Challege

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!

Technology And Education

Technology and Education Photo.jpg

Technology is evolving so rapidly, it’s near impossible to keep up with the relentless pace of change. From one month to the next, we see yet another new development, a new ground-breaking idea, a new way of doing things that will forever change the world! With this amazing digital transformation, which has brought with it so many benefits, it’s important to pause for a moment and think about what the consequences are for education.
 
Despite the immense benefit that technology has brought to the world, education is a unique field that on the one hand can benefit from efficiencies that technology can bring, but on the other, is at significant risk of failing the next generation of students the more it relies on technology to achieve its aims. The irony of owning a software company and being against technology as an educational driver, is not lost on me, but there’s a reason why I believe the over-use and over-reliance on technology is extremely concerning, as I’m also a teacher.
 
Firstly, our model of education is all wrong. Despite what some schools will tell you, creating an open-plan classroom is merely window dressing on a system and process that’s essentially not changed since the dark and smoky days of the industrial revolution. You get a group of students, put them in a room, teacher teaches them something, teacher assesses them and students get a mark! Congratulations! You’ve now done the exact same thing the old grumpy guy in the 1890s did, but just without the cane in your hand.
 
Many people will claim today’s classroom is different because they’ve integrated technology! In most current job descriptions for teachers, there’s a line about your ability to integrate said technology into said classroom, but what does this mean? If you’re still teaching basically the same way that the old grumpy misogynist was back in the 19th century, then throwing in a computer will serve no real purpose, other than making the cost of education go up.
 
Consequently, it’s worrying to think that by simply adding technology to outdated practices, that it will produce better results. Technology based learning systems are expensive and pointless without real teachers teaching a set of modern skills, which are focused on critical thinking, communications, problem-solving, teamwork and most importantly, adaptability. You can’t get any of this from either traditional education, nor creating virtual teachers and virtual classrooms.
 
Education for the 21st century needs to be far more experiential. We’re seeing an increasing reliance on devices amongst children and teens that appear to be leading to great prevalence of mental health issues and an inability to form real, healthy and long-lasting relationships. As some of the most important skills needed for the future are all to do with building effective relationships and being able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, this disconnect needs to be addressed as a priority before we throw any more technology into the classroom in the hope that it will magically address the problem.
 
The current state of education today is ill-equipped to handle the reality of what our next generation needs to be successful in a world that is changing so rapidly. Critical to the success of education into the future is not technology itself, but the ability of students to understand technology and leverage it for a real purpose. The risk is that our current generation and education system has been caught off guard by the enormous digital dislocation that’s happened in the last 10-15 years. This has resulted in many students and young people today being so reliant on devices that they’re now leveraged by technology. When this happens, we’ve failed as educators and we’ve opened the next generation to a serious risk of failure, if and when that technology fails.
 
To truly create an education system that helps students to grow in a positive, healthy and pro-active way and set them up for success, far more emphasis is needed on relationship building, teamwork, being able to fail and learning from failure. This needs to be done in the real world, through real world experiences. Technology can and should be a part of this, if it’s a natural fit, but technology doesn’t always need to be in the mix, as often we learn more from other experiences that don’t involve technology. It’s often from the ability of the teacher to identify a teachable moment and use this that students learn the most. It can be unplanned, unexpected, but something happens, or is said or done and the teacher leverages this moment for the benefit of their students.
 
This comes back to my earlier point that it’s through experiential education that students learn best. Teachers who have a wealth of experience can often find and react to teachable moments that would never be possible with virtual AI type teachers no matter how well-programmed they were.
 
Whilst in the past you could adequately prepare students for the future by teaching fairly narrow content that needed to be retained for a specific job for life, this is no longer the case. It’s important for the future of education, that we have teachers who have had real life experiences outside of the classroom and the academic world, who can provide real, genuine guidance for our next generation. It’s through the ability of an experienced teacher to react and teach future focussed skills that we will see the best results for our students into the future.

Don't Believe Everything You Think

Abseiling - Outdoor Education

Over the past three years, as I've worked on various outdoor ed programs, I’ve seen a pattern repeating itself over and over again. With a new group every few weeks, I've found the same kind of engrained beliefs the students have about themselves presenting again and again at the start of each program.

When the students arrive, I run a session on goal setting. In this, we outline why we set goals, how we go about achieving goals and why we should be setting goals outside our comfort zone! Despite this, it’s not until we actually get out into field and start doing some challenging activities that students get the opportunity to field-test their skill level and resilience.
 
Often we’ll be running an activity where the students have little previous experience. As a result, they’re hesitant or even fearful of the activity. The feeling of pushing outside one’s comfort zone starts to solidify in the students’ minds. However, I've noticed an increasing number of students shy away from activities that involve any form or risk, or perceived risk of failure.
 
Some of this feeling of fear is perhaps due to lack of experience. Other fears however, are often inherited from external sources such as parents and family who may have misguidedly told their children to always ‘Be Safe!’ ‘Don't take risks!’ and because their children are so perfect, they can't possibly fail… at anything!
 
One of the problems this creates is an irrational fear of dangers that don't actually exist and the fear of failure to the point that it's better not to try, than to risk being seen as less than perfect. The number of ‘perfect’ children I now find who have such low self esteem and lack of self belief is astounding!
 
When setting up activities we run, especially when we’re looking at abseiling, surfing, high ropes courses and even riding a bike, I say to the students beforehand, ‘Don’t always believe everything you think!’
 
I usually get blank stares, ‘What’s he talking about?’  I leave it at that.! I don’t go into any other details before starting the activity.
 
Whatever the activity may be, I make sure that it's designed to push the comfort zone and boundaries for each and every student.
 
Because of their pre-existing self-beliefs and low-levels of resilience, more often than not the students will go into an activity thinking, ‘I can’t do it!’ It's really just their first line of  defence to avoid their fear of failure.
 
Whenever they tell me, ‘I can’t do it,’ I generally respond, ‘Why not?’
In return I usually get ‘Because…. Blah, blah, blah!’
By this time, I've tuned out as they’ll throw up every possible excuse to avoid trying. These excuses tend to come out in rapid-fire succession, just in case the first one doesn't sound believable enough, they've got the next one ready to go!
 
What they're basically saying is, ‘What excuse can I make up to protect myself from possibly failing?’ and it's this fear of failure that's increasingly driving behaviours in students.
 
However, unless there’s some pre-existing medical condition, or some real reason as to why they can’t participate, I ignore their complaints about not being able to do it and instead encourage them to give it a go!
 
Whatever the activity, we’ll graduate it throughout the day to increase the level of challenge. For example, in mountain biking, we’d start with simple biking skills, how to set your seat height, how to pedal, how to change gears, how to brake, a very important aspect. We move on to how to go over an obstacle, how to go over an obstacle when moving at speed, how to go over multiple obstacles in succession and how to negotiate around berms, downhill at speed. The activity is therefore getting harder and harder, but it's graduating at a pace with which the students can manage.
 
Suddenly, without realising it, the students are riding on relatively steep terrain covered with some serious obstacles. A couple of hours ago they were telling me, or more to the point, themselves, that they couldn't do it!
 
With a ropes course, we start with low ropes, which are literally one step off the ground. They're simple stable challenges. However, after this, we ramp it up to a high ropes course where there's an increased perception of risk.
 
We often have students who are afraid of heights and this is a great activity to seriously push them outside their comfort zone. It makes them feel fear, it allows them to confront their fears head on and I work closely with these students to pushing them through that fear and enable them to truly challenge themselves and their firmly held beliefs. Once you can get them to punch through those self doubts, then their attitudes change, their confidence growth with it.
 
The same is true with surfing because a lot of students have never surfed before. Some are afraid of the water. Some are afraid of the surf. Some are afraid of getting eaten by sharks. The reality is though, you’re more likely to get killed by a vending machine falling on top of you than you are getting eaten by a shark. But people are still afraid.
 
No matter what the activity, the biggest challenge for students always comes down to all of the irrational fears that run through their minds telling them they can't do it.
 
However, once you get them involved and engaged in an activity, the fears disappear from their mind. They forget about all the excuses they made up as to why they couldn’t do something because their minds are now focused on the here and now and before they know it, they’re actually doing the thing they told you they couldn't.
 
I love to see this when it happens and I use this to positively reinforce those affirmative risk-taking behaviours that the students have pushed themselves to do.
 
In debriefing the activity, I revisit the issue of facing fears, happily saying to the student, ‘You’ve just achieved something that you told me you couldn’t do. Two hours ago you told me, “I can’t do it,” but what’s happened?’
 
I encourage all the students to respond individually. Invariably they’ll say, ‘I did it!’ And they’re really excited about it too. You can see it in their faces and in their smiles. They’re excited to have conquered their fear. They’re excited to have done something they’ve never done before.
 
To conclude the debrief, I’ll do a summation then reinforce my original statement, ‘Don’t always believe everything you think.’
 
Suddenly, I see lights going on! Some students are having an aha moment! What I said at the start is now making sense. Whilst they mightn’t remember it at the start of the next challenging activity, I’ll remind them of it and consequently they start to further process how to better approach challenging situations.
 
When students begin to realise their thoughts can shape so much of their lives in both positive and negative ways, this can become a powerful tool to help them master their approach to new challenges and experiences. Instead of telling themselves they can't do something, they've now got a power reference point of how and why they can do something they never thought they could.
 
Using briefing and debriefing frameworks to provide relatable learning moments, is vital when working with teenagers who might not always feel comfortable nor confident in everything they’re doing, even if they pretend to be.
 
Whilst life’s not all high ropes, mountain biking and shark dodging, when students can use these more challenging experiences and relate their success in these back to every day life, they start to become more resilient and realise they can push through other challenges they face.
 
Relating outdoor activities back to a wider context in this way, can be extremely effective in helping teenagers to push themselves outside their comfort zones and grow. It helps them to adopt a better mind-set for the way they should approach the next activity, or the next family matter or the next big decision they need to make in their lives. Chances are if you do the same, it could help you to push through some of your own long-held fears and apprehensions.
 
So remember, Don’t always believe everything you think!