from the desk of Rheanne Stevens, Director of Intermediate and Middle School Program Collingwood School, West Vancouver
Many people believe that teachers spend their days giving information to students, prescribing exercises that will fill children’s brains with facts. Movies and television shows often portray teachers standing at the front of a classroom, chalk (or white board marker) in hand lecturing to lifeless crowds who count down the minutes until the bell rings and they are released from their daily captivity. This is far from the reality that I know.
This week I had the distinct privilege of joining the grade four classes at “Camp Summit”, an outdoor education facility in a stunningly beautiful location just north of Squamish. The children, their counselors and the grade four teaching team boarded the buses early on Monday morning, ready for a three-day, two night experience that would enhance their social studies and science curriculums. The reality is, that in addition to the vast learning about habitats, local eco-systems, food systems, and navigational techniques, there was so much more going on.
The children bonded as a community, making friendship bracelets together, singing silly songs around the campfire, snuggling in sleeping bags and talking by the light of their flashlights. They chased after camp staff and laughed with each other, ate with friends in the dining tent and created memories together. They learned what it is to feel connected to others and know that they have shared important experiences. The children learned to take risks in a place where they had the full support of their peers and the adults around them. They placed themselves in uncomfortable situations that helped them learn about what they are capable of, what it feels like to set a goal and succeed. I watched as a new, fairly quiet little girl impressed herself and her classmates by climbing to the very top of the “vertical play pen” on the high ropes course and sitting in a tire where she could look out over the tops of the trees. She was in her element. I also watched as a boy demonstrated an abundance of concentration and landed four arrows on the target during archery while most others sent their arrows off into space. His self-image shot up exponentially.
Perhaps the greatest learning for me came not from the successes, though, but from the children who struggled. They weren’t the fastest or strongest or most adept at a given challenge, but it was their attitude that struck me. In one instance, a young girl who had never ridden a bike, strapped on all of the gear and climbed on despite her extreme anxiety about it. In another case, a determined boy rode his way around the mountain biking course, falling off his bike no fewer than ten times, and each time, dusting himself off and continuing on. He was last, he was tired, but he was going to finish what he started and the pride that he had in himself at the end of the course inspired both his peers and teachers. This is genuine, meaningful and long-lasting learning.
Facts can be found at the touch of a button, but deep learning about community, risk-taking, commitment and perseverance is something that the internet can’t deliver. Searching for authentic tasks and challenges that allow for significant learning, like the ones the children came into contact with at Camp Summit, is really the way that good teachers spend their days.