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

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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Moving Forward: Vision, goals & strategies

You are what your deep, driving desire is,

As your desire is, so is your will, 

As your will is, so is your deed,

As your deed is, so is your destiny.

– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV.4.5

Last Friday I gave a presentation for Colorado Bar Association Leadership Training. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with twenty bright and driven individuals who will make great contributions to their communities. It was also a fantastic reminder of how fun my work is. I am the guy who makes their point through play; games serving as a metaphor to inspire deep thought and provide learning to transfer into real world examples. The theme of the day was goal setting and creating strategy and I spent some time figuring out my learning outcomes (teacher’s goals) for the session and games to play that might ensure they were met. Coming on in the latter half of the afternoon I had the pleasure of listening to others including an entertaining Troy Mumford from Colorado State University who had an engaging way of presenting his top strategy tips for leaders.

So why the big build up to a simple story? Well following listening to those that preceded me I recognized that my job was not only to promote my ideas, it was also important that I support the thoughts of those that went before me. I also knew that I needed to walk my talk and model what I was talking about.

So over lunch I frantically rejigged what I was going to do leaving out the visually stimulating powerpoint that had taken a few hours to prepare. And now to the point of all of this. The thing that allowed me to be flexible was that I was following my own advice with regards to goal setting. The process works most efficiently when there is a funneling effect. Start with a vision statement which defines purpose in terms of values, while this is probably the hardest stage it eases the rest of the process. By knowing what your values are and the purpose of what you intend to do, then setting goals is a fairly straightforward process and once you have goals figuring out strategies to make them happen seems intuitive.

With a vision in place I felt comfortable editing my goals as I heard and saw what went before me. The strategies (games) for reaching those goals were manipulated without undue stress and I was able to listen to my audience laugh as they created their learning.

Save yourself from spinning gears and living in a state of being overwhelmed, start out with a vision, move on to goals and finally figure out your strategies. Or in the words of  Max DePree and I love this bold statement.

Beliefs come before policies or standards or practices. Practice without belief is a forlorn existence. Managers who have no beliefs but only understand methodology and quantification are modern day eunuchs. They can never engender competence or confidence. They can never be truly intimate.

Max DePree from Art is Leadership

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Can creativity be taught?

“Artists can color the sky red because they know it’s blue. Those of us who aren’t artists must color things the way they really are or people might think we’re stupid.”

Jules Feiffer

I am in the Sir Ken Robinson camp on this one. Creativity is often educated out of kids in school – if you have a spare 25 minutes check out his talk on he is both passionate & funny on this issue

I am not entirely sure if creativity can be taught as the audience needs to want to learn (I am not sure if anything can be taught if there is no inherent motivation to learn). What I do know is that I have watched a number of people “become” creative in front of my very eyes and the ingredient for it is very simple. In other words I have facilitated the learning of creativity.

If you want people to be creative or innovative – yes they are different but they both require the same foundational environment – then create a safe place; one where it is ok to make mistakes. Allow your audience to FEEL what Alexander Bell knew – for every incredible thing he created there were a thousand “mistakes”.

Personally, I create that environment through games and activities. I am more than willing to share if anyone wants.

and as a follow up:

Creativity is a wonderful organic process, I believe it is what the brain does naturally because it works on the principle of making connections. Here is the kicker though, the brain does not function optimally when it is controlled by an emotionally negative state – the brain needs to feel safe to make a majority of its connections – there are obviously the fight or flight exceptions. So this whole idea of teaching creativity leaves me a little uneasy as it is something that occurs naturally. As has been said before though; if the environment is one that creates a negative emotional state then creativity will be stopped in its tracks. I believe this is what happens in a lot of school and business environments.

We can create environments that will see increased creativity, we can provide tools to help it happen. I do not know if we can teach it.

What makes this discussion really relevant to me as a trainer is that it is my responsibility to make sure that I create an optimal environment to ensure learning AND to help people be the best that they can be and learn that this “best” is truly part of them. I want my audience to be creative to find that “best” so mulling over what the creative process is and what I can do to help it on its way is very valid.

This discussion has been a great thought provoker for me as it has mimicked the creative process and grown organically. Connections have been made and transferred. Contributors have taken information and made it their own by playing with it and manipulating it to create something that reflects them. It demonstrates the creativity involved in all learning. Now imagine what would happen if several contributors had shamed, mocked and dismissed other contributions – there was one entry that may have been taken that way but thankfully the group moved on quickly and left it behind.

If I imagine that scenario then I am back where I started, with a supportive environment creative magic is able to happen.


Thoughts on Physical Education

“We’re on a mission to make self-reflection hip for just a moment, just long enough to save us.” Jamie Catto

I have a thought that if the word diversity refers to looking for difference then university can be about seeking unity. For me education works best when it moves to bring people together through learning. Two men who have taken this concept of seeking similarities a great deal further are Duncan Bridgeman and Jamie Cato of 1 Giant Leap; a concept band and media project that travels the globe collecting music and video images on a laptop. What makes this wonderful project so distinctive is that they layer music from around the world onto a track having provided an initial beat. Through this we hear both the similarities and the unique nature of each artist performing within a whole while knowing that they are separated by continents and cultures. This surely is a wonderful metaphor for education.

When thinking about what Physical Education can be I am also drawn to 1 Giant Leap, watching their videos something becomes apparent. Humans were made to move. Naturally we are movement literate, we are made to walk, run, jump and dance. Somehow through a sedentary and mechanized western lifestyle we educate ourselves out of this natural state.

When I look at it from this perspective physical education becomes a different paradigm. I no longer wish to focus on teaching “how to” sports classes or even an interest in lifetime activity. Suddenly I find myself passionate about encouraging reconnection with movement and experimenting with its subtlety; I want students to play with timing and balance, and to examine their range of motion. It fills me with excitement when I can suggest a holistic outlook and examine philosophy through movement. Take an activity like Le Parkour; a contemporary, viral and frequently urban discipline, which is based on the idea that obstacles are ramps into a new world of opportunity. As part of the activity a traceur (practitioner of Parkour) replaces the concept of obstacle as barrier and substitutes it instead with the obstacle being something to be played with, explored and ultimately as providing a chance to develop a new skill. A traceur will experience this reality many times in their average “jam” and suddenly it becomes their truth when transferred into life in general.

As a physical educator I want my students to feel rhythm through their core and be so moved by it they spontaneously erupt in movement that fills them with joy and a sense of satisfaction. I want them to remove rules from this movement and just let themselves go and be happy in their expression. I want them to create community through their sharing of this expression.

It is important to me that students see movement for what it is an integral part of life, one that has ramifications on their whole. Fitness is about far more than looking good. Thinking of it purely in terms of cardiovascular disease is limiting. Movement allows all parts of your body to function better; it promotes happiness, learning and a healthy mental state. It is the lubricant for a life that is balanced and fulfilling.

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