Shawn Moriarty, Moose Hill’s Education Coordinator and Camp Director, recently attended the Un-Conference in Colorado. Curious as to what that is? Read on and learn from Shawn!
My name is Shawn Moriarty and I am the Education Coordinator and Camp Director at Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary. Recently I attended a three day event in Broomfield Colorado called the NCCPS-The Un-Conference (formerly National Challenge Course Practitioners Symposium). I have been going to this conference fairly regularly since 2002 and have been there 15 times since 2002. This year, not only was I an attendee, I was also the Master of Ceremonies for the gathering.
This conference is rather unique in a couple of ways. First, it is run almost entirely in the framework of Open Space. And secondly, it draws people from a wide range of backgrounds and professions. Open Space Technology is based upon work by Harrison Owen. The basic concept is that most of the conference is not created before the event actually starts. At NCCPS, the morning contains a brief 30 minute welcoming session to get people going for the day, followed by a 1-3 hour planning and organizing session to build the conference, and then some sessions. After lunch there are more sessions, dinner, and finally an optional evening program. On Saturday we end with a 2-3 hour sounding, or closing session, where people can speak about their experience at this conference.
This year there were about 130 people in attendance. The number of participants fluctuates each year from about 130-190, so this year was a little smaller, but no less dynamic. There were high school students from a school in Denver that have an adventure based learning program at their school, therapists, corporate trainers, teachers, camp professionals, recreation specialists, professors, people from faith based programs, and environmental educators.
As the Master of Ceremonies, I ran the morning sessions where I brought people through a series of activities to get the brains and bodies moving and warmed up. Because we have both returning and first time participants, the activities provide a period of connection before content. These morning sessions have a mix of low and high energy to allow people to transition from their arrival to the conference space to getting into the learning of the day. I also facilitated and lead 2 fun evening events: Stay and Play, and The Talent Show. Stay and Play is an opportunity to come and play and/ or teach games with a goal of…playing. The best part is that often one game leads people to teach their own variation of that game. Time flies fast, and is filled with laughter. The Talent Show had jokes, poems, readings, a Taiko performance, original songs, and dancing. A nice evening of sharing skills and talents.
The process of creating the sessions for the conference begins with people stating the needs they have where they are looking for solutions. It could be anything from new activities, to safety concerns, to a new job. This lets people reach out and allows the community to know what people need. Opportunities for people with skills or backgrounds that might be able to help a need mentioned can connect directly with the individuals who are looking for that help. It also begins to build the ideas for session. Keep in mind that there are people who are brand new to this field of experiential education and folks who have been doing it for nearly 40 years. There are published authors in the group and people who frequently attend several national and international conference as presenters, as well as high school students. A wonderful range of people and backgrounds.
For me, it is always a joy to attend NCCPS and rewarding in a multitude of ways. I always get to reconnect with old friends, meet new people, learn new things and offer at least one session. This year I ran 2 sessions. The first was called Mindfulness through Nature Connection. In this session we shared thoughts on what mindfulness is, and several methods on developing it by engaging with the natural world. My second session was called Connection before Content. It focused on techniques to build connection between people in a group before you delve into delivering your content. In addition, I also lead a plenary session with 2 therapists, a corporate trainer, and a brain scientist on what we called Radical Empathy. Leading up to the conference, I had been talking with the hosts of the conference, Tom and Jen Leahy, about how to address the need for facilitators of groups to be more aware of the emotional and physical issues that they may or may not be aware of in the groups they work with. We wanted to look at how facilitators can be empathetic to people in their groups when they are working with them. We know that people might have gone through traumatic events in their past, they might not feel safe in their communities because of their age, gender identification, religious beliefs, political affiliation, or ethnicity. At this conference we work hard to create a space where every person can feel safe and welcome to speak their truth. It was a dynamic and rewarding session which lead to 2 other session being created to delve deeper into aspects of leading with radical empathy.
NCCPS is all about process. Exploring how to guide people through processes, and going through the process of creating a conference. And this year for me, there was an additional process. A tradition at NCCPS is to offer a gift of some sort, usually a book. I had my first book, Ropes of Ecology, published in October of last year, but it was not a broad enough topic for this group. So, in three weeks, I created and then self-published a book of readings called Around the Campfire for the conference. It was a tight turn around. The printed books arrived the day before the conference, and I had not actually seen the printed version before I arrived in Colorado. I think they came out alright!
On Tuesday, April 2, join me for an interactive talk from 7-8:30 pm at Moose Hill, touching on some of the concepts presented at this conference and to learn more about ropes of ecology: connecting people to nature, community, and place. Both my books, Ropes of Ecology and Around the Campfire, will be on-hand to view and for purchase. I look forward to sharing more about my work with you!
Shawn also works with schools, groups, and companies both large and small on Team-building and Community-building programming. To learn more about how you can learn to take time-out from your daily routine to focus on what makes your group work more effectively towards your goals, you can contact Shawn at 781-784-5691. Every program is custom-tailored to your needs and can focus on topics such as leadership, communication, planning, problem solving, and conflict resolution.