Don't Lead Student Trips For Them!

Hiking - Outdoor Education

What's the point of spending time and energy setting up an outdoor ed program aimed at building leadership, teamwork and initiative, then subsequently provide no opportunities for students to actually take responsibility for any of this themselves?

So often I see teachers ‘run’ programs, in that they take the students out, think for them, navigate for them, constantly give instructions on how to do everything and determine the whole schedule for each and every day.

Realistically, students can get this sort of experience any day of the week at home or in the classroom. So don't make the mistake of doing this in your experiential education program!

The command and control operational management style is often starkly noticeable if contracting out your program out to a third party. Whilst some organisations are great, many of them process groups the way you'd process cattle through a dairy. They get herded in, run through the process and led out the other end none the wiser. For cows, the experience seems ok, having chewed a bit of cud and hung out with some other cows. However, has the cow learnt or achieved anything from this? Not really! The only enlightenment she’s achieved is having less milk. But there's lots of money in pointless processes. Look at government departments. They're great at it! I mean really great at it! I guess when you’re onto something good, you should stick to it.

Experiential education however, is not about a process of running fun activities for the sake of it. There’s so much more depth to it than that. It’s about the opportunity to lead, not to be led! The opportunity to take risks, not to have someone tell you what to do. It's about teamwork and decision making.

For teachers, to giving up the reigns and allow students be challenged, experience new things and grow from this may feel awkward and difficult at first. However, if you don’t, then you’re wasting some fantastic educational opportunities.

I've seen teachers on experiential education trips wanting to control and run everything and I mean everything!!! From setting up tents, to collecting firewood, to holding onto a bag of cereal in the morning and dishing it out flake by flake. Some teachers just can't let go of control. If you're like this, it's time to stop as you're not helping anyone with anything.

You need to stand back and allow your students to take the risk of leadership, decision making and self-management and allow them to have the chance to shine and the chance to fail! They're going to learn more from this than they ever will if you were to jump in and catch them before they fail. All you need to do is frame an effective debrief if they do fail, to create a great learning opportunity from this. Conversely, when they display initiative and leadership, use this to extend and challenge your students. You will be amazed the difference this makes.

To be able to do this effectively, when you get into the field, provide your students with a clear and detailed briefing on what needs to happen and what roles need to be fulfilled. Only do this once, as failure to listen can lead to some great learning opportunities for those who choose not to. On the conclusion of your brief, the responsibility needs to then be given to your students to make it all happen. Your role now is purely a safety one to ensure that the wider range of risks are monitored and addressed without intervention in the group decision-making process. The only time you now step in, is if there is a potentially dangerous risk that arises and requires your experience and knowledge to manage.

By allowing students the chance to take on responsibilities they’d not normally have, helps to super charge the learning opportunities in a short period of time. Mistakes are made, tempers are frayed and people are pushed well outside their comfort zones. Whilst this may sound like chaos to some people, it’s a natural and highly effective way of teaching and learning for everyone involved. You can achieve more growth and development from any of your experiential education activities by allowing your students to run them themselves, rather than having you or any other teacher do it for them.

So for your next experiential education activity: Set it up once, let go of the reigns and allow your students to take the initiative and shine.

The Mill Stones Of Education

Mill Stones - Old Education

No teacher should ever be allowed to go back to the school that he or she attended as a student! No, seriously, they shouldn’t be allowed even into an interview. You’re just asking for problems.

This is one of the weirdest workplace situations possible, yet it’s been accepted and encouraged by so many hopeless schools which believe they cannot survive without the shackles of the past.

Think about it. With what other business or organisation can you get a job where you’ve had such an involved relationship as a child? None! That’s right, none! You can’t be in the military as a child and then go back and become a general. You can’t spend six to twelve years of your life in hospital to go back and be a doctor there. You can’t spend the same amount of time in any other sort of workplace and then end up back there as an employee. So why is this something that’s ok in schools?

In my opinion it’s not ok. It’s weird. It’s unnatural and anyone who wants to go back to the school in which they were educated has some serious mental health issues which they need to work through. Even if you enjoyed your time at a school, going back there as a teacher is a completely different role and experience. Schools who are employing former students as teachers, could be setting themselves up for failure.

Over the years, I’ve come across some highly talentless teachers who, by virtue of the fact they went to the school, got a job back at the school. Perhaps because they were too afraid of the real world, they stayed there long enough to get promoted even further beyond their talents. No further can this problem be highlighted than when a former student ends up in charge of a school. This is quite insane!

Education should be about progress, challenging the status quo and pushing the limits of what’s possible. Taking people back into a school with no other real world experience than that of the same sheltered school environment as the sum total of their life experiences, is only asking to possibly perpetuate poor educational practice and culture.

To be effective in today’s educational environment, teachers need to have diverse life experiences so they can impart not only knowledge, which is becoming less and less important as we speak, but to educate others from their own life experience to help prepare students for the real-life challenge outside of school. If teachers have never stepped outside of school, let alone the school they went to, then this could be a train wreck just waiting to happen.

Hence, if there’s a teacher whose only life experience has been the school which they went to as a child, either don’t hire them, be skeptical about their ability to teach in any meaningful way and if they’re already at your school, perhaps it’s time they broadened their horizons and went out and got some real life experience.

The days of the ‘old school’ mentality that perpetuated rotten cultures and practices, needs to be one more ghost of the past never to make its way back into education. Empowering former students to realise this and help them to get a job that will let them grow in themselves, is the kindest thing you can do for them and for your school. At the end of the day, going back to teach where you were a student is just insanely weird and something everyone can and should live without.

Why Doesn't Education Modernise?

Education Modernisation - School System

The world is changing at a rapid pace, an immensely rapid pace! Think about driving along the autobahn in a Trabant listening to lederhosen slapping tuba hits, then being overtaken by a McLaren F1 blaring hot new German dubstep from its 2000 watt stereo system. That's how rapidly the world’s changing! So why isn't education changing with it?

Despite the push for schools to innovate, the whole system remains stuck in the Industrial Age, churning out a steady stream of generic, and at times functional workers, but not always balanced individuals. Innovation is thrown around like a new political buzzword, about which everyone likes the sound, but nobody really knows what it means. Unless you understand the rapidly changing new world, what chance have you got to actually teach someone effectively to be able to not just cope, but thrive with that pace of change?

The reality of the dimensional shift is already here, yet the fact is that most people don't cope well with change and that's what technology has brought to the world. For better or worse, it's here to stay, so education needs to either deal with it quickly, or be content with falling further and further behind countries such as Kazakhstan on educational standards! I mean seriously! What’s with that? Kazakhstan!!!

I had the misfortune of being dragged back into an academic classroom for a few weeks this year, which only helped reinforce how much I hate this archaic process of learning and see little value in it. The highlight of my time was standing in a classroom basically watching students bash away at their computers to try and achieve exactly the same outcome as everyone else. I stood there thinking what's the point of all this? If I'm getting the same response from every student have they actually thought about what they're doing? Or have they just copied and pasted the information to achieve the tick box outcome? Herein lies the massive elephant in the room! (Actually, that would be really cool having an elephant in the room. When people always say that, I excitedly turn around to see it and I'm always disappointed. There never ever is a real elephant).

Basically, all schools have done, is stick with their ‘traditional’ teaching practices and to ‘innovate,’ stuck a computer in front of a student. I'm not saying technology is bad, because technology’s awesome. What's bad in this scenario is the whole learning process. Whilst much of this is set down by government (which is just a whole building full of rooms full of elephants), schools still have the flexibility to deliver content in ways that will challenge students and get them to start thinking for themselves, yet they don't. What actual problem solving goes on in traditional education? None! And this the problem and the key factor in clawing back our rank position from former Soviet block countries that are killing us in terms of educational standards.

The whole education system in Australia needs a push from real problem solvers to fix this massive problem that's more out of control than Miley Cyrus on a construction site. Why are we still using a system that’s solely focused on a massive end of year 12 exam or assessment so everyone can get a university entrance ranking? Considering 2/3rds of school leavers will never darken the door of a university, what's the point? It's vital we come up with a system that promotes initiative and develops real world skills for jobs, not just marks for exams.

Nationally, I know this is easier said than done. However, to start with, do something about it within your own teaching practices. Create some assessment methodologies that reward thinking and problem solving, not just pretty PowerPoint presentations. By starting to teach your students how to use initiative and adaptability, then you're already well ahead of the rest of the system that's still trying to get out of second gear in their Trabant. There may be a long way to go, but at the end of the day, you already have the power to make a difference in your students’ lives. Why not slam the peddle to the floor and use it!

Why Is Experiential Education So Important?

Rafting - Outdoor Education

This is a crossover post between my education blog and business blog, as it fits in both. However, since Experiential education is any education where you just go out to do something. It’s not about theories. It’s not about book work. It’s about getting in and actively problem solving or engaging in a real world activity that’s malleable, has real consequences and outcomes which are either positive or negative, depending on how somebody approaches the task.

So why is this so important? One of the big problems with mainstream education, is the fact that most of it is completely impractical. Most academics would yell savage rebukes and cast terse derision on me from their lofty ivory towers, which incidentally were all built by tradesmen and artisans. However, I’m not here to knock academics and the role in education, because they play an extremely important role, but it’s not one for everyone. Experiential education, on the other hand, is for everybody. It’s the way people have learnt for tens of thousands of years. One of my favourite lines from The Simpsons, is when Homer turns the hot water on, scolds himself and yells out in disbelief. “What?! H Means Hot!” This really sums up how experiential and education works. You do something and there is a real consequence.

Much of this has been lost by the drive of politicians to make sure that academic standards are high. Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate into practical jobs for students leaving school. A whopping 2/3 of school leavers will never go to uni, yet almost the entire educational framework is based around training to encourage everyone to go to uni. It just makes no sense! This is only scratching the surface of a much broader issue, so over the next while on this blog and my education one, I’m going to explore more practical ways of learning through experiential education. What lessons do people remember the most? It’s the ones where they see or experience a real outcome not just the theory of an outcome.