Leadership Notes #12 – Outdoor/Adventure Education & Leadership

(This series of “notes” first appeared in the YahooGroup “VenturingList” and are written by Michael Brown. I thought that they were worth sharing with the Commissioner Corps.)

For many of us, scouting provides a unique educational program and experience for our youth (and adults), but it’s actually part of larger educational “world”. Some of us may have heard the terms “outdoor education”, “adventure education”, “experiential education” and variants of these. Scouting is part of this.

Let’s look at “Outdoor education” first. It usually applies to education done in the out of doors. Nature hikes, field trips to museums and nature centers, outdoor activities and the like are part of this. “Adventure education” is a subset of this, focusing on more strenuous activities such as high adventure camping and activities such as white water rafting, rock climbing and the like, which can challenge the participants physically, mentally, and spiritually. “Experiential learning/education” is all about learning by doing, which encompasses all of these. Instead of talking about baking a cake, let’s actually bake that cake. Or build that bridge or the like. But it’s meant to be more than just doing science experiments in class, but a larger view of learning that gets away from memorization and rote learning. Experience is the best teacher, hence the importance of experiential learning.

As noted, this is what scouting is all about. We have always been about experiential learning over `book learning’ or the like (or you may hear of some scouters who decry `parlor scouting’ and turning scouting into school). And scouting has always been about outing, and becoming better individuals thru the adventures we find in scouting and the outdoors. But I have found that in researching this area, that scouting is usually regulated to footnote status in the world of outdoor/adventure/experiential education. The BSA doesn’t even involve itself with the various organizations in this field, such as the Association of Experiential Education (www.aee.org). I think part of this is because scouting is made up of volunteers, or amateurs, and not professional educators/instructors. And I think we miss out because of that.

In looking at the history of adventure education, the two notable figures put forth are Kurt Hahn and Paul Petzoldt. Kurt Hahn (1886-1974) is the founder of the Outward Bound program, which started in England before spreading to other countries like the US. OB from the beginning was a program for youth, providing them challenging programs in the outdoors that include activities like orienteering, search-and-rescue, athletics, sailing, mountain climbing, and similar activities, all wrapped up in an expedition in the wilds. From OB, many of the leading programs and groups in the field have come about.

Paul Petzoldt (1908-1999), a former instructor at the Colorado Outward Bound School, saw the need to prepare instructors who would work at OB (and similar programs) thru leadership courses. This happened in 1965 with the establishment of the National Outdoor Leadership School (www.nols.edu). NOLS would provide the basis for the establishment of the Leave No Trace program and organization, and would later incorporate the Wilderness Medicine Institute, providing outdoor medica training.

Petzoldt would later leave NOLS and seeing the trend of colleges, especially out west, providing courses in outdoor education, established in 1977 the Wilderness Education Association (www.weainfo.org). Unlike NOLS, WEA is a membership consortium of college outdoor education programs with a standard curriculum based on an academic model. The basis for their curriculum was originally an 18 point program, but has been recently revised to 6 core competencies. (see their website for full info). They provide accreditation for these programs and also host an annual International Conference on Outdoor Leadership.

Another OB “spinoff” that should be mentioned is Project Adventure (www.pa.org), established in the early 70s. Its main focus has been ropes courses and group initiative games, thanks to the work of Karl Rohnke and Dick Prouty. This is the basis for our Project: COPE. The work of Project Adventure and Karl Rohnke will be the subject of a future Notes.

With our focus on leadership, we will review some of the leadership resources available from these and similar groups. But I would encourage people to take a look at all the various resources available from these groups. There are a lot of great material out there that I think too many fellow scouters are unaware of. Too many don’t look beyond what comes from the BSA.

“Outdoor Leadership: Technique, Common Sense & Self-Confidence” by John Graham is considered a masterpiece in the area of outdoor leadership. This small book focuses more on leadership then on outdoor skills, and its short chapters cover the expected topics of leadership, team work, conflict resolution, stress, and the like. But also touches on topics such as courage, organization leadership and even women in the outdoors. Each chapter ends with an outline of the major points covered. For good or bad, there are no footnotes or recommended reading. But this is a good, almost essential, handbook for outdoor leaders.

The Appalachian Mountain Club’s “AMC Guide to Outdoor Leadership”, now in its second edition, is almost an expanded edition of Graham’s work. It’s also the only work reviewed here that is carried by BSA’s National Supply. It covers much the same ground as Graham, but has further chapters on safety, risk management, leading youth, and more. Each chapter ends in a summation, and there is an appendix of recommended reading at the end. If you can get but one work, I would recommend this one, with “Outdoor Leadership” a strong second.

“Leadership the Outward Bound Way”, put together by Outward Bound USA, illustrates the leadership skills taught in OB. As expected, it covers leadership, but here it’s presented a little differently. At the end of each of the four parts of the book is a case study illustrating the lessons learned about leadership, with questions for the reader. Also, the focus of the overall book is a little different, not just giving information for those wanting to be an outdoor leader, but in how the leadership learned may then be applied in ones professional life and community.

The Wilderness Education Associations’ “Backcountry Classroom”, now in its second edition, is their entry in the outdoor leadership guide world. This book is a bit different from the others. Its focus is on training instructors in the basics of outdoor leadership, using the WEA 18-point curriculum. (as the WEA has revamp this to 6 core competencies, will we see a new edition of this work? Time will tell.) More so then the other works, more than half of this work is devoted to outdoor skill training such as packing, campsite selection, food, and navigation, among others. Also, the entire work is presented in outline format, which may be off-putting to some.

The National Outdoor Leadership School has been producing a range of books for sale on outdoor topics, including works on cooking, first aid, and the like. These can be found in most bookstores. In addition to this works are several instructor notebooks which are intended for outdoor educators. These are available only from their website, and are more costly. But several may be of interest to scout leaders. “NOLS: Leadership Education Notebook”, (2009 is the current edition) is a collection of short articles on leadership for instructors to use. Due to the cost, I would only recommend this to the hard core enthusiast. Other instructor notebooks that may be of interest are the ones on risk management and wilderness and environment education.

In addition to the above works, if one goes on places like Amazon, you may see other works in this area. A group of about 5 or so works pop up, and I think I’ve give a brief overview of them. All 5 are published by Human Kinetics (which was the group that worked with the BSA on the Quest award and actually provided a kit of materials to all councils- a kit I’ve actually never seen). All are really intended as college textbooks, but could be of use to leaders as well. (www.humankinetics.org) Due to the cost of these works, and as they are really more intended as textbooks, I would recommend that those interested first take a look at them via their libraries (or use interlibrary loan if your local library doesn’t have them). Personally, I think the first 3 works would be of the most interest, but others may not find it so.

“Effective Leadership in Adventure Programming”, 2nd edition by Priest and Gass is an important work on outdoor leadership. The author’s concept of COLT, which applies situational leadership concepts to outdoor leadership (see Leadership Notes #3) is important, and I have found that many of the other works on outdoor leadership citing this one. It covers several other important topics, like a whole section devoted to facilitation, an important concept in outdoor/adventure programs, and various practical skills need for outdoor leaders. So if leadership is an interest, check out this work.

“Outdoor Leadership: Theory & Practice” comes in second, as again, its focus is on leadership. It builds on the work of Priest and Gass and others, and covers much of the same ground as Priest & Gass’ work. The authors here where trying to create a less theory-based work for undergraduate students. This approach may be better for some.

“Teaching Adventure Education Theory: Best Practices”, is, as the title suggests, a textbook for courses teaching those who will present outdoor adventure training. It’s a much broader work, and also comes with a CD-ROM of additional materials to use. Some of the topics covered as expected, but also include info on the underlying concepts behind outdoor education, along with group development, facilitation and more. So for some, this may serve as a great resource for program or training materials.

“Adventure Education: Theory & Applications” was put together by Project Adventure, and covers a wide range of activities in the area of adventure education. The focus of this book is to expose students who are looking to entire the field of adventure education, and expose them to what it’s all about.

“Outdoor Education: Methods & Strategies” is similar to the previous work, but involves the more broad area of `outdoor education’. I think of all of these works, this one would have the least interest to scouters.

I hope with this Leadership Notes that I’ve opened some eyes to a wider world of resources, materials, and possibilities that may increase the quality of programs in our crews and units.