New Instructor Training: Learning the Ropes

New Instructor Training: Learning the Ropes

by Abby Butterfield, RMP Marketing Intern 

The first weekend in June marks Rocky Mountain All Staff Training, where all of the Rocky Mountain Program (RMP) staff get together for annual updates and reminders before the summer gets into full-swing. For a third of the staff, however, training started three weeks prior. This season, RMP is welcoming thirty-seven new assistant instructors, interns, and logistics coordinators.

Joe was first introduced to COBS as a student in 2013. Last year, he was an intern for COBS and used his community of outdoor educators to develop his skills log. This year, he is back as an assistant instructor. He says the main difference between the intern and new instructor training programs is that the intern training program is meant to establish a foundation of the history, values, and philosophy of Outward Bound and give an introduction the means of achieving those outcomes. New instructor training is focused on achieving a high standard of competence in leading students safely on course.

All staff spend their first day gaining familiarity with our Leadville Mountain Center and learning the history of Kurt Hahn’s vision and how Outward Bound came to Colorado. With so many technical skills to cover, the new instructors took to the field shortly after while the interns stayed on base to learn about the logistics of planning and executing a course.

photo by Joe Kubis

The intern program offers a unique experience to the outdoor education industry as it emphasizes general understanding with the opportunity to gain mastery through mentorship. Bella came into intern training without much technical experience. This was no issue, as the trainers assured that the “firehose of information” would not need to be retained immediately. Interns are encouraged to use senior staff and written resources for help when needed. Bella leaned on this “safe, supportive environment” when she found herself on a slippery, snowy ridge during the field section of intern training. “I told our trainers, Ashley and Nate, I was pretty uncomfortable because going down was going to be even more slippery than going up.” Together, they assessed the safety of the elements and determined that Bella would be fine. “Ashley and Nate said I was safe here,” she thought, “If they think I’m okay to keep going, than I feel like I can keep going.”

The new instructors are expected to use training to learn how to transfer their personal experience into the ways that COBS teach. Managing the risk at a rock site, for example, may look different for a dozen adolescent students compared to climbing with a few experienced friends. To guarantee the continuity of standards of excellence, new instructors were assessed at the conclusion of each section of their field experience as Belay Pod Instructors and Advanced Top Rope Instructors. New instructors are also expected to have some teaching experience in addition to technical skills, although teaching outside is much different than a classroom setting. Instructor Jess says teaching outside involves more distractions and possibly student concerns that are more demanding because of the physical component.

photo by Ashley Saupe

Even while the expectations of technical experience are very different between assistant instructors and interns, both roles stress the importance of compassion for the student experience. Trainers frame lessons, such as climbing fixed lines, with their new instructors or interns in student roles so they can notice first-hand what it is like to be waiting in the cold or overstimulated by information and the wild setting. Intern Caroline found this to be the most helpful aspect of training. “Being a ‘student’ was helpful so to have a good understanding of what our students would be feeling in the field and ultimately help us relate to them better.”

Just as important of appreciating the student experience is continuing development. Both new instructors and interns taught lessons to their peers on simple, foundational skills such as compass navigation or fastening hitches. Giving, receiving, and integrating feedback is stressed at Outward Bound and was practiced at the end of each peer-led lesson. “Everyone left training with a list of things they can improve for the way they teach, lead, interact with others which was super helpful,” says instructor Jess.

Is training over? According to intern Caroline, “This was only the beginning of our training.” Similarly, instructor Max commented, “While there is still so much to learn, New Instructor Training has equipped me for a successful first season here in Colorado.” While training may focus on the technical proficiencies required on course, staff is well aware that there is so much to learn from the course and student experience itself.

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header photo by Ashley Saupe