One of the questions raised from this weekend’s MA in Outdoor Education course was “Do you allow a young person to say “no” to an activity? Challenge by choice!”
I listened to my fellow students articulate their opinions with strong justification for their decision(s) as to why they would allow a young person to fully opt-out but I wasn’t convinced with their arguments.
To explain the terminology: Challenge by Choice is a concept in which people are empowered to decide whether to participate in an activity. The leader and others in a group are expected to respect anyone’s right to sit out or to opt for a personalized level of engagement. (teampedia.com)
I was quite adamant against it, but after reflection, I’m not so sure now.
Firstly, there are the practical and safety considerations of young people not fully participating and sitting out. If there is a financial commitment, then this would be wasted and thirdly (but not lastly), how do they know if they’re not going to like an activity unless they experience it – had they tried it before, then they might fail (in this instance) to learn that situations are often very different from one another!
Whilst I agree young people should be allowed autonomy over decision making, I am conflicted at the thought of fully ‘opting out’ at such a young age (under 16 years old).
Firstly, there is the argument of experience and ‘trying anything once’. Who knows? you might like it…
Secondly, there is the argument of resilience. Everyone will experience unpleasant moments at some point within their life, maybe a situation they can not avoid, this will help develop their understanding of their resilient levels.
Thirdly, learning occurs more robustly if the young person has control and choice over the experience. If they don’t learn to make their own decisions and gave confidence when (and how) to say “no”, what issues will this cause in their future?
On the other hand,
Firstly, what will that experience contribute to their self-actualisation? Will it be positive or have a detrimental effect?
Secondly, resilience can be developed from many areas within our lives and experiences, does it need to be done outdoors?
Thirdly, if the student doesn’t know what they are supposed to learn, then they can learn misconceptions…
I’ve still not found a conclusive answer that satisfies me. It wasn’t until adulthood when I realised just how I could draw from the experiences as young person and apply to adulthood – for example, I was never allowed to ‘opt-out’ of activities whilst in school despite how much I protested (I had to do them, then the detention afterwards for refusing!) and I felt this put me in good sted and created a more resilient person with the mindset that difficult situations often don’t last long. Sadly though, it made me very compliant to authority and others of influence, even when their motivations and viewpoints were not aligned with mine; I felt I wouldn’t have been put in situations had I developed, at a young age, the ability to strongly refuse – this was a lesson I learnt within my thirties instead.
However, I can see why the choice to fully opting-out is not always appropriate. Had I be given the choice to do so, I feel I would have been lazier and without a motivational attitude to areas of my life I enjoyed experiencing in my youth because I was forced to partake in them. I felt my youth was more colourful and adventurous than it would have been otherwise…
So, back to the original question, “Do you allow a young person to say “no” to an activity? Challenge by choice!”
I think, whilst on the long drive home from university, I came up with a woolley conclusion for myself – I would allow them to fully opt-out if I felt it was detrimental to their well-being or development (always a tough judgement call) or no learning would occur at all by them participating. Also, if I felt their participation would cause risk to themselves or others in the group.
I certainly would adapt the activity to be inclusive within reason… however, my first choice would be “everyone partakes” in some form. After all, for a young person, they are often fortunate to experience an adventurous activity for a fraction the cost an adult might. Whilst they would have no interest in the financial cost of things at their age, they certainly will as an adult!
So, no to them saying “no” really within reason. Sometimes parts of our life are decisions we can’t opt-out of, we can certainly try to change them but often we need to draw on resilience and strengths learnt whilst young to participate in the complexities of adulthood (boo!)… at least, from my perspective and experience, it certainly feels that way…
This has been sitting in my draft folder on WordPress for months… I completed the course in June this year and wanted to do a write up of it. As you can imagine, with nearly twelve months of training the write up will be long (I’ve deliberately kept some areas brief) but I thought it would give an opportunity for others to understand the PGCE. The course format has changed since I attended, but still, this might be an interesting read for some…
I’d been working in education as a Lead Teaching Assistant for Complex Needs for over eight years; the school I was at wasn’t able to offer me teacher training due to my degree being in an unrelated curriculum subject; so I decided to look around. I’d made the decision to train to become a teacher because I wanted a change of career, a boost to my emotional wellbeing, continue working with young people and to overall teach a subject I was passionate about.
I decided to attend the PGCE Secondary in Outdoor Activities (QTS) at Bangor Uni; partially because of it’s location, it’s reputation, it’s subject but mainly because I felt a really good atmosphere when I arrived there for my interview – I liked the course tutor, the PGCE content and felt that I could do well here; so I applied, went to interview, got accepted and eagerly awaited August 2018!
Below is a brief outline of the PGCE course for readers to find out about it and a few considerations at the end. I am happy to speak to anyone if they have any questions about any aspect of the course.
The 2018-2019 cohort.
At the start of the course there were nine trainee teachers for ODA; I was the oldest one within the group (34 isn’t old really…) and the rest, bar one other and me, had previously undertaken the Outdoor Education degree route at either Chichester Uni or University of Wales Trinity St Davids Uni and this was a follow on year from that for the majority. The tutor will accept people based on prior experience – I certainly had years of it with DofE, Scouting and John Muir Award; so don’t think you might not have enough experience, call and speak directly to the tutor to find out.
Term 1 – activities and assignment basically sum up this term. Our tutor planned outdoor activities and visits to interesting locations so we knew what to expect on placement – Stand Up Paddling boarding, canoeing, mine exploration, caving, climbing, mountain biking etc.
We had professional development lessons and our first assignment was on teaching and subject methodologies. Overall, this was a good introduction to subject content and teaching practise.
My first placement was in an English-medium mainstream school in North East Wales. I’d known for a while where I was going so could make arrangements accordingly for accommodation etc. The rest of the ODA cohort, bar two, was sent to schools (some outdoor centres might not have many groups visiting during December so placement was usually a school…) around North Wales. I shared this placement with four other trainees from Bangor (one dropped the course during the placement), one from Aberwythsmith and three others from Chester.
I was based in the P.E department with another trainee from the course – it was great that we had each other for support as it was one very hectic and busy department! My mentor had over 25 years of teaching experience, was the head of the department and overall a nice guy. He allowed for me to have a lot more autonomy than I was expecting; he knew where to give support and when to allow me to discover when the mistakes were made, also, he helped identify the areas of development that I really needed advice with. I had some good conversations with him about the changes in the curriculum over the years, especially around outdoor education and the PGCE course (“the tick box exercise“), and where teaching is progressing. He wasn’t one for lesson plans much (though saw the value in them), the content and quality of the teaching was the most important aspects I gathered. You could tell he genuinely cared for his ODA cohort, even the challenging members, and thoroughly enjoyed teaching even after so long. I learnt a fair bit from this placement, not only about the course content of adventurous activities within the P.E curriculum but more so about keeping its high profile to keep it running within schools! The adventurous activities I taught were kayaking, navigation, hill walking and orienteering.
I think one of the best things I loved about this placement was the attitude of the young people and the teachers; having the mountains, rivers and trails as your backdrop, rather than the concrete jungle I’ve been used too, changes your perspective on life and activities – the young people I met, I felt, were more ‘wholesome’ individuals with mature attitudes as they’ve had to take responsibility, such as getting buses from villages, at a much younger age. Whilst the school was rated “good” it seemed more important to the teachers that the young people had experiences, rather than worry about grades.
Side note: one of my managers at my current workplace was an ODA student of my mentor from years ago! Small world, but due to his lessons he gained a life long passion for outdoor education which continues to this day!
Heading back to university after Christmas saw fewer numbers than before but excited and energised trainees ready for the next placement. The first couple of weeks consisted of ensuring folders from placement 1 were up to date, then finding out about the Action Research Project in placement 2 and submitting proposals to peers for review. Alongside this, we had a couple of outdoor activity sessions.
The second placement was in a council-owned outdoor education centre in Snowdonia national park. All the teaching staff had the PGCE in Outdoor Activities qualification (with one studying an MA in Outdoor Education) and the freelance staff, which joined occasionally, were all highly skilled and experienced.
Having been used to a heavily target driven curriculum-based school setting the centre was fascinating to be a part of as it felt more like family than other placements; the support was strong and the teachers insightful, encouraging and motivating.
This placement consisted of an adventurous, educational packed programme for Key Stage 2 students from a large city and activities included (but not limited to): gorge-walking, high and low ropes, climbing and traversing, canoeing, mine exploration, biking and mountain walking.
Whereas the first placement taught me about curriculum content, I felt this one taught me more about myself as the outdoor practitioner, group management, motivation and self-confidence and how integral they all are to the outdoor education of others – more fluid and flexibility is required than a classroom-based curriculum, which made for some very interesting and enjoyable sessions! Have I the opportunity again, I would like to do a lot more centre based work – it’s long and hard working days but more immediately rewarding.
This was the longer of the two placements, with the same requirements as the first; lesson planning, weekly teaching reviews and professional development sessions but I completed an Action Research Project during this placement which is graded at a level 7 (Masters).
out on the water
I say ‘term 3’, it was more like 2 weeks of finishing off the paperwork required for the portfolios but also doing some outdoor stuff. At this point, everybody is flagging, willing it to be over, wishing it wasn’t so, excited to move on to the next thing or just wishing it could last longer; a really mixed bag of emotions but overall, just grateful of the experience. Interested eyes scan the room on the first meeting back to see who has made it through and who has left the course; polite tutors confirm/deny suspicions and detail the tasks still yet to complete.
At this point, if your folders aren’t sorted and in the correct areas then be prepared to spend a lot of time doing this, especially the Record of Professional Development!
Lastly, was the graduation ceremony and the goodbyes to fellow students; having now shared similar experiences each one looks to the future; for some, they have secured teaching jobs, others decide teaching isn’t for them and some, like myself, were still looking for employment at this stage.
After the course
There are a lot more opportunities that one would imagine for Outdoor Education/Activities teaching after the course however, there are a few things I’d like readers to know.
If you’re considering freelancing or a summer placement – freelancing isn’t too bad, I found companies were very keen to have me on their books with the PGCE qual (although NGB qualifications were still a must) so getting work for July/August wasn’t an issue at all. Summer placements are a different matter as you’ll still be on the course when the majority of centres start employing for April/May but some were happy to have a shorter summer stint from July to October if they needed someone.
Teaching supply is also a consideration (one of our trainees is going down this route), and you can still complete your NQT year if you’re on long term supply (best check with the school first as they will need to support you. Applicable only to Wales TT I believe). I’ve known a lot of supply teachers in my time and if you build a good reputation then you’ll be the first to be offered jobs and can negotiate for more pay; some even went on to be employed as full-time teachers.
If you’re considering full time teaching from September – there are jobs out there! I have seen a lot of part-time job for Graduate Assistants in Independent/Private schools (one trainee has gained employment at a private school) and these are great if you want to build up logbook/qual experience in a school setting (and they often come with the added benefit of accommodation and food provided). I saw a lot of joint P.E/Outdoor Education teaching roles for NQT and, after speaking to some schools, they’d like for you to have experience or quals in officiating/umpiring either football/netball/hockey (athletics is a bonus!) as you will teach P.E lessons but these quals are easy to obtain.
There’s also teaching roles within SEND/SEMH residential places (of which one trainee has gained employment in) to consider if you’d like to work in those areas; I found lots of advertisements for this pathway. Hard work but very rewarding through creative educational lessons.
If you’re considering overseas – I’ve not heard a bad word about overseas work yet, and I am attracted to it but circumstances at the moment prevent it sadly… however, be mindful that, especially in the Emirate areas, the summer term begins 1st August and applications open in April – a lot of schools require ML, RCI, Paddlesport Level 3, Powerboating Level 2 as a minimum – the centres overseas are more flexible and many just seem to offer you training in one area (usually ERCA I found) but provide accommodation and food (within a school you’ll probably have to source your own accommodation but get a little extra pay for this). It’s also worth noting that within certain places, like the US, you can be sponsored to join outdoor teaching programmes (need a minimum of a Masters to teach in a school in the US, outside of this the PGCE is just fine) and will have to do their equivalent NGBs as UK ones aren’t always counted sadly. I’m sure there is a lot more to overseas outdoor education work, this is what I found and thought I’d share.
Alternative jobs – I found quite a few that were teaching based, such as Educational Officers for charities and group tour guides, all over the UK, whilst they might not be able to help you with you NQT induction year they’re still worth considering (I met a lot of centre teachers who hadn’t completed their NQT year and it didn’t seem to matter much really as there’s no time limit in Wales) as the more varied experiences will look great on your CV. Consider also looking at county councils that are outdoor-focused, I have gained employment in this area in their Outdoor Education team.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, it’s some info for your consideration when you apply for the PGCE course as to what opportunities are available afterwards. The majority of jobs can be found advertised on IOL job site, Linkedin and TES – I would advise looking at all three of these sites as many companies are still unaware of IOL so don’t post there! To make job-hunting an easier process I set up weekly job searches to be sent to my email. Recruiters did not really help me to find jobs, so I wouldn’t recommend.
My advice for anyone considering the course is to sit down and consider what type of outdoor work you’ll be interested in and be prepared not to gain employment straight away in that area. I knew from the outset that I didn’t want too much SEND as I’ve had years of it, nor did I want to go back into a mainstream school setting; what I do want is overseas but family commitments mean that’s one that will have to wait a little while longer… but, if you know what type of job you’re looking for then you can build on your experience and qualifications during the PGCE.
Please be mindful that this blog post relates to the PGCE course from 2018 -2019. There have been changes for the 2019+ cohorts (of which, when described to us we thought were fantastic!) and I would strongly urge you to speak to the course tutor. The opinions expressed within this blog post are all my own and not the opinions of my course colleagues, tutor or the university.
If you have any questions, I would be happy to try to answer them!
It was a sentence I heard recently and it got me thinking about viewpoints.
Having discussed this particular learner, who was part of a group being taught navigation skills, with my fellow colleague the question “with whom does the fault lie?” sprung to mind.
Such a dangerous question, I thought!
Could the fault lie with the learner who, through the course documentation was told that pre-learning was required and, having failing to do any, felt they weren’t taught fully during the training?
Could it lie with the programme structure not being generous enough to offer more time to experiential learning and embed those skills?
Could it lie with the trainers, feeling they needed to follow the programme exactly, not going with the needs of the groups and just disregard timings?
Could it lie with the attitude of the learner who was reluctant to engage with the group, ask questions or say when help was needed? Did they feel they just needed to attend to “pass” and no apply a lot of effort?
Could it lie with both – a trainer/learner clash of personalities/learning styles that didn’t suit either?
I find working with adult groups harder than working with young people (but no less enjoyable, just different for a variety of reasons). One of the attendees summed it up almost perfectly I thought: “You know what we [teachers] are like, we have a voice and want to give an opinion. We’ll speak over each other to be heard.” In my mind, I chuckled. Yes, adults are more likely to come with preconceived ideas and notions, they are more likely to point out your errors and judge you based on presentation – a chaotic, poorly timetabled programme doesn’t instill confidence within them – but they have their positives, more insightful input based on their prior experiences, more opinionated input and generally a good laugh; but this is all my perception of the differences between the two age groups…
“I feel like you’ve set me up for failure.“
That sentence though. Ouch.
At the time, it felt like a sledgehammer hitting hard. The trainer and I talked, we tried to find where the fault lay, we reflected on the programme and content delivered, we looked at different avenues… then having slept on it and communicated since… we had made the right decision.
Within the bigger picture of things, you have to justify your decision and this was ensuring the adult is competent and confident enough to safely look after young people outside. This wasn’t a ‘attend to pass‘ course; it had a lot of elements that the learner was required to show competency into a skilled and highly qualified trainer. Unfortunately, this person did not show they were competent in some elements and would need more practice.
But that sentence bothers me. It bothers me because when a young person has said similar (and I heard a lot of gripes about teachers when I was supporting within a school) I have tended to disregard it as that young person being unwilling to see themselves as part of the learning process and hold responsibility for their own learning. Here too, the sentence suggests the learner thinks there are not at fault, but the trainers are. Would this have been said had they passed the course? Probably not. BUT, and this is a big BUT for me, I feel I am being narrow-minded in forgiving young people quicker “because they know no better and are still learning” but not necessarily with adults with whom I feel should have had the training, prior experience and knowledge to know when to speak up and say when they aren’t learning?
I have to question myself in this; have I had enough experience to spot when learning, in either an adult or young people, isn’t happening? It’s a tough thought consideration. I feel I am bothered because I have separated the two age groups based on personal opinion and feel that, equally, both have a right to a quality learning experience and both should recognise they are a part of that learning experience, therefore, take some personal responsibility when the outcome is not in their favour… in this instance, the learner is obviously disgruntled at the outcome and is seeking a justification for feeling this, yet, does not openly acknowledge their part in the process.
I have to learn to recognise that not everyone thinks the way I do about learning! I feel the quote “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is apt in this instance; that might seem remorseless and un-empathic to some, but it’s held me in good sted and taught me well when I’ve failed previously.
At the end of the day, whether the “failing” is on the teaching side, the learning side of both side, it what happens next that is important. I feel a follow-up support plan is always necessary; without offering support and helping them to progress is where I think the true “failing” lies…. and what harm can being told that they need to do additional work to pass do? “Get back on that horse.”
It has only really occurred to me recently, since the email sign up for graduation has gone out, just how little time is left at my second placement, then there’s only a couple of weeks at university then I am to leave North Wales to head back down south. In fact, including the May half-term holiday week, graduation/last day of university is only six weeksaway… how… sad a thought? I think that’s what I’m feeling, it’s hard to process it all because so much has been going on and there’s still so much left to do!
Other than a lot of freelance work I don’t have anything solid planned yet. It’s not overly concerning me right now, I’m sure something will happen, even if it is supply work. I have to get over “this” to focus on “that“!
I know I will miss North Wales, mostly because there’s so much yet to explore but being here has taught me that even the most beautiful places can also be the most boring and unsavoury places can have beauty within them. It’s not often the location but who you share it with that makes the difference. I think I’ve been very fortunate to share this lovely location with the most kind, helpful and generous people I’ve ever met, yet it doesn’t feel right to me without the dog and the other half. The security of familiarity, combined with the adventure of exploring somewhere new will always be better shared with others.
Now, I just need to spend my time convincing those two that America is the way to go… I think the dog would be up for it!
That’s often the first question people ask when they find I’m dwelling in my van, 160+miles away from family and friends, and to be honest, the answer is always “sometimes”. Everyone gets lonely at some point, but I don’t feel as if I any get lonelier than others? I keep myself busy. I’ve just been hearing this question a lot more recently as visiting members of school staff are informed that there is someone staying in a van on site. Many are fascinated by the thought of it but are then confused when they expect to see some Instagram worthy beaut and see my little monster instead. Haha.
Speaking of monsters, my van has been a pain recently with the heating cable. It has decided that the cable must be in the most awkward and delicate position before it will spew out any heat via the fan. A challenge I was willing to undertake at first but no matter how I try to fix the cabling it slowly decides to shift itself and I’m left with having to pull up along the roadside to ‘fix’ it again. When my patience gets better I will take a serious look at it.
I’m still getting out and about it in and stopping at some wonderful places. The weather is getting warmer so I’ve been able to sleep within additional clothing and front window condensation has been dramatically reduced. Summer is coming!
I’ve been very humbled these past few weeks by the generosity of others in providing me with shelter, food, conversation and warmth – the lower level of my hierarchy of needs are being supported by their good will and I am grateful for this. My higher needs are being steadily fulfilled within the placement. I’ve done so much and at the end of the week, I am tired but happy tired. It has been interesting so far, especially experiencing the longer activities during the day and the energy young children seem to possess (more so after they’ve eaten their body weight in food!).
So I’ve been mining, gorge walking, a mini via-ferrata, hill walking, on low/high ropes, orienteering and beach exploration!
Just a few photos below of the activities:
Fisherman’s Walk and low ropes:
Cwm Idwal and Conwy Mountain:
Both were equally fun. We looked at a lot of the geology, rock formations, history and flora and fauna of both areas. The only difference being with Conwy Mountain was the hill fort at the top and being able to discuss slingshots and use the rocks to create routes for the teams to navigate with!
I’ve also been taking one too many pictures of the curious sheep within this area:
These are Lleyn (pronounced ‘Kleen‘) sheep (named about the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales) and are identified by the lack of wool on the legs and face, their white faces with black noses and lack of horns. These sheep almost became extinct in the ’70s! Their use today is their fine wool and meat. They are curious and will approach you until you make any sudden unexpected movements. Still not as lovely as the Herdwick.
One day I will own a sheep. Or maybe several. I might just Sheep Trek instead…!!
I just wanted to add in these photos from Anglesey. I’ve never seen such iridescent waters as we did on this day. The sea was in a swathe of blue hues and it just looked so unnatural but equally mesmerizing. The camera did not capture its beauty and I doubt I’ll ever see anything like this again.
These few weeks have been busy and have passed quickly. I only have seven teaching weeks left within this placement, an action research project to complete, a couple of outdoor course assessments, a couple of weeks at university then it’s all over! In the meantime, I shall be heading back home, the Isle of Wight, Peak District and some caving and I still have no idea what I’m doing this summer or beyond! Fun times.