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Instructor Effectiveness

Staff Selection in Outdoor Education

James Neill
Last updated:
02 Aug 2004


Staff are needed to make outdoor education work, that is, staff who are mature and knowledgeable enough to know what they are doing and do it well.  There are always more job applications than there are instructor positions available.  This is because a great number of unsuited people apply, with enormous enthusiasm and often a great deal of good will.  The challenge for staff managers is to have a sound enough understanding of the outdoor education process (and employment processes) that they select staff with the potential to be trained as effective instructors, and not to make staff decisions based on personal whim, bias, or misunderstanding of what is needed.  Of course there is also the responsibility of the staff applicant and new instructor to find out about this profession, what skills and abilities are needed, and further their own development to be the best instructor they can possibly be.

A key issue then for an outdoor organization is about the most effective procedures for selection of outdoor education instructors.  This remains one of the least investigated and perhaps weaker aspects in outdoor education organizations around the world.  How can an organization attract and motivate the best possible applications -- and then how can they select and train the most appropriate people?  As Hendy (1975) points out:

It is dysfunctional to hire senior high school teachers who understand youth, but who lack advanced outdoor education skills; it is dysfunctional to hire outdoors people who have no rapport with youth; it is dysfunctional to hire leaders and adventurers with no feel for education; it is dysfunctional to hire outstanding climbers and canoeists with no empathy for the poorly coordinated and the weak, for lifeís perpetual drop-outs and for those who give their utmost but who fail to achieve their objective.

Yet it is essential that organizations find out about the staff qualities that will best help them fulfill the organizationís mission.  Otherwise it is difficult to select such staff or to train them in particular skills.