With support and encouragement, every young person has the potential to become a leader in some area of their life. The qualities, values and skills invested in them during their formative years can determine their life's success and the future success of our society. Outdoor education addresses the fundamental importance of empowering students and the contribution leadership skills make towards improved student outcomes, health and wellbeing. American architect and systems theorist, Richard Buckminster Fuller, once said: "There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly."
Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximises the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. It has nothing to do with seniority or one's position in the hierarchy of a community or a group; this is why everyone has the ability to harness their leadership skills.
Everyone has influence. Each person can lead in their own way. However, many young people require guidance and space to exercise and hone their leadership skills. Learning a range of leadership skills and techniques from a young age can provide students with an excellent head start in life and allows them to develop confidence and improves their overall mental wellbeing.
Leadership is a multifaceted construct involving a range of interrelated skills, identified 12 student leadership skills:
Self-confidence is necessary for leaders to take risks and accomplish their goals. Self-confidence can be described as an ability to be certain about one's competencies and skills. It includes a sense of self-esteem and self-assurance and the belief that one can make a difference. Leaders who are self-confident tend to deal immediately and directly with problems and conflicts, rather than procrastinating, ignoring, or passing problems to others. Leadership involves influencing others and self-confidence allows the leader to feel assured their attempts to influence are appropriate and right.
Self-esteem expert Jack Canfield notes 80% of children entering the first grade scored high on the self-confidence inventory. By the fifth grade, only 20% of the children were scoring high, and by the time they graduated from high school, that number was down to just 5%.
Student leadership means students take active roles in their school community and develop positive skills in the process. The goal of inspiring student leaders is to create a culture of ownership, collaboration and community in the classroom and beyond. Student leadership development provides them with vital skills they can carry over to adulthood.
Our world is rapidly changing. We see constant changes in communications and transportation, in new ways we access, create and share information, and in emerging enterprises that place consistent emphasis on new capabilities like critical and creative thinking and problem-solving. We also know climate change, new technologies, and an ever-changing geopolitical landscape, mean the future this current generation of children will inherit will be vastly different to our own. These things also mean our future world is open to boundless possibility for them. Navigating such rapid change requires confidence, adaptability and perseverance.
The Developing Skills For Life and Work report from the Young Foundation, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation and the Foundation for Young Australians, argues despite efforts to improve formal qualifications and work-based training, there is a growing consensus for more to be done to build the 'softer' skills which employers are increasingly seeking.
Young people who find their own voice in supportive school environments are more likely to develop a confident voice, a capacity to act in the world, and a willingness to lead others. By empowering students, we enhance student engagement and enrich their participation in the classroom, school and community.
Young people who are supported in harnessing their leadership skills are likely to gain a better understanding of themselves, a higher level of confidence, and an increased capacity to manage and organise their own lives. They are also likely to develop processes and skills useful in their learning and develop a more profound sense of maturity.
Student leaders go on to become independent thinkers who understand how to work as part of a team and have positive effects on organisations and communities.
Schools come in different shapes and sizes and with various resources, but there is one resource that every school has: students. Students can be a great asset in shaping school culture and strengthening the connection between school and the wider community.
As adults, we often think of ourselves as the definitive architects of a school's culture, but we misjudge the influence and effect students have on their own school community. There's something incredibly powerful in peer influence. Peers can quickly become role models and have the capacity to influence student values, attitudes and behaviours with an effectiveness school principals can only dream about.
School leaders can create and maintain a positive school climate. A climate for learning which is respectful, trusting and collaborative recognises that student empowerment enhances the work of teachers, brings immediate benefits to student learning, and improves school pride.
Student leaders have an increased sense of responsibility to help others and to model leadership principles and values. Trust, autonomy and relationships are enhanced through the development of leadership qualities.
In many schools, leadership positions are by election or appointment. Students who aren't interested in clubs or extracurriculars may leave high school without appreciating or developing their leadership ability. It's essential all students, regardless of personality traits or learning types, have the opportunity to develop leadership qualities in their learning environment. Outdoor education supports the development of leadership skills in all students, including those that might not have otherwise had the opportunity.
Outdoor education is uniquely placed to address the capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities of the Australian Curriculum. Outdoor education directly addresses the need for learning for life and the fervent need for students to develop vital capabilities such as leadership, communication, critical and creative thinking and personal and social responsibility. These cross-disciplinary capabilities empower students to become independent learners and problem-solvers. It is these skills which are developed, practised and demonstrated when students have the opportunity to engage in an outdoor education program.
Outdoor learning provides a range of unique experiences to engage and develop learners in a holistic way. Outdoor education is designed to develop a learner's ability to interact effectively with others and increase their aptitude for leadership within the context of outdoor activities.
An additional value of outdoor education is the development of a higher state of emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and author of the book Emotional Intelligence, argues this type of intelligence is a prerequisite for successful leadership. Through interdisciplinary activities used in outdoor education, such as orienteering or camp cooking, young people can develop and apply their knowledge, understanding, enterprise and organisational skills, creativity, teamwork, and other leadership-based competencies.
Through outdoor education experiences, students have the opportunity to explore skills which inspire confidence in different aspects of their lives and help in shaping self-assured, confident young adults. Often, we see young people on program experience for the first time real consequences of their decisions and the chance to learn from their choices.
If they load their packs quickly and poorly, the packs are uncomfortable and will hinder their progress.
If they take time to pace themselves and enjoy the moment, despite the challenges, time flies by, and they have a more rewarding experience.
If they work together to cook a satisfying meal, they eat well and have the energy for the following day.
If they take the time to understand the value of the skills their peers hold, they can successfully pitch a tent and enjoy a well-earned rest.
When students master a skill or overcome a challenge, especially one they had perceived as difficult, they believe in themselves more. For example, students on a river journey who have never paddled in a canoe are often unsure if they will ever learn. However, after the first time, they successfully navigate around a bend; they are often beaming with pride. These experiences facilitate young people's transition into the community and adulthood.
A Year 7 Ballarat Grammar participant of an outdoor education program designed by The Outdoor Education Group said, "The experience at camp really helped me to build my leadership skills and it tested my comfort zone. Therefore, I have grown as a person, not only in the aspect of leadership but also as an individual. I found it challenging from time to time, but that is how you grow by; expanding your experiences."
A well-considered outdoor education program builds on a culture which values and nurtures student voice and leadership. This goes beyond allowing students to communicate ideas and opinions; it empowers students to influence change in their environment.
Outdoor education provides opportunities for students to collaborate and make decisions with adults rather than following adults.
In a world where leaders accomplish great things, we believe all young people deserve to be equipped with the leadership skills they need to make a positive impact on society. In an ever-evolving landscape, we can prepare young people with the necessary skills to allow them to thrive in a future quite unlike our own. Tomorrow's leaders will need transferable skills like collaboration, communication, empathy and determination in order to thrive and become inspiring and inspired citizens.
Outdoor education focuses on nurturing and strengthening these qualities allowing young people to navigate their lives and make decisions with confidence. Our outdoor education experiences enhance student leadership and create opportunities to practice and hone their skills in a supportive learning environment which provides immediate feedback for them.
Your students will build strong relationships and problem-solve collaboratively. They will be empowered through understanding their strengths, so they remain calm under pressure and know when to ask for help.
Outdoor education inspires your students to be courageous leaders, willing to take on any challenge.