My name is Allie and I have managed the Outdoor Education Instructors here at SPL for the last 4 years. It has been an absolute pleasure. As of February, I’ll be starting a new journey into parenthood. Before this new adventure begins, I have been reflecting on my time with our instructional team – how outdoor education has impacted my own life, and how I’ve seen this same nature connection impact the lives of others. I hope my story also inspires those of you who may be contemplating working in outdoor education as a way to inspire others too.
Same same but different
Every season the instructor team looks a little different, some returnees, some new, but there are a few things that are consistent – they are always a group of passionate, talented, genuine individuals that are motivated by building connection to self, each other, and the natural world through outdoor pursuits. They all bring stories from their lived experiences about how they have come to realize that Mother Nature is absolutely the best co-facilitator one could ask for.
Growth and Healing
One of my favourite parts of this job is watching the growth and confidence develop within each individual. I can only take very little credit (if any) for this process. The Lodge itself, the community, the determination of the individuals and of course the natural environment are the main ingredients that create this powerful, healing and educational experience. I can personally attest to this experience, as when I first worked here as an instructor in 2008, I was a bit of a lost soul. That being said, I came to the lodge with knowledge, passion and excitement for the job and by the end of my first full season (2008), at the age of 25, I was more myself than I had ever been.
Some instructors come here and have stories of struggling within the school system, stories of ups and downs with their mental health, or feeling lost with their direction in life. Maybe they tried a different career path already and didn’t feel satisfied or inspired. For them, and myself, the answer was to listen to our intuitive passion for being outside and paying attention to how much we loved to share the experience.
Something I read that speaks to this is a quote from “The Earth Speaks” by Steve Van Matre & Bill Weilers. It illustrates for me how Mother Nature is the key to facilitating increased self awareness, confidence, calmness, clarity, and overall learning to love oneself. This foundational experience is what continues to inspire individuals to invest in a career in the Outdoor Education field.
“Yes, falling in love with the earth is one of life’s great adventures. It is an affair of the heart like no other; a rapturous experience that remains endlessly repeatable throughout life. This is no fleeting romance, it’s an uncommon affair, one that is unconstrained by age or custom, and strengthened rather than diminished through sharing. In fact, the more one gives it away, the stronger it grows.” – Steve Van Matre
Always time for a solid nature metaphor
I get excited about a good nature metaphor. They can be powerful. One I point out on most of my interpretive nature walks is the thriving Dogwood.
There are a few Dogwoods like this one along the path that grew so tall, so fast as to try and keep a handle on the sun amongst the growing conifers that block it out. The Dogwood grew so quickly that it didn’t have the strength to keep itself up, especially during the harsh winter storms. Eventually it got tired and leaned over, relinquishing itself to what it may have thought of as true failure. But, as we can see in the picture, the branches started to grow along the side. The Dogwood’s ability to photosynthesize grew exponentially! The original plan that the tree thought it was supposed to follow just wasn’t what nature had in store for it. Now, in the face of adversity and struggle, with determination, this tree is THRIVING!
In life, we may think there is a specific way we should be going. We fight, and fight, and struggle and we get pushed down and we think that for sure we are going to fail. Whether it is personal, or global, these times can feel overwhelming at best. Maybe, just maybe, we were meant to move and grow in a different way. Maybe, just like the Dogwood, we could actually thrive in this new direction if we let it happen.
Everyone takes their own path
Something I love about our instructors and that makes them unique is that everyone takes their own path here. To learn the necessary tangible skills they may have taken a program like Canadian Outdoor Leadership Training (COLT) https://coltoutdoorleadership.com/ here at the Lodge, or another outdoor course in Canada or around the world. Check this site for a list of awesome education programs and certifying organizations provided within Canada https://www.outdoorcouncil.ca/Outdoor-Training.
Maybe they dove into building their own skills and became part of their local white water clubs or community sea kayak organizations, and focused on gaining their individual hard skills certifications. Of course everyone needs their Wilderness First Aid certifications (we recommend Slipstream – https://wildernessfirstaid.ca/). Then they gained work experience through either practicum, volunteering, or at Summer camps. Whatever direction was taken, wherever in the world they came from, they got lucky enough to wind up here, and we got lucky enough to have them! They are inspired to be here, and to stay here for more than just their career choice. If you’re interested in this path please be in touch. Find information on SPL instructor positions at https://strathconaparklodge.com/jobs/
What keeps people here
The Lodge is a community built of like minded people, it is set outside of the oldest provincial park in BC, breathtaking Strathcona Park, and it is a family run business that is committed to it’s values – check them out here https://strathconaparklodge.com/our-story/values/.
I can personally speak to the values as being a large reason I came back into the Chief Instructor position after working here as an instructor 8 years previously. I had experienced different jobs, different bosses, and a couple different career paths as well as a lot of world travel. The idea of working for a company that I KNEW stuck to their values, values I felt inspired by, felt like a really good idea. I guess you might be able to tell that I am happy with my decision. Over the years these are some of the comments I’ve heard from Instructors say that help solidify that feeling and that I remember feeling myself:
“I don’t get the feeling like I am replaceable, I feel valued as an employee”
“I’ve never been amongst so many genuine people, it felt like you could be friends with anyone from any department. There weren’t any cliques.”
“I feel like I’m actually making a difference, everything I’ve done in life is coming together in this job”
“I learn more about myself every season I return”
“I’m learning to show up as my genuine self and that I don’t have to be like anyone else, that myself is enough. I’m letting go of this ideal of being perfect which is allowing me to release a lot of my anxiety and stress.”
These comments plus endless stories of watching students push themselves into challenging situations, experiencing success and coming out stronger for it. Building that connection with themselves, feeling trust between each other, and not being so afraid or ignorant towards what challenges and joys nature can bring.
What really keeps instructors here is not just their own personal growth, but inspiring that growth in others. There is a quote from the book “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an Indigenous author and scientist and professor of environmental biology. After she teaches her students how to harvest spruce roots and they start discussing how to repay Mother Earth for her gifts, “This is our work, to discover what we can give. Isn’t this the purpose of education, to learn the nature of your own gifts and how to use them for good in the world?”. We take so much from the earth- so doesn’t it make sense that it feels good to show gratitude by teaching others how to connect with her too?
What a world we live in these days, a place that isn’t always inspiring, especially in times of a global pandemic, epic fires and floods, increasing death records due to drug use, extinctions of animals on the daily, battles to save our Old Growth!! But this place IS inspiring! It is a place where you feel like you are making a difference. Inspiring resilience in adversity, inspiring cooperation amongst those who might not choose to be friends at school, building strength where they thought they were weak, creating awareness where there was ignorance. We get to witness the power of experiential education amongst nature at its finest. The amount of times I hear teachers say “Wow, I did not expect that kid to do that well here,” shows that not only are we changing the students’ expectations of themselves, but also, the expectations of others towards them – in a really positive way. Every time I see a group of students arrive back after they have been out on their camping trip their energy is different – more excited, more connected. It kind of feels like magic.
Who can create these magic moments?
I imagine that maybe you have a picture in your head of what an outdoor instructor is like. Some of their characteristics, like genuine, adventurous, compassionate, kind; or some of their clothing choices, all synthetic, wool, rubber, gortex, and geared out to the max (most items patched or stained of course); or what they look like, super fit, youthful, messy (maybe a little greasy) hair? In my opinion so far, this is a fairly accurate picture. What isn’t described here is the differences. Some are extremely outgoing and loud, some are soft spoken and a bit more introverted. All are able to gain respect and build rapport through their own approach to leadership. They can be any gender, any race, of any sexual orientation, and any size. As long as they can do the job, successfully and safely (physically and emotionally), all are welcome in this industry.
My hope moving forward is that we receive a wider range of applicants to be able to represent a more global and inclusive picture. It is the uniqueness of each instructor that provides a new and exciting experience each time a student, teacher or guests comes out to the lodge.
Education is not linear
This place isn’t perfect- and I really wouldn’t want to set that expectation. What this place is, is always willing and open to learn and grow. If we ever thought that we were perfect, then where do you go from there? If you beat yourself up for not being perfect then you are less willing to ask for help when it is needed. I try to inspire that perspective in the instructors here. Ask for help when you need it, admit when you have made a mistake, and reflect on what you have learned from that experience. We are not the ‘know it all’, ‘super badass’, ‘always ready for anything’ humans that you may envision us to be (maybe sometimes?). In reality, we have things to learn too. Reflection and discussion are the main ways to recognize the learning and growth that you or your students have experienced, as well as the learning and growth in yourself!
All the feels
I’m really looking forward to my next adventure as a mom. I’m grateful to be in a place that reminds me daily how special this world is, how lucky we are to live here, and how amazing the people are that are in it. I’m excited to use Mother Nature as my co-facilitator in educating my child. I’m excited for all of the next Outdoor Educators to fill this place next season and continue to make this world a better place.
Allie Nassichuk, Manager of Instructional Staff