In the midst of our first day of a “Classroom Without Walls” trip, one of my English students who is on the trip looked at me as we surveyed the landscape of canton Schwyz in Switzerland and said “It’s really amazing how fast we learn. I mean, this morning we had no idea about any of this.”
We began the morning slowly after a night fitful sleeping, as it turned out, by everyone. We ran and bounced our way through a cow pasture to begin with, practicing the run, brake, lean-and-run-quickly technique for launching. I learned run, brake, left, and right in German. Slowly, each paragliding student, myself included, worked her or his way up the hill, getting longer and longer flights. Eventually, we launched from the highest point and practiced turning. I learned that I am the Greatest American Hero of Swiss paragliding, landing much like Mickey Mantle coming into third base. This is my goal for tomorrow. The kids flourished, learning at different rates and succeeding or struggling with different parts of the technique, but all completing the day with successful flights and a high level of stoke for tomorrow, and for each successive day. The stoke is for flying, for doing something new, for succeeding, for learning easily, quickly, and authentically. When a boy’s glider collapsed and spun him around, no teacher needed to tell him that he hadn’t lifted off from the ground. When a girl launched five meters off the ground on her first try, she didn’t need a grade to prove that she had nailed it. It’s learning to do something personally valued, even if not valuable on the open market, that brings on the stoke.
I’m lucky to be teaching at a school with amazing resources through which kids are granted these kinds of opportunities. I wish all kids got them. At the end of the week, I’m not at all sure what quantifiable metrics we’ll have fulfilled, but that should clear up much of what we need to know about quantifiable metrics and learning. Sometimes, oftentimes, teachers and students alike need opportunities to soar and opportunities to make hard landings in environments that don’t look like school, but are.