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Guiding through Challenge with Grit and Grace: Welcome, New Field Guides!

Alex Bond, BS | Assistant Field Director & Field Guide Recruiter

Open Sky is pleased to welcome 12 new field guides to the team! This cohort brings highly positive energy to the field and to the organization as a whole. They are deeply committed to the work of connecting with, supervising, leading, and encouraging our students as they embark on a journey of self-discovery and growth. Guides at Open Sky are set up, trained, and mentored along their own parallel journey of self-discovery and growth, both personally and professionally. We are excited to witness the life-changing work our newest guides will carry out at Open Sky! A few new guides shared some reflections and takeaways from their guide training:

“There is a ton of magic out in the field, from the ceremonies I experienced this week, to the accepting and courageous community, and the landscape.”

“A big takeaway for me is less focusing on what I’m doing and more focusing on where I’m coming from: coming from a place that’s regulated, authentic, and compassionate.”

“My biggest takeaway from training so far is the abundance of new ways to move through challenge with grace.”

New Open Sky field guides group photo
Welcome, new field guides!

Orientation Process

As the Assistant Field Director and Field Guide Recruiter, and a former Senior Field Guide for Open Sky, I am responsible for planning and implementing an average of 5 new guide orientations annually. Each Open Sky Field Guide Orientation hosts between 6 and 18+ potential new field guides to assess, train, and inspire over the course of a 12-day period. It’s true: employment is not guaranteed until the final moments of the orientation. The orientation installs an intimate and accurate window between Open Sky and the candidates. Then, Open Sky can make an educated and informed hiring assessment. Meanwhile, our new field guides are empowered to make an equally informed decision regarding their interest and desire to commit to the role.

During orientation, guide candidates complete a 16-hour AEGIS certification course (and re-certify every 6 months once hired). AEGIS is the industry standard for crisis and de-escalation training—skills guides use day in and day out with students in the field. Each guide is also required to obtain and maintain current CPR and WFR (wilderness first responder) certifications.

During orientation, candidates also participate in a 5-day wilderness expedition. The expo simulates the student experience so prospective guides can build empathy and gain an understanding of what it is like for a student to attend Open Sky. It also gives field leadership the opportunity to witness candidates’ grit, resilience, emotional awareness, leadership skills, and wilderness skills.

Candidates for Open Sky’s guide orientations possess a wide range of professional backgrounds and encompass a diverse and unique array of personalities. The vast majority of field guide applicants have professional experience working with youth in a wilderness and/or therapeutic environment. During the orientation, Open Sky provides mentorship for applicants who are passionate, professional, resilient, and above all, show a willingness to give and receive honest feedback.

As the Field Guide Recruiter, I respond to countless questions regarding the nature and structure of the orientation. What elements and standards do we use to accurately and fairly assess our candidates? What methods are used to properly train people on a host of wilderness, relational, and therapeutic skills? How do we inspire new individuals to become a part of our community of field guides? To adequately prepare people for the dynamic role of field guiding, Open Sky orientations utilize a strategic balance of skills training, behavioral scenarios, and accurate and individualized performance feedback.

Open Sky field guides work on guide pathway.

Drawing Inspiration from the Students

The Open Sky Field Guide Orientation provides space for training orientation members on a wide variety of topics. As a highly diverse professional endeavor, being a field guide means mastering skills related to wilderness, outdoor living, communication, ecology, medicine, history, art, psychology, and many others. The topics and skills we teach are given meaning and life by Open Sky students. When we teach bow drilling to field guide candidates, we train on more than the science of fire and the different types of wood involved. We share stories of real people, like an adolescent girl student who was initially apprehensive and anxious and who ultimately could bow drill a three-second coal, blindfolded, calm as a bird. Open Sky students plant seeds of meaning and truth to the lessons we teach during the orientation.

We also use a variety of scenarios as a foundation to assess candidates during orientation. During each scenario, we honor current and past Open Sky students by adopting and mirroring their actions and behaviors in reenactments of team dynamics. Orientation members are then assessed on their ability to hold the “container” of a contrived team with varying dynamics.

Open Sky field guide gives feedback in a team of young adult students.

Finally, Open Sky Field Guide Orientations aim to inspire. New field guides are inspired to join our community and embrace the role of field guiding through a variety of avenues. Among the most common avenues of inspiration is the introduction of new field guides to our students. At the culminating event of the new guide orientation, orientation members are officially introduced to Open Sky students for the first time during an evening visit to the student teams. Following these experiences, new field guides consistently comment on the warmth and hospitality of our students, the brightness in their eyes, and the presence of life in their faces. New field guides are immediately struck by the unique balance of cohesive and welcoming energy of both staff and students.

The Juniper and the Raven

I like to use the metaphor of the Utah juniper and desert raven when describing the role and characteristics of a field guide. The raven is the iconic and majestic “mascot” of the high desert; its familiarity matched only by its mystery. The clever bird finds solace from the realities of the desert in many places, among them the resilient and adaptable branches of the Utah juniper tree. The tree’s metallic blue pinecones—often confused by the masses as ‘juniper berries’—are a delicacy to the palate of the raven. The wise raven is often observed hoarding and caching the seeds under a blanket of desert earth, a primal wisdom guiding the act. To the patient observer, the seeds the raven sows will grow into a new and beautiful Utah juniper. Field guides at Open Sky are like the Utah juniper: hearty, strong, full of grit, selfless, and undeniably unique.

Utah Juniper at Open Sky

Our community of field guides, like the trees they walk among, give a tremendous amount of energy and care to Open Sky students, empowering them to thrive. At first glance, our humble guides appear to give everything to the students without receiving much in return. Under a deeper lens, however, our clever students give inspiration, meaning, and life to the Field Guides who share their world.

Just as the Utah juniper provides rest and solace to the desert raven, our field guides grow into strong, confident, compassionate, and selfless role models for Open Sky students. Just as the reliable and rooted Utah juniper is a refuge and nourishment for the raven, field guides hold physically and emotionally safe space for Open Sky students to grow and thrive. And ultimately, just as the humble Utah juniper is replanted and renewed through the seeds that the raven sows, field guides flourish as they recognize the full circle of the Open Sky community: the students we guide are, in fact, our guides.

Are you interested in making a difference in the lives of young people?  We are currently accepting applications for our next two guide orientations: March 30 – April 8 and May 18-29. Applications are due by March 20 and May 13, respectively. Click here to learn more about the position and how to apply!


January 21st, 2020

Alex Bond, BS | Assistant Field Director & Field Guide Recruiter