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’s been a long time coming, nearly four years in fact, for me to attend a Mountain Leader assessment course. I hadn’t intended to wait so long, I had made a couple of attempts to attend assessments but each time anxiety and nerves got the best of me and I cancelled. I think, if it wasn’t for this PGCE course and other occurrences, I probably would not have bothered really as it wasn’t needed in my previous employment and any hillwalking within Scouting was covered by another’s permit…
But, deep down, I wanted to pursue it. It was one of those nagging ‘wants’. I wanted the validation that I was at “that level” as other outdoor professionals.
I didn’t find my training particularly enthusing; I felt the bare minimum was delivered and it did leave me with more questions than answers sadly… Over the next year or so I went out, but honestly, I found the Quality Mountain Day conditions were taking the joy out of the experience – how can I extend that to five hours? Is a 500m peak significant enough? Have I navigated enough or just followed paths? Have I gone to the correct area?
I just wanted to go and walk some hills!
A few weeks ago I had a successful and enjoyable assessment so I thought I’d write a blog post about things that helped me through my training/consolidation period/assessment – it might help others!? Please note, this is a blog about the best books, where to go to practise nav… I think most of those have been covered by numerous amounts of other blogs out there!
One thing anyone must be aware of is the amount of horror stories you will hear about ML assessments. Not everyone has a good time, not everyone had a nicer than nice assessor and yes, some people are challenged on their assessment and will disagree with their assessor choices and decisions! I let these stories worry me. I let the attitudes of others affect me (actual words: “you don’t walk fast so will fail an assessment”). I let my own mind run away with me. For you see, the ML assessment isn’t like a driving test in a known area, it’s rather learning the skills to drive then taking the test overseas!
So, one bit of advice I will give is to listen to the horror stories, then disregard them. People can exaggerate, their minds can change their memories, shit can happen, but that doesn’t mean the same thing will happen to you. I thoroughly enjoyed my ML assessment – it was full of laughs, interesting conversations, fun people, great learning opportunities and was relaxing as much as it could be. One of the better weekends in the hills!
I never felt ready, even right up to the night before I didn’t feel ready. I’d read the MTUK Hillwalking book from cover to cover, I’d read various weather books, flora and fauna books, synoptic charts, books on clouds… I still didn’t feel ready and I don’t think anyone can fully say that they will be because of the unexpectedness of it all. ML training teaches you that there are many variables and unexpected things to the outdoors – weather, people, situations. You can never be 100% sure of what you’re going to get or what can happen (and that’s the fun/challenge of it all!), you just have to go for it.
I will say though, having lots of varied group experiences thoroughly helped me. You are in an ‘unnatural’ group environment, with others of equal skill to yourself, so it all does feel artificial when it’s your turn to lead and manage them however, having that prior experience means you can spot the times when the group needs to stop to remove jackets as they’re overheating walking uphill, finding a toilet spot before you enter an area of bare hillside which you’ll be on for a while or finding an interesting thing to discuss to break the dull routine of walking -it all shows experience and knowledge to manage the wellbeing of a group. That’s the bit I loved the most, finding out why they want to go out on the hills, what they want to achieve and helping them to do that!
My recommendation came unexpectedly. I didn’t want to go back to the people that provided my training as I didn’t feel they’d make my assessment personal because the training didn’t feel like it was, so I decided I wanted an independent self-employed person to assess me, but who would be good for this?
I decided to join a free Ordnance Survey Get Outside walk in Llanberis run by Jason Rawles as I was up in this area. Whilst on the walk up Snowdon by the Llanberis pass I got chatting to another Get Outside Champion, Eli Bishop, about her ML journey. She was there to gain group work experience and was a delight to speak to – she recommended Will Kilner, of AdventureswithWill. She knew about the anxiety assessments can cause and said that Will would put the group at ease – which, from day 1 he did! I never felt negatively judged, my mistakes were acknowledged but not made an issue, I felt comfortable enough to show my personality (I can be quiet and shy when I feel uncomfortable!) and the result was a better performance from me than I thought I would give!
So, go on recommendations. Listen to others and speak to your potential assessor beforehand. A good assessor will make time to speak to you and answer any queries; Will did with me and that made a huge difference!
Go where you know
I love the Brecons. Always have, always will, so why I decided to suddenly take assessments in Snowdonia and the Lake District I’ll never know. Yes, the ML Award enables you to walk anywhere within the UK – even the rugged remote areas of Scotland – but feeling comfortable in an area you know well makes all the difference. That’s not to say I didn’t go to Snowdonia, I did, because I was on a split weekend assessment; on the first weekend, the micro nav and rope work days were around the Glyders and the second weekend, the expedition weekend was in the Brecons. I wanted to make my assessment memorable to me – there are a few providers who run the assessment on the Isle of Rum, Scotland.
So go where you know, where you’ll feel most comfortable. Where you’ll enjoy the memories you’ll make!
No one can go through this life alone and no one should go through their ML training/assessment without the support and encouragement of others. I was thankful to have a partner with the same interest, experience of group work with charity organisations, such as Scouts and DofE, and online communities; I was even thankful to have friends who helped to financially contribute to paying for the assessment (it can be costly for a student!) – that was both a positive to know others believed I could do it, also a good incentive to complete it!
I’m pleased to see the Mountain Training Association is running a mentoring scheme. I’d like to join this in the future and help others if I can towards their assessments and feeling confident. Had I had this years ago then maybe I would have completed mine sooner? I’d much rather prefer to speak to someone face to face than through the internet and think this mentoring scheme is a great idea.
So, find a community, a friend, join the mentoring scheme, any support to help you with it. Often, you’ll question if that day was really a Quality Mountain Day (a QMD), what to pack, what spare kit to take, where best to take a group etc; having support – a go-to person or people – will make a lot of difference!
I hope, whether you’re contemplating starting the award or you’re currently working your way through it, that you have a good and interesting experience. These points above were ‘sticking points’ for me going through training; just stick at it, in your own time, at your own pace and most importantly, if it’s feeling like a chore… just go back to some good old fashioned hill walking and being outside. The mountains will always be there and they don’t care if you’ve walked more than 5 hours and included a ‘significant peak’ in the days planning that involves some navigation off route!
As I go through the teaching job hunting cycle at the moment… applying, getting invited to interview, either deciding to go or not to go, attending etc… I had an interview yesterday for a “good” rating academy along the south coast for a Teacher of Girls PE and Outdoor Education.
On the same day as my application was submitted I was invited to an interview that was happening 2 days later and decided to attend as, even though it was challenging at times, I had previously enjoyed working within an academy and was keen to see what the teaching role fully involved, it sounded interesting, especially the Outdoors side of things.
So I travelled down to Swindon to evening before, then on to the South Coast from a 5am start to get to the academy in plenty of time. About 7 hours of travell time altogether.
The usual sign in, introductions, meet the other candidates, greet the department, have a look around happened… then I decided to withdraw my application then and there.
Much to the surprise of myself, it just didn’t feel RIGHT.
The academy was lovely. You could easily see happy members of staff, the building was well looked after, the students had plentiful resources, the P.E department was one of the best I’d seen, yet it felt so stifling to me. Artificial. Unnatural. I’ve been so used to the processes, systems, support of an academy I thought that fitting into another would probably work in the long term, and it might still? Just maybe not right now?
At least this experience has given me a better understanding of what I would like, job wise and location wise, in the future. I surprised myself by leaving and not continuing, but then I didn’t feel like I wanted to stay. Some people I’ve spoken to said I should have stayed to gain the experience, to give myself a better chance etc. (didn’t feel this would happen as one of the candidates was already employed in the position, just on a temp contract and having to reapply), and/or to be polite and finish the interview ; though I argue, it’s better to be honest to yourself than drag yourself (and others) through what probably would be a painful interview!