Why Challenging Students Is Important

“This is boring, horrible, quite possibly worse than hell! Why would you make us do this?”

Recently I joined 130 of my year 7 students on their camp in Jindabyne. During the three day adventure, we took the students and climbed up to the top of Mount Kosciuszko in the Snowy Mountains.

Camping 1

While many of the students relished in the opportunity to be outside of the school gates and in the ‘wild’, some found it quite difficult.

I was constantly surprised by a small group of students who I spent most of the camp alongside. Throughout the camp they complained, finding it very frustrating, and at some points overwhelming.

The aspects of camp students found most challenging included the cold night we spent in tents – camping in the cold along the bank of a river in Kosciuszko National Park, cooking our own food, walking up the mountain and being very wet and cold while canoeing. In my mind, these were most enjoyable tasks but the nature of being outdoors, cold and constantly walking was quite challenging for these students.

I tried to link what we were doing to great adventures like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, or ask them to observe the incredible nature we were wandering through, but the students argued that they would rather read these stories or play a video game than do it themselves. I walked, rode, swam and paddled with them, encouraging them along the way to see how amazing the opportunities were.

This is the beauty of school camps and extra curricular activities that take students out of their comfort zone. They provide safe and supportive environments where students can experience the outdoors or different challenges that push them and build resilience.

Friendships were made or strengthened, tears were shared and challenges completed both individually and in groups. When coming home, the buses were full of exhausted smiles and laughter.

A few days later, our school had each of the students write a few thank you notes to other students or people who helped them the most on the camp.

I was surprised and delighted yesterday morning to receive one from a student, who had spent a significant amount of energy complaining, thanking me for helping him to make it up to the top of Mount Kosciuszko. “It was worth it in the end”.

Mount k 1

This experience reminded me of the challenges I faced, complained about and overcame while completing the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme during high school. The hikes and personal challenges needed to overcome to complete the Award build resilience and confidence.

This is also similar to the remarkable work of Outward Bound. An impressive organisation that provides students with a safe environment to push themselves more than they thought possible.

There is an inequity in the students who participate in these programs. Most students I know who have completed either Duke of Edinburgh’s Award or Outward Bound come from families and schools that have the capacity to support these activities which can be very expensive.

Yes there are some possibilities and funding for students to be supported to take part in these activities, but we know that students are most able to participate when they are financially able. While it is early days in my teaching adventure, I hope to be able to provide more students with the opportunity to grow in these ways outside the classroom.

It can feel like “the worst thing that has ever happened” at the time, but school camps, hikes and other outdoors activities provide important challenges that help students to grow. I hope to see more of them during my teaching career.


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