What an amazing week in the desert! Not quite the desert, but the town of Albuquerque was certainly surrounded by some stunning desert landscapes. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get to Roswell, which I think would be awesome. No doubt a massive tourist trap, but you don’t get to go to an alien landing site every day. What baffles me about alien landing or kidnappings is that they always seem to kidnap super rural bogans. I mean to learn what??? If aliens truly are an advanced life form, then what are they going to achieve by kidnapping and probing bogans?
Anyway, I’m sure that’s an entire topic on its own and if anyone can give me an answer to that or if you’ve been kidnapped and proved by an alien recently, please email me. I’m really keen to understand this mystery of the universe.
Once again, I find myself off on a useful tangent, which we will hopefully pick up on again later. For the past week in New Mexico, I’ve been involved in both risk management training as well as the world renown NOLS Wilderness Risk Management Conference. Whilst many people will have switched off by now and want to keep talking about alien probes, those of you who are still reading, good to see, because in terms of risk management, I learnt a lot over the last week and met some of the most pro-active risk management leaders in the world.
A lot of what we ran through in the two days of risk management training prior to the conference were things we're already implementing. However, having a chance to refresh these and bring them to the front of your mind again, helps us to review the systems we have in place for being able to run awesome programs, in a thoughtful and well-planned way. One highlight for me however, is the need for schools and other organisations to have a risk management committee which is separate from the WHS/OHS committee. Whilst at one school I worked, the groundsman sat in on all of our outdoor education meetings and offered up wide-ranging advice on everything. Whilst I’m sure groundskeeper Willie had a wealth of experience in something, it was not outdoor ed and at the end of the day, advice from people who know nothing, is far worse than no advice at all. Keep the committees focused and with the right mix of experience.
Having an executive team who understands the management in the world outside the school grounds is critically important in understanding the risk tolerance and organisational preparedness to respond to an incident which might happen when students are away somewhere. Now this isn’t just about camps and outdoor education. The management of risk is far more comprehensive than this and it’s best not to pigeon-hole this as an outdoor education risk management committee, as overseas trips now make up a huge component of schools’ programs and carry far more risk than most camps and activities. Unfortunately, these are often run by teachers with limited experience. As I’ve said before, relying on good luck as a risk management strategy is idiotic.
Therefore, with a risk management committee could involve stake holders such as the principal or deputy, a board member and or the school’s lawyer, the school’s insurance company and the heads of section directly responsible for the activities and trips that require significant planning and have inherent risks involved. It’s also a good idea to rotate other staff who accompany trips through this, so they understand and buy into the culture of risk management within the organisation.
Essentially, the role of the committee is to have a clear understanding of the risks and systems in place to manage them on all the trips, camps and activities which the organisation is running or contracting out and how this should be managed and the preparedness for emergencies and incidents to ensure you have the capability and capacity to respond or have clear 3rd party resources available if that day ever comes. This was a huge take away for me and one which I’ll be ensuring we have in place ready for the new year.
The rest of the training days were great refreshers for a lot of other things which reinforced some of our practices and highlights a few where we can do even better, which comes to the point that no matter how much experience you have, you can always make improvements.
The conference itself was once again excellent with a huge range of interesting sessions which unfortunately, you just can’t get to all of them. A really cool experiential education program I came across though was a medical youth corps in one of the schools in Albuquerque. Essentially, they train sophomores and higher as first aid first responders. Their training is similar to a Wilderness First Responder, so well above what we would call Senior First Aid and below what we would consider an EMT or paramedic. The fact that they leave class to go and respond to sick or injured peers is awesome and one of the coolest in-school experiential ed programs I’ve seen. Such a great confidence-building skill set and one for life! Look out for an episode on this in season 2 of The Xperiential Education podcast!
A few other sessions I went to were on medical forms and leveraging collected medical data, which was really interesting as that’s exactly what we’ve done with the Xcursion app by making all of the student medical information dynamic and responsive, not just another version of a flat spreadsheet. Way too many people focus on the collection of medical data and then do nothing with it. What’s the point of this if you don’t make information dynamic and usable? Thinking of Xcursion, and some of my own risk management work at the conference, I presented a poster session on how Xcursion came to be. From the systemic problems and failing leadership I had seen and experienced at one school (yes that same one) and how several significant incidents led me to a hospital waiting room with a student who had taken a dive in a bed of oysters and I realised how many gaps there were in the school’s entire risk management systems. Actually, I already knew this, but at this point the idea hit me for the app which fixed 80% of their systemic problems, but sadly the other 20% were human factors and other than moving those staff on, there was no fixing that.
Anyway, it was a fun experience presenting on how a crisis and an horrendously toxic workplace can trigger an awesome idea which helps other pro-actively manage risk. I had a really fun time, as well reading the range of poster topics and meeting so many other pro-active outdoor education professionals who run awesome programs all around the world.
One cool presentation I went to was by Misha Golfman. He spoke on positive risk management conversations with parents and not apologising for the fact that programs must have risk in them from an early age, otherwise with the sanitised and theoretically ‘safe world’ in which many parents think their children should be living, makes it an increasingly unsafe place for them and healthy risks such as climbing trees, riding bikes, trekking and all sorts of other things are replaced with unhealthy risks that reinforce the instant gratification to which children today are exposed. These unhealthy risks include drugs, alcohol, irresponsible driving and a false sense of over-confidence. The presenter made a very interesting point in that children who take healthy risks from a young age and are not over-protected at every step of the way, are better at negotiating the potential pitfalls of the teenage over-confidence in everything. Basically, he’s saying helicopter and drone parents are misguided idiots who are crippling their children and slowly destroying their ability to cope with the real world. I liked this guy! Such a great presenter and a successful educator with almost 40 years’ experience!
The other point he made was that a huge number of risks for people today are no longer physical, but emotional risks and this is just throwing fuel on the already raging fire of mental health problems within our communities. I think crappy parenting books, crappy parenting and social media have a lot to answer for on this. However, this is a huge topic for another day.
The other sessions were all fascinating, on all sorts of things from good field practices, to legal and financial considerations, to crisis response and management. We did a search and rescue scenario in one session which was a lot of fun and thankfully we managed to locate the student.
Another highlight for me was ending up on some random bar bike riding through the streets of Albuquerque late at night on Halloween.
The week was capped off with the conference dinner on Friday night and the guest speaker, Kit DesLauriers, who was the first person to ski down Everest and the seven summits (the highest peak on each continent). An awesome and fascinating story involved a lot of skiing and I felt somewhat dismayed at my skiing ability when she mentioned that her eleven year old daughter skied Corbet’s Couloir in Jackson Hole, which is one of the most extreme in resort runs in the world. (See knowing your limits for some context on this).
The keynote speech capped off an amazing week of experiences, new friends and wonderful insights into how the industry is ensuring students can learn from real experience and not just be mindlessly and pointlessly sitting in a classroom counting down the clock until bell-time. For anyone who hasn’t been, I highly recommend it and I’m looking forward to heading back again in 2020 to Burlington Vermont for another awesome experience. It will be an opportunity to continue to build upon my own experience and ways in which this can be used to help others run awesome experiential programs.