Outside Insights: Outdoor Leadership at The Mountaineers

In this feature from Mountaineer magazine, learn about how we are working to support current and prospective volunteers through our two new courses and revamped Leadership Conference.
Michelle Song Michelle Song
Associate Volunteer Development Manager
October 04, 2022
Outside Insights: Outdoor Leadership at The Mountaineers
Hoh Rainforest. Photo by Brendan Moore-Penaskovic.

As of 2022, The Mountaineers boasts a strong collective of over 3,000 volunteer leaders. From course instructors, to lodge hosts, to Board members, our volunteers’ skillsets are varied and far-reaching within our organization. By setting vision and direction, contributing to a shared vision, and creating sustainable and equitable programs, volunteers enable The Mountaineers to continue to grow and improve our programs. Often, volunteers are called the heart and soul of The Mountaineers, and this is certainly true in my experience!

Our volunteers have said that a major reason they lead trips and instruct courses is to pay it forward after learning from our community themselves. To support these volunteers who offer the highest-quality programs, and to meet the growing demand for leadership development programs, we began developing an outdoor leadership training program to instruct volunteers on high-quality leadership and instruction practices. Having successfully built a library of content from our Leadership Development Series over the past four years, we were delighted to have the necessary resources to address the many requests for an outdoor leadership course to onboard new volunteer leaders.

Over the past year, Mountaineers staff – guided by the input of our volunteer leaders – designed the “Foundations of Leadership” and “Foundations of Instruction” eLearning courses to meet the needs of our current and aspiring volunteers. Volunteer leaders from each branch were invited to test the initial format, and their feedback helped refine the courses into their current versions. This collaborative effort drove the Foundations courses to become what they are today, and we are excited to have these two courses form the basis of our newly-revamped Leadership Conference this coming December.

New courses

Our goal in building these courses is to foster diverse and passionate connections throughout The Mountaineers and share the principles of leadership and instruction that we collectively think are most important for our volunteers. These new courses are geared towards both current and aspiring volunteers who are interested in learning more about the concepts and definitions of leading and instructing in the outdoors. Upon completion, graduates will understand how to apply equitable and inclusive practices to their activities, improve their risk management skills, facilitate better communication amongst groups, engineer a secure learning environment, and more.

The Foundations of Leadership and Foundations of Instruction courses each comprise their own individual eLearning pathways. Each pathway contains a collection of five foundational lessons: Foundations of Risk Management, Foundations of Education & Instruction, Foundations of Group Facilitation, Foundations of Equity & Inclusion, and Foundations of Administration & Logistics, and each course is tailored to our volunteer experience as either a leader or instructor. Both pathways are now available through Coassemble, a user-friendly online platform that allows us to create interactive, self-paced learning.

To respect the limited time of our volunteers and members, the lessons are intended to be completed in any order. We also could not pass up the opportunity to design two new badges. The brand-new Foundations of Leadership or Foundations of Instruction course badges will be awarded after final online quizzes. Through both of these foundational courses, we hope to foster a sense of camaraderie between current and aspiring volunteers, instructors and students, and trip leaders and participants, nurtured by the strong leadership demonstrated across all branches.


Revamped Leadership Conference

We recognize the need to accommodate different learning styles to best impact long-term leadership development. The Foundations courses will be primarily offered online and year-round through the eLearning platform Coassemble, but we will also be offering an in-person option. With the exception of final quizzes, all five lessons in the Foundations of Leadership and Foundations of Instruction pathways will be hosted through breakout sessions at our Foundations of Leadership and Instruction (in-person) event on Saturday, December 3, 2022. This in-person option is intended to cater to individuals who learn best in a group setting, and provides the chance to ask questions and discuss learned concepts in real-time with expert presenters.

Last fall, we made the difficult decision to cancel our Leadership Conference due to rising cases of COVID-19 in King and Pierce County. Fortunately, the Leadership Conference will be back this year in a revamped format and renamed as Foundations of Leadership & Instruction (in- person). Foundations of Leadership & Instruction engages a pivotal audience of current and aspiring volunteers, and will emphasize a different cadence to the day’s schedule. Similar to the Leadership Conference, Foundations of Leadership & Instruction will be a full day of collaboration and learning across branches. Previous Leadership Conferences brought in outdoor professionals from partner organizations to present a series of interactive sessions that explore the many facets of leadership. This year, we will be bringing in seasoned leaders from our very own Mountaineers community. Don’t worry, we will continue to bring in external speakers through our mainly-remote Leadership Development Series, which runs from October to April. Foundations of Leadership & Instruction will remain an engaging day of leadership development, dedicated to equipping our current and aspiring volunteers with fundamental leadership and instruction skills.

Foundations of Leadership & Instruction (in-person) will utilize the content from the Foundations eLearning courses, but the overall structure of each session will rely on presenter preference. This allows the presenter to accommodate various student learning styles and their own teaching approach to meet the Foundations courses’ learning outcomes. Students will also have the option to follow specific tracks to garner the knowledge necessary to complete a respective final quiz and fulfill badge requirements online on their own time. Like the Leadership Conference, Foundations of Leadership and Instruction is meant to be a choose-your-own-adventure experience.


We are incredibly excited to offer these two new courses and the revamped Leadership Conference, Foundations of Leadership & Instruction, this year. Our gratitude goes out to the volunteers who contributed their time and expertise to help shape these courses to be the very best for our community of growing leaders and instructors. We are eager to witness all the opportunities that the Foundations of Leadership and Foundations of Instruction open for our current and aspiring volunteers.

We hope these courses and the Foundations of Leadership & Instruction event ignite a spark of curiosity, and as we all know, leadership and learning is a journey. Our intention is that once the courses are completed and badges obtained, volunteer leaders and instructors are inspired to strengthen their community at The Mountaineers and support one another on each of their leadership journeys. The Mountaineers would not be The Mountaineers without our volunteers leading the way.


Save the date, register, and join us for a fun day of professional development dedicated to empowering The Mountaineers current and aspiring volunteer leaders and instructors!

Date: Saturday, December 3, 2022
Time: 9am-4pm, with a catered social hour after the conference from 4:15-5:15pm
Location: Seattle Program Center
Price: Free for all members

Register for the Leadership Conference

Questions about Foundations of Leadership & Instruction (in-person)? Please email Michelle Song, Associate Volunteer Development Manager, at michelles@mountaineers.org.

Hoh Rainforest. Photo by Brendan Moore-Penaskovic.

This article originally appeared in our fall 2022 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our  magazine archive

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