I was 19 and in an instructor training course for Colorado Outward Bound. We had backpacked in to Snowmass Lake, and then, after crossing a steep snowfield (late June) climbed up over beautiful wildflower covered slopes into a high col in the ridge between Snowmass and the next cirque to the north under Capitol Peak.

Just as we came into the col, a huge thunderstorm blew in from the north. Lightning was striking the peaks around us, and thunder was echoing back and forth across the cirque. The north slope was covered in avalanche-prone snow, which the booming thunder threatened to shake loose. Our packs began to buzz with electricity, signaling possible lightning strikes.

The instructor turned to me, and calmly said, “John, you are in charge. What do we do now?” I had to think of a safe plan and execute it extremely quickly, and I had to manage getting the rest of the group into a safe place and addressing their fears, while organizing how they would move in an orderly and safe way down the snow covered slope to the valley below.

We were able to get off the ridge and down the slope safely and quickly, and then we sat and debriefed how I had done as the “leader” at the moment. Characteristics? Authentic experience, immediate and powerful need, meaningful, real world experience, visible action and immediate feedback/ consequences, social process, challenges critical thinking, analytic to synthetic and creative thinking, activates and requires application of prior/ earlier learning, other adults involved besides the “teacher,” authentic assessment… I could go on.

What would it take to make “school” this way? I think we could easily do it. But we would have to let go of almost everything we think about how school is supposed to be. Are we ready for that transformation?

Share