Headmaster's Blog

Why we need adventure

I'm a big fan of adventure, particularly when it comes to learning, which I believe should be one of the greatest adventurous experiences of them all.

One of my colleagues defines adventure as an activity where we cannot be confident of the outcome from the outset.
It's a good definition because it is as apt a description of climbing a mountain as it is for what should happen in a school physics lab or drama rehearsal room.
When applied to learning, adventure means a profound, challenging, life-changing experience requiring alertness, critical thinking and self-confidence.
These are values we all need in day-to-day life as adults trying to navigate unexpected events and situations; and we are doing our students a disservice if we do not cultivate in them the same 'habit' of adventure: imagine how unsettling it would be to leave school at 18 and head off into the world without the resources not only to survive but to flourish in it.
There are numerous ways to instil this sense of adventure in a school environment and these do not involve taking reckless risks or playing fast and loose with the safety of children; nothing could be further from the truth.
However, what I do want to advocate for our schools is an environment in which mistakes and poor choices can be made safely and their outcomes reviewed objectively as part of the learning process.
It is a cliche to say that we learn more from failure than from success but, as with most cliches, this one has a significant element of truth to it.
Being free to fail is about having flexible boundaries and being afforded the liberty to experiment with that flexibility without it costing too much.
Expeditions to the more inhospitable corners of the planet, field trips and Forest School, the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme... there is plenty of scope for large scale, exciting learning experiences which are evidently less controllable and predictable than a traditional classroom lesson.
But what happens on the big scale is also achievable on the small scale, day by day in every classroom: there can be, and should be, an element of surprise at the destination students and teacher have reached together by the end of a lesson.
As a teacher, I need to plan my lesson, to be sure, but I don't need to know (and should not plan to know) how every moment of the session will pan out before I start: I need to continue to cultivate my own sense of adventure as much as the students do.
My observation, for what it's worth, is that human beings have a tendency to strive for security, stability and certainty and yet, ironically, these are the very things which evade us again and again as we navigate our way through life.
We need to prepare our young people for this reality and equip them to face the unknown with confidence and relish the inevitable adventures with which life will present them.

Rod MacKinnon
Headmaster, Bristol Grammar School