Rick's Journal

Thursday, July 3, 2014

I Answer Two Excellent Questions About Training 40,000 New Nature Educators

A recent class trip retreat at Hawk Circle.   Photo by Jenny Shannon Harkins.

It's been a day or two since I posted my original 'bigger vision' awakening, and a day or so since my last post about ground rules, and I got this very excellent email from a bloke over in the UK!

Question Number One:
I'm very interested in your new vision in increasing the amount of instructors teaching earth living skills. I run a school here in the UK called Native Awareness, we have been running for 8 years now. I started the school due to a vision quest I took when I was 16 in 1995... It was the first time I had heard about TB... Cutting a long story short I believed that my vision, as many others, is to reunite people with the natural world.

When Native Awareness started, there were about 40, 'Bushcraft' schools in the UK, now 8 years later I've been told that there are over 80.

When I started teaching it was amazing, having full participation in all of our classes... When the recession hit, many schools closed but we ended up becoming more successful and attracting more students etc.   Unfortunately the past couple of years the student intake has dropped, partly I'm sure due to the other schools that are running now...

I was wondering if you could give me your thoughts and advice relating to your proposal of having more instructors etc... My worry is that established schools may suffer due to the loss of bookings etc and have to close.

I really don't want you to think that I'm being negative, we share the same vision. It would just be great to have some advice from you, one that has had so much more experience in reaching out to more and more people!

Best wishes,

 So, first off, I wanted to thank James for asking about this.  You, my friend, are awesome!

Second, here are my thoughts.   

Let me start by saying that I don't have the definitive answers for everything, and that there may be other people in our greater community who may have other ideas and thoughts that can offer more insight or help, so that is something that we will be looking at in the near future, as this thing actually gets off the ground.

My initial thought about your school's experience is that it is fairly typical.  Many schools get started by a founder or small group of founders, who begin sharing their skills and experiences with people in their area, and have a great initial success from the organic process of connecting with like minded people.  It's awesome when that happens.

However, if the economy changes, or someone in the organization leaves, or whatever, sometimes, the success starts to shift and come in different forms, maybe not as steady as before, or whatever.  This is very, very common.   I am sure there are a bunch of people who will read this post and think I am talking about them or their school, and actually, I am not.  I am not pointing to any school in particular, actually.   It's a mix of things I have heard from instructors and school program directors again and again over the last 27 years or so.

So, the problems you are currently having are very real and they are a concern.   How do you reach more students?

And, won't there be even less students if we flood the world with 40,000 new educators and instructors?

The short answer is no, it won't mean that.    

The fact is, your particular school's problem, in my opinion, is that your marketing and communications approach is too general. 

Your website or brochures might not be speaking closely to who you would ideally like to teach.   So, your 'general' message is getting lost in the cacophony of the rest of the modern world.   

The way to reach people is changing, and changing fast.    It's harder than ever to pierce through the noise and reach your ideal clients.

So, your school may not even be around to compete with the thousands of new instructors that we hope to be training.   That's a valid possibility.   

Unless you actually solve the problem facing your school.    

I would say that it's a lot like a trapping problem.   If you have a 'general' trap, you sometimes having a hard time catching an animal, because it's not specific enough.  You have to know your quarry, inside and out.  Where does he like to eat?  Where does he sleep?   How does he move across the landscape, and what makes him feel safe?   What bothers him?  Etc.

So, that should help you on that end.   Let me know if you want to connect further about it, if you like, too!  I will try to help if I can.

On the other side of your question and this issue, the 'lots of new instructors' side of things, you are missing one important part of the equation.   

You are assuming that there are a limited number of students, and with more instructors, we will be competing for a smaller and smaller market share of that pie, right?

My friend, nothing could be further from the truth.  

The fact is, the number of people who need to get connected to nature, on a practical or on a spiritual or healing basis, is massive.   A recent study in the UK, (Spring, 2013) as reported in the Guardian, found that only 20% of our kids today are connected to nature in a meaningful way.   That means 80% are functionally disconnected from nature.

Think about that for a moment. 

80% of the children of the UK and Europe is a pretty freaking big number.   In the US, it's even larger.  

We absolutely, positively, have to reach those kids and give them a meaningful connection to the natural world.    It's the prime directive for our species if we want to be around beyond the next century.   Maybe sooner, even, depending on who you read, and so forth.

So, maybe your school doesn't really specialize in kids, right?  That could be the case.   Maybe your school is great at teaching adults how to get connected.    

Well, if we need to train, say, I don't know, maybe 8,000 more instructors in wilderness or nature education, don't you think that is something you might collaborate with us on?   Would you want to be part of this project if that was the case?

Don't you think that some of those kids and their parents, once they get taught, might want to out and have a deeper experience?   That could bring you more business.   In fact, it probably would bring you more business than you could handle.   And guess what?   We will have great, well trained instructors who can help you out when you're ready to expand.   I am sure there will be ten or fifteen people would love to hang with you and learn from you and help you out.  Especially if they were getting paid for their work, too.   Which is absolutely essential, too.

So, hopefully you are following me with this line of thinking.   I am sure it will be a little messy and not quite as neat and polished as what I just listed, but I do very seriously think that my reasoning is sound.   And I fully intend to work closely with anyone who is interested in collaborating in a mutually beneficial manner, too.

I know we have a long way to go before any of this actually rolls off the line and is fully operational, but it's coming.   We are going to get there.   We absolutely have to do it.   It's essential.

I will also add that you can also choose to just do your own thing, too, and that's great too.   We can go either way.   I know there are a lot of people who won't want to join us for one reason or another, so we will just support each other from afar, maybe, and share a bowl of wild stew or something around a campfire at a gathering or whatever, when we can.   It's going to be fun.

Honestly, I know that there are going to be many, many people who will disagree with my premise, or my reasoning, or my ideas of what makes a good instructor, and how a wilderness program should be taught, or so many other areas where we could disagree or rub each other the wrong way.   I am sure some people will look at what I am proposing and say, "Hey, I can do it better than that guy!" and I think that would be awesome.  I totally support that.  

By all means, please, do it better than me, and beat me to it.  Change the world two years earlier than my goals, please!    Then we can all take a break, go on vacation or just hang out and shoot some arrows or whatever.   It's fine by me.

Anyway, I hope some of this makes sense, even a little bit.  And thank you for sharing your thoughts.

And now, on to Question Number Two!

Got this post this morning on Facebook:
"From my experience I must declare, any expectation of increasing the flow of new, capable and qualified wilderness instructors from the current trickle and dribble into a flood that will change the world is only a dream so long as the "liberally grease my palm in exchange for knowledge" training structure exists. Restricting knowledge based solely on who can pay is not a plan for positive change. Any barrier which prevents access to knowledge necessarily limits it's audience, and $900 a pop for a nugget here and there is a definite barrier to learning. Some might say a college education costs more. But I would counter, one does not go to college to become educated. One goes to college, and pays for the privilege, to get a diploma...an acceptance label for polite society, and a proof stamp for recruiters and Human Resource desk jockeys so that they may say, "Ah, I see you have a diploma! Surely you are dumber than a box of rocks, but I too have a diploma, therefore I deem you worthy, and so you may pass." No, an education doesn't come from a school, it comes from learning, and knowledge is where you find it. It is said that "when a student is ready, the teacher will appear." The greatest teachers, the ones that really do change the world, are always those who pass on their knowledge freely, without reservation or condition...because they believe so completely in the goodness that will come from the spread of their teaching. When the hippie made his way to the ashram, the guru didn't stop him at the gate and say, "Namaste! the price for spiritual enlightenment is 54,000 rupees per week." Jesus didn't charge admission for the Sermon on the Mount. Master Yoda didn't train Luke in the ways of the Force in exchange for payment. And awakening millions to positive change just is not going to happen from behind the blockade of for-profit camps. It's only going to happen simply, locally, openly...when a teacher teaches because there is a student that wants to learn...one on one, or small gatherings, where one becomes two, becomes four, becomes eight, onward and outward. And so, the temple isn't a camp in the pine barrens, The temple is nature, the temple is me, we are one. If I am open, and allow myself to see, she will teach me. As I learn of her, I learn of myself."

This is another great perspective, and one I am happy to address right out of the gate.  I was expecting it, and frankly, kind of disappointed that I haven't gotten it asked much sooner and with a lot more passion!   This is a very well thought out comment, and I really appreciate it so, so very much!

So, there are multiple things going on in this comment, some which are solely the opinion of the writer and thus not for me to say whether they are good or bad.  

Me leading a free educational day hike/experience for the Adirondack Mountain Club at Hawk Circle.
But the issue of getting paid for teaching and leading people back to nature is one that has been around since my very first class at the Tracker School, and probably will grace every gathering campfire on into eternity by buckskin wearing lads and lasses, with opinions going every which way, etc.

So, my answer to this is again about the same issue I shared in the first question:   Who is your audience?  Who is your ideal client?  Who are you wanting to work with?

When the goal is to teach 'everybody', then the field is wide open.

And if you follow my Rule Number One in my ground rules post, you'll know that if that is what you want to do, you should go for it!  I'm not gonna come around and try to stop you!

But honestly, for most people, or schools or whatever, they all know that if they want to have a quality experience, they should expect to pay something for that person's time, and for their training, and for that person's professional preparation and experience.   You get what you pay for.

I paid a lot for my training.  I never asked anyone for a discount, ever.  I worked a lot of crappy, disgusting, soul-breaking jobs to pay my way, and I was happy to do it.  I mean, I made $3.35 an hour in the California Conservation Corps back in 1984 to save the money and take some of the classes I did back then.   

I also worked in my free time on my skills, practicing tracking, fire-making, doing survival treks and making buckskin.  I did a ton of hard work getting in my dirt time, while most of my classmates from high school were working jobs, getting promotions, and making a ton of money.   I didn't have their soul sucking jobs, but I also didn't get paid vacations or a car that wasn't ten or fifteen years old, either.   It was a trade I made at the time, and it felt right.   

But don't kid yourself.  Getting these skills is an investment.   A major investment.   

To give it away, well, it's kind of like saying it's not worth anything.   I know that's not what you are saying, but I hold a different perspective.

If you try to offer something for free, many people (not all), will not actually value your training or your teachings.

The worst students I ever had were ones who I offered to teach for free.  They didn't show up when we planned to go out into the bush and train.  They didn't come prepared.  They didn't practice their skills like I asked them to, so they would be ready.   They didn't take it seriously.

Why should they?   They didn't have ANYTHING ON THE LINE.   They didn't have anything to lose.   

When there's no investment, you get poor results.   Poor results aren't going to cut it.   And most of the people I know who want to be good instructors and nature educators aren't independently wealthy.   So, they aren't looking to get rich, per se, but they would like to make a fair wage for doing quality work for their students.   It feels right when we have a great yoga class, or martial arts class, or a healing session with someone who is really, really awesome and does life changing work.   I personally don't have much money, but I always feel good about paying someone who is awesome for their time and their energy.  Especially when I know it means so much to them to be able to get paid for their time and their work, which they love to do.

It completes the circle, and closes the gap.   It also means I don't want to be late, and disrespect them or their time.  It helps me stay accountable and on my own best game.   (Please note:  I am a work in progress!)

So, I don't have anything worked out as far as price or whatever, so we aren't talking numbers here, but the bottom line for me is, yes, for some of our projected projects, we will probably be working on creating a pay scale that will be a livable wage.   I don't have any problem with that.

If you don't want to pay $900 for a class, no one has a gun to your head to write the check.  Just don't go.

Enjoy a few hours on YouTube.   Scroll around on the blogs or survival message boards.  Chat with someone on Facebook.   Attend a workshop at a gathering, or hold a MeetUp, or do an apprenticeship at a survival school or something.  There are lots of ways to get training or taught and not pay a ton of money.  That's a good thing, and it's awesome!

For some people, though, time is very valuable to them, and they would rather pay for someone to teach them and get what they really want, without searching around on the internet or meeting unknown strangers who may or may not know what the hell they are actually talking about.  These folks don't want to mess around with all that stuff.   And they certainly don't want those people messing around with their kids!  They are willing to pay to get the right person for what they need.

Think of a mechanic.   You could go get your car worked on by a guy down at the end of the street who says he can fix your transmission.  But how much confidence will you have to make a 500 mile trip after he is done?   It's even scarier when it's your life on the line, and you are in the bush, counting on the skills you learned to save your life, or that of your family.   Not a good time to find out the instructor was a bargain basement deal.   (Kind of like a carpenter who buys the cheapest tools and then loses money when his tools fail on the job, etc.)   Sometimes, you just want to get someone you can trust, and not have to worry about micro-managing them, or 'checking them out to be sure they are on the level' etc.   

One of our Apprentices drawknives the sap wood from a black ash
log in preparation for pounding into pack basket splints and materials.
I don't agree that the only way to teach students and help us change the direction of our current, death seeking society is to be done

for free, in your free time, to students, when it can be fit into your schedule.  That's not, in my opinion, going to change enough people quickly enough.   This is just my opinion, but I do think that my reasoning is solid.   We can't afford to wait and let this whole process happen organically, over the next twenty five years.   We can't, and we don't actually have to!  That's the beauty of it!

So, to reiterate, I am not saying you should charge anything for your teachings, or your time, or your skills or whatever you want to do.  What you do and how you do it is totally up to you.   I am sure it's awesome, and it's amazing, and that a lot of kids and adults will have life changing experiences due to your work.   I would love to know how it works out, too.

I also believe that for students who can't afford to pay, we should find ways to have their school systems pay, so that this stuff is free for all kids, not just the lower income students.   I mean, maybe we can use some of that stupid technology money that schools love to spend, and instead use it for this stuff!   If that happens, it will be awesome!   

Let me ask you:   If the program was free for the kids, all kids, and the supplies were paid for by the school, and they had the money to pay you and support you and your family so you could do this full time and change lives, would you take the money?  Or would you instead work a full time job doing something else and teach in your spare time?

Something to think about.

Luckily, there is room for all of us!   And there is no shortage of people, that's for sure.

Thank you so much for your question, and your comments and insight, and if anyone has anything to add, you know what to do!

Note:   My next post will be about the Natural History of the Wilderness School Models, and how they will need to be turned upside down to make this vision happen!  Stay tuned! 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

My Bigger Vision, Part Two. My Ground Rules for Change.

The summary from my last post, in a nutshell, is the estimation that we need about 40,000 new wilderness instructors to awaken millions of people to the power of nature and reach a critical mass of about 30 million people.  It's ten percent of the population of the US, and it is the minimum number for creating a culture that can change our ways towards a future that is life affirming and positive.

It's a big vision, which is a little scary to me, but that's good.   We have to start somewhere.

So, what's the first step?   

Well, there are a lot of different options.   And I don't have all the answers.

How's that for inspiration, people?

Let's face it, there are a lot of good people doing great things out there.   And there's no right way to do this.   

So, before I go any further, I want to lay out my ground rules, or the foundation of how I want to work to make this happen.  Without some sorts of guiding principles, this effort can spin it's wheels or go in circles, trying to please everyone or in other ways lose energy and momentum.   Which we can't afford, at this time in humanity, in my opinion!

So, here goes!

Ground Rule Number One:      We need Everything.   We need Everyone.    

It's really simple.  There's no need for any of us to waste even ten minutes of our precious life or energy arguing about who's right or wrong.   Bottom line:   If you feel strongly about something, and you want to do it, and it feels right, to guide people back to nature, to get their feet on the earth, or a deep inner connection to their hearts or greater purpose, or whatever, just go for it.

I think it's awesome that you are doing something.   I will try to help you or support you if I can.   My opinion is just my opinion.   I am just one guy, and I have my point of view and perspective, but that doesn't mean I have to be better than whatever you are doing.  And the fact that my direction is different than yours is okay too.   This isn't a competition.   It's about saving our species, and as many other species that we can before we all go extinct.   So, if you start getting temped to waste time with some ego laden power trip, just leave me out of it.   If you are into that, fine.  Knock yourself out!   It's cool!

I'm choosing to go a different way.

We need everyone, and we are trying to reach millions of people.   Let's do it together and love each other.   We aren't going to get through this by hating each other.   Why do we need to 'be better' than the other guy?   Are we really that jealous of each other?   Maybe if we do this together, we will get further along.   I mean, we've been trying the 'Let's Do It All On Our Own' thing, right?   How's that been working out so far?

That's what I thought.   

So, let's change that.    

You can thank my main man Derrick Jensen for this philosophy, and hear all about it in this video.   Check it out.  (You can also still find my interview with him for the Wolverine Way Summit on Nature Connection, too!)

Ground Rule Number Two:  We Don't Have To Be Perfect

So, this is a vital rule in my playbook.

Unfortunately, it brings me right into a basic conflict with my own training and teaching.   In that training, my mentors inspired me to aim high, like our ancestors, to learn tracking, or survival, or plant knowledge, or earth spirituality, or bow making, whatever, and to fully master it like those elders.   I learned that it takes years to master these skills, and to respect and honor that process, too.

I totally agree that this is exactly right and awesome.   That's not the problem.

You see, the issue is not about whether or not we should 'learn about the earth' or 'skills' or 'plants' or whatever.  No, not at all.

It's just that we don't have to have it take years and years, and we don't have that kind of time.

So, how do we help our culture shift and get connected to nature more quickly?   Maybe this story will help.

Let's think about Yoga.   Fifty years ago, the only way you were going to get the magic, the power, the centering effect or deep alignment of the Yogic Traditions was if you went to India.  You had to travel there on a 18 hour plane ride, or a boat, or a combination of those and trains.   You had to head up the mountains to an ashram, or a temple, and then get up at 4 in the morning, and do your practice.  You had to wear weird robes, and eat weird food, and stay there for weeks or months.   Some person would talk to you in broken English, in parables, trying to teach you those ancient ways, and help you understand.   

Getting that understanding is awesome, and some of you are probably thinking, 'Yeah, that would be cool'!!!!!  

But the fact is, Yoga was virtually inaccessible to the average person.  There were barriers to gaining it's power and amazing gifts to all of our lives, right?

But basically, over all of those years, Yoga dropped the barriers.  

And guess what?

There are yoga classes on TV.  There are yoga classes on YouTube.   There's yoga instructors all over the place, in tiny rural towns and all kinds places.  In corporate office break rooms.  In schools.   

People are getting the benefits, right?

'But hey', you're asking me, probably.   'Isn't the power of yoga now just watered down?   It isn't at all like that old style, traditional stuff!   How will anyone ever 'get' that part of it?'

Good point.   And I do agree.   Yoga fifty years ago, and yoga today, well, they aren't exactly the same.    That's true.

But seriously, if we are going to bring the power of a connection to people in a meaningful way, we have to get over that part of this issue.    

So, what I am saying is, it's okay.   If you are called to go deep, and get those ancient teachings, and head up to the temple, that's great.  No, it's amazing!   It's incredible!   We need lots of people doing that, and we need lots of people learning that deep stuff, and doing it that way, absolutely.   So, please, don't take this approach I am presenting here the wrong way.  I'm not saying anyone has to change or not do what you feel is right in your heart.  (See Rule Number One!)

I'm just saying that if we remove the barriers to a deep nature connection the way Yoga did, organically, over fifty years, and do it with intention, and with our important goals in mind, we can reach a lot more people a lot faster.   We also don't need our instructors to be trained in an Ashram for thirty years that we don't have.

And there are some really wonderful, amazing, beautiful yoga teachers out there who have only completed a six week yoga teacher training or instructor course.

And guess what makes them great?   

Their Heart.  Their Being.   Their Essence.   

That's what makes them awesome. 

So, a person can inspire a life long thirst for nature and adventure and connection if they are a good storyteller, even if they can't make a bow and drill fire (fire by friction).   You can inspire change and connection by expressing yourself in music, in art, or photography.    You don't have to have climbed Everest to be able to open a Forest Preschool, and love to work with young children!   

Okay, I guess you get it.  Onward!

Ground Rule Number Three:   Creativity is Our Friend

This is also a vital block in our foundation, because in order to reach millions of people, we are going to have to exercise our creative minds to come up with lots and lots of innovative ways to make it happen.   We need to literally rework the entire way we think of nature connection, and how that happens, and how it looks, etc, and offer some radically fresh new approaches that no one has ever seen before.

We can do this, and it's going to be really fun.  But the key is to access our creative inner genius and to expand our possibilities to go much deeper and to think much bigger, too.   And we have to embrace things that traditionally, wilderness and nature people have been reluctant to do in the past.   

Creativity is enhanced by positivity, and by fun, and by lots of support and love and a feeling of safety.   I truly believe that this is quite possibly the most important elements of these ground rules, but hey, I don't want to make the other ones feel bad, so, don't tell them I said that!   (See how my creativity is already flowing?)

Ground Rule Number Four:   Find Your Voice

This is pretty simple.   

Just share.

Me presenting what I am doing at the Tracker
School in the Pine Barrens, NJ, October 2013
Sharing is scary sometimes!
My man Kyle Cease explains a very simple concept, that is amazingly powerful, which is, in essence, the idea that life is about what you love, not who loves you.

Check it out here.

So, share what you love.  Inspire each other.   Don't worry about it not being perfect, or anything.  

We aren't going to reach 30 million people by keeping this stuff to ourselves, you know what I'm saying??????

If you don't find your own voice, your own perspective, and start crowing like our freakin' roosters at 5:30 am every morning, and announcing that you actually care about nature, and people, and animals and water or whatever, well, how are we going to reach anyone?

Start small and ease into it.   Trust me, you'll be well received!   

And here's the other thing.




Okay, you get it, right?  YOU are THEIR voice.

If you don't use your voice, and speak up, and share, we're lost.

And if you can't use your voice, use your camera.  Use a paint brush, or some interpretive dance.  

I don't really care what you do.   Use your creativity (Ground Rule #3) and figure it out!   

Just, please, for all our sakes, do friggin' something.

Ground Rule Number Five:   Everything is On the Table

In order to reach a lot more people, we need to discuss things.  We need to talk about Effectiveness.   We need to talk about Barriers.   We need to talk about Direction and Long Term Program Sustainability.

These are important things.   

These are also very touchy subjects.

Many people don't like to talk about this stuff unless it's around the campfire, in the deep of the night.  Some people don't like to talk about things that make them uncomfortable.    For some of us, this is a spiritual path, and therefore, immune to consideration, or scrutiny, or discussion.

So, my strategy for this is simple:  If you don't like talking about stuff, and having every approach put on the 'drawing board' for consideration, don't be involved.   

Just do your own thing.   No one is saying that you are bad, or that you are not doing it right, or that you shouldn't do things your way, or whatever.  (See Rule Number One, right?)

What we are doing is adding a layer of transparency to our approach, and to seek the greatest return on our investment of time, energy, money and everything.   We need to have measurable goals and get value for our investment.   That means we will have serious discussions about various ways to approach these objectives.

We'll talk about results, and best practices.   I can totally see how people can get really touchy about it.

So, here's the deal:   It's not personal.

It's not about you.   It's really not!

The very last thing I would ever do is to try to hurt your feelings, or make you look bad.

But we have to figure this stuff out.   

So, here's my promise:  I will keep it non-personal, and these kinds of discussions are about being part of an internal process.  Yes, it will be not totally behind closed doors.   And maybe there will be some conferences or gatherings where we can share openly but in a way that isn't out in the open.  

But seriously, I get it.  For most of you, this is your livelihood, or something that you have worked for years on, and the last thing anyone wants, including me, is for you to feel like your work is begin threatened or degraded by any internet discussion.    Who would that serve?   

So, I promise you to be vigilant about all these issues.  

But we do need to get very, very real about where we are going, and how we can get there in the very best way.   

If we can do it together, all the better.  And the things we discover and are successful with, we will share with you, too.   So, it's going to be a win-win.

If you have strong feelings about something we are talking about, share it.  (See Rule Number Four!)   For crying out loud, share and make your case.   That's important too.

The process of growth is going to take all of us being open-minded, and excited, and passionate and logical.  It's going to take calculated risks and some experimenting.   

Think of a science lab where they're trying to cure cancer, or malaria, or whatever.   Everything has to be on the table, and they have to take risks to try something new.  They have to find new ways to look at the problems.   They have to shake their old, pre-conceived notions and ideas and get innovative.   Because that's what it takes to make progress.

I hope you will be part of this process and this adventure!


*   •   *   •   *   •   *   •   *   •   *

Okay, it's late, and I spent a long day in the hot sun, screening clay for our clay/wood chip walls for Eagle House.  I am beat.

What do you think of these ground rules so far?   Do you like them?  Do any of them ring true?

Do you have any suggestions for more?

Thanks for reading this, and have a wonderful night.

And tomorrow, let's get this thing going!!!!!!   

We got this!   Let's go!