Outdoor Educator Course
Gain the skills to work and teach in the outdoors
Our Outdoor Educator Course is a perfect opportunity for aspiring outdoor educators, park rangers, trail crew leaders, or other outdoor professionals! Venture into federally designated Wilderness areas, rock climb on Southwest sandstone, watch the sunset from glacial cirques and desert mesas. This course utilizes a mix of technical training and assessment as well as interpersonal skills development workshops to share risk management techniques, group development theories, and reflect on your own role in the outdoors. Through this course, you’ll learn the skills necessary for facilitating meaningful outdoor experiences for a wide variety of participants in the backdrop of the American Southwest while backpacking, camping, and exploring the natural world. No previous wilderness or teaching experience is required.
The beginning of the course will be a backpacking trip in the Pecos Wilderness. The Pecos is a rugged natural environment, home to expansive ponderosa pine forests, alpine lakes, and granite-topped peaks. We’ll cover packing a backpack, camp craft, time management, and navigation, as well as Leave No Trace ethics of wilderness travel, risk management in the backcountry, and techniques for teaching these skills to participants. In addition, we’ll use our time in the Pecos to conduct scientific inquiry and create art in the natural world while learning how to teach these skills to many kinds of participants.
We will spend the second week frontcountry camping across central New Mexico and learning a variety of adventure based activities. Learn about group development challenges while at a rock climbing crag, challenging participant behaviors while a mountain biking, and conflict resolution tools between participants while summiting a local peak. There will also be ample opportunities for honing your science and art facilitation skills while you learn new techniques from your co-educators. The week will finish with time to reflect during a solo experience at the Cottonwood Gulch Base Camp in Western New Mexico.
The third week is a chance for you—and your cohort—to truly shine! You will design a backpacking trip of the group’s choosing in one of the National Forests of New Mexico. Your group will all of your newfound skills to the test and plan a 4 day backcountry trip from start to finish. You—and your peers—will be challenged with more ownership and decision making while our facilitators take a back-seat role. During this portion of the course, we’ll dive deeper into risk management in the backcountry, practice off-trail navigation skills, and give everyone the chance to practice facilitating an activity of their choice for the rest of the group.
Finally, we’ll end the program with a group reflection of the program, one on one debriefs with participants, and a celebratory dinner at the Cottonwood Gulch Base Camp in Thoreau. Building skills, sharing teaching techniques, and getting to know the ins and outs of outdoor education are some of the goals of this course—along with personal growth, laughter around campfires, and expanding each of our educational “toolboxes.”
COVID-19 Considerations: during the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe outdoor education is more essential than ever. However, we have limited opportunities to work with grade-school students in person, so we are dedicating resources to training a new generation of outdoor education professionals. We have created strict protocols to minimize the risk to individuals during the pandemic while still creating a valuable professional development opportunity for our participants.
Backpacking: Backpacking allows you to get to more remote places than where you can walk to in a single day. You carry everything you need—shelter, food, clothing, and gear—to be out for a period of several days. At times, you may travel off trail, making navigation and route finding critical components of a successful trip. The simplicity of hiking every day allows for both ample time for focus on inner thoughts as well as getting to know others through talking, singing, and playing games.
Frontcountry: In contrast to backpacking, which happens in the backcountry, frontcounty camping is done in places that can be accessed by a car. This style of camping allows for more amenities than backcountry camping like a larger stove, cooler for dairy and fresh veggies, more musical instruments, etc.
Mountain Biking: Mountain biking is a wonderful way to experience Southwestern ecosystems. You’ll learn how to properly size a bike, helmet fitting and use, complete a pre-ride assessment, and assist with a day of mountain biking for participants.
Rock Climbing: Rock climbing is a great opportunity to challenge oneself. Contrary to popular belief, upper body strength is not the main predictor of an effective climber. We’ll focus on body movement and mechanics as a way to overcome the physical challenge as well as strategies for overcoming mental challenge. We will cover basic climbing techniques, helmet and harness fitting and use, belaying, tying knots, rope handling, and setting up top-rope anchors. Though the focus of the rock climbing portion of the course is not to certify participants as climbing instructors, you will walk away with a foundation in climbing as well as an understanding of how to co-facilitate a climbing experience for a group.
Solo: An opportunity to spend time outdoors alone for a period of 2-24 hours. The length of solo during this course will depend on the group and the instructors’ assessment. Although it can be challenging, many people find that solo is a great opportunity to reflect and spend their time journaling, observing nature, doing art, etc. Those on solo will be provided the necessary food and gear for the duration of the experience.
Debrief: Debriefs are an integral part of the experiential learning cycle. In order to maximize learning and development, a debrief provides an opportunity for reflection on the knowledge, skills, and attitudes utilized during an experience. This allows for insight and recognition of resources that can be drawn on in future experiences and resources that need further development.
1:1 Meetings: You’ll have the opportunity to meet one on one with an instructor to discuss areas of strength and areas for growth as well as questions you may have about working and teaching in the outdoors. Following completion of the course, the instructors will write a letter of recommendation for each participant.
Weather: It can be challenging to live outside 24/7, regardless of the weather. In the Southwest, contrary to popular belief, it does rain (and hail, snow, etc.). It can be very windy at times, hot during the days, and thunderstorms do occur. The instructors are trained and will be training you to recognize how to manage risk posed by the weather.
Group Dynamics: It can be challenging to live in a small community 24/7 without much access to support networks outside of the group. We strive to foster a community free from racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and classism as they vastly undermine individuals’ ability to learn and feel belonging and success.
Wildlife: The Southwest is home to rattlesnakes, bears, mountain lions, and other insects and reptiles that can be harmful to humans. A part of being a successful outdoor leader in the Southwest is being aware of one’s surroundings and able to manage the risk posed by the wildlife.
Terrain: Some of the areas this course will travel in will be rough and rocky and the vegetation is often thorny, adding to the challenge.
Elevation: This course takes place between 5,000 and 12,000 feet above sea level. If you are not accustomed to physical exertion at elevation, the first few days to a week can be challenging. If you would like to talk further about the level of physical activity, please give us a call.
Personal Reflection: Part of this course will be taking opportunities for personal reflection, which can be challenging for some people. Some of these reflections will focus on identity issues and while you can always keep your reflections to yourself, you will be encouraged to share with the group. We believe that reflection is an integral piece of the experiential learning cycle and that being able to facilitate personal reflections is a skill of an excellent outdoor educator.
Dates: September 19th, 2020-October 9th, 2020
Minimum group size: 9* (In multiple small groups to abide by NMDOH group size restrictions)
Maximum group size: 15* (In multiple small groups to abide by NMDOH group size restrictions)
Activities: On and off trail hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, rock climbing
Elevation range: 5,000 feet to 12,000 feet
Average pack weight: 40 to 50 lbs.
Course starts and ends: Albuquerque, New Mexico*
*New Mexico residents strongly encouraged to apply. Out of state travelers may be required to quarantine before the course begins.
Full cost of program: $2750, sliding scale available, please apply no matter your financial situation
- Group development and facilitation
- Risk assessment and management
- Emergency management
- Art and science instruction in an outdoor classroom
- Backpacking instruction
- Wilderness adventure facilitation
- Wilderness First Aid (may be an option immediately following course)
Day 1-2 Teambuilding, prepare for backpacking by packing food and equipment
Day 3-6 Pecos Wilderness Backpacking
Day 7-12 Wilderness adventure activities (caving, day hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing)
Day 13-14 Solo
Day 15 Prepare for backpacking by taking care of gear, packing food and equipment, and route planning
Day 16-20 Backpacking trip of the group’s choosing
Day 21 Debrief, 1:1 meetings, celebratory dinner
Day 22-23 Wilderness First Aid (may be an optional add on)