The Ski Trip

(Note:  this is the second of two posts that describe situations in which I learned a little something new about how to be a good residential life leader at a semester school.  Lifelong learning:  all part-and-parcel of great community-building!)

In March, I co-led a trip to Indianhead for 18 students to go downhill skiing.  On the previous ski trip, a student from Conserve had broken his ankle, and while none of the Grad Fellows had witnessed the event, it was discovered later that the student had been snowboarding off-trail (in the woods between runs)–something he clearly should not have been doing.  At the beginning of this trip, my colleague and I made sure that they knew what not to do.

One of the students, Roberta, was an experienced skier, and she had offered to ski with me later in the day, knowing that I had never downhill skied before.  During the first half of the day, while I learned how to ski, Roberta decided to ski her favorite runs, which were removed from the more popular runs.  Later, when we joined up again, Roberta and I were riding a lift back to the top of the mountain, and she was telling me about her morning; she let slip that she had been going off-trail, then said, “Oops, I shouldn’t have told you that.  But . . . I was being safe about it, and I didn’t get hurt at all!”

I did mention that she shouldn’t have been engaging in that activity, but otherwise let the comment slide.   She had been on the prior trip, and I thought to myself that she should have known better, but I didn’t see any benefit in lecturing her on it right there in the ski lift.  Overall, it wasn’t an uplifting experience, but it did help me feel more confident that she was starting to feel more comfortable in seeing me as not only an authority figure, but a friend as well.

From Roberta’s perspective, I can see how this wasn’t a big deal (after all, I was a teenager before, too!).  Yet as an adult, I can see how this behavior simply reflects that of a normal teenager–greater risk taking, the belief that the rules don’t apply to her, etc.  In fact, according to this study, Roberta is less likely than others to take responsibility for her skiing because she is an expert.

In the future, I will be looking out for situations in which I give in to students’ justifications like this (or let the consequences slide).  To be an effective mentor, I am working to both build trust with students and to tactfully hand out the appropriate consequences.


When Grumpy Cat Says

Here’s the first of two posts delineating situations in which I learned a little more about how to be a good residential life leader.  Noticing these things helps me to focus on individual student needs here at a semester school.

This is a tricky subject because the content is obviously “close to home” in many respects. I have changed students’ names, and altered the specific description of the events or behavior of the students that would probably be distinguishable and recognizable to those who live here.

One student (let’s call him Jordan) was not particularly into Community Service Day, the day when all of Conserve’s students and half the staff pack off in groups to different parts of the Northwoods to help other organizations. Jordan was in my group, and clearly was down about the whole thing. He sometimes wears a shirt with a cat that describes his mood perfectly (see above). It’s really quite fitting; he was not open to liking the experience one bit, and would opt out whenever he could.

Now, normally, my way of handling the situation would be to ask Jordan what he was and was not looking forward to in order to increase one and decrease the other. Of course, that’s the way my feminine brain works.

My (male) co-leader had a much more effective solution, which was to begin the work period with sarcastic comments directed toward myself–I, of course, handed them right back to him. This amused Jordan to no end, and as the jokes went back and forth, Jordan’s mood improved as if on cue. He probably worked harder than anyone else that day.

This showed me an important facet of Jordan’s personality–he really was interested in the work in the first place, but needed to buy-in to the kind of work environment we had in order to enjoy the day. This could have been linked to the way Jordan is used to having fun (i.e. joking with male peers); once he recognized it, he was fine. In all, this experience watching Jordan’s mood change helped me recognize an alternative way to interest students here.

Environmental Education’s Role in Re-seeding Culture

I’ve been thinking more about how Aimee’s presentation on the Seven Fires Prophecy started to guide my personal set of goals for environmental education (EE).  I’ve hit on something, a key feature of that amorphous, abstract idea that has been causing me to bump up against the prescribed EE goals all semester long.  I haven’t been able to get a good look at it until now.  With some luck, in this post, I’ll be able to explain this abstract idea and how the previous two posts developing personal goals for EE fits into it.

As a refresher, here’s what I came up with before:

  • Environmental education seeks to create awareness of one’s place in a community (both human and non-human), an attitude of wonder and honor for that community, the willingness to learn the tools of a successful lifestyle, and active work in the lifestyle one chooses.

What concerned me was how vague these goals sounded; certainly, the Tbilisi goals are also vague, but for personal EE goals, I’d like a little more direction for my work.  Here are the Tbilisi goals of environmental education:

  1. to foster clear awareness of, and concern about, economic, social, political, and ecological interdependence in urban and rural areas;
  2. to provide every person with opportunities to acquire the knowledge, values, attitudes, commitment, and skills needed to protect and improve the environment;
  3. to create new patterns of behavior of individuals, groups, and society as a whole towards the environment.

Excepting the fact that I’ve already identified that humans, to me, don’t necessarily need to “create new patterns of behavior”–in traditional skills renewal, we really just need to remember old patterns of behavior–my goals sound like just a more straight-forward version.  So, let’s hone it down more.

Remembering the importance of honoring community, I remembered a podcast I’d heard a few months ago–a permaculturist, Warren Brush, speaking about his definition of “intact cultures.”  He says an intact culture is

A group of people who knows where all that sustains them comes from, and they honor those things deeply.

He goes on to say that it’s not as esoteric as it sounds.   It comes from the specific world around you, the elements unique to your home. Literally, culture comes through the landscape into the people.  It’s cultivating a sense of place.

It’s so clear to me–this is the work set for us to do, to re-teach where life-sustaining materials come from in order to feed curiosity, wonder, and honor for our communities. We’re helping to re-seed culture.  This, to me, is the heart of a way to protect and improve our environment and solve environmental problems, all wrapped up into one.  As educators, we’re charged with sharing our research into effectively doing this–including telling some really good stories–and investing ourselves in the community we choose.

That’s where I’ll leave it for now.  Call it advocacy, call it genius, call it incomprehensible, I don’t mind, but do tell me what you think.

The Learning Curve & The Wonder of Google Docs

How did people get any group work done before the invention of Google Docs?

Whenever the Grad Fellows have a group assignment, usually one of us suggests that we put our work into a Google Doc, which (as you may or may not know) is a service provided free by Google that lets users digitally modify a document simultaneously. It’s extra helpful for people with busy schedules who can never seem to find the time to sit down together–we can work on the group project on our own time and not have to pass around a paper or Word document a million times.

Too bad I forgot about Google Docs when it came time to complete our most recent group project about best practices for care of residential life faculty. Read More…

EE In the Time of the Seventh Fire

Artwork by Chris Dyer

(Artwork by Chris Dyer)

Last night at Many Ways of Peace in Eagle River I had the privilege of hearing from Aimee Cree Dunn, a professor at Northern Michigan University, about the Seventh Fire Project.  Aimee, who is also an unaffiliated Metis, explained the Anishinaabe sacred story of the Seven Fires Prophecy and how it relates to our lives today. I had first found the Seven Fires Prophecy at this site (click to read the whole prophecy) while researching for a living history lesson, and it really spoke to me.  Read More…

Culture Clash Collaboration

Culture Clash

A few weeks ago, Conserve School had a campus-wide Earth Day event. (Little did we know, spring was going to be joining us quite a bit later!) As part of the tidy little shindig, students go to workshops throughout the day instead of going to classes, then party in the evening with a dinner and contra-dancing. While teachers are encouraged to lead workshops, we are not required to. I had been thinking about how I might put together a Transition Town workshop, but it wasn’t working out well, and so I had decided to drop the whole thing.

Fortunately, Nick had made plans to lead another workshop, “Culture Clash,” something based on a simulation he had done in undergrad called “Alphas and Betas.” The goal of the simulation was for the participants to experience what it would be like trying to live in a foreign culture, one very different from their own. They would have to pick up on all the little cues from the residents in order to make a successful trade.  The simulation requires two facilitators, one for each culture, and he needed another person to be the second facilitator.

Sounds fun, right? And this was the perfect opportunity to collaborate on a project, one that would clearly be helpful to both Nick and Earth Day. (I am trying to build a habit of helpfulness, to pick out the ways I can work for the benefit of others and then propose them; this, I’ve seen, is a handy way to build community and resources, not to mention building my skills.  So many people want help, but they’re not sure what that help is).  Although I didn’t exactly pick out and propose this particular project, I did an important thing:  I recognized it for the opportunity it was, and said yes.  Read More…

Varsity Gardening

(Photo by kngdvd on

I couldn’t stop it from happening . . . from the very beginning, this semester’s gardening group made gardening into a sport. They were both the athletes and the cheerleaders, eager to work and sing.

This made for entertaining Wednesday afternoons, but also raised expectations for me setting up good collaborative ventures throughout the course of the semester (“raised” pun intended). Read More…

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