Adventure residentials and their impact on student leadership

Key features

  • The role of adventure
  • Developing student leadership
  • A journey as an approach to a residential

Adventure is an aspect of many residential experiences, both during the formal activities and the informal social time. It can take the form of classic outdoor challenges, being away from home for the first time or making new friends. In this case study the impact of adventurous residentials on students from a secondary school is examined. In both the cases discussed, the ‘residentials’ are more unusual for Learning Away as they involved making journeys from three days to a week in length.

Calderglen High School is the lead school in our only Scottish Learning Away partnership. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme and the John Muir Award were introduced as an extension to the timetable for S3 upwards. Staff valued them for the life skills and external qualifications gained and for their progressive nature.

A canoe trip down the Clyde

At the same time as Learning Away was introduced at Calderglen as a whole school strategy, a series of master classes were introduced in S3 to provide a general education for all students. Subjects were diverse and included song writing, photography and electronics. It was not long before the possibility of offering a residential as part of the programme came to the mind of some teachers. This idea proved popular with students too. The John Muir Award provided a structure for classes before, during and after the canoe trip. Lessons beforehand involved learning the camping and navigation skills needed, whilst conservation work became the focus of the follow-up classes. The canoe trip was organised by external providers on the nearby River Clyde; nearby but ‘a million miles away from East Kilbride’. The trip was low budget and high impact.

The following presentation takes up the story.

 

Taking to the ocean

The success of the canoe trip, and especially the impact of enhanced responsibility and engagement and a willingness amongst the students to take on leadership roles, gave the staff confidence in the value of adventurous experiences. An introductory offer from the Ocean Youth Trust Scotland provided an opportunity. This time the Duke of Edinburgh’s bronze and silver awards provided the structure as two groups of students took to the ocean in the Trust’s 72 foot yachts. The voyage was from Oban, round the Mull of Kintyre and back to the Clyde, with the students taking increasing responsibility for all the tasks of sailing the boats as the week went on. This video on YouTube gives some idea of the kind of impact a voyage can have. There are more videos on the OYT Scotland website. Following the residential, one Calderglen student won a national prize for an essay about his sailing experience. So its impact was also felt in the classroom and on attainment.

Sailing provided endless opportunities for teamwork and leadership both in sailing the yacht and in getting along and living together. One teacher commented:

“When you’re helming a 72 foot yacht and it’s only you holding the wheel and the boat’s doing 10 or 15 knots into a bouncy sea leaning over at 10 degrees in a stiff breeze, it gives you a completely different idea of yourself and what’s possible. I saw everyone of these students grow by several degrees after their turn at the helm. And the feeling that you are something more than you thought doesn’t go away.”

The school has tracked the biographies of the students taking part in both these trips, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (which also includes an overnight expedition as part of the programme). They have been impressed by two things:

  • The correlation between those taking part in these adventures and those who later on become student leaders and prefects; and
  • The rise in the quality of leadership, formal and informal, within the school from those who have been away.

One of the students who took part on the sailing trip in 2014 used his experience to write an essay titled “The Best Week of my Life”, which the OYT Scotland also put on their website. It can be read here. He got both an A pass in his National 5 English and his Silver Duke of Edinburgh award!

“Our first role as part of the crew was to help hoist the main sail all the way up the ninety foot mast. With around fifteen of the eighteen-strong crew helping, I didn’t expect the sail to be as heavy as it was; or so difficult to get everyone to pull on the main sheet at the same time. That was our first lesson in team work.”