Helping young Australians get real world ready 1800 888 900

Helping young Australians get real world ready
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HOW WE CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT OF EMOTIONAL SAFETY WITHIN OEG PROGRAMS

As an organisation running camps with students across a broad range of abilities within a nature setting, emotional safety is a significant priority.  The idea of emotional safety and what it looks like for each individual will depend on their lived experience, mental and physical ability and comfort in an outdoor setting as well as many other factors. 

To ensure every person who participates in an outdoor education program is afforded the opportunity to start from a baseline of feeling emotionally safe, there are a few considerations baked into our programs. 

EMPOWERMENT FROM INFORMATION AND PREPARATION 

A key part of setting students up to foster a culture of emotional safety for themselves and those around them is to establish a baseline of ability. While some students will have a standard baseline and can articulate any fears they may have, some students come with medically diagnosed differences in physical and mental ability. 
The information gathering process, which occurs before a camp or program, is essential so that facilitators can be properly briefed on triggers, behaviours, limitations and medications to be aware of. This information helps with both meeting students where they are and also ensuring that the spread of facilitators across a student group meets the needs of the group adequately.

It also allows for options like support staff for students who require a familiar support network to feel safe and have an equal opportunity for learning.  

EMPATHY AND COMPASSION FOR PERSPECTIVES 

It may or may not come as a surprise, many staff at The Outdoor Education Group are outdoorsy types even in their personal time. It is crucial, despite that perspective, that we remember many of the students participating may have little or no experience in the outdoors and may even have limitations within outdoor settings. 

The simplest way to establish everyone’s baseline is to open up a conversation to acknowledge the landscape and any fears that may exist about the setting. It also helps to take time to understand where each person is coming from. Many of these conversations happen sitting around a campfire and sharing stories. Not only do these opportunities help students connect with nature, but also it’s an opportunity for them to connect with each other.

The way facilitators show up in this space is by modelling compassionate behaviour. Some students may initially feel very uncomfortable in a bush setting. Experienced facilitators are encouraged to verbalise their discomfort and to normalise it. An example of that honesty might be simply commenting on how uncomfortable it feels to have wet clothes and muddy shoes. This way, it allows all emotions to exist without judgement.

CREATION OF GROUP NORMS

After groups have had some opportunity to get to know each other - their experience and perspective, the next step to helping establish some emotional safety in a social context is by empowering participants to create their own group norms. These students may be spending as long as 10 or 20 days together, so instead of imposing a set of rigid, standardised rules, the students themselves are empowered to project their ideal state of being within the group.

The types of discussions are around questions like:

  • How do you want to feel over the next _ days?

  • What things do we not want in our group?

Responses may vary from group to group, but typically the norms are around themes including the desire for respect, fun, support and respect for the environment. When these values are recorded, they become the norms for the group to work towards. All members of the group hold each other accountable to the norms that are encouraged and the actions that won’t be accepted. 

The other cultural norm that is introduced by facilitators is the concept that there are no silly questions. Anyone in the group is empowered to ask any question and surrounding students are shown how to approach with understanding and compassion by facilitators modelling this behaviour.    

CHALLENGE BY CHOICE 

This concept can only be truly followed when facilitators have done the earlier work of having in-depth conversations with students to understand their perspective. Challenge by choice is all about pushing each individual a healthy amount so that they may learn something about themselves and hopefully take some of that learning back to their everyday lives. 

An example is that one student might find that to push themselves means they must complete an entire high ropes course. Another student might find they get the same level of value and learning about themselves from simply pushing themselves to wear the harness and stand under the ropes course.

CONFLICT MANAGEMENT 

All camp facilitators are trained in conflict management and the moment there is a group of more than 2 people, there is always potential for a conflict to arise. And while in many cases in life conflict is avoided, this is not the case in a camp setting.

Any conflict that arises is actually an opportunity to work through and apply learnings around understanding and empathy for others, and their feelings and perspectives. In most cases, working through conflicts with students serves to deepen relationships and highlights the presence of an environment where students are welcome - even if a conflict has occurred. In these situations, students can learn valuable lessons in how to manage conflicts throughout their lives.

WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF PRIORITISING EMOTIONAL SAFETY? 

Emotions play a vital part in an individual's learning. When a student is feeling emotionally safe and happy, their learning curve will trend higher. Similarly, when a student is feeling unsafe and generally down, their potential for learning will be significantly negatively affected. Feelings like embarrassment, boredom, frustration and fear can affect the brain’s ability to hold on to new information

The key position that facilitators take to prioritise emotional safety and allow students to learn is to always take an attitude of curiosity, regardless of the behaviour. By trying to understand why a child or young adult is reacting in a certain way and giving them an opportunity to share without judgement, safe group learning can thrive. 

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