Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Take a hike

This Fourth of July led me to a back-country epiphany. My wife and I were hiking in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains for four days, spending part of each day traveling well-marked trails and (by choice) another part bushwhacking off trail. The on-trail time proved wonderfully scenic as this Exhibit A above Toxaway Lake demonstrates:

Being able to follow clearly demarcated and well-signed paths made for confident, decisive movement through sublime terrain. In comparison, off-trail adventures meant halting progress, occasional missteps, or even backtracking to find a better (read: passable) way. Given those avoidable difficulties, I've been reflecting since, why even bother leaving the path in the first place? My conclusion arrived via analogy -- concocted by my teacher brain, on the clock even in mid-summer.

The trail confers explicit directions, showing one way to proceed in all its glory, making each next step comfortingly obvious. It represents the direct instruction of the hiking world! In comparison, leaving the trail behind opens up new possibilities for simultaneous exploration and confusion. Bushwhacking is genius hour, or whatever name you want to brand open-ended inquiry. Getting from point A to point B or beyond becomes an unspecified puzzle versus connect-the-dots. That uncertainty can frustrate as well as invigorate, and I came to realize how much its enjoyment depends on all the paths I've walked before plus time spent with more-seasoned hikers who've shown me the way(s).

I'll close by repeating words from Marcia Tate that I shared less than a month ago: "If you're not modeling what you're teaching, then you're teaching something else." By way of my epiphany, I'll add: Model both how and why to stay on a particular path along with when and why to diverge where the trail hasn't yet been blazed.


  1. "Bushwhacking is genius hour" ...brilliant!

  2. A post full of fabulous - the breathtaking photos, the analogies, the wisdom, the truth - especially on modeling. As you've done here, it makes the abstract concrete, and kids need to see every step we make if they are ever to forge ahead on their own. I feel I must visit those mountains ...!

  3. Great wisdom which is so often found when we figuratively and literally go off the trail. Been thinking about challenge for students (and their teachers) and how to make that seem as appealing to them as it is to me.