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Outdoor learning


• Keep in touch. Set up regular times to get an update on the project. For Hillhead High Minority Activity Time is valuable for this, but it can take place in lesson time, or after school.


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Managing risks and staying safe. It’s crucial that student leaders are prepared for the activity they’re going to lead and that they’ve discussed possible risks and scenarios.


Celebrate success. Have a clear process in place for student leaders to be recognised and praised.


Challenges for teachers


These vary and develop year on year but the principal remains the same to help students to recognise, acquire and improve their leadership skills.


Another factor was the need to create an environment where it was OK to get things wrong. This is important as inevitably some student led work will be less successful and we wanted everyone to understand that this was still a valuable learning experience.


Finally, we were lucky in already having time in the school week where we could get started. For the past 37 years we had allocated this as ‘Minority Activity Time’ and this now became the engine room for our work to increase student leadership. I can’t stress the importance of having enough time to enable students to take the lead.


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Outdoor learning and student leadership Outdoor learning was identified as an area where there was potential for student leadership. This is often project based and more flexible, which meant it was easier for us to enable students to take the lead.





At the same time we were aware that outdoor learning placed extra challenges on students. They would be undertaking new activities, learning new skills, working with the wider public and likely to be located outside the familiar environment of school. The role of the teacher


It can seem daunting to let students take the lead and I’ve personally found it a challenge to alter some habits of 22 years of teaching experience! However, it’s important to remember that the teacher still plays a crucial role as facilitator in order to:


• guide ideas and plans when they become unrealistic


• provide reassurance and act as a sounding board for ideas


• pave the way to individuals with whom student leaders need to liaise


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provide support on the planning, resourcing and funding where necessary


be there if things look like they’re going wrong • monitor unobtrusively.


Making student-led outdoor learning a success There are a number of factors that we’ve realised are important for success.


• Giving students a mandate to lead. Speak to students at the start and explain clearly that they are leading the project. Discuss your role and explain that you’re not in charge.


Learning to step back and let students take the lead is challenging. You have to be prepared to let students lead even if their idea isn’t what you would do yourself. Giving your full support regardless of this is important. It enables them to take their idea in a direction you may not have considered. It also offers a valuable opportunity for teachers to learn from students. You need to be aware that your role is to facilitate and support rather than lead and direct. I constantly check that I’m not interfering too much or being too prescriptive. For instance, keeping an eye on how much you are talking in a group meeting can be a useful indicator of how much students are taking the lead and I will often leave the room for a short while after outlining the task to put more emphasis on their leadership role.


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Letting students take the lead can be more time-consuming. Investing time at the start is a good way to ensure a project develops well. Meet with students to:


get an insight into student plans


identify any areas where students need to develop their skills


• encourage them to complete tasks in a timely manner


keep the project moving forward. Probably the biggest challenge to overcome is that you really don’t want students’ projects to fail. We want our students to succeed but at times students will fail or be challenged a great deal. This can provide a valuable opportunity for students to increase their problem solving skills and tenacity. Obviously if things are seriously going wrong then you need to be on hand to provide support and get things back on track. However, don’t be tempted to ‘come to the rescue’ at the first sign of a problem, let them stick with it and experience the satisfaction of overcoming a challenge.


For example, at our recent Charity Jump Rope Event our Sports Leaders hadn’t anticipated the keenness of the participants. Prior to them


Get Set to Make a Change


If you want to get your students leading outdoor learning then the new initiative from the British Olympic Association and British Paralympic Association might fit the bill. It is on a mission to inspire students to get more involved in their local communities by leading projects that focus on a healthy and balanced lifestyle and sports participation. More than 200 projects, led by young people known as Legacy Leaders, are taking place across the UK.


The website has lots of resources to help students take the lead, get inspiration and ‘make a pledge’ for their own community project. http://makeachange.org.uk/resources/


20 www.education-today.co.uk May 2014


arriving Sports Leaders had set up the equipment but they had difficulty reining in the participants when they eagerly grabbed the ropes before the Introduction & Warm Up had taken place. This could have been a negative start to the session, but the Sports Leaders managed to admit their error, laugh at themselves, and explain the ground rules to the participants.


The benefits of letting students take the lead There are many reasons why it makes sense to let students take the lead in outdoor learning. At a personal level it helps them to:


develop their confidence in their own abilities increase their sense of self-worth


• gain status from peers when they demonstrate they can lead others.


Leading a project also helps students to understand the importance of self-management and planning; responsibility and accountability; develops their problem solving skills; and increases their ability to deal with unpredictability, all important life skills.


In terms of students’ own learning leading an outdoor learning project can improve communication and listening skills. Furthermore, it is a great way for them to deepen their own understanding of a concept: imparting knowledge to others is a valuable way to consolidate learning.


Benefits for the school


At Hillhead High our increased focus on students leading outdoor learning projects has brought a number of benefits to the school. First, there is a stronger sense of school community and greater links between year groups. Our work with the John Muir Award is a great example where students just starting at the school work together with our seniors on two environmental projects during the autumn and spring terms. Joining secondary school can be intimidating for children and this project, which is lead by senior students, is a great way for our youngest students to get to know seniors. A shared goal to clear a beach at Loch Lomond all working together is a great leveller! Second, students’ activities support our links with the wider community and with local and national charities. Outdoor learning projects also offer interesting stories we can share with the local media, which generates valuable publicity for the school, and for the organisations supported in a project.


Finally, letting students lead is a great way to be challenged to think differently, to see students shine in new ways and to learn more about them.


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