Who’s steering this canoe anyway?!

By David Robertson, Chief Academic Officer, Warsaw Community Schools

Canoe, Wabakimi Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Most years in the fall, I have the opportunity to spend a weekend with my dad and brother in Michigan camping and canoeing.   We typically head up on Friday night and the focal point of the trip is the 4-5 hour canoe trip on the Pere Marquette River on Saturday. The Pere Marquette is a spring-fed river that is quick, has lots of tight turns, and is extremely cold. Some years, this canoe trip has been more stress than fun. A couple of years ago, the water level was way up and it rained the whole time, so the conditions were borderline dangerous…that’s why I love it! Anyway, the last time we went down the river things were different. It was chilly, but we had sun and the water level wasn’t too high. Even with good conditions, you need to be careful and know what you’re doing to successfully navigate the river.

I had lots of good time to think during the 4-5 hours on the water, and I couldn’t help but think about how our journey as educators is often similar to a canoe trip. When canoeing, there are times when you feel like you can’t control where you’re going. You do your best to steer in the right direction, but unseen obstacles and currents can change your course. Bottom line — the water is carrying and directing the canoe. Right now with the start of a new school year, many of us feel anxiety because we don’t feel like we are in control of where we are going. There are unknowns about teacher evaluation, student situations, new programs, etc. and many other things we are unsure about. I think the key is to understand that the obstacles and the unknown have to be overcome to reach our goal and the end of the journey. On that river if I said, “Nope, I don’t like this! There are too many rocks and I can’t control the current. I’m not doing it,” I would have never made it to the end of the trip. I would have missed out on a lot of fun along the way, and the enjoyment of being in the middle of a beautiful fall day in Michigan.

Also, I found that when dealing with obstacles on the river, if I did my best to be attentive to them and steer clear, 95% of the time, they were avoided. Even though they created stress for a period of time, things usually worked out in the end. The same is true with the obstacles we face. Even though many of us are stressed about things now, things usually work out in the end.

Another thing I thought about  while canoeing was how critical having a clear  vision and teamwork are to having a successful trip. In my canoe, I sat in the back and a friend of mine was up front. It was his job to know where we needed to go and communicate that to me. Then I would use my oar as a rudder to help steer the canoe in the right direction.

There are a lot of parallels with a school.  One, we need to have a vision of where we are going. Both a personal and a school vision are huge! It’s the verbal articulation of where we are going. If a teacher or school isn’t clear about what they are all about, there is not much point in anything else.  At Warsaw, we are working to inspire and equip ALL our students to continuously acquire and apply knowledge and skills while they pursue their dreams and enrich the lives of others. How does what we are doing today fit in to that? Think about it…it matters.  Also, communication is critical. Effective communication with each others throughout the year will be critical to our success. Finally, taking the necessary action to get where we need to go is important. Some of the things that we do won’t be what we’ve always done, but they are steps that will lead us to our goal.

Even though we don’t have everything figured out, and there are times when it feels like we can’t keep our head above the current, we’re doing this for our students — to help them reach their dreams and enrich their lives. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be comfortable at times, but if we have a shared vision, communicate effectively, and steer in the right direction, we’ll enjoy the journey because along the way we’ll see beauty of our surroundings. On my canoe trip I enjoyed the beautiful nature of Northern Michigan. For those of us in education, it’s the satisfaction of watching our team and our students become all that we and they can be…Hang in there!

To read more from David, check out his blog at https://blazecourageous.wordpress.com/