm, that can’t be good,” I thought at the time, but not much I could do at that hour. The bore from which we’d been getting our water for years ran dry. This was not surprising, given how little rain and residual ground water there had been for the past few years. Luckily, we had a 100,000 litre water tank, so that was an easy fix. Call the water people and get them to deliver lots of water. Done! Crisis averted, back to normal operations. It’s amazing how little appreciation we have for essential services until they’re gone.
The second one however, was a bit more of a challenge. When you’re running a residential program with 60-80 teenagers and adults living on site, you generate a lot of washing. For years we had sent all of our piles of dirty laundry off site and a couple of days later it magically reappeared clean, ironed and folded neatly. However, this year was slightly different. We were all ready and prepared for doing exactly the same thing, but with one problem. The first weekend of the program, the town laundry burnt to the ground. Now we suddenly had a mountain of dirty clothes and no magical fairies to come and take it away. With a nine weeks’ program ahead of us and being in a rural town with no other laundry, this was a major problem…
The first thing was to let everyone know. This is the easy part. The next step, was to think about how we could do something about it. We had 65 people, a commercial kitchen and 4 washing machines and 3 dryers. Whilst this might be ok with adults, with teenagers who have never washed a single item of clothing before in their lives, this becomes a problem. The first step was to get us over the first hurdle. We needed some clean clothes and we needed them quickly. One machine and dryer was out for kitchen use only, leaving us with 3 and 2 respectively to take down Mount Washmore!
Rather than think it was all too hard and try to find another laundry, the clear way forward was to create a laundry roster, show the students how to wash their clothes and let them learn from the experience. We worked with the students on the first day to make sure they had clean essentials (underwear and other inner layers). The outer layers such as jackets, could just weather the storm of daily use for a bit longer. With a few people predicting disastrous visions of 50 disheveled children walking around looking as if they’d been on an epic journey with a band of hobbits, it didn’t turn out that way at all. It wasn’t exactly clean, neatly pressed clothes either, but a happy medium in between.
With a little more time and seeing a few holes in our original plan, we updated and amended our systems and instructions and before too long, the weekly washing became just another normal part of everyone’s week. Students somehow worked out that you can’t put dripping wet clothes in a dryer and others worked out that you don’t put new red and blue clothes in with your whites. However, without the laundry burning down, which forced our hand to adapt quickly, we wouldn’t have changed what we’d been doing for the past 20 years and turn it into a learning opportunity.
If I were to have proposed that we stop sending our laundry to the magic fairies to do and instead said that we should get the students to do it themselves, I’m quietly confident that this would have been rejected and I would have been told that it wouldn’t work. Yet being forced into a situation where we had no other option than to make it work, meant that from this crisis, emerged a great learning opportunity not only for now, but for the whole program into the future.
When you’re next faced with a crisis, what are you going to do? Will you put your head in your hands and cry, “I’m Done! This is not my job!” or are you going to look at the problem laterally and find a way to make the most of the crisitunity at hand?
There are two major things with which humans aren’t great. Change and uncertainty. Unfortunately, for those who struggle with both of these things, modern life is becoming increasingly challenging, as they’re now a huge reality of the fast-paced digital world.
I don’t want to delve too much into the impact of change, as it’s a whole thing unto itself. However, what I’ve noticed is that avoidance of uncertainty in teenagers appears to becoming worse and worse and somewhat detrimental to their experience of life. However, I don’t want to blame teens for this. I want to blame their parents as they’re the ones predominantly responsible for bringing them up and providing a world view that either helps or hinders their ability to deal with uncertainty.
I’ve noticed this trend over the past few years on camps and expeditions. The desire for instant answers on everything caused by search engine education and a sense of every moment of the day being carefully scheduled without deviation, presents a massive problem when things don’t go to plan. The problem is that life isn’t always straight forward, nor is it predictable. In fact, quite the opposite is true and life can often be a chaotic mess of which at times, is hard to make sense. Yet, we find ourselves increasingly teaching students who are quite incapable of dealing with uncertainty.
This is a problem on many levels. Gone are the days in which someone could live their life with little to no change or variance in what they did. In times past, people could go to school, leave, get a job and stay in that job until they retired. For many people, leaving their own town or village would have been unheard of and travel wasn’t something that many people did to find work or simply move around. However, this has not only changed, but dramatically shifted to another extreme. Employment is becoming increasingly casualised in many parts of the world, with tech companies saying how wonderful the ‘gig’ economy is, which for the record it’s not! It’s forcing many people into serious underemployment and a constant need to change and re-invent what they’re doing.
Whilst the change of the workforce is a whole massive issue unto itself, it’s just part of the overall continuous change that is happening in our world. Change is constant and change can be taxing on the most dynamic and resilient of us.
What does this mean for students who want to avoid uncertainty? Unfortunately, it means they’re going to seriously struggle in life. Much of the resistance I’m seeing today for students to get involved in something, involves higher-order thinking. Problem solving and adaptability. Whenever they’re forced into taking a longer amount of time to work out an answer, they can’t do it, or more to the point, don’t even try. Instead, they give up because they can’t search for or quickly come to an answer.
It’s therefore important for us to help the avoider face uncertainty. The only way for them to develop the skills needed to cope in the modern world is for them to face uncertainty. In outdoor ed, we can do it by standing back and watching students figure things out for themselves and only step in if there’s a safety issue. This forces action and decision-making processes in students which aren’t being used on a day to day basis. No longer can they have the answer searched for them, nor will every minute of their day be scheduled so they know what’s happening next and at what time.
The spoon-feeding for exams approach that I’ve seen so many schools take, has only reinforced this practice of uncertainty avoidance and for us to adequately prepare students for an ever-changing world, then we need to do more to expose them to uncertainty and give them opportunities to work with that uncertainty, try something new and achieve an outcome that is not scripted in anyway. When we can be doing this for all education, then we might just be able to train the next generation to not only cope with change, but thrive in a very different environment that will continue to change and evolve in 5, 10, 20 and 50 years time. The ability to embrace and deal with uncertainty, is a far greater skill to have than simply knowing the answer to an exam, or where to find it. This is a huge challenge, but one that outdoor and experiential educators are well-equiped to not only meet, but exceed expectations for how well they can do this and ultimately equip students with the right skills for the new digital age.