for developing non-cognitive skills within an outdoor leadership program (OLP).
The 12-year process of educating a student begins with self-worth, cultivation of a growth mindset, smooth intrapersonal interactions and increased confidence through positive failures or challenges. During secondary school, students often focus on grades, test scores and other acumen that will help them achieve success as defined by ‘hard’ quantifiable skills, money and prestigious careers. The assumption is that future academic and financial success will result in guaranteed satisfaction and happiness (Gatzemann et al., 2008).
This website provides a guide for an outdoor leadership program (OLP) that will conscientiously cultivate non-cognitive skills such as: (a) growth mindset, (b) autonomy, (c) self-discipline, (d) resilience and a strong (e) self-worth for secondary students (Dweck, Walton & Cohen, 2011).
This guide will be based upon the seven leadership integrated skills system from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Through outdoor activities such as hiking, rock climbing, or snowshoeing, each of the seven leadership traits will be enhanced through specific development of non-cognitive skill sets. Each activity has various non-cognitive skills that can be associated with leadership (Dweck, Walton & Cohen, 2011).According to the Gates Foundation: Psychological factors–often called motivational or non-cognitive factors–can matter even more than cognitive factors for students’ academic performance. These may include students’ beliefs about themselves, their feelings about school, or their habits of self-control. Indeed, there is a growing recognition in education, psychology, and economics of the importance of non-cognitive factors in achievement both in school and in the labor market (Dweck, Walton & Cohen, 2011 Academic Tenacity: Mindsets and skills that promote long-term learning, pg. 2 para. 2).
Teachers structure lessons and experiences which support the development of non-cognitive skills by providing students multiple avenues to engage in high-order or long-term goals which the students value. These goals are balanced between boredom and anxiety in order to keep the students intrinsically motivated. The student will begin to cultivate an academic mindset, effortful control, acceptance of critical feedback and a sense of belonging (Shernoff et al., 2003).
Teachers can begin the unit with the introduction and development of the growth mindset. If students have the idea of a fixed intelligence, they may be derailed by academic or personal setbacks and become overly concerned with short-term abilities, skills or perceptions (Blackwell et al., 2007; Mueller & Dweck, 1998).
The possession of a growth mindset provides a buffer against failure that may damage students self-esteem. A student claims that he lacks the skills, experience or fitness to climb a steep hiking trail, yet by the end of the experience the student will feel a sense of accomplishment by overcoming doubt. This leads to a change in the fixed mindset and allows the student to carry the learning to new activities and challenges. The application of a new skill or an experience that positively challenges students will teach them how to turn strife into opportunity. This can be achieved through specific in-class lessons that teach multiple intelligence theory, how intelligence expands with hard work and the mechanics of brain growth and dendrites connections. Teachers can support this instruction by shifting praise from ability to effort, as it provides a secondary reinforcement for working hard, not simply being identified as ‘smart’ or ‘athletic.’ Learning in an outdoor setting emphasizes effort rather than end results like many purely academic subjects (Shechtman et al., 2013).
Outdoor leadership education provides optimal learning environments for students to practice and engage in autonomous student experiences (ASE) that serve as a practical application for cognitive and non-cognitive skills (Daniel et al., 2014). Outdoor education teachers facilitate these experiences by developing a student’s comfort with risk. When students pack, plan and participate in a solo trip, the weight of personal responsibility, along with their packs, can cultivate confidence in their decision-making and wilderness skills. Research shows that some traditional school environments impede the intrinsic nature of a student’s autonomy by limiting choices, risk and engagement (Dweck et al., 2011). Presenting information or concepts in the light of “this will make you a better person” instead of “this activity will help you get a great job” allows students to grow and build on their own self-worth year after year in a sustainable manner (Daniel et al.,2014).
The act of self-discipline highly influences a student’s academic success (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005). Activities such as the overnight snowshoeing experience develop self-discipline by eliminating many daily comforts. Students snowshoe without headlamps, forcing them to be acutely aware of the terrain, tactile senses and group communication. Students also regulate food intake and energy output. Through resting and exertion students figure out the elements of self-discipline. The next morning students experience the more difficult peak terrain as attainable due to the self-discipline and experience gained during the dark portion of the hike. Through focused difficulties students’ sense of themselves as intelligent, growing, successful people can be fostered, supported and strengthened.
The ability to quickly recover from setbacks is the act of resilience. While students cling to tiny rock ledges with their fingers, their feet smeared into cracks as they climb to the top of a cliff, they are practicing the trait of resilience. Students learn to trust their teammates, fitness and climbing equipment learning how to persevere though difficulty doubt and falling. This ability to keep working, practicing or conquering challenges to succeed is a cornerstone of being a successful person. The rock climbing activity becomes one of the most exciting and anxiety-filled events during the leadership course. If facilitated correctly, students possess confidence, body awareness and trust that can be transferred back into the classroom.
Students will benefit from this outdoor leadership guide by being able to feel safe in a challenging environment that is structured to quantifiable improve their non-cognitive skills by exposing them to long-term goal-oriented challenges.