We are asked to model all the time. Doing so one-hundred percent of the time is unrealistic. How do we explain the margin of change from one-hundred percent “normal societal” behaviors? How do we avoid justification, or utilizing an “inherent value of age?”* In moments of expected modeling, what do we say when we are called out by a student for our non-normative, or expected, societal or classroom behavior?
Even so, what is modeling one-hundred percent? This suggests normative behaviors and therefore also carries the weight to validate stereotypes. These patterns are symbolic of issues much larger. Our efforts to be thoughtful carry ample responsibility and power; to mobilize transparency, we can prepare ourselves to model decision making rather than decisions. Modeling decision making could look as basic as, pausing in front of a snail or a salamander on the trail and deciding whether or not to move the organism from a main thoroughfare-- how, why and for what reason-- and discussing this decision-making process aloud. Or, after building bridges in the woods out of natural objects opening a dialogue about whether or not we should leave our engineering art as it is, or disperse it; these are great practise moments for students to consider not only their impacts but also the many facets that go towards making a decision. The reverse of this could look like the educator just telling the students what is going to happen at the end of their building time without including them in the dialogue (whether or not you have a goal in mind, the conversation is the rich part of this).
This article aims to promote explanation versus making excuses during “grey area” times of modeling. There will always be a grey area; how can be teach transferrable tools and process, rather than absolutes? We know as outdoor educators that more trials equal better results but how can we express this inherent value of age to someone younger than us? As educators, we shouldn’t have to rely on inherent value of age as reasoning for our actions, as there are-- and essentially should always be -- specific reasons for asking students to do something.
Instead of not doing what you believe, or what suits your lifestyle choices -- modeling just to model-- be prepared to articulate your choices. The very best teacher is adaptable to many situations and is able to practise the power of the when and the how. The when and the how can be discerned through authenticity and discretion: every choice is a moving target. The most powerful lesson lies in modeling decision making with evidence and experience rather than authority. An expert leader has a non-analytic, appropriate, and holistic sense of all situations and the repertoire to respond in a prepared, salient way.
There are various strategies for challenging current stereotypes and inequality in outdoor education, and we need them all. Some of these strategies include:
challenging the idea that the generic outdoor participant is a mythical norm that often encodes an assumption of ability, prosperity, whiteness and similar ideas of wildness;
improve practical access to outdoor exploration (gear libraries, work trade, childcare, financial support);
examine values instilled in basic ideas of the field (wildness, adventure, culture);
willingness to question and discuss unjust practises while maintaining positivity;
provide innovative tactics to transform ideas of difference through intentional curriculum design (Newbery 3).
There is built-in power that we carry as educators of youth, and adults alike. This power can manifest in many ways, however one poignant place where we can stir critical thinking into our work is through ways of modeling. By being comfortable in our actions, through body language and articulate explanation, we provide strong alternatives to societal expectations and fill in gaps where conversation can begin and students can explore self-identity.
I believe that demonstrating differences of opinion is a responsibility that every educator carries. Modeling is a great avenue for breaking down norms and encouraging critical thinking about subliminal societal expectations. We hold much power in these moments of testing student expectations-- they are observing our every move subconsciously or consciously. Explaining our behavior, for example, “this was the right choice for me at this time because…,” values variability, consideration of all aspects and flexibility. Rather than delineating a decision derived from one scenario, this allows our students to re-consider stereotypes, absolutes and norms. When we create absolutes, we encourage archetypes**; is that something to aspire to?
*”inherent value of age” is colloquially referred to in this article as, wisdom gained through years of life experience.
**a statement, pattern of behavior, or prototype which other statements, patterns of behavior, and objects copy or emulate (Merriam-Webster).
Newbery, Liz. “Caution: Education Is Very Messy! Social Difference, Justice, and Teaching Outdoors.” Pathways: Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario Series Winter. Issue 15 (1) (2003): 2-3.