Huddlers, have I got a treat for you! In advance of the upcoming PESIC Conference in Corner Brook, Newfoundland next week, I had the opportunity to interview keynote speaker Dr. TA Loeffler. TA’s accomplishments are many, and her approach to life and learning is both inspiring and a great lesson for anyone seeking to achieve a dream. We would also like to congratulate her: TA is a 2013 recipient of The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
We’re not all lucky enough to head to the Rock next week to personally hear TA’s speak, so I wanted to take the opportunity to ask her to share some of her thoughts with this community (and also tell you that this is my favourite post of hers.) As you will read below, she responded generously and with great insight. Enjoy!
There is a growing focus on the importance of mental health and the role that physical education can play in supporting and promoting the mental health of young people. What are your suggestions for building strength and resilience in our students along their educational journey?
As an outdoor educator, my first thought goes to nature. I think we are in danger of raising a generation of children that have no connection to nature and the outdoors. Current research is showing the importance of time outdoors and time in nature for mental health. In Japan, doctors prescribe forest bathing for stress and anxiety. I think it’s critical that physical educators teach some of their classes outdoors. With the demise of outdoor recess in some in some schools and limited opportunities for unstructured outdoor play, it becomes even more important that some physical education occurs in the schoolyard or in neighboring green space or on the ski hill or skating on a pond. Time outdoors brings fresh air, stress relief, and resiliency in dealing with the elements.
The natural world is also full of natural consequences. There is often a quick time frame from action to reaction or consequence. When I worked with adjudicated youth in a wilderness therapy program, if they kicked over their Billy can of water, they were often thirsty for the rest of the day. If they didn’t get a fire started with a bow and drill, we all had cold food that night. If they, like me, elected to go without gloves in an Edmonton winter in grade 5 so I could kick the football further during recess, I learned just how painful cold hands could be.
Learning to play and move and be comfortable in the out of doors provides a series of experiential embodied lessons. This winter semester, I watched my group of physical education students grow and learn in their ability to take good care of themselves and each other in the winter environment. In the first week, 30 minutes of outdoor time was enough because they hadn’t developed the skills to stay warm and dry yet. By the end of our six weeks together, they spent the night sleeping in a snow shelter and being very able to handle the challenges the winter weather placed before them. They developed a tolerance for adversity, a mindset for community, and they left the experience feeling very proud of their accomplishments.
Developing an outdoor component to physical education programs, provides lifelong skills and knowledge, enlarged activity options, and provides many opportunities for cross curricular engagement/learning.
How do you build community around your ideas? What role does social media play in helping you share your ideas?
In 2004, I began to court a support group of friends interested in my climb of Mount McKinley. I emailed 10 friends and they emailed 10 friends and so on and so on. Eventually, the list grew to about 500 or 600 individuals that I would email weekly to tell them about how I was working towards my climbing goals. As well, I began having the website in 2004 to publicize my climb of Mount McKinley. For the first several years, my friends who were in the communications business managed my website.
When I returned from my first Everest climb in 2007, I learned about Facebook. I began to use it instantly as an outreach tool and as a way to share ideas. I enjoyed how easy it was to share URL links. In 2009, I learned about using WordPress as a way of having a blog and website. This gave me the ability to update my website in real time and I began to use it to webcast from my climbs. I can call in updates to my website with the satellite phone or post from email. As you can see, social media has played a tremendous role in helping me share my ideas both informally and formally with my students. I’ve used Facebook, Linked in, Twitter, and my blog to share my ideas and thoughts and stories in a multitude of ways and to build the support community around me.
For the past two years,I have been posting a “Visual Soliloquy” each day. At first, I was speaking only to me, wanting to inspire myself with the wise words of others and by matching my photographic images with the words to create a daily dose of multimedia inspiration. What I have found, however, is that the visual soliloquies seem to speak to many more people than myself.
Your post from January 30 states: “The ration of We’s to I’s is the best indicator of the development of a team.” How does this apply to the idea of professional learning communities? How can a school build a culture of professional development that is more like a team?
In mountaineering, the idea of the team is very important. We climb, sleep, live, and exist together for long periods of time during expeditions. We need to quickly build a sense of community and trust in each other because, in many cases, we may have to depend on each other for our lives. When climbing on glaciers, we literally tie ourselves together so that if one of us falls into a crevasse, the rest of us can stop him or her from falling deeper. We must find a pace that works for each person on the team. We can only go to the summit together. It’s not likely that I can get to the summit alone and neither can you – we must go in unison.
In such situations, it makes sense to cultivate the team. I often say that team stands for Together Everything Always Manageable. In thinking of schools and communities of teachers, I think it would be important to develop a sense of team as well. Coming together in the expedition of running a school, we can draw on the strengths of each team member to have the expedition run smoothly and to learn from each other each and every day.
How can teachers identify their own Everest in their own community? In their own school?
I usually start my presentations asking the audience to think about what their Everest might be. I often describe an Everest as something that “pokes you in the belly”… kind of like an inner puffer fish. It pokes and pokes and pokes until we pay attention to what it’s trying to tell us. The other clue about what an Everest is, is that when it first arises, it appears impossible. If the first thought into my head is, “I can’t possibly do that,” I know I might be onto a big dream or a big goal… an Everest. Everests come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, challenges and obstacles. Everests invite us to aim high and to risk disappointment. Everests require us to stretch, to serve, and to be uncomfortable.
I climbed my first big mountain for myself; it was a midlife crisis of sorts. I needed a big project that throw my entire heart and soul into and when I reached the summit of North America, I realized I wasn’t quite done. After the first climb, however, I wanted my efforts to be “more than a mountain.” I wanted my climbs to be more than me just standing on the specific place of high topography and so, started to look for ways for that to happen.
In getting ready to climb Everest in 2007, I wanted to inspire the use of Newfoundland and Labrador to become more physically active and to have big dreams that they pursued themselves. I began speaking in schools and found that by sharing my message of big dreams and big goals, I not only inspired the students but also the teachers. It was a terrific win-win situation. I in turn received inspiration for all from all of those students and teachers.
Ideally, an Everest fills a personal need or personal mission or personal journey while at the same time, serving a community need. We can push ourselves towards fulfilling our own dreams while impacting the lives of those in our families, in our schools, and in our communities.
Through your speaking, writing, and blogging you provide a wealth of inspiration to teachers and students. Where does inspiration strike you? How can we be more inspired and inspiring to the students and communities we serve?
I receive inspiration from many sources. I am most inspired when I’m out in nature. Rhythmic movement in the out-of-doors soothes my mind and opens up a world of creativity that is much harder to find in the crazy busyness of my urban life. It is often when I’m out on a hike or a paddle that I see an opening or an opportunity or way to be of service. I’m also inspired when people tell me stories of overcoming their own personal challenges or taking on something they didn’t think they could do. I also am inspired by children’s drawings and art. I love sharing my curiosity, showing pictures, and telling stories.
I think the way we can be most inspiring to others is to be inspiring to ourselves. When we live authentically and in alignment with our values, when we take risks and put in hundreds of hours of work trying to fulfill our dreams, when we push beyond where were comfortable, we change our own lives and thus, we change the lives of those around us.
When we identify take on and go after our own Everest’s, whatever they may be, we inspire those around us to do the same. It goes back to that rope team concept. When we are all working hard towards both our individual and collective missions, we keep each other on track. We can celebrate the summits and commiserate in the valleys. It becomes a cycle of inspiration and support.
Have you recently read anything (blogs, books, etc) that you’d recommend to the huddle community?
I’ve been enjoying the book, Your Brain on Nature by Selhub and Logan. Below are a set of resources that I list on my website for those that are interested in getting children and adults outdoors:
Dr. TA Loeffler brings 25 years of expertise leading people through significant life-changing experiences to every facet of her work. Her work and adventures have taken her to 39 different countries and all seven continents. TA is attempting to complete “The Seven Summits,” the highest peak on all seven continents and only has Mount Everest left to complete.
As a Professor of Outdoor Recreation at Memorial University of Newfoundland, TA has developed a reputation for excellence in experiential education because her students are more likely to be outside chasing icebergs than sitting in a classroom. TA inspires hope, possibility, and vision in those whose lives she touches. Over the past six years, TA has shared her message of “Big Dreams, Big Goals” with over 38,000 youth in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.