Sunday, April 26, 2009

At the end of Our Rope

Yesterday the entire staff of my school...teachers, administrators, support staff, all of us...did the ropes course at Georgetown College. The purpose of the course is problem solving and team building. I'm going to start by saying this was perhaps the best professional development in which I have ever participated as a teacher.

Why do I consider climbing around on logs and dropping 30 feet on a giant swing such a powerful experience? Some of the reasons are obvious, and some not so much.

For starters, the weather was absolutely gorgeous. When we met at 8:30, it was already in the mid-70's, breezy, and gloriously sunny. This weather marks a break in a long pattern this spring of rainy days in which the temp never climbed out of the 40's or low 50's. We knew our colleagues at our sister school were trapped in florescent rooms working on curriculum alignment and common assessments...a worthy goal, but somewhat soul-sucking on the first perfect Saturday of Spring. Nothing elevates morale like playing outside when the alternative is so much more obviously work.

We were divided into three groups, and we rotated through the different challenges the course offered. My group consisted of English teachers, world language teachers, the staff of the FMD room, and the dean of students. Some of the folks in my group I knew well, others not as much. When the Spanish teacher was dropped from the rope swing she let loose with a long string of something in Spanish. The dean of students (also a minister) hollered, "Oh lord, she's speaking in tongues!" When my friend Linda (not a minister) was dropped, she let loose with a string of English that was easily understandable and still makes me laugh when I think about it. At the end of one of the challenges, we had to sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." My group continued to sing it at the end of each challenge just because. The day was just fun. How often do you have genuine fun with your co-workers?

Finally, the course itself was designed to force cooperative thinking. It was impossible to complete the tasks without each member of the group contributing in some way. I discovered talents I never knew my colleagues possessed. My fellow English teacher (and beta reader), Amanda, is wicked good at seeing patterns. I'm sad to say I sucked at that challenge, and it turns out it was a word pattern I wasn't getting. Mark and Zelma are mechanically inclined. They immediately figured out how to assemble a complicated contraption for grabbing things. I discovered some things about myself as well. I don't like heights, and in fact have been known to have panic attacks in high places. I let my team members haul me 30 feet off the ground, and then I released the dropping mechanism myself. I'm still not over the adrenaline rush.

The biggest lesson of the day is something all of us instinctively know, but need to be reminded of on occasion. We are not islands. We all need human interaction, if for no other reason than to do our jobs more effectively. Every problem is more easily solved with help. Teachers sometimes live on an island. When the bell rings and the classroom door closes, it's just us and the kids. We forget the person in the next classroom probably has the answer to whatever question is plaguing us. The same is true for my other vocation. Writers, by the very nature of their craft, exist on an island. We write alone. Ironically, without human interaction, we would have nothing about which to write. Nothing interesting anyway.

I'm going to post pictures of myself dangling from the end of a rope as soon as I get them from one of my colleagues, and I'm going to school tomorrow with a renewed appreciation for the people in the trenches with me.

1 comment:

  1. That isolation is what made me throw in the towel this year. There is no cooperation within my language; I can handle fighting the kids and the parents, but fighting my colleagues was too much.

    That staff development session sounds awesome.