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.