A personal update on my apprentice journey

There are possibly three reasons why I am writing this particular blog at this particular stage of my apprentice journey. Firstly, as a bit of a pep talk to myself. I’m certain we have all hit that proverbial speed bump whether it’s in our education, career, or family life. Something that slows you down, frustrates you, gets in the way and leads to doubt and questions as to whether, or not, you will ever achieve the goal that you have set for yourself.

The second reason is for my fellow apprentices on this journey, that they may take something from it, to know they may experience the same thing, and that’s OK. In another life I was a business coach, and the old saying “winners never quit, and quitters never win” comes to mind.

And finally for Woodland Ways customers and potential customers, to gain an insight into the time and effort the Woodland Ways Instructors have put into learning their craft, because you never know where that course you book will lead you, many of the instructors and apprentices started as a customer. It was how I started. An Advanced Bushcraft Weekend Course, followed by the two-year Woodland Wayer, which gives an amazing understanding of the diversity that is within the subject of bushcraft. Completion of that course alone gives a greater knowledge than many in the industry that call themselves Bushcraft Instructors, but for Woodland Ways, that is just one of the starting points to join the instructors apprenticeship.

Sycamore camp cooking

A little background information in respect to what it means to be part of the Woodland Ways Instructor Apprenticeship. The initial goal to become an instructor is to deliver the Woodland Ways Bushcraft Weekend. There are 18 different sessions from welcoming the customers on the Friday evening to finally waving them off on Sunday. (Plus, there is your first aid qualification, risk assessments and all the pre- and post- course administration to learn that makes a course run smoothly and safely).

Each of those 18 sessions is observed by the apprentice multiple times with different instructors, notes taken, extra research, reading around the subject and practiced by the apprentice until they feel ready to go for “sign-off”. It is not a case of, can I just practice in front of the customers? Every session delivered by an apprentice must be with the confidence that they will get everything right and be signed-off by the observing instructor. When you have been signed-off on a session, then you can deliver that session to customers without further observation, although that does happen, and feedback given on how to improve. Continuous professional development is part of life for every member of the team.

It doesn’t always happen that the apprentice gets a sign-off, and they will get what we call a deferral, along with some constructive feedback. In the words of Barry Hammick, Head of Courses, “there will always be that magical ingredient in session delivery that can’t be documented and if it’s missing from the session, it will always be a deferral, even if every box is ticked.”

Here’s my update and hitting that speed bump. I have been signed-off on 8 out of the 18 sessions and as I have delivered those sessions many times, I am getting more and more confident. My nemesis has become the Water Session, having been deferred three times. The first time, Barry was observing, very positive feedback but, excusing the pun, I was told the water session didn’t “flow”, part of those magical ingredients!! Some hints and tips on how to improve, along with one thing questioned on afterwards. Within each session there are things that MUST be included, forget one of those and it’s an immediate deferral and the observing instructor will cover it for the customers. Then there are things that SHOULD be included, if you forget one (we are human after all) then that’s OK. And then there are those things that are NICE to include, if time allows. I had missed one of those that should have been included – that the water filter/pumps discussed do NOT remove the salt from sea water, you need to distil sea water. When questioned about it afterwards by Barry, I didn’t know for certain, but thought the pumps could remove the salt, so an error in my learning, duly corrected.

My next session, I was given a round of applause from the customers, so thought it had gone well. But again, it was a deferral on that magical ingredient, the flow, it was felt that I was having to think / search for the information about making water safe to drink. And let’s face it, that is what the session is all about! Maybe the round of applause was in recognition that I got the right information across, but it was a struggle.

My poor dog has had to listen to me going over the water session every time we go for a walk for weeks.

Luna in grass

I was feeling confident to go for it again, so much so I lined up to go for the Bladed Tool Safety brief the same weekend. Comment from the observing instructor on that one, “Awesome, probably the best I’ve seen that session done” so I was confident going into the Water Session. Well, nothing like coming down to Earth with a bump, I felt it was a complete disaster. We do encourage customers to ask questions, on this occasion I think it was the fourth or fifth question just threw me. That “flow” was gone. I had this nagging feeling I’d missed something, but I continued to go through the process of filtration of different particulates and the pathogens that need to be removed or killed to make water safe to drink. Let’s just say I got myself well and truly confused, tongue-tied, over what was a parasite, a bacteria, or a virus. But in my defence, and before the observing instructor had to step in, I paused, apologised to the group, joked about needing a sip of water, had a drink and restarted that part session and did deliver the information correctly in the end. Obviously, another deferral, and the thing that I thought I had forgotten, that was nagging me, was only one of those NICE things that I like to include as part of the story. It was a big learning curve, there is a difference between learning something just so you remember it to be able to deliver it and really knowing your subject. (More information on making water safe to drink can be found here).

Having had to focus more of my time this year to the water session I have found myself getting very frustrated that I have not progressed further with other sessions and towards my goal. I had set out at the beginning of the year to get signed off on six more sessions, and have only achieved one. But the team at Woodland Ways are great, extremely supportive (Read Kya’s experience of that here). We are all on this journey, some parts we find easy, others more difficult, and that varies for each of us. One thing, it is not a race, and another thing, is not to compare yourself with others.

I am not scheduled to be on a course where I can deliver the water session again until next year, so I have the winter to have a bit of a reset, review my notes, read around the subject further and embed that learning to turn it into knowledge, rather than just something I can (or cannot!) repeat.

The apprenticeship is not easy, but when in life is something that is truly rewarding and fulfilling ever easy?

Forage Instructing

A comment a customer made on a recent Autumn Forage course has helped pull me back on track. In contradiction of what I said earlier about an apprentice only delivers a session if they are confident, they can be signed-off, foraging is slightly different. The instructor and apprentice can share the delivery of information about the plants on a forage. If nothing else, it saves the customers having to listen to the same voice all day. Also, it is such a massive subject, to get a few plants under your belt at a time is a sensible approach. As we were eating the meal the customers had foraged and prepared, one lady said to me “You don’t come across as if you are still learning.” (Thank you, Jenny, that meant a lot!)


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