Failure as a learning tool.

I feel like you’ve set me up for failure.

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?


Possible, Astraeus hygrometricus, commonly known as the hygroscopic earthstar. Never seen one of these before.


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…


Refining navigation skills outside in the wet woodland.


I feel like you’ve set me up for failure.

That sentence though. Ouch.


Nature is beautiful as ever.


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.


Practising pacing on the flat.


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.


Night navigation skills are a must for any leader.


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.” 


Creepy find in the woods.


– Just Joanne

Can you ever go back?

Can you ever go back?

Can you ever go back to a familiar place after a long experience away from it?

Can you ever go back to the same routines, same faces, same streets and alleyways?


It feels surreal to be back home in a house after all that has transpired in the past ten months. Much has changed, a lot has stayed the same but overall everything just sits uncomfortably with me right now. It’s all too familiar, yet different…

I know this is the process of grieving for loss that I’m currently experiencing and there’s much to grieve for – independence with the van, the freedom to chose my sleeping location, the vanlife quirks and challenges, the discovery of hidden areas in deep woods, on sandy beaches and on steep mountainsides, the new locations I found… yet the feeling of not having progressed when in actual fact I’ve progressed further than I would have expected myself to do so when I was younger is lingering within me.

I’ve just hit reality with a bump; the washing needs doing, the carpet needs hoovering, the dog needs walking, the adult politics need sorting, the bills need paying, a job needs applying for, a car needs to be obtained and the demands of the family need addressing. Adulting isn’t the romantic adventure of childhood dreaming we all once thought it would be… the time spent in North Wales did give me that opportunity to step away from ‘adulthood’, just for a little brief while. It was liberating.

The chapter is over, yet the story hasn’t finished.

I know over time these feelings will dissipate as I find focus elsewhere and I’m grateful to have had those 10 months to myself but I can’t help but think that I will go back to the ‘Cinderella chores’ dreaming of wearing those glass slippers again and longing for that freedom from ‘adulthood’ some more!

For now, I’m smiling because it happened, and I’m grateful for those that helped me every step of the way!


– Just Joanne

PGCE… still going…

As I sat listening to the stories from the other PGCE ODA trainees last night whilst out enjoying a meal together, I felt reassured that it hadn’t just been me that found my first placement to be challenging at times. Funny stories were shared, the stresses and frustrations, the hopes and wants for the next placements as well as cautionary tales were told around the table. It was very evident to see that each person had matured and grown and there was a passion and drive from each one to do well and educate young people in outdoor adventurous activities… but, a break is needed! Our bodies are telling us we need to rest and relax, and we will do after the 21st, we just need to push on for these final two weeks!

We ate a Hangin’ Pizzeria in Betws-y-coed. Highly recommend this place and their efforts with supporting primate conservation.

Our experiences have varied, as does every schools approach to outdoor activities; some embrace it and devote good quality time to it whilst others, with outdoor-minded teachers like in my placement, use every opportunity, either during a one hour lesson or outside of lesson time, to provide opportunities as best they can with limited resources (ever climbed in worn rock boots from the early ’90s?) just so kids get outside. Beames et al., talked about this Victorian model of indoor education setting which is still utilised today and it resonated so much with me that it actually continues to bother me. I don’t think this ‘indoor model‘ fits society anymore and I don’t think the current ODA model that is emerging is also fully appropriate… the ‘adventure trio‘ as I dub it, appears in every centre – kayaking/canoeing (BCU level 2 coach), mountain walking (ML) and climbing (SPA). It’s adventurous and it is fun, there’s no doubt it is, but it does it encourage enough young people to have a natural curiosity about their world to explore more and realise how vital it is to us and how to conserve and protect it? Should schools do more to incorporate conservation into their timetable? I’m sure the students would be happy to lose a language or maths lesson!

I would prefer to be here than in a Maths lesson!

I only say this because my biggest ‘bug-bear’ on this placement has been the amount of paper wasted/printed on. I watch the trainees at my placement (10 of us altogether) go through a ream of paper (500 sheets) A DAY through printing… and that is not including the colour copies the reprographics print for us as well! So, on average 6% of a tree is lost in a day with just our printing... 30% during the working week, 1 tree lost every three and half weeks… just, wow.

My mentor tells me he likes the resources I produce, I tell him that I want to be at his experience level where he doesn’t need printed resources to be able to teach a class. I only produce the printed resources as I need to show evidence for my portfolio and I need them to rely on, but I just don’t like the thought of how quickly they are discarded…

What would happen if people/schools became more aware of how much they use? Would we develop a stronger mental capacity if we relied more on memory recall and not resources? Would we be more creative without printed materials? I dunno, I’m still thinking about that 6%…

Imagine a world without trees?

My subject mentor asked me what I intended to do once I’ve gained QTS status… and I honestly didn’t have a solid answer, all I could truthfully say was that I just wanted a job outdoors. Where that would be would be anyone’s guess, but as long as I’m not stuck at a desk I think I will be ok. The expedition side appeals strongly but I would be equally happy for a residential centre. Somewhere, where I’m not printing on lots of paper, will do me just fine!

Looking forward to Christmas Day dinner!

– Just Joanne

Time sure does fly…

I haven’t had the time to update this blog since I started my first placement on this PGCE course.

It has been a mixed bag of emotions until this point and with four weeks left I hope it’s still going to go ok. There were times where I felt like giving it all in. I am an emotionally led person and it’s hard to remain logically minded when the lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem and anxiety rears its head. At times I had to get back into nature, outside of the brick walls, noise and constant challenges and just remind myself what I enjoy and what all of this is in aid of. I’ve set myself a goal, broken it down into smaller goals and just trying to achieve it bit by bit!


I have learnt so much in such a short space of time, namely, what is right for me and what I want for me; so hopefully, I can make it all happen at some point in the future!

I wish I could tell you about all the fantastic things I’ve been up to but, honestly, its mostly been working in a school, writing lesson plans, creating lessons, assignment writing, visiting the cinema to relax and just generally working…


I’ve some positives recently which I would like to share…

  • I’m confident my first assignment will pass, I thoroughly enjoyed researching the outdoor/adventure activity theories and have considered a Masters in the subject. Mortlock and Priest have resonated with me and I would like to explore the Adventure paradigm a lot more.
  • My Forest School Level 3 Leader/Practitioner training has been ratified, I just now need to wait a little while longer to be officially registered and receive my certificate then I will be a qualified leader.
  • I’ve taken some beautiful photos of North Wales recently, so am looking at photography training after this course to take better pictures.


With only four weeks on this placement to go, I’m hoping the remaining weeks are going to be ok. The staff are sympathetic as P.E is not my knowledge base and they have been a wonderful help to me; I’m just looking forward to being in a centre next, being outside every day come rain or shine (or heavy North Wales snow!) climbing, walking, canoeing etc….


– Just Joanne

Residential, Expedition, Gorge Walking, Kayaking and a Castle…

It’s 6 am and I’ve been up since 3am due to tummy ache; so I’m now sat in the university’s 24 hour computer room. It’s not been all bad, I’ve managed to organise the academics I need to write about in my first assignment and describe their theories relating to children’s learning and/or outdoor education. I’m also eating a free cooking from the Fresher’s ‘Serendipity’ event yesterday, so my morning is productive so far!

(The event was huge! Over 3 halls of clubs and societies to join. My haul was impressive, so many pens, keyrings and a razor! Sadly I won’t be based in Bangor until January, but I still signed up to BUGS, Storytelling and BUMs clubs)

It’s been a busy week. I am frustrated at the moment as I should have been in Swindon Monday night after lectures had finished. I planned to skip yesterday’s Welsh language lesson to spend longer with family, however, that was not meant to be as we were told last week we had to run teambuilding activities for some Primary Ed Fresher’s this morning for about two hours… hmm.

But anyway, as mentioned it’s been a busy week.

Last weekend all the PGCE secondary were at Glan Llyn Outdoor Activity Centre, with the PE and ODA guys going up on the Saturday and Sunday and the rest joining Monday.

I don’t want to rewrite everything that happened as I’ve already done so for a task on Adobe Spark(our tutor loves his technology; he’s writing a PhD on the use of technology in Outdoor Education); you can view my thoughts and what we did on the residential here: HERE

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After not having much recovery time, it was straight into lesson stuff then our overnight hike/bivvy camp.

Now before I get into that I don’t think I’ve mentioned about the mountain biking session we did at Coed-y-Brenin?

I think I surprised our tutor with my confidence on a bike. Certainly standing up and balancing was far easier than on a SUP board for me. Learning some technical skills came fast and quickly but some that required body position certainly did highlight my inflexibility (least I thought so); still, I had SO MUCH FUN. The blue routes are fun to whizz down but we didn’t get much time on the red ones – so I’ve vowed to head back and improve once I’ve picked up my bike from Swindon…

Skills practise. Learning to balance whilst stationary.


… but with the sweet can sometimes come the sour… I certainly learnt to consider myself a lot more than those that deliberately refuse to ‘give it a go‘ as the result can be painful… this is my bruise from falling off a red route. I do think my skills development has been somewhat lacking as I’m concentrating on others than myself and this session highlighted that for me.

The HOUR after I fell off.


So back to this week and the night hike. BUT, not before I mention about visiting Plas Newydd on the north bank of the Menai Strait, in Llanddaniel Fab, near Llanfairpwllgwyngyll (it’s lengthened name is Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch) Anglesey.

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Built in 1470, and was owned by the same family that owns Penrhyn Castle (which btw just had some of the cast of Game of Thrones shoot some scenes there last week!) and is now owned by the National Trust. I highly recommend a visit, it’s just so beautiful inside and the gardens are well maintained.

The photos do not do this place justice.

Back to the night hike… I was on a team of five with four other girls and one guy. Our planning was swift and easy – we all knew what we were doing and were quick to implement it and get our equipment and paperwork sorted and get on our way (lots of years of experience within the group).


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The mountains are so beauitful here.


We decided on a low-level route around a reservoir and camping in some woodland as the next day we were gorge walking, plus as we were starting late in the afternoon at 6pm, we didn’t want to be navigating over the Carneddau’s in the dark.



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The Dream Girls and Liam.

The sheep and cows kept watch on us as we walked the route then suddenly, in the darkness, a white ghostly figure emerged, then another, then a group of them crept out of the shadows. I love wild ponies and the Carneddau ponies are a dying breed as a study of their DNA in 2012 revealed that they have been isolated as a breed for at least several hundred years and numbers are dwindling due to the harsh winters the area has been having. There’s a talk happening at Moel Siabod Cafe in November about them which I am hoping to attend.

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Carneddau pony!

So we had an enjoyable walk in the dark having to use our navigational skills to get across a certain area when the route disappeared, then sent up a tarp shelter in a small patch of woodland on some rocky ground. I can’t say it was my most comfortable night but it was great to get outside and into a bivvy bag. Usually, I sleep next to a fire but my Alpkit sleeping bag kept me warm all night so I was pleased with that.

The following morning was an early walk out to the Afon Ddu at Dollegau. Had I been more refreshed I would have enjoyed this a lot more as scrambling/going in the water as favourite things of mine to do. I struggled with climbing some of the boulders (even though they were small ones, not even taller than me!) but I kept at it to complete the route and got some interesting video shots!

Went behind a waterfall:

Up the ‘Elephant’s bumhole’:

Getting pushed in by tutor:

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Crossing the waterfall.

So that was a fun, albeit very tiring day… but it wasn’t really due to stop… we still had kayaking to go the next day!

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I don’t know where the video has disappeared to showing a technique I was learning but it’s on my twitter page HERE. Our tutor realised that there was a huge range of abilities (some coaches, some low level and some, i.e. me, with no qualifications at all) so I was paired up with a colleague with coaching skills and I think I certainly put his skills to the test! In the end, he just let me turn my boat with a tired smile on his face as I just too tired to paddle properly – amusing for me, probably not for him!

We paddled around the lake at Plas-y-Brenin, before looking at skills then paddling down Afon Llugwy, which was shallow but fast flowing and fun. This is one area I certainly need to develop – my paddling technique was corrected a lot – and learn more about; I’m more familiar with canoes than kayaks.

I think that night I had the deepest sleep for a long while. My van gets incredible hot at about 3-4am so I’ve not been sleeping all the way through each night but that night… perfect!

The following day I said to myself that I would rest and recoup… but I couldn’t sit still for long, so decided to go to for a castle visit! I have a list of castles I want to visit before the end of my PGCE and Caernarfon was on that list!

Caernarfon castle was transformed from a motte and bailey to stonework in 1283 (until 1330) although some parts inside were never completed. This castle has seen a lot of sieges and change of hands and was allowed to fall into disrepair until the 19th Century. It was used for the investiture of the Prince of Wales, and again in 1969 when Charles took that title.

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The castle is grand in size.

The castle is grand in size as the design was partly influenced by a desire to make the structure impressive as a symbol of the new English rule in Wales. Caernarfon town itself was made the centre of government in the northern part of the country.

Having several polygon towers (which is unusually for an Edwardian Castle as the towers are usually round), it has strong defences and kept enemies at bay. I, being the curious creature I am, decided that I would explorer ALL the areas of this castle… that included going up and down ALL the towers, of which each had three floors plus an additional lookout tower… so you can imagine how my tired legs felt after all of that ascending and descending!

Still, I’d do it again. I spent three hours here just exploring. It was great fun and I would highly recommend a visit here to view a very impressive building! I even have a video to show it’s grand scale, again, I’ve lost the original but if you want to view it you can on my twitter feed HERE.

I’m going to end the blog here. I still want to write about our bothy exploration but I have a task to do this morning so will write it when I am back in Swindon later on today. At somepoint, I will slow down.

Just Joanne