The Art Of Teaching Through Doing Nothing

Outdoor Activity - Outdoor Education

As teachers, there's always the desire to go out of your way to help students with their learning. However, what if this is harming their ability in the whole learning process? The increasing lack of ability for kids to problem solve is concerning on many levels. The standard solution of google, it has helped reduce people's ability to think and respond! ‘eLearning’ has a lot to answer for in terms of building incompetence into kids, where they're encouraged to seek solutions to their problems from the Internet. Instant access to the answer to almost everything has created new problems in that kids who are reliant on instant results, can't cope in situations that require a more complex and challenging approach.

Recently, I had a group of students out on a hike into the Budawang Wilderness. This pristine and amazingly rugged part of Morton National Park is a challenging, yet invigorating experience. Prior to the trip, we set the scene for the students. It was their expedition and they were in charge. We would only intervene if there were a safety issue that arose, otherwise every decision was up to them. They were briefed on directions, leadership and group management and given a map and compass.

Moments after the end of the brief, the questions started flying “How far is it?”
“When’s lunch?”
“What time are we going to get there?”
We both gave the same response. “You've been given all the information you need. Work it out yourself!”

It quickly became obvious that none of them had ever experienced this before. They were expecting to be taken on a trip, rather than being challenged by the experience. The temptation of teachers (often born out of frustration) is to take over and do it for them, or show them, as it's an easy way out. Yet if you do that, you never put the kids outside their comfort zone. You never push them to take any initiative or responsibility and they never actually learn anything.

So we waited for them to work it out, which took some time, then we were off and along the track. The questions about how far we'd gone, how long left and can I eat this muesli bar, continued and were met every time with the same response, “It's your trip. Work it out yourself.”

Whilst the questions are annoying, once they realise you're not going to provide them with any answers, they eventually stop asking, until they want reassurance that they're on the right path, or they're tired and then like flies to a dead horse, they ask again and again and again, which I refuse to answer unless there is a safety issue.

We eventually made it to camp, probably two hours later than if one of us had been ‘running’ the trip, but what educational value would that have provided? If we just ‘ran’ trips, we would just reinforce the notion that everything can and will be answered and done instantly with no effort on the part of the student. From an educational point of view, this is a complete waste of time and allows for no development of resilience nor initiative in kids, which ultimately will cost them dearly when faced with any sort of challenge later in life.

When leading trips, this has always been my guiding principle. Set the group up once and let them work the rest out for themselves. They must do everything out there in the field for themselves. What time we start, what time we break, pace of the group, setting up camp, dinner time, wake up, pack up, departure and navigation. Everything about the trip needs to be put on the students to think about and take appropriate action to complete.

At the end of the day, you never learn to drive sitting in the passenger seat, so set the group up, then put the responsibility on the group to take ownership and run the trip themselves. It might be tough. They might winged and complain about it, but it lets them develop real problem solving skills and teaches them some valuable lessons that they will never learn anywhere else.

Next time you're out with a group, don't take charge and do everything for them. Brief the group, then sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

San Diego... It Means A Whale's... Living At Seaworld!

Sea World San Diego - Excursion

This week, I’m taking a look at a combo of an awesome day out and the serious work that an organisation does to help protect our sea life! SeaWorld at San Diego is a great example of an industry leader that provides entertainment, but at the same time education and support for our marine creatures.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about Sydney Aquarium and so it was great to experience what the US has to offer in terms of marine experiences. I was not disappointed, as SeaWorld had a fantastic array of creatures, hands on exhibits, shows and wild rides!

Beluga Whale!!!

Beluga Whale!!!

The shows that are on throughout the day help engage both young and old with a range of different sea creatures they’d never otherwise experience. Although watch out at the end of the dolphin show! If you’re intending to stay dry all day, probably best to stand back a bit! You’ve been warned! The other shows include the killer whales, sea lions and feedings for the whole range of sea creatures. Oh and of course my favourite, the Beluga whale (a white whale), which was totally awesome in the arctic section of the park. You also have the choice of optional extras to get up close and personal with a range of sea creatures, which for many could be a life changing moment. If you like the idea of getting kissed by a large water based mammal, then this might just be your thing! For kids who might have confidence issues, this could be a very rewarding experience.

Dolphin Show - Sea World San Diego

The work that SeaWorld does to help educate and inform people about our marine creatures is amazing. There’s a range of different programs which are conducted by the park that most visitors don’t see. However, it’s so important to the health of our seas and our marine creatures. For some more on the valuable work they do, check out: https://seaworldcares.com

Tons Of Rays!

Tons Of Rays!

If you want to get rid of the kids for a few days then, SeaWorld is also the place to do it! There’s a huge range of holiday, school and education camps available that combine the important education and environmental work the park does, with some great fun and entertainment. Best of all, they keep the kids overnight, so you can go and enjoy a night of fiery jazz flute in the social hotspots of San Diego! To see the full range of options check out the SeaWorld Camps page. (Sorry doesn’t have the places to be seen in SD on this page).

Just In Case…

Just In Case…

Ok so now about the rides! Let’s face it, even the most environmentally scientific minded amongst us just love the rides. My favourite was the Manta, on which I managed to get the front seat for! It was awesome!!! An adrenaline pumping ride which shot up, down and twisted all around, pinning me to my seat as it rocketed along. There’s a stack of other rides, some that will get you totally soaked and others which are moving just fast enough to put a smile on grandma’s face.
This makes for a wonderful mix of education, entertainment and thrill seeking fun, all of which is contributing to the vital work that SeaWorld Parks does for the environment.

SeaWorld has parks in San Diego, Orlando & San Antonia as well as a range of other associated parks and adventures for the whole family. It’s well worth a visit when planning your next US adventure.

https://seaworldparks.com

Sea World San Diego - Excursion

What's The Point Of Outdoor Education?

Hiking - Outdoor Education

I’ve been reading a number of articles lately which have had a common theme about where education is headed. Given the number of theories on how people learn and retain information best, it always strikes me as odd when experienced educators, usually in management positions, suddenly think that more time in a classroom equates to greater results for the school.

Whilst this might work for some students, what’s the point of having a cohort of super intelligent and well educated doctors who have the bedside manner of a pathologist? Many big companies pay people like myself large amounts of money to run team building and leadership programs for their staff, because they don't have the capacity to effectively deal with people, work as cohesive teams, adapt and problem solve! Just as an aside, if you are from a big company and you have a large amount of money to give away, I’m more than happy to run a corporate team building weekend for you!

If this is what more and more organisations are looking for, why then is it so hard for schools to see the value in what outdoor education does? I can’t for the life of me work it out! Many schools have outdoor education as a token gesture annual year level camp. More often than not, they also get someone else to run it for them. The problem with this is the fact that activities in isolation don't add up to the long-term benefit that a well-structured outdoor ed program can deliver and it's these long-term benefits that make all the difference to the overall educational experience.

The whole point of modern education should be to provide students with a dynamic skill set to tackle the challenges of life, not just academic, but social and emotional as well! This is where outdoor education comes in. Forget about the specific activities for a moment. Worrying about this can be a distraction from the wider picture, so instead think about what emotional and spiritual goals you want to achieve from your programs. Be specific with it too! Do you want doctors with a good bedside manner? Do you want trades people who can setup and run their own enterprises? Do you want kids to be honest, responsible and functional members of society? Or do you just want a number so the principal can feel good about themselves? Anyone can get an academic result. To be honest, it's probably one of the easiest things in education. Yet producing independent, innovative, determined and compassionate young men and women is a far more difficult challenge for educators.

Briefing The Kids Before Kayaking

Briefing The Kids Before Kayaking

The world however, needs young men and women to be equipped with far more than a university entrance rank. By only focusing on academics, you're actually setting kids up for failure and failure is something modern adolescents aren't very good at handling. I’ll talk about the lack of resilience in kids today in another article, but for now I’ll stick to the point. You need to provide more than academics and a token gesture of a year level camp each year. Outdoor education needs to become an integral part of your school's program and culture.

What should you do about it? Well, for starters, the school needs a director of outdoor education, one who's experienced in developing and delivering innovative, sequential learning programs that link together and increase the challenge that the students must face as they progress through the years. Then allocate time throughout the year to challenge students in their social and emotional growth through outdoor activities. Better still, look at a longer term year 9 or 10 program. Let's be honest, these two years could be a complete waste of time, so you may as well do something constructive with them, rather than just let them tread water until they're a bit more mature. There's some awesome long-stay programs being run around the world, so check them out and see how you could shape the lives of your students with something like this. If all else fails, at the very least, link every year level camp to real social and emotional outcomes so that teachers can work towards achieving them, not just ‘getting away’ for a week.

The whole point of outdoor education is to push kids outside their comfort zone and to challenge them. It's not until we begin to feel uncomfortable about something new, that we actually start to develop and grow as individuals. It's this emotional and social growth that becomes invaluable to the child’s overall education. The more they're given real opportunities to deal with the reality living with others, working as a team and reflecting on their own life and actions, the more balanced an individual will be.

Forget the insane drive for academics at all cost. Whilst it produces some pretty numbers that everyone can go ‘ooooh and ahhhrr’ for about five minutes, all of this is often meaningless and easily forgotten. Whilst it helps the principal make out that they're doing a great job, it also produces crappy soulless lawyers, crooked politicians, rubbish doctors and rude tradesmen who don't wipe their shoes at the door.

Outdoor Ed is more important than ever to help develop real life skills for each and every student. Don't leave leadership, team building and resilience to someone else. It's a vital part of education for young men and women so they can lead healthy balanced and wonderful lives.

Great Teaching Moments!

Mountain Biking - Outdoor Education

This week is simply about an awesome teaching moment, which led to such an awesome feeling inside! It's why I actually love this job so much! The awesome moment and great feeling was triggered by a single smile!

With the rains and floods of last week having subsided and the program returning to 'normal' it's time for some mountain biking! A frustrating phenomenon is becoming increasing pronounced. I noticed it a few years ago and sadly it's getting worse. That's he fact that kids aren't learning to ride a bike! Even though we run mountain biking as part of our program, until now, we've been limited to one day per camp. If a student couldn't ride, then there simply wasn't the time nor the resources to teach the non-riders anything. If we tried, it would be at the cost of everyone else, which is unfair to the other kids who want to challenge and push themselves. So we bought some bikes for the campus.

In anticipation of the upcoming mountain bike activity for our year 9 students (14-15 years old), we offered one on one sessions for any boys who weren't confident about riding. I had one taker and one helper! I kitted them out with helmets and gloves then ran through all the safety checks on the bike before getting started. The success rate for riding with non-riders at this age is fairly low. Not because of lack of skills, or ability, it's the lack of attention span to stick with something longer than 5mins, a sad reflection on society and parenting on both counts. However, with any skill, it takes work and persistence and that's what makes all the difference.

Throughout the morning it was a combination of pushing the bike, falling off the bike, running over my toes, running over his friend's toes and generally messy wobbles that looked like they might go somewhere, but then ended up with him laying on the ground time and time again.

The great thing was though, was that this didn't phase him. I kept working with him on balance, body position and movement and these falls became less frequent and the front wheel lurched around less violently each time. We had a break for lunch and then another session in the afternoon of class work, before heading back out to the oval to try again. It was the same result, front wheel everywhere, feet on the ground more than on the pedals and seemingly no balance. Suddenly, like the switching on of a light, it changed! He was on the bike, the front wheel was stable, he was pedalling! He was riding the bike!!!

He turned the bike towards me and that's when I saw it, this beaming smile across the boy's face. He was up and riding! He'd done it!!! It was an awesome sight to see and it felt so good from my point of view that he'd stuck to it and got there! Whilst this sort of thing happens every day as a teacher, it's often quite subtle, especially in the classroom, but out here, it was there for everyone to see! A great end to the day for a boy who had just never had the opportunity to try riding a bike until now!

Staff Exhaustion

Staff Exhaustion - Camps

This week, it's time to cover burnout and exhaustion on programs. Having done four straight weeks of Year 8 camps, despite having two days off in between each camp, this weekend I feel totally and utterly exhausted! Thankfully I have the next week off to recover before we start the Year 9 program. However, if the staff didn't have this recovery time, a serious number of dangers and increase risks for activities can creep in!

It's often the case that management don't figure in burnout to the overall risk assessment of programs. It might be thrown in as an idea on a risk management form, but is it really taken seriously?

After the past month of intense programs, without a week off to recover, I doubt very much that we’d actually have any staff left to run the next program. I used to work for one such school, who on the one hand said staff need to be looked after, but in reality, they didn’t. Staff exhaustion and burnout were common place and it resulted in massive staff turnover. Because the school could never really decide what they want to do with their program, they did a bit of everything and a bit of everything meant a lot of everything. Half the staff did the majority of the work whilst management sat around scratching their heads not really knowing what was going on. The core of issue of burn out in that situation came down to the nature of leadership within the organisation. After four years in that job I was one of the most senior staff on campus, people just got sick of working ridiculous hours without any real break and they simply left, which ultimately costs more in the continuous recruitment, induction and retraining processes than it’s worth.

So how do you avoid burning out your stuff and churning them over so many times that there’s no history or culture left with in your school or organisation? The first approach is to value the work that your staff are doing. Simply acknowledging the fact that they’re not off on vacation is a good start. The work outdoor ed teachers do is different. It’s not in a structured classroom environment where you can set and forget half way through the lesson. It’s in a fluid, risk filled world that requires constant attention to detail and vigilance. Camps and activities can be all consuming and over this period of time staff have to make sacrifices including being away from family, from home and all the conveniences of the modern world. For one thing, I miss good coffee!!!

The acknowledgement by senior management that this is above and beyond what most staff do, is essential in reinforcing positive and proactive culture within the school and encourages others volunteer and organise other trips themselves, which ultimately enhance the student’s educational experiences throughout their schooling.

The danger of staff exhaustion is that the tiredness, isolation, time away from family can creep in and start to impact on staff morale and staff judgement. You want teachers and instructors at the top of the game running your excursion! You want them exercising the best judgement, constantly monitoring the group, the environment and any third party risks that may arise. What you don’t want is having your staff thinking, ‘When am I getting off this activity?’ ‘When can I go home?’ ‘Why is this job so relentless?’ All of these negative thoughts and distractions mean that your staff aren't focused on the task at hand of running high quality activities and providing continuous operational management and risk assessment for activities.

It's important to balance everything. Some programs are longer than others. Some run on weekends and some run for weeks on end. All of this costs times and money to provide quality educational outcomes, but it’s all worth it in the holistic educational development of students in functional and effective young adults. In the overall risk management of excursions, it’s vital to consider the fact that staff are humans and need real breaks from children and all the demands that come with the responsibility of looking after other people's kids for extended periods of time. Always ensure that your excursions have sufficient staff not only to cover statuary ratios, but also to figure in the 24 hour supervision needs and the contingency plans if something goes wrong. By doing this it means you’ll have the most proactive and effective operational management in place for your excursions. Keeping staff happy, kids safe and providing the best framework for everyone to have a wonderful, memorable experience when away from school.

Finally Relaxing In Front Of The Fire!

Finally Relaxing In Front Of The Fire!