A Mountain Classroom (AMCR): Creating a place for teens to flourish as leaders

December 1, 2018
Teens learning in AMCR's outdoor classroom
Teens learning in AMCR’s outdoor classroom

Through experiential learning in the outdoors, teens participating in the AMC’s A Mountain Classroom program have an opportunity to explore their own leadership styles alongside their peers. The skills and experiences obtained during their time at the AMC follows them back home and to school.

The foundation of teaching and learning about leadership skills is emotional safety. Students’ emotional safety is crucial to setting up a productive learning environment that allows space and capacity for sharing with peers, vulnerability, and being open to the learning process.

It is important to remember students come from a range of backgrounds, differing socioeconomic statuses and other factors that can impact their well-being. Some have supportive, stable home environments, while others have never had that experience. The same might apply to your participants, no matter their age.

How do AMCR educators set up students for a successful time learning about leadership?

  • Set the tone. Inform the group there will be times they will step out of their comfort zones.
  • Establish ground rules. Examples include: always being honest, declaring the learning space as a judgment free zone, and only hearing one voice at a time.
  • Explain challenge by choice. If a student decides that participating in an activity or sharing in a particular moment moves them out of discomfort and into panic, they can opt out.
  • Progressively build up to more challenging or emotionally riskier activities. It is important to start with introductory and fun team building activities to establish comfort and group acceptance.
  • Promote a balance of voices. All participants should listen and “share the air.”

5 Pillars provide the structure of leadership development for AMCR programs:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Communication
  3. Empathy
  4. Problem-solving
  5. Determination

Educators facilitate activities that challenge students on an individual and group level. They learn:

  1. More about themselves and what personal qualities are most important;
  2. To practice communicating both verbally and nonverbally;
  3. To explore the difference between empathy and sympathy;
  4. To work together as a cohesive team through challenging tasks; and
  5. When combined, what determination entails as a leader and member of a team.

When doing this work, how do AMCR educators decide what to teach and which pillar most pertains to students’ needs?

Schools and teachers planning a program with AMCR communicate with coordinators and educators to ensure they get a personalized experience. During a program, AMCR educators facilitate discussions, through debrief questions, to get a sense of what the students gained, to gauge the success of activities, and to provide time for reflection. In particular, AMCR educators want participants to recognize and think about how they can use their new knowledge moving forward, when they return to school and home. The goal is to facilitate constructive, experiential learning opportunities that are emotionally safe to help younger generations find their leadership voice. The hope is youth inspire themselves and their peers through this work.

How can you apply these lessons to your own leadership, especially if you work with youth?


A Mountain Classroom is one of the AMC’s many youth outdoor learning and leadership programs. We offer experiential programs to students in Ecology & Earth Science and Leadership Development & Teambuilding, as well as guided trips.  More information can be found at: http://www.outdoors.org/youth-programs/mountain-classroom/

Shannon Lowes is an experienced educator for the AMC’s A Mountain Classroom program, which is based out of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. She is most passionate about teaching youth, being outside, and dreaming of her future farm. Shannon has a Bachelor’s of Science in Biomedical Photographic Communications from Rochester Institute of Technology.

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Shannon Lowes

Shannon Lowes is an experienced educator for the AMC’s A Mountain Classroom program, which is based out of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. She is most passionate about teaching youth, being outside, and dreaming of her future farm. Shannon has a Bachelor’s of Science in Biomedical Photographic Communications from Rochester Institute of Technology.