Following on from our visit by Everest mountaineer Mollie Hughes and then Elizabeth Denyer’s fabulous guest blog last week, I have been giving some more thought this week to the benefits of schools such as Craigclowan giving time to the pursuit of adventurous activities which are essentially non-academic. I have said it before that we are first and foremost an academic school with a core purpose of adding the maximum value, and therefore progress, to each pupil’s academic journey. I have also said it before that I believe that enriching experiences beyond the four walls of the classroom are an essential part of this equation. During the 20 years of my teaching career so far, it has become obvious to me that happy children make progress and unhappy children don’t. It therefore follows that creating a happy environment and a happy child is an essential part of the mix required to make sustained academic progress possible. It also follows that tracking a child’s academic progress gives a good insight into their happiness level.
Of course, the benefits of learning outside of the classroom go far beyond just creating happy children. These sorts of experiences also develop many of the key ‘soft-skills’ that are so vital for successful personal and professional lives in today’s society such as resilience, teamwork, communication, collaboration, determination, listening, empathy and much more. I have been reminded of this recently as I have taken up the role as one of the Trustees of the local charity, The Polar Academy.
The Polar Academy identifies ‘invisible’ 14-17 years old secondary school children who are often crushed by a lack of self-esteem and it gives them the chance to redefine their physical and mental limits. After passing a rigorous selection process, the participants are put through a ten-month training programme before being immersed in the wilds of Greenland, navigating through some of the world’s remotest terrain for ten days. Their confidence soars with every step. On their return to Scotland, each pupil shares their experiences with their peer groups, between them speaking to more than 20,000 school children in their region. They are living, breathing proof that dreams are attainable and that ordinary pupils can achieve the truly extraordinary. For each of these young people it has been a genuinely life changing opportunity and they have become role-models and ambassadors for their generation.
For me, the work that The Polar Academy does perfectly encapsulates the power of adventure and the outdoors to transform lives and opportunities. If you would like to know more about their work please do watch this short YouTube video and perhaps visit the website.
John F Gilmour