All the info and inspiration you need to be an outstanding outdoor educator
INTRODUCING JESS MCDONALD
Ogilvie High School, Tasmania
How did you get into Outdoor Ed? Where did you study? What did you do?
When I was in High School, we didn’t have Outdoor Education as a subject – There were camps that were offered each year that were extremely popular, and as a result, you had to be pretty quick to get onto them. When I went to College, I enrolled in the Outdoor Recreation VET program, completing Certificate I and Certificate II in Outdoor Recreation. I then did a two year traineeship at MacKillop Catholic College, completing Certificate III Outdoor Recreation. From there, I was accepted at UTAS in a Bachelor of Education. I studied in Launceston for 4 years then moved back to Hobart and was offered a teaching position at Ogilvie High School.
What is your work History? Why you made those choices?
I have done some casual guiding work as a raft guide for a couple of companies, but whilst I was at University, I worked in outdoor shops like Snowgum and Mountain Creek. This was great because even if I didn’t quite have the time to get out in the bush, I could still talk to others about their adventures and get ideas for my own trips (and enjoy the lovely staff discount). When I started my traineeship in a school, I decided I liked helping young people see their potential and do things they did not think they could achieve. I was never a very academic student in school, so the practical subjects always appealed to me.
What do you love about working in outdoor education?
I love being able to share some of my favourite places with my students, and get really excited to see how they find the things — that I now take for granted — amazing. It’s great to see students still have that curiosity to wonder and marvel at the small things that we can often overlook. It’s wonderfully refreshing.
What are the challenges of working in outdoor education?
Not having the time or funding to achieve the ideas you dream up in your head. Convincing others (staff) that it is an area of learning, value and personal growth for the students and not just outdoor activities. Working in an urban public school without our own bus, we find that a lot of our budget is spent on transport.
What would you like to do in your OE future?
Develop an Outdoor Education program that works and that I’m happy with! There is so much scope for the types of things we can do with our students, and so little contact time in Outdoor Education classes. Perhaps trying to push more of a cross-curricular approach to Outdoor Education and involve more of the school, rather than the students having to wait until Year 10 to be exposed to this great subject and way of learning.
What have been some of the highlights of your OE career to date?
Having my first Outdoor Education class and being able to share my passions and experiences with them. It was such a rewarding experience to facilitate some meaningful discussion and activity in different environments, and I think my students benefitted from these experiences. Watching them have those ‘light bulb’ moments where they realise they CAN do something they perceived as quite challenging was pretty special, and I loved the relationships I developed with them throughout the year. By the end of the year, they were left wanting to do more camps, trips and spending more time in the outdoors in their own time.
How have you grown through your OE work?
Learning what can be taught and what must be developed over time. Some of the people I work with always talk about self-care and self-worth and how we should be teaching the students about these. I think I’ve discovered that they aren’t things that can be taught, but things that I’ve developed through my own formative Outdoor Education years and now working with others in Outdoor Education. When I started teaching Outdoor Education, I was focussed on how I could get my students competent in the outdoors within the year, forgetting that it took me many years, and I am still learning! After my own adventures, I try to do the same process as my students — reflect and make meaning of the experiences I’ve had.
What advice would you give to people just getting into outdoor education?
Get involved in as much as you can. There’s the saying that you’ll always regret the things you didn’t do rather than the things you did do. And even if you aren’t sure if you can do something, it’s a mistake to do nothing because you can only do a little – Do what you can! It will open up so many opportunities and you’ll grow as a person because of them.