Voices of Zhenghua

Letting the Mountains Speak for Themselves

In the 1960's, Rusty Baillie, at the Colorado Outward Bound School, coined the term "Let the Mountains Speak for Themselves". He was reacting to the tension in Outdoor Education (OE) between letting an outdoor experience simply be as opposed to facilitating it. I was aware of this term but had always believed in helping students to process and verbalise their thoughts via facilitation techniques.

In our school, the Secondary Threes undergo OE as part of their Physical Education curriculum. The module aims to equip students with SEL competencies of which Social Awareness and Relationship Management are the focus of paired activities. When I first discovered that I was to take a particular 3T class through their OE module, I was skeptical of how much I would be able to teach them about SEL.

As anticipated, the first few sessions were really just about managing safety and behaviours. Although we were progressing well in terms of skills learnt, I was still unsure if the objectives behind the activities had been met. As the module drew to a close with the orienteering lessons, the students had to form pairs and locate identified checkpoints around the school.

In the group, there was Damien, the “big brother” of the class. At the opposite end, there was also the meek and inadequate Shafiq who was often mocked at and ostracized by all the other boys. By some divine twist of fate, both Damien and Shafiq were unable to find partners that lesson. Therefore, I paired them up despite vehement protests and death threats from Damien. He kept making comments on how he was better off on his own and how Shafiq would only be a liability. Once the race kicked off, Damien ran off ahead with Shafiq struggling to catch up.

However, when they reported to me after the first check point, it was clear that Damien’s strengths did not lie in map reading or figuring out clues. Slowly, the situation transformed. Shafiq became the leader and Damien, prisoner to his prideful nature and competitive streak, was forced to follow Shafiq’s lead in order to try and win the race. All the other classmates soon noticed the oddity of the situation and realized the reversal of roles.

Eventually, Damien and Shafiq came in second and during the facilitation segment at the end of the lesson, I simply asked Damien what their “winning strategy” was. He bashfully conceded that Shafiq had been the one leading all the way and it must have been evident as the rest of the class nodded in agreement or shouted praise for Shafiq. From the look on their faces, I knew that the experience was something everyone was going to remember for awhile and no facilitation was needed.

For the remainder of the OE lessons, Damien was different around Shafiq. Although they were still not friends, Shafiq was no longer at the receiving end of Damien’s nasty comments. Damien left Shafiq alone and Shafiq walked a little taller amongst his peers. There seemed to be some sort of unspoken respect between the two. It was the day the mountains spoke for themselves.

Sherlyn Goh