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hard feet; soft souls

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

There has always been a lot of talk about hard and soft skills in outdoor education. Hard skills (feet - sole on the path) are the qualifications of an instructor, be it with compass and map, rope and knot or backpack and tent. Are you prepared with the right knowledge, skills and resources to protect yourself and others in your care and lead them through an enriching experience?  However, in the educator's tool-belt, there must be soft skills, the soul of pedagogy, the way to talk, connect and collaborate with people. In my view, the most important skill in the set is the ability to transfer the learning. To take the experience to unpack it, realise it, and reestablish it in other contexts. 


I spent five years with one pupil, teaching him to Eskimo Roll. It wasn't just the skills he lacked: positioning his body, sweeping his paddle and righting his kayak; mostly, he lacked confidence. His fear of being contained underwater, not at all unreasonable, slowed his ability to complete the task. Anyway, he achieved it in his final year as head boy; now he is a successful doctor! (He helped South Africa through Covid-19) The two may not be directly linked, but as he learnt to conquer his fears and work under pressure (upside down in a kayak!) I hope I taught him some of the life skills he needs now, transferred to the operating theatre! 17 years later, I have just reunited with this remarkable pupil. Zamps is one of the greats and I am honoured to be his friend. He works for a great cause - state healthcare in RSA- in difficult circumstances. He was interviewed By the South African Mail and Gaudian:


"One childhood memory that has spurred you to such levels of achievement?

In high school, a teacher, now a mentor and friend, helped me overcome my fear of “rolling” in a kayak (capsizing and then righting yourself). The constant encouragement to overcome my fear and work under pressure taught me the value of perseverance — sometimes, you have to take the risk of capsizing to get the reward!

Kurt Hahn"I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion.”



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