Top 5 Things I’ve Learnt From My Students (v.2)

by Bree Arnott

Kia Ora Whānau

Joni Here.  I’m back again with my yearly blog post! You may remember that I wrote a blog about ‘The things that I’ve learnt from students as an instructor’ where I reflected on the work of 2018. I wrote about how lucky I was to help facilitate growth in our amazing young people and about the learning that I had as an individual through our rangatahi. The key learnings that came up for me last year were:

  1. Connection to individuals is paramount to growth
  2. There is always more in us than we know
  3. The importance of pausing to appreciate our environment and people
  4. Good food equates to happiness
  5. That the students of Whenua Iti are the future compassionate leaders of New Zealand

While reflecting back, I see how these points have all transformed my instruction style and programme delivery. I am now spending time looking back on 2019. I remain blown away by the calibre of young people that walk through our doors each week and the exponential potential that all of them hold. I reflect on the amazing new memories, beautiful new places and great new connections, but importantly my continued growth as I learn how to balance an in-the-field job with normal life duties/commitments. I feel truly privileged to work at Whenua Iti and support the kaupapa to facilitate positive change in individuals and communities.

Here are the five things that I have taken away from 2019 and the people I have met along the way:

1. Our schools need to celebrate and acknowledge different types of intelligence

Students come to Whenua Iti with the aim to learn something new and gain some credits along the way. Sometimes these students are challenged by the emphasis on reading, writing and reciting information within school and struggle to thrive in an environment that doesn’t foster their creativity, passion and imagination.

I am often reminded that intelligence is not one dimensional when the same student who needed help to spell ‘karabiner’ also creates a shelter that would withstand a week-long storm or spends thirty minutes enchanting a group of strangers as they tell the stories from local Māori history.

The students who often succeed the most in the outdoors are students who arrive saying ‘I’m not very smart’, ‘I really need credits’ and ‘I’ll probably leave school soon’. They arrive at Whenua Iti deflated with the belief that they are not intelligent because they don’t succeed and are not acknowledged for the other amazing skills that they possess that can’t be written or read about.

The school system fails our young people. We need to uplift them by acknowledging their strengths so we can support them to be become imaginative, creative and practical learners.

If you’re a student then we’ve probably had this conversation. Keep doing you, stick it out at school & I look forward to seeing where your talents lead you.

2. People need to learn through their own experiences

This is a normal conversation for me as an instructor (Special hello to the students who are reading this and can relate). Picture this. We’ve just got back to our base camp. We’ve been mountain biking all day. There have been showers all day but the snacks are out and the students finally have free time to get changed after a long day out.

I’m drinking a late afternoon coffee and having a short sit down. A student (clearly distressed) walks towards me.

Student: ‘Jonnniiii! Everything in my tent is wet!!’

Me: ‘Aw damn, what happened?’

Student: ‘I don’t know! But My sleeping bag is saturated and all my clothes are damp!’

Me: ‘Yeah, that’s not great but why do you think that is?’

Student: *thinks, stares. ‘uhh because it was raining today?’

Me: ‘Yuuup.. Why did your stuff get wet?’

Student: ‘Cause someone left the tent door open…’

Me: ‘Aaaand.. what are you going to do tomorrow?’

Student: ‘Ughh. Make sure the door is closed before we leave…’

No matter how many times I tell a student. Someone has to get a wet tent before they check the door before they leave and it applies to every learning that a student leaves us with. Experiential learning is the most powerful.

Next year I’ll tell you about the snack conversation.

3. If you believe you can, you can!

I sometimes hear students say ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I’m not very good at this’ when they are faced with a challenge. It is so hard to hear these limiting beliefs when you can see the strength of the individual and the success that they could achieve if they put those limits to rest.

You can do it but you need to believe it first.


You may not be good at something now but keep going and you eventually will be.

4. The transformative power of the whenua

As instructors we spend an enormous amount of time in the natural world and use outdoor activities as the vehicle for positive change in the young people who we work with. The whenua speaks for itself and is more powerful than any words I could use.  I can think of so many situations where a student’s world view can be shaped by the experiences that leave students silent in awe. The most memorable examples for 2019 have been sitting on the top of knuckle hill with a group of students as we watch the sunrise and 9 rowdy teenage, adventure therapy boys are reduced to minutes of silence as they watch the day start or joining 12 adventure tourism students gleefully splashing around at 8.30pm in the ocean as it’s pouring with torrential rain but mesmerised by the phosphorescence as it illuminates the ocean.

If you don’t understand the power of the natural world then please organise a time to visit us so we can show you.

If you don’t understand the power of the natural world then please organise a time to visit us so we can show you.

5. Te Tau Ihu is lucky to have Whenua Iti

I may be biased but I truly believe that Whenua Iti is an absolute taonga in Te Tau Ihu. I feel lucky to work at a place that’s mission is to inspire positive change in individuals and communities and for a place that executes it.

I think our point of difference is that we keep our students safe but all of our staff are genuinely motivated about extending a person to facilitate their growth. We often have chats about individual students which are filled with compliments on their character, observations and also hopes for their development. We all look forward to working with the students who join us and the sacrifice that most staff make by working away from their families speaks for itself.

Whenua Iti is an organisation that is responsible for true transformative change in young people. I see it every week and it is so nice that there’s a place for the students who are not currently fitting into the traditional school system and giving them somewhere where they can thrive.


Anyway, that’s my yearly reflection for 2019. This year has gone incredibly fast and has been filled with a huge variety of programmes. We’re heading full steam into the last term with more day light hours and higher intolerance to the classic ham wrap. I’m looking forward to swimming temperatures, predictable sea breezes and getting into it all with a tonne of energy to get more students into nature and have a whole lot of fun doing so.

Thanks for reading and hope to see you around base sometime soon.

If you are or have been a student at Whenua Iti, keep shining.

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