DSCN5878The season was a good one for us; and hopefully not over yet. Cai did his first multi day backcountry trip and made the move to telemark equipment. Trevor successfully took up snowboarding. Along the way we had backcountry days and used the snowcat at Loveland to explore less traveled but still managed areas. There is though much more to skiing than riding on snow and the lessons it can teach a young person are huge.

DSCN5691Falling: When you fall, do you blame it on the snow? Do you complain about people or do you stand back up and resolve to learn and do better next time? There is something about the exhilaration of traveling downhill fast that encourages these two young men to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and take off again. What happens when you do complain? Do you get better if you blame your fall on other people? If I work on one thing in my life that will reap the biggest rewards it is probably this simple  idea.

DSCN5855Looking at where you want to go: Watching their intent gazes as they looked at where they wanted to go when faced with difficult terrain was amazing. There was no peering at their feet. They did not stare wistfully behind them thinking about what had got them to this place. They looked at their destination and just gave it a go. And when the going was tough they were way more focused on where they wanted to end up. Rather than analyzing the ground between them and their goal they focused on the end point and let what their bodies already know do its thing. How often can I say that about my life?

DSCN5842Fear: Anxiety was ok on the lift and tolerable at the top of a run. However, as soon as the run started it was left behind. That is to say fear is not a bad thing per se; it can though be crippling if you let it rule your actions. Fear helps you make good choices but once a decision has been made it will just get in the way. Besides, the most fun is had when you are pushing the boundaries of your fear. It is also generally where you learn the most because it inspires reflection.

IMGP2964Choosing to see what is good:  One of our themes of the year was, “regardless of the weather, if you decide the skiing is going to be good, it will be. If you decide it is not it probably will not be.” Watching these guys out in some pretty nasty conditions with big smiles on their faces was huge. I really hope they take this paraphrasing of Henry Ford into the rest of their lives. Happiness is often a choice.

DSCN5926 - Version 2Simplicity: I used to be a ski instructor so I am capable of breaking down movement to the minutiae. This is great if you want to shave seconds off your time. It was not our focus. Skiing like life can be interpreted as being simple or complex it comes down to the way you look at it. Our goal was to slide down ever more fun terrain with the biggest smiles on our faces. Every now and then we would throw in a drill or game that naturally high lighted good technique. Occasionally, I asked questions that might do the same.

DSCN5903The rewards of work: The smile being the most important part of their day they learned to work hard at it. Perhaps this was leaving fear at the top of the lift on a particularly steep run. Or, pushing through to take one more run when they were tired. As long as the result was going to be a big smile it was worth doing and boy were some of the results worthwhile.

IMG_0259Freedom: Cai said it best when I was checking in with him .

Dad: “So yesterday was a huge day and I just want to make sure I was not pushing you too hard – was it worth it?”

Cai: “Yesterday was hard dad but it was so worth it. There were times when I felt that there were no presidents or queens… I felt that no one was the boss of me!”

A rather choked dad: “Wow, did you feel that on the groomers?”

Cai: “No. I only feel it when we get away from people and we are stood at the top of a big clean field of snow, we float down it and then we look back at our tracks and they are the only ones there”

When my 8 year old can articulate that sense of ultimate freedom that I feel, then I know I am doing good. It is a feeling to aim for and replicate as often as possible.

DSCN5949Leaving fresh tracks: Looking behind and seeing your tracks in the snow is one of those great feelings, the thing is a high percentage of skiers know this and want those feelings. In resort you have to hustle, or go farther than anyone else. In the backcountry you have to put in some miles.  Ultimately, you have to be ahead of the crowd which means knowing what you want and knowing how to get it while others are spinning their wheels. You learn this either through experience or surrounding yourself with people who have learned through experience.

IMG_0162Beauty and views: There is something about standing on top of a white ridge that reaches out for miles, while other ridges criss cross like onion skins into the distance. The monochrome of snow and rock is an amazing foreground to the backdrop of azure skies and a bright yellow sun. Throw in the wing beat of a large raptor or the scurrying of critters in the frost laced pines then… breathe. The scent of mountain air brings the feelings that air freshener companies try to convey in their advertising. It is the smell of being home. Of belonging. I know that I belong in the mountains. It always surprise me though that when I work with kids who have never set foot outside of their city that after a while of fighting it and dealing with the fear of being in big open spaces for the first time they just get it. They know it is right. Cultivating that sense of belonging is a useful tool as it applies not only to place it also is an important concept with regards to community. When you know what belonging feels like it is much easier to recognize and nurture it elsewhere.

DSCN5915People and natural selection: The idea of community is an important one. As skiers these boys are part of a large tribe, some of who they will want to hang out with some who they will not. Some who will help elevate them on their journey of development, some who will drag them down. Some who will give them an opportunity to learn and shine, some who will bring out the worst in them. As we have already said there are benefits to being ahead of the curve, there are also benefits to being part of a big group and at other times a member of a much smaller one. And sometimes it is good to just be alone. This season they felt most of these things. Days when the resort was full and the grooming was beautiful but we had to jockey for our niche in time and space. Traveling on the cat with a small excited group who felt like an elite cadre congratulating each other on their choice to be there. Watching groups of young jibbers being supportive (or not) and thinking about how it might be to hang out with them. Cai traveling with two friends on a four day odyssey through the backcountry where the work to reach the next yurt was often hard and supporting each other was important. Choosing the people you spend time with is important, equally significant are the moments spent with yourself . There were the times when they stood alone, looked around, soaked in the atmosphere and took it all in. I wish them many more of these last occasions because this is where the sense of an experience is made.

DSCN6068A final thought: As John Dewey posited you do not necessarily learn by having an experience, neither do you necassarily learn by thinking. We all know plenty people who fall into both camps and are left spinning their wheels without seeming to move forward. True learning occurs when you think (reflect) on an experience. I wrote this for Trevor in the hope that he ponders about how when he is on his board he usually displays his best possible self. What does that look like in other areas of your life Trev? And Cai? Well I am an Amish(ish) tyrant and he does not get to use a computer for a long time yet, so it will be a number of years before he reads these words and see these images. Poor deprived Waldorf kid – you will see him counting in this little unrelated video. Technology and Schools

 

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Things I hope my son and nephew learned on the snow this year.

Angry From Manchester and the Good Life

EPSON MFP imageRecently, I was reminded of something which happened 15 years ago, it made me chuckle so I’m going to share.

At the time I did some work for an outdoor clothing manufacturer. They had received a letter and thought that I ought to read it. “Angry from Manchester” had invested some real time in penning this missive. She obviously felt strongly. She had seen a brochure that I was involved in creating and wished to tell readers that  it was unrealistic.  She went to great lengths to say that no one smiled this much, no one had this much fun, no one looked this good and no one really did these things. She also went on to suggest it was immoral to use fantasy to sell clothing.

EPSON MFP imageMy laughing more and more as each sentence unravelled did nothing to assuage the concern of the gentleman who had given me the letter to read. Eventually he asked what I found so funny. At this point I felt I ought to come clean and so I asked if he remembered calling me asking if I knew any models that they might use. I had queried if they had a plan for the brochure and photoshoot and when the response had suggested that they did not I had seen an opportunity. We had talked about their first popular jacket being called the Torridon and how this might be a good location, we had then discussed how the mountains on the island of Skye were iconic and finally to round things off canoeing on some remote Scottish loch would provide balance to the imagery. He thought this sounded great and did I know of anyone who might be able to do it. I told him I did. What I did not tell him was that this was the vacation my then girlfriend and I had planned.

EPSON MFP imageLet me tell you being paid well for going on holiday is living the dream. Handing your expenses over to an accountant to repay is wonderful. Swopping out a tent for hotels because someone else is picking up the tab is sublime and then being given some R&R time in the most amazing hotel after the photographer has left is genius. “Angry” was never going to know just how real this brochure was. We were smiling and having fun for a reason; we had chosen to. I do not want to assume too much, however, I am guessing that “Angry” fails to understand the practicalities of this simple idea, consequently she misses out.

EPSON MFP imageWhat I have come to realize and yet sometimes forget is that when I know what I want then others will often help me achieve it. When I look for opportunities for mutual gains (win-win scenarios) we create an incredible “happy energy”.

As I look at friends on Facebook who still live “the dream” I am thankful the tradition lives on. Time for me to start spell making again and bring some more potent magic into our current good life. What are you doing to make your “good life”?

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Students and Identity Building

The final of the three questions:

In your opinion, how do students build an identity?  What kind of learning experiences are necessary?  What is a school’s responsibility (or a teacher’s) in helping students develop character and identity?

“There are three ways of trying to win the young. There is persuasion. There is compulsion. There is attraction. You can preach at them; that is a hook without a worm. You can say “You must volunteer; that is the devil. And you can tell them, ‘You are needed.’ That appeal hardly ever fails.” Kurt Hahn

Parable of the Good Samaritan

Parable of the Good Samaritan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kurt Hahn’s genius was collecting together ideas surrounding helping young people be their best possible self. He was inspired by three things: A mother who implicitly believed in the innate goodness of people. The work of Plato who insisted it was more important that education build character than transmit knowledge. Finally, the parable of the Good Samaritan. Character is observable and based on behaviors. What do you do when faced with a given situation? The Good Samaritan obviously is a demonstration of impeccable character. Hahn like most teachers asked what allows someone to act in this way?

English: Simon Sinek speaking at TEDx Maastric...

English: Simon Sinek speaking at TEDx Maastricht in the Netherlands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, I have enjoyed reading a book by Simon Sinek called Start with Why. Sinek suggests that there is a simple formula (the Golden Circle) that leaders can use to inspire others. He explains that while most people will tell you what they do and occasionally how they do it. Great leaders start by explaining why. They tell you of their values, the single cause or belief that serves as a unifying, driving force for them as an individual or organization. They then tell you how; the principles or actions that will bring their why to life. These are strategies and actions to be performed. Finally they tell you what. These are the results or measures which are tangible and obvious to others on completion.

English: A diagram of what Simon Sinek calls '...

English: A diagram of what Simon Sinek calls ‘The Golden Circle’. In his TEDx talk, he says ‘People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like the model because it is a simple way of looking at something quite complex. How do you make sure that people understand you? How do you help a group to achieve significance? It also is a neat way of exploring identity and its result; character. Ultimately, identity is your why. When you know your values, when you understand your beliefs then, and only then can you make things happen in a meaningful way. Without them you are paralyzed. This paralysis is Erik Erikson’s Identity Crisis, a condition which seems to be currently rampant. The how depicts your character and the what measures it. Traditionally we think of identity as being who you are. It is framed by occupation, culture, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation. My belief is that we know who we are when we know why we do things and we align with people and cultures when we see similarities in our belief systems. Traditionally belief systems have been handed down to us by parents and communities (school, religion). At a later age we choose to accept or denounce them.  Increasingly, children are faced with defining their own beliefs at an earlier age because they are exposed to so many through television and other media. As Barry Schwarz suggests, choice is supposed to bring about freedom and yet the “Paradox of Choice” is that it is overwhelming and does exactly the opposite. We know who we are only when we understand why we feel the things we feel.

“It is not easy to construct by mere scientific synthesis a foolproof system which will lead our children in a desired direction and avoid an undesirable one. Obviously, good can come only from a continuing interplay between that which we, as students, are gradually learning and that which we believe in, as people.” Erik Erickson

IMGP1295So how do we help young people build their identity and what exactly is the responsibility of the teacher in this arena? For me the most important thing we can do is ask why? In the spirit of Toyota’s manufacturing process (the Five Why’s), exploring the answer to why with another why draws out richer thinking. When you ask why five or more times then usually the topic is explored more fully and a kernel is reached. I never want to force an opinion on a young person, I do however want them to explore their own ideas.

“Without self-discovery, a person may still have self confidence, but it is a self confidence built on ignorance and it melts in the face of heavy burdens. Self discovery is the end product of a great challenge mastered, when the mind commands the body to do the seemingly impossible, when courage and strength are summoned to extraordinary limits for the sake of something outside the self–a principle, an onerous task, another human life.” Kurt Hahn

IMG_0199I also align with Hahn concerning self discovery. I have learned the most about myself when I have had to struggle. Erikson and James Marcia; who developed his work, also agree that “crises” are required to move along the continuum of developing an identity. The groups that I have joined and found identity within were often based on developing large amounts of trust because I had to. When a student is rock climbing belayed by his / her classmates he / she is faced with addressing his / her trust of the people holding their rope. When they are safely lowered to the ground it is easy to know why they can trust them. This is a good time to ask the belayers why they wanted to be trustworthy and everyone how trusting and being trusted felt.

Will095.tifRobust identity is built when a variety of identities are experimented with and then one committed to. It can also change significantly given sufficient external influence. For instance value systems and beliefs are likely to be modified following a parental divorce or a violent assault.

As a teacher I am particularly interested in three sets of identities: the identity of the individuals in the group, the identity of the group / class and the identity of the school. Anything I can do to help pupils understand why:

  • They do the things they do
  • The group is valuable to them
  • The school reflects what the individuals like about themselves

IMG_0152Is a valuable lesson. The more experiences I can shape that have them reflect on these questions either formally or otherwise will help them figure out who they are and what they are going to do to show people who they are. If I ask how they want to be known and why and then what do they need to do to be seen that way, it will help them make good choices. I have always liked Steven Covey’s activity of thinking about your 80th birthday party, you are surrounded by those you admire and love. They are saying wonderful things about you. What do you hear them say? Likewise I often ask students to provide bullet points of what they will want me to write as a reference for them. I then hold them to the behaviors that reflect what they wrote.

My experience is that outdoor activities and nature always accelerates the process of creating identity and make it more poignant. Service especially when it means hardship for the person serving provides a realistic framework for exploring values. Given less time then well designed games and activities can serve as kinesthetic metaphors which help explore these ideas in a meaningful way, especially when I have chosen them using Sinek’s Golden Circle.

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Adventure and Learning

The second question of three.

In your experience, how does adventure learning contribute to a student’s academic and personal growth? Please address both types of growth.

Expeditions can greatly contribute towards building strength of character. Joseph Conrad in Lord Jim tells us that it is necessary for a youth to experience events which ‘reveal the inner worth of the man; the edge of his temper; the fibre of his stuff; the quality of his resistance; the secret truth of his pretenses, not only to himself but others.” Kurt Hahn

IMGP0046Recently a colleague has been dealing with a lot of bad luck. Following bankruptcy he had been clawing his way back by building a branding consultancy, just as things were starting to fall into place his partner ran with the money and accounts. Why am I telling you this in regards to adventure education? Well this gentleman used to sail big yachts and seeing him peering over the precipice of depression I decided to have a chat with him about his passion. We shared stories of dealing with duress outdoors and failing in life as depicted by a modern consumerist paradigm. We talked about how being in “adventurous situations” we did not whine, we just dealt with whatever circumstances were thrown at us. We did not find people to blame, we lived as our best selves. When we are functioning well we bring the lessons that we have learned outdoors into this modern conundrum that we call living. As we talked about John the outdoorsman vs John the business man a light started to shine in his eyes. As he remembered who he is outdoors he recognized who he can be in any other situation. He left our conversation with a renewed resolve that was wonderful to watch.

B Tech 1008Kurt Hahn was particularly impelled to bring Outdoor Education into his pedagogy because he believed that society was becoming diseased and that expeditions were one of the best form of therapy for the post industrial malaise he saw growing in Nazi Germany. The Salem School; Hahn’s first opportunity to practice his thinking, set out to to train young people to have moral independence, an ability to choose between “right and wrong,” and an improvement in their physical health. It strikes me that this is just as necessary today in America as it was then in Germany.

“We discovered that expedition training and expedition tests counteracted the unhealthy effect of undeserved hero worship. Not a few specialist athletes revealed in adversity a certain flabbiness of will-power which was well hidden in their ordinary life. The expeditions were sometimes of an arduous nature – long treks in the Alps, exploratory expeditions to Iceland and on the Payenne and the Seima Lakes in Finland. Again and again the average and even clumsy athlete excelled on such expeditions…” Kurt Hahn

IMG_0688This is a large part of my motivation to teach in the outdoors in that not only am I a “clumsy athlete” I also appreciate the contemplative nature of outdoor folk. Nature shows us that we are part of something much bigger than ourself which leads to the Eastern thinking that we are all connected. Anything I do to something or someone else ultimately affects me. This fosters a desire to nurture as ultimately I will also be nurtured. I feel this is the best way to bring about social justice and heal the evident issues we face in the West as demonstrated in an Aurora movie theater last year.

626546211_MzSPU-LA number of years ago Robert Fulgham wrote All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I feel the same way about the outdoors. Relevancy and reality are amazing motivators when it comes to learning and the outdoors caters to both. I have yet to meet a student who having been advised to bring a jacket because it will be wet and cold, shown how to cook a meal and praised for a cooperative behavior and its benefit to the group does not open to my teaching.

A shared experience outdoors inevitably develops meaning that is understood and a connection between the teacher and students involved. I still feel strong ties to all the teachers who took me outdoors.

IMGP0695The raised level of engagement and cooperation that adventure demands opens a door to explore concepts that may normally be shut out by cultural demands. The idea of “I am not a mathematician” is usually left behind when we introduce math for navigation. Understanding the current group dynamic is brought alive by history and the stories it contains, even if history is deemed useless in another arena.

Adventure though is so much more. Students have to learn to deal with feelings of uncertainty (I argue that this is the very definition of adventure) and the cognitive dissonance it creates. The vulnerability that is felt emotionally is the very same state that creates significant learning and this learning transfers to other areas of life both personal and academic. As soon as someone believes they are a learner they gain the self confidence to learn anything. In particular we focus on problem solving skills, value clarification, communication, cooperation, leadership, decision making and continuums like the distinctions between right and wrong or needs and wants. All of which define both a person and that person as a life long learner.

IMG_0001b (39)I once taught a Canyon Orientation class. In the interest of transparency I need to disclose that not only did I know very little about canyons and traveling through them I also felt completely uncomfortable in a desert ecosystem. When I thought of the arid lands of the South West I was filled with dread as everything appeared prickly, cruel, uncomfortable and full of venom. Obviously this feeling is based on my perception because I knew plenty of people who felt the polar opposite to me. The course was taught over two long weekends and as I drove the bus to Delta for the first time I was worried. What did I have to teach these people when I was a fraud?

IMG_0074We rose early the first morning and walked to the entrance of the Dominguez Canyon. Prior to entering I asked the students to sit silently for half an hour and just be. We talked about the sensations and feeling we experienced in this time and it was obvious that others had felt the same as I had. It was also evident that none of those negative emotions existed any more. Knowing nothing about the natural history, I told them the story of William Smith and the creation of the first geological map, how when he started there were no names or published ideas and yet how observing patterns he had made sense of the earth’s formation. I asked them to walk alone, then in pairs and finally in fours to observe and reflect on the patterns that they saw in the geology. We then came up with questions we wanted answered and expanded those to other areas of the natural history. That week they were all tasked with researching some of the group’s questions and preparing presentations and handouts before our return. The result was incredible.

“It is the sin of the soul to force young people into opinions – indoctrination is of the devil – but it is culpable neglect not to impel young people into experiences.” Kurt Hahn

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Self Esteem and Academic Achievement

I was recently asked to answer three questions, here is my thinking on the first.

In your teaching experience, which comes first: self-esteem or academic achievement? Explain your reasoning and how you approach these issues intentionally in your classroom.

Possunt, quia posse videntur.” Virgil

Literally: “They are able because they seem (are seen) to be able.”

TrearddurThere is a period of my life on which I look back most fondly. It is a time of real childhood where every day contributed to my growing sense of me, every day led to learning and I just knew that I was capable of what I set my mind to. During this time I was also academically successful, although I do not remember much about it. It was just part of what we did. Not long after this experience everything changed completely. “Could do better!” became a clarion call and ultimately it became my truth. I remember classes from this time because I hated them and was failing.

So what was different? Basically a change in schools. The first used Virgil’s words as it’s motto – “they can because they think they can”. Every teacher lived and breathed this simple edict and so did the pupils. The result was significant and explains why I find self fulfillment prophecy thinking so compelling.

Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson (1968) report and discuss the Pygmalion Effect in the classroom at length. In their study, they showed that if teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from some children, then the children did indeed show that enhancement. Six years later my teachers were anecdotally proving them right. Conversely Feldman & Prohaska (1979) sought to discover if the Pygmalion Effect could occur in reverse with the Gollum Effect. If my experiences are evidence then the teachers in the second school had beaten them to it.

4-Day Treck 1999092The last four years I spent in the UK I took the reins of a two year college course. Both year groups spent two days a week at the center where I worked and I had the great fortune of not only shaping the curriculum of this outdoor leadership class; I was also a significant presence in the student’s lives. I particularly loved watching the slope shouldered 16 year olds, beaten down by a school system that had failed them visibly straighten their posture over two years. My goal with the course was that we catered to three sets of needs. Firstly, that alums had the wherewithal to function well as novice outdoor instructors. Secondly, that we provided the skills for a successful transition to and exit from college. Finally, that they had the people and organizational skills to perform well in middle management positions. Invariably, by focusing on increasing their self-esteem and helping them to figure out who they were and where they fit in we were successful.

B Tech 1072So what did it look like? Firstly, the program started by being very structured, experiences were designed to create specific learning. In particular we helped students reflect and give each other feedback on what they were doing well and what they liked about themselves and each other. We made sure that while events were challenging they were accomplished. With these foundations in place, the students were given more autonomy and the ability to falter and then improve. We avoided words like failure and instead referred to opportunities and growth. We set up a cohort that depended on each other and consequently learned from and taught each other. In summary, the first year was scripted and culminated in a three month work experience for which they felt prepared. On their return the following year the students chose an expedition as a closure experience. We offered to staff it for up to a month and yet provided nothing else. The year was then spent planning and preparing for this expedition along with other project based work.

Untitled-17My final expedition involved sea kayaking above the arctic circle in Norway’s Lyngen Alps and mountaineering in the Romsdal region. We each contributed $150 to the venture and then the students set about organizing and collecting resources and developing the necessary skills. Witnessing students who mere months previously shrank as a they spoke to an adult, now on the phone to the CEO of a large organization telling him why he needed to donate money / resources, etc. and what he was going to receive in return was beautiful to behold. The work that these students produced was magnificent. For instance we had one project where with limited guidance / preparation and no resources students were asked to make a piece of outdoor equipment that they would use and document the process. Invariably, I was blown away, be it by a home made wood strip canoe, or waterproof bib pants that were manufactured commercially by the factory which had been approached to help create the prototype. The written work was always outstanding and the presentation of work incredible.

ROUND ANGLESEY44The Pygmalion Effect suggests that if a teacher believes in and has high expectations of a student, then that student will have belief in and have high expectations of him / herself. With this self belief magic is possible. Catching students doing things right and being successful and building on this success is the route to a culture of anything being possible.

20130419-124453.jpgWhen I watch my eight year old son ski, the thing that most affects his performance is confidence. I cannot make him confident. However, by controlling the environment (taking him on routes that alternately challenge and show him what he is capable of) and the way I talk to him we create an accelerated learning curve. If I spend time asking him what he is proud of rather then telling him “good job” or some equally empty accolade then he learns to look at himself and see what he perceives as being good. If I ask him what he is thankful for, he sees what is good in the world, when he is a good person in a good world it motivates him to be successful.

IMGP1356Tying in neatly with this is the concept of creating a vision. When I want rowdy, discombobulated kids to be triumphant I start by telling them they are going to be successful because… and list behaviors that are going to help them. They nearly always display these behaviors and come away feeling accomplished. Likewise some years ago I was a ski instructor in a small resort. One experiment I wish I had attempted was to acquire four jackets each distinctively colored. I wanted to film four colleagues ski well in four different styles while wearing one of these different colored jackets. I am convinced that following a morning on the hill if I showed the video and then asked the clients which person they wanted to ski like and then provided them with the corresponding jacket for the afternoon that I would have seen a marked improvement in their skiing and that they would have skied like the person they admired.

IMGP1266People and children in particular can do anything that they set their mind to and believe they can. I say children in particular because they have not had so many conflicting experiences. Self belief, creativity and tools for happiness are the best gifts a teacher can nurture. Everything else falls in to place when these corner stones are set properly.

“There is more in us than we know if we could be made to see it; perhaps, for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.” Kurt Hahn

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Aikido and Teaching:

Teaching is an art. The thing is it was often explained to me as a power game where the teacher is always looking to control the students. This has never sat well with me. I will always remember my first weeks as a trainee teacher as my mentor and I did not see eye to eye. I heard his concept of discipline from the other side of the campus and I knew the student who was receiving the full force of his reasoning also felt the sweat from his nose due to the proximity of their faces. This was never going to be the way that I “encouraged” learning and years later when I started to be informed by the findings of neuroscience it became patently obvious that the brain does not create learning in fearful situations – except in the instance of moments of fight or flight.

What I have grown to recognize is that the teacher / facilitator needs to hold a space for learning. It is a safe place, where mistakes are not only ok they are encouraged. It is a place where we are open to the outcome of the learning rather than dictating what the learning will be. Searching for a metaphor for teaching I have come up with the martial art of Aikido. While most of the martial arts center on the concept of combat this was not originator Master Morihei Ueshiba‘s desire. “Aikido is not a technique to fight with or to defeat the enemy. It is a way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family.” Wikipedia suggests that his philosophy was one “of extending love and compassion especially to those who seek to harm others. Aikido demonstrates this philosophy in its emphasis on mastering martial arts so that one may receive an attack and harmlessly redirect it. In an ideal resolution, not only is the receiver unharmed, but so is the attacker.” This also strikes me as a good philosophy for education.

Where I love the concept of Aikido is that the purpose is to maintain balance and through turning, pushing and drawing you lead the other person to a place of imbalance. It is not a forceful action and strength is not a requirement. So a teacher / facilitator strives to maintain equilibrium regardless of what comes in their direction. Also, with time while they can predict what may happen, they are actually better off being present. The imbalance that we encourage our students / participants to experience is cognitive dissonance; a place where they have to reason and are motivated to find meaning, as it is from this that the learning grows.

What is a good metaphor for what you do?

Renaissance an Easter Tradition:

I have always loved the concept of the Renaissance man; a polymath as exemplified by the great thinkers of 14th through 17th Century Europe. Easter whether you are Christian or pagan worshipping the Goddess Oestra is also significant for its themes of ascension and renaissance (re-birth). As a boy growing up in Wales, the fields full of daffodils and lambs were evidence of the natural cycle of things, spring is a time of rejuvenation and renewal. This was magnified a hundred fold in Alaska where spring is known as break up, a period of a few days where the monochrome of snow cover is displaced by the vivid color of buds and wildflowers blooming rather like a speeded up time lapse sequence. Now back in Colorado I gaze at the azure sky framed by the already green trees, with colorful bulbs bursting out of the ground and the blooms of magnolia unfolding like precious pink purses. I feel the warmth of the sun and I feel fortunate. Spring is a time to be reverent. It is also a time to meditate on this concept of change that out of the ashes of winter a phoenix can rise. 


Today sitting in a beautifully simple church with the dappled light of stain glass and the warmth of the wood, I was struck by a thought. To become a polymath we need to have a multitude of renaissances. Each spring is a time to reinvent ourselves, to add another string to our bow. By picking up new skills and acquiring new knowledge we follow in the tradition of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon, Johann Goethe, Isaac Newton and Copernicus. When science was shaped by the shift in thinking and art we saw a meteoric jump in the potential of humanity. If we allow this same open-ness into our own consciousness then our potential is phenomenal. An ancestor of mine John Harrison helped measure Longitude by inventing accurate time pieces, this in turn allowed accurate navigation over large tracts of ocean. His doggedness is a wonderful story told beautifully by Dava Sobel in Longitude if you like historical literature. It strikes me it is worth meditating on the domino effect of our own renaissances big and small.


What strings are you going to add to your bow this Easter?
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