Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tips for outdoor educators

Having spent the last year, working hand in hand with many instructors, I have given a lot of thought to what makes a good outdoor educator, as well as "best practices" for outdoor educators. In no specific order, here are some of my thoughts.

The boy scouts - who I am not a huge fan of, but that is a topic for another post - have an expression. Be prepared. There is nothing more true for an outdoor educator. Have your shit wired is another way to say it. Which translates to, don't be doing prep for a class two hours before start time. Know what you are teach and know it well. If you don't know it, learn it. Seek out other instructors who can help you prepare. We live in an age of unlimited information. Use it.

For instructors teaching day long classes - as opposed to my previous world of NOLS and 30 day courses - your car, or your work vehicle is your base of operations, I keep a lot of gear in my car, and I make sure at least once a week I take some time, to clean and organize. Here are things to have on hand - now granted, a lot of what I teach is water based, but these things transcend paddle sports. There is always an opportunity to get wet. Have extra paperwork, release forms, soap notes, maps, what ever. Have extras in a folder of some sort that will keep them clean and usable. Always pack a  change of clothes, sometimes just being able to put on a clean shirt post course is a really nice thing. But sometimes after a day soaking wet, it is nice to put on dry clothes. Particularly socks. In the hot days of summer, keep a small cooler with cold drinks. In the winter (I always keep a gallon of water in my car. if you are dehydrated even warm water is awesome.), a stove with the makings of Hot chocolate or coffee. Always have extra insulation layers in large sizes, regardless of season or expected temperatures. I find that people don't know how to dress. You can make someones day by giving them a layer to put on, this can be an old fleece or puffy jacket. More importantly, someone can't learn if they are cold. Always have rain gear handy, tops and bottoms. When buying gear for yourself, buy high quality. It will perform better,  and last longer - and no one will be as hard on gear as you will. You will become expert in what works and what doesn't. Always have a headlamp, a chemical light stick, a whistle, and a massive first aid kit. I am a firm believer that the best way to guarantee that you need something, is to not have it. If you have a massive first aid kit, you are less likely to need it. Don't use ziplock bags or garbage bags to keep things dry, use an actual dry bag - even if you are a dry land instructor. Zip locks and garbage bags will eventually leak. Mentor, the best way to be sure of your skills is to teach them to someone else, not positive you can teach a map and compass class? Teach another instructor. Watch other instructors teach - particularly if they teach he same things as you. You will see different ways to teach the same things you teach. You can steal - I mean borrow! - what you like from there process or style. Find systems that work for you, need to work from a lesson plan? print it on waterproof paper. And if you do need a lesson plan? don't feel bad. I have been teaching Wilderness first Aid for 5 years and I still use note cards. Find systems that work for you, and what was that other thing? HAVE YOUR SHIT WIRED! Learn to predict the weather, which guess what, can be an awesome Weather app (or six like I have on my phone). Keep it simple Can you teach a concept in one sentence? There is no reason to use more. You are really smart, you don't have to prove it by making things more complex than they are. If you teach in the same area frequently, like most of us Learn 5 local floras and faunas so you can talk about them with confidence. Role model They will learn as much from what you say as what you do. Always be doing it right. Use sunscreen, check for hotspots. You have to role model good behaviors for them to follow in the future. An important thing to role model is Self Care which means keeping your self fueled and cared for. Make sure students see you taking care of yourself, so they can emulate it, but also do the little things that make your life easier - get to the venue early so you have some quiet time to plan they day, that special snack, whatever it may be, make it happen for yourself.

Continue to learn! -  at least once a quarter be a student, take a class. Learn from another instructor. Learn something new.

Most importantly, Love what you do! if you don't love it, do something else.

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