Schools are a strange place. If you replace the word school with work and reimagine students as employees you’d be very worried about the levels of productivity going on at most workplaces/schools. What workplace has employees go from one 40 minute meeting to the next with 20 or so of their peers, usually at the sound of a big bell or alarm going off? Another strange thought is that schools are there to educate students with the skills and tools to enter the workforce and be a contributing member to society. Yet, on most occasions schools are a closed box community where people who work at schools continue on the merry go round of school without experiencing real-life for a bit.
There are some aspects of school though that try to mimic ‘real-life’ and prepare students for when they leave. Food technology or home economics classes teach students how to cook for themselves. General mathematics subjects, usually the choice of maths for the students who are more ‘challenged’ with academics, might focus on tax returns or the sharemarket. Sports days and competitions try to teach students what competition can be like, reward for effort concepts and help promote physical and healthy lifestyles.
But what subject has leadership, group development, organisational, cooking, physical and social interaction skills as well as fostering a greater sense of independence right at it’s core? Outdoor Education does.
Take a standard bushwalking trip for a Year 11 Outdoor Education class. The students have to plan their meals and equipment, interact with external instructors (i.e. people like me) or members of the public at campgrounds and on the trail, work with their peers to achieve a common outcome in a gentler version of Lord of the Flies, fend for themselves in the elements by keeping warm, erecting a shelter and feeding themselves (their planning has real consequences!) all by themselves without their primary caregiver by their side. Does that happen in maths, english, or anywhere else at school? No. Do all those tasks sounds like a simplified and stripped down version of a normal week for your average employee at your average workplace? Yes. Starting to see what I’m getting at? Outdoor Ed is the closest thing to Life Ed.
I just finished a week working with a typical Year 11 Outdoor Ed class and saw all these tasks eventuate over the course of four days so I reckon I can talk with some authority on the matter. Here’s my opinion on the best life lessons that students received from the week:
- Simple ones first. 16 sausages for dinner, by themselves, are not a wise choice. Checking your bag for your clothes is probably a smart thing before asking people if they’ve seen your ‘missing’ clothes. Leading your peers can be easy when you are confident and assertive.
- Even if you do the right things, say the right things and act politely, there are still dickheads in the world that want to act like dickheads. We had some drunk neighbours in the campground on night one that didn’t want to act like normal citizens until the threat of the police turning up to quieten them down helped them understand.
- You’ve got a lot more in your arms and legs than you might think. Watching students rock climb can be very frustrating. There’s always a bit of back and forth chat coaxing them to try out a hard move to pass a difficult section. When they eventually pass through and reach the top they are often surprised that their bodies could move like that. No bloody wonder, who actually teaches students these days how to move properly and use the one thing, their body, they are stuck with for the rest of their life??? It’s not happening in PE I don’t reckon.
If you still need convincing of Outdoor Ed and it’s merits as being the closest thing to Life Ed, a final important aspect of outdoor ed trips are the long term impacts that can be made on students in just the space of a few days. I was working with a teacher on this particular program who was on some of my outdoor ed trips at school, over ten years ago. To make the connection even closer, her partner (also an instructor) was integral in developing my stoke for rock climbing. I wanted to push myself to be a better climber so I could be more like him. Would they have known they were going to have such a deep and personal impact on my life when they first instructed me as a Year 10 student? Probably not.
So why did they?
I believe it was because of their position of influence as an authority/instructor and the example they set in going about their life, being prepared and willing to work hard (and play at the same time) that together they became a role model for me to follow. On outdoor ed trips students are learning off the instructors as their role models 24/7. Watching what they eat, how they dress, how they prepare themselves, how they complete tasks… they’re watching your every move. It is the only time at school that students are being shown by an adult, how to actually live their lives. Sure, they might hear from their Biology teacher what they did on the weekend, or what they had for breakfast. On outdoor ed trips though they are eating breakfast on the weekend right next to them! Monkey see Monkey do!
What am I getting at here? Well, as someone who calls themselves an Outdoor Instructor I wanted to make a clear argument as to the importance of outdoor ed as a subject at school and help paint the picture of the reasons why I work as an Outdoor Instructor. At the end of the day, I think schools would be less of a strange place and the world a better space if everyone took Outdoor Ed a bit more seriously…