ERIC Identifier: ED296811
Publication Date: 1988-03-00
Author: Kielsmeier, James C.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Las Cruces NM.
Outdoor Centers and Camps: A 'Natural' Location for Youth
Leadership Development. ERIC Digest.
Instead of moving steadily to full adult responsibilities, many young adults
are caught in an isolated, relatively unproductive period of life where little
is expected of them except to prepare for the next, more useful stage. Such
youngsters often perceive adults not as allies but as judgmental barriers to
progress. Recent studies conducted in Minnesota and Chicago revealed that most
high school students in these two places felt adults had a negative view of
Although not the prevailing approach, there is a model which supports
"positive youth development" as a means of engaging alienated youth. Key to this
model is the need to treat young people as resources and leaders in the
community rather than as afflictions requiring treatment. Young people, in this
approach, are asked to serve on community boards, to design service projects,
and to play a more active role in the governance of their schools.
With interest growing in this style of youth development, a demand has been
created for leadership training to prepare youth for expanded community roles.
Camps and outdoor programs are well positioned to play an increasingly important
part in offering youth leadership programs appropriate to this newfound interest
area. This digest offers a framework for designing programs which utilize an
outdoor setting as a "leadership classroom."
ADULT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
Creating a youth leadership program in an outdoor setting requires some
understanding of leadership theory. Unfortunately, most of the literature has
been developed around business or military applications.
Leadership theorists typically categorize leaders on the basis of how they
accomplish tasks and/or how they arrive at positions where they can perform the
tasks. A typical leadership education course involves review of existing
leadership theories, personal assessment using instruments like the Myers-Briggs
personality inventory, simulations or case studies, time for personal
reflection, and opportunity for personal feedback.
Most adults who participate in leadership education are either already viewed
as leaders or are slated to assume positions of responsibility. However, for
young people entering a leadership course, there often is not the same sense of
destiny or personal expectation. Although some young people view themselves as
being able to make a contribution later in life, few see themselves as valued
current contributors to society. Leadership remains a distant, vague concept
applicable perhaps to sports teams and school clubs, but not to larger contexts
where it would make a difference.
A new way of viewing the world is necessary if young people are to break away
from their stagnant assumptions and accept vital responsible roles where they
can assume and exercise leadership. Camps and outdoor programs can become
communities where this transformation can begin.
YOUTH LEADERSHIP: A TRANSFORMATION PROCESS
Helping youth break out of self-imposed and socially reinforced restraints
and move into active leadership roles requires a carefully designed educational
process. Particular attention must be given to underrepresented groups such as
people of color and women who, at an early age, are often "traced" away from
leadership roles. These youth stand to gain particular benefits from leadership
education as they confront barriers of race and gender and learn to influence
others in addressing these barriers.
Community. At the heart of creating a youth leadership program in an outdoor
setting is the shaping of a supportive community. Key elements are:
Staff. Staff should mirror the ethnic and gender diversity of the students.
There is no clearer message to underrepresented groups than the example of staff
with whom they can identify. Staff should also represent, through their life
experience, a commitment to leadership in some area. Active, confident leaders
whose character and skills exemplify the ideals of the program should conduct
the program. This is the key ingredient in building community.
Setting. An isolated camp or wilderness setting where distractions from the
outside are minimal is ideal. The physical setting should represent a dramatic
contrast from the everyday world in which young people live.
Scheduling. Intensity is more important than length of experience. Many
effective residential program models are between 7 and 10 days in length.
However, the degree to which participants are fully engaged in the program is a
better predictor of program success than length. The model of the 24-hour
extended wilderness experience can be applied to the leadership camp setting
through careful program design. Effective programs often go from dawn to dusk,
with every element (morning conditioning to evening speakers) integrated to
relate to the goals of the program. Learning theorists reinforce this emphasis,
suggesting that degree of intrinsic motivation and involvement on the part of
the student are the key variables in learning.
Program design. The National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC), a national
non-profit organization dedicated to developing service-oriented youth leaders,
has identified four key elements essential to a youth leadership development
program in an outdoor setting. These elements form the core framework for
curriculum development. Later, specific activity modules will be added to the
frame to complete a program design.
Revisioning. Young people must see themselves and be seen by adults as
important contributors to community development--in contrast to how youth are
Empowerment. Young people must further begin to perceive themselves as
powerful. This is accomplished through guided participation in acts of
leadership, citizenship, and community service. When young people realize that
they can have constructive impact upon the environment and other people, it
becomes possible for them to feel empowered. It is, after all, powerlessness,
not power, which corrupts.
Action. Young people have not learned leadership until they have carried
significant responsibility on their own. Once they are viewed as being able to
lead and know that they are capable, they must enter the arena of leadership by
initiating a project or by providing direction to a group.
Reflection. An act of leadership, once taken, should be judiciously processed
or reflected upon. As John Dewey, one of America's foremost educational
philosophers, emphasized; "Learning is thinking about experience." Consolidation
of learning through intentional reflective activity is essential if
understandings and competencies are to be transferred to other settings.
Program components. The evolution of the NYLC Youth Leadership model began
with analysis of contexts where young people have historically been called to
lead: war, athletics, and the arts. All are settings demanding an element of
stressful performance preceded by intense, directed training.
Challenge--physical and/or intellectual--is central to each. Training is
experiential or "hands on." Outcomes are clear and consequential.
Isolated, residential outdoor centers or camps are ideal for youth leadership
training. Using the sequence suggested earlier, specific outdoor activities can
be creatively blended into an effective youth leadership training program.
Outlined are learning modules which have proved particularly successful in NYLC
leadership training. Also indicated are the design elements the modules reflect.
Moral and ethical simulations (Revisioning, Empowerment, Action, Reflection).
Moral dilemmas have a tendency to draw out leaders or challenge them to emerge.
NYLC has created day-long simulations using canoes and lengthy overland travel.
Themes can be built in to add interest. An all-night adventure has been created,
for example, to simulate Black people escaping the South and traveling the
Underground Railroad during the 1850s. Everyone has a role, and discussion gets
hot after spending all night in the woods as slaves and slave catchers.
Adventure challenge (Empowerment, Action). High-level physical challenge
activities, such as ropes courses, rock-climbing, and backpacking, have long
been associated with personal development. They are particularly useful in a
leadership course to help young people "see" themselves as capable and powerful.
Special emphasis should be on encouraging youth to play a role in leading/
facilitating others in the process as well as in experiencing the adventure
Community building (Revisioning, Empowerment, Action). Residential camps are
ideal for creating intentional communities where democratic leadership processes
can be used to develop a sense of community. Leadership courses should do more
than talk "about" leadership; they should demonstrate it by sharing community
responsibilities with young people.
Service learning (Revisioning, Empowerment, Action, Reflection). Leadership
and service should be thought of as cointentional goals in youth leadership
development. Service sites are settings where leadership skills can be
practiced. Service also becomes an ethical outcome, answering the question,
"Leadership for what?" Camps have plenty of program possibilities for guided
service projects. Physical projects can include trail construction, tree
planting, and facility renovation. Often neglected, but very successful, are
human service projects that use the leadership community as a base for ranging
out into the communities surrounding the camp. Performing arts groups for
example, have been sent out to conduct vaudeville shows for senior citizen
centers or teams of youth have gone to homes of elderly people to do maintenance
work. Reflection on these acts helps young leaders begin to see themselves as
valuable contributors to their own communities back home.
Performing arts (Revisioning, Empowerment, Action). In a leadership course,
performances should be taken seriously as important forms of expression that
have strong potential impact upon the presenters and the audience. Role-plays on
racism, cultural performances of dance and music, and street theatre with
political themes have been very effective in leadership courses. Revisioning is
encouraged through performance as young people become not only actors on the
camp stage, but presentors of important ideas and themes. Art also brings many
young people into an empowered new world of personal development--getting on
stage can be analogous to standing on the edge of a 150-foot rappel.
Action planning (Revisioning, Empowerment, Reflection). Secluded outdoor
settings are ideal for making plans for the application of leadership skills.
NYLC and other leadership organizations culminate their courses with planning
sessions which ask participants to envision projects they wish to take back
Action planning is a particularly effective reflection tool to help
leadership students consolidate skills learned during the course. As an
outgrowth of action planning, empowered teams of leadership students have
implemented projects to address problems such as homeless teens, refugee youth,
the drug culture in their schools, and many others.
YOUTH LEADERSHIP: A NEW CHALLENGE FOR OUTDOOR EDUCATION
In addition to providing an ideal environment for developing leaders for the
outdoors, the residential outdoor context is also appropriate as a classroom for
developing leadership capacities that can be applied beyond the outdoor setting.
Outdoor educators, in partnership with schools and community-based
organizations, can play an important role in shaping this timely educational
The most effective youth leadership projects combine an action-based,
intensive, outdoor experience with a continuum of community-based follow-through
activities. Caring adults working with youth at every stage are essential.
Programs which accentuate this goal include the National Youth Leadership
Council (St. Paul), Northeast Leadership Project (New York), International Youth
Leadership Conference (Martinsville, IN), Southwest Youth Leadership Project
(Santa Fe), Indian Youth Leadership Project (Pine Hill, NM), Youth Leadership
Council of Canada (Halifax), Khmer Youth Leadership Project (St. Paul), East Bay
Conservation Corps (Oakland, CA), American Youth Foundation (St. Louis), and
Leadership America (Dallas).
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Freire, Paulo. PEDAGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED. New York, NY: Seabury Press, 1968.
Greenleaf, Robert K. SERVANT AS LEADER. Newton Center, MA: Robert K.
Greenleaf Center, 1970.
Hall, McClellan, and James Kielsmeier. "Young People Take the Lead: Cherokee
Nation's Approach to Leadership." NEW DESIGNS FOR YOUTH DEVELOPMENT, May-June
Hedin, Diane, Kurt Hannes, and Rebecca Saito. "Youth Look at Themselves and
the World." MINNESOTA YOUTH POLL. Minneapolis, MN: Agricultural Experiment
Station, University of Minnesota, November 1985.
Kielsmeier, James. "National Leadership Conference: A Special Niche in the
Experiential Spectrum." CHILD AND YOUTH SERVICES, 4 (1982): 145-154.
Richards, Anthony. THE SAMARITAN ETHIC AND RESIDENTIAL CAMPING. Washington,
DC: American Educational Research Association, 1983. ED 242 486.
Smith, Victor A. EVALUATION OF PROJECT LEADERSHIP-SERVICE CONFERENCE. St.
Louis, MO: American Youth Foundation, 1981. ED 215 809.
Summers, James C., and Frederick A. Zeller. WEST VIRGINIA 4-H COMMUNITY
RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University, 1976. ED 155