Well, I’m officially four months into my new position. The experience, overwhelming. The learning curve, enormous. The self-induced level of pressure, palpable. The fear of so, what’s next, ever-present. Among the singularly memorable moments of joy and compassion, and connection and care this fall, the classroom also experienced episodes of frustration, fear, anger, and futility. With the understanding that I have learned bushels from the not-so-memorable episodes, it is with great pride that I share our most recent beautiful learning moment thus far in our shared journey.
Now, Back To The Joy…
One immediate highlight of the year was the recent winter survival activity that took place last week. Students had been organized loosely according to peer groups and lead through two separate preparatory sessions for their task: prepare a shared food menu, organize necessary utensils and equipment, find a suitable site (in a local recreation area) to erect a windproof shelter, build a fire, and prepare a shared lunch.
What we learn with pleasure, we never forget.
Sounds like a lot to ask of the students? We didn’t think so. In fact, success wasn’t based on whether all of the above criteria was even met. The only criteria we held: could these groups work collaboratively to support each other through the entire experience.
What we observed was something far more unexpected. And rewarding.
In our heart of hearts, the teaching staff hoped that outdoor experiential educations opportunities like this would provide a leveling of the field, per se. Many of our learners felt like they were not being very successful in the classroom even though we discussed many different ways of learning (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.). In essence, we all have other ‘smarts’ and ways of being successful including those of the outdoor and experiential variety. Starting fires in deep snow, organizing food menu, building windproof shelters were elemental and students took turns stepping forward to support each other. Even groups that originally began the day bickering among a veil of chaos at the end a shared, collective experience making eggs, bacon, and s’mores over their fire!
Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do.
Beautifully Risking Trust
Then there were those learners that excelled in the classroom. Confident in the ‘academic’ setting and rigor that we would be leaving behind. This group took a beautiful risk to join us for the day. For some, their parents admitted, this would be a massive leap of trust. Trust in themselves. Trust in the staff. Trust in the experience. In the weeks leading up to the event itself, we witnessed many of them rumbling with thoughts of being cold and hungry. Sharing that they “might be away that day”. Displaying apprehension about not knowing. The power of healthy parent support and an open collaborative approach with the staff was impressive. In the end, each one of them found support among peers offering empathy, compassion, and support throughout the experience.
True Yardstick of Success
The third group of learners that became a measure of the success of this experience was the powderhounds. Living in a mountain culture one has to make some basic assumptions. For example, when twenty centimetres of light, flurry, snow falls overnight in our region one must expect a lower attendance at school for the day. Ironically, the evening before our planned activity our local ski haunt received 24 cm of champagne powder. Instinctually, we had planned for an absenteeism rate of nearly 20% among a group of 52 students. In reality, every single student that was not absent due to illness showed up bright and early for the day. Yes, this included the powderhounds!
To their credit, this group of learners appeared to appreciate that what they would miss at school that day for just another average ski day (one of what will surely be thousands in their lifetime) wasn’t worth missing. It wasn’t worth the gamble. This would be a uniquely shared learning experience outdoors, among peers.
Kudos (and a big hug) to my friend and teaching colleague, Chris Mieske, for his perseverance and long-picture visioning that made this day a possibility.