Outdoor and experiential education can provide excellent opportunities for youth team building and leadership development. Whether it's a simple 20-minute team activity on the sports field, a day-long collaborative biology study in nature or a week-long STEAM project focused on robotics, there are literally millions of ways to incorporate leadership training into the learning process in a natural, enjoyable and valuable way.
But Are Leaders Created?
While some people learn fast that they're instinctually well-suited to leadership, there are others who have the potential to become inspiring leaders of others; they just need an opportunity to take the lead and get a boost in their confidence, skills and abilities. It's often remarked that those who don't seek power, but find themselves in positions of leadership tend to make the best leaders. So let's dwell for a moment on one of J.K. Rowling's most famed quotes from the Harry Potter book series:
"Perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it." J.K. Rowling
In addition, there are, of course, plenty of people who prefer to avoid leadership altogether, if possible. And that's the great thing about working with people - everyone is different; everyone has their own unique talents and work preferences.
"Learning to be an effective team player is a invaluable skill to develop in preparation for our lives beyond formal education."
Just as crucial as developing leaders within our education system; we must also ensure that young people gain plenty of experience working within teams and being responsible for the completion of specific tasks. Learning to be an effective team player is a invaluable skill to develop in preparation for our lives beyond formal education. So how can this be done in an experiential learning context?
Youth Development Awards
There are lots of ways that leaders and team players can be developed through experiential education. And these skills can be put to good use in the real-world as well, by empowering young people to come together and create positive change in the local community through service learning and community partnerships.
I firmly believe one of the best ways to create leaders and team players is to encourage teens to commit to a youth development award while at school or college, like the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award (in the UK, it's just known as the Duke of Edinburgh's Award). The International Award currently has 1.3 million young people taking part, in more than 130 countries and territories across the globe.
The International Award is a great way to help youngsters find their purpose, passion and place in the world through challenge, adventure and a commitment to pass each section of the Award. The Award includes taking part in service in the community, learning a physical activity and learning a skill, each over a period of several months. Participants must show progress in these three areas and they must also successfully complete a multi-day adventurous journey in a team to fulfill the Award requirements.
One of the biggest highlights of the Award is definitely the overnight adventurous journey. This could be a backpacking expedition on foot, in a kayak or even on horseback - the only real rule about the means of transport is that you can't use a motorized vehicle. There are three levels to the International Award - Bronze, Silver and Gold. Each level builds upon the one before it, and they get progressively more challenging and require greater commitment at each new level.
"One of the biggest highlights of the International Award is definitely the overnight adventurous journey. This could be a backpacking expedition on foot, in a kayak or even on horseback - the only real rule about the means of transport is that you can't use a motorized vehicle."
Almost 15 years ago, I undertook the Silver Duke of Edinburgh's Award through my local college in England. It was fantastic and I still have fond memories of walking through the British countryside for the expedition with a map in one hand, a compass in the other and a big rucksack full of pots and pans clinking together each step of the way. I was in a mixed-gender team of six people and we had a blast traipsing through muddy fields, thick forests and down farmer's tracks, as well as camping in two beautiful campgrounds surrounded by lush greenery and fresh air!
"I firmly believe one of the best ways to create leaders and team players is to encourage teens to commit to a youth development award while at school or college, like the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award (in the UK...the Duke of Edinburgh's Award)."
Did you do the Duke of Edinburgh's Award when you were at school? Do you have memories from your adventurous journey? I'd love to hear from you!
Subscribe to Outdoortopia for more updates and blog posts on outdoor education for a sustainable future.
Join our Online Community to connect with teachers and youth leaders passionate about education for a brighter future!