Whenever and wherever I hike I always take a little time to reflect in the peace and quiet of nature. I hear sounds all around me, both natural and man-made, but I also pay close attention to my inner dialogue. Recently, I was hiking in Crater Lake National Park and had an epiphany: hiking is like education.
First, when you hike you need to know where you are and where you’d like to be, both physically and mentally. You need to know the trail you plan on hiking, how long and difficult it will be, and how much time it will take you to complete. You then need to compare that data to your ability and ask yourself “Is this hike something I can do? Will it challenge me just enough but still be enjoyable?”
Educators, rather formal or informal, need to have a foundation to rely upon. We are taught basic educational practices and learn the theories on which those practices are built. However, it’s important to keep up with changing curriculum, standards, and practices. One way to do so is through professional development. My experience working with teachers who participate in professional development indicates that these are the teachers who know where they are and know they want to push themselves further but don’t quite know where they’ll end up. Involvement in one professional development opportunity alone helps educators see education and pedagogy in new ways. No doubt that professional development and its questioning, challenging, and pushing of practices is difficult for some educators but everyone involved tends to learn something and move forward in some way.
Second, you need to be prepared with the appropriate tools and gear for your hike. No matter how long you plan being on a trail, you should always carry water. Wearing proper clothes and shoes is also important for your comfort and safety. Carrying a compass or a topographical map might be necessary, especially for hiking in the backcountry or un-manned terrain.
Likewise, educators need to utilize the variety of tools available. As technology infiltrates our everyday lives more and more, it must be mentioned here. Museums have been thinking about technology integration for years and have adapted as the technology has changed. We have moved from audio tours on iPods to Hatfield’s CyberLab and touch table exhibit. I’ve seen iPads used on the museum floor, in classrooms, and on school field trips. Every tool has affordances and constraints. A map is useful but having a compass and knowing how to use it will make it easier to orient your map. Educators need to think outside of the box and plan to use a variety of resources available. Technology can be a great resource in education but that doesn’t mean it’s the only, or the best, option for all activities. The tool needs to match the terrain being traversed. Books, paper and pencil, markers or crayons, and the schoolyard are sometimes more appropriate to use.
Third, it is not necessary to listen to your surroundings but I highly recommend doing so. Without a doubt you will hear both natural and man-made sounds (i.e. the birds chirping and the inevitable plane flying overhead) but you’ll also hear your own thoughts and, if you’re like me, begin the reflective process. “Wow! This is challenging. What am I doing here?” One of my favorite sounds to stop and listen for is wind moving through trees or mountains. What I like about this sound is that something is created from nothing. It is simply air being pushed through certain crevices or against specific objects and a sound is created. If you don’t stop, stand still, and listen then you’ll miss it altogether.
While an educator’s inner dialogue and reflection of practices is important, what is even more important is to listen to the students. Start dialogues and encourage multiple voices during learning experiences. Not only should the educator know and respect the learner’s background and what is happening in their day-to-day life, but other learners should also be exposed to that information. Critical pedagogy is a must but that teaching and learning environment needs to be respected and the power of voices, or the sounds of the classroom, needs to be recognized.
Can you think of other comparisons? Or a different analogy altogether?