No-Doze Leadership Styles

As the Capstone Leadership Teacher, one of the most rewarding parts of my job is the in-depth discussions and new ideas students share with me on a daily basis. Last Thursday, we introduced the No-Doze Leadership Styles, an exercise borrowed from the National Outdoor Leadership School that describes different approaches to leadership based on the degree to which an individual emotes and voices opinions in a group setting. The exercise describes leaders by four categories: relationship masters (those that emphasize caring), analysts/architects (those that emphasize analysis and conceptual functions), spontaneous motivators (those that emphasize emotional stimulation), and drivers (those that emphasize action and directing).

John teaching leadership outside in Chile.

No-Doze is a classic activity in outdoor circles because it helps students pinpoint strengths and areas for improvement, as well as acknowledges and values often overlooked leadership functions like interpersonal connection. This semester, students used the exercise to better understand how the group functioned over the recent Patagonia Expeditions. One student, who identified as a spontaneous motivator, reflected that she was often the bringer of the psyche in our group, but that she sometimes misread the needs of more subdued peers. Another student, who identified as an analyst/architect, felt validated in her ability to step back from the group and think critically about the bigger picture.

Students also used the exercise to critique the way that our society values leaders. When asked which categories famous leaders fall into, students noted that we often categorize male figures as fulfilling driver functions: acting and directing, at the expense of emotional connection. On the other hand, female leaders are often valued for their ability to connect on an interpersonal level but derided (e.g. called “bossy”) when they embody driver functions like direct delegation.

Of course, this exercise is far from perfect. Many classes pointed out that categorizing people into four different roles can make individuals seem fixed in their approach to leadership. However, the exercise ultimately serves as a mirror for students to conceptualize their own approach to leadership, and better understand what role they play in a group setting--at the Alzar School or afterword.

Written by Anita Cussler, posted under: Uncategorized

Alumna in Action- Founding an Outdoor Club in the Sierras

Anna, an alumna from Tuolumne County, CA returned from her spring 2017 semester with Alzar School determined to stay involved in the outdoors.  Furthermore, Anna wanted to share the many wonderful opportunities being at the gateway to Yosemite provides to more people in her community.  Anna identified that while her community had so much to offer, many had never hiked, camped, or explored the beautiful places that surround her town. 

A junior in high school, Anna is supplementing her curriculum with classes at the community college and decided that she would start an outdoor club at Columbia College.  She found a few people who were also interested in the outdoors and submitted an application to formally charter the club through the school.  Once sanctioned, Anna hosted a booth at club day to find others who were interested in exploring the outdoors.  From there, she initiated camping trips, graffiti clean-up days, and climbing trips.  She has plans for fundraising activities so the program can begin to acquire gear and club members can participate in a wilderness first aid course.

We are proud of Anna's ability to turn ideas into action and find a way to work with the structure of the organizations of which she belongs to create the outcomes she desires.  We know this skill will continue to serve Anna and her communities well.  

You can read more about Anna's project and watch a quick video here.




Patagonia National Park: A Milestone for Chile

‘Why Chile?’ we are often asked. The Alzar School returns to Chile each semester because it offers an amazing classroom for our students. Traveling to South America, students are met with a warm and welcoming culture that allows them to practice their Spanish speaking skills and make connections with locals. Beyond these wonderful people and cultures (stay tuned for a blog post about the Mapuche people,) Chile’s expansive geography and rich history provide endless lessons. Exploring Chilean Patagonia, in particular, gives our students a first-hand perspective on the contemporary and universal issue of land conservation. And this spring, Alzar School students are lucky to experience a historical moment for Chile and for the world.

On January 29, 2018, Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, President and CEO of Tompkins Conservation, came together to form five new national parks in Chile and expand three others. After decades of planning, restoration and negotiations (read more about the history of Patagonia Park,) the Chilean government and Tompkins Conservation have formalized the world's largest expansion of a national park system through the donation of private land!

Kristine overlooking Patagonia National Park. Photo courtesy of National Geographic Photographer, Jimmy Chin. Check out and follow Jimmy Chin’s, Instagram feed (@jimmy_chin) for more recent photos of the Patagonia National Park.

The recent donation from Tompkins Foundation of over 1 million acres marks a momentous milestone for conservation and sets a president for private organizations. With this latest donation, Kristine, her late husband, Doug, and their foundation have helped to conserve more than 13 million acres of unique ecosystems in Argentina and Chile. In Chile alone, these newly formed parks will cover more than three times the area of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks combined, roughly the size of Switzerland. 

In her recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Kristine explains the motivation behind their conservation efforts. “We believe that the transfer of private lands to the national park system is an act of democracy. A country’s natural masterpieces are best held and protected by the public for the common good. They should be available to all people to enjoy, to remember that they are part of something much larger than themselves. National parks, monuments and other public lands remind us that regardless of race, economic standing or citizenship, we all depend on a healthy planet for our survival.”

Alzar School students will continue to trek through the natural wonders of the new Patagonia National Park this week, taking in views of expansive valleys, glaciated mountains and, roaming wildlife. As they explore these far reaches of the world they will also gain a lesson in the value of natural environments and the roles in which governments, private foundations and they themselves can plan in preserving and maintaining wild spaces.  

Written by Anita Cussler, posted under: Chile, Environmental Stewardship, Spring 2018, Uncategorized

Cool, Cool River: Geology and Cultural Exchange on the Rio Baker

This past weekend, students embarked on their first extended expedition in Chilean Patagonia. While two-thirds of our group backpacks through the newly formed Parque Patagonia (check out our blog post about the park here,) the remainder of our students will be descending the Rio Baker. Born out of the icy blue waters of Lago General Carrera and the Northern Patagonian Ice Field, the Baker collects glacial fed waters from Rios Neff and Colonia before flowing mightily downstream through ancient landscapes and into the Pacific Ocean. The river is a geological marvel, offering stark and stunning landscapes around each bend.

Students rejoice atop glacial deposits on the Rio Baker

Although perhaps more notable is the Rio Baker’s human landscape. Through our partnership with the Escualos Kayaking Club (read an article about the club in The Catalyst,) we meet and stay with the Gauchos and homesteaders of the Baker Valley. Some of whom have lived and worked beside the river for generations. These river-accessed ranches provide our students a brief but impactful glimpse into a lifestyle far different than their own. Our student Leaders of the Day use their Spanish skills to request permission to camp and learn from their Escualo friends "las reglas de mate": traditions and customs governing the consumption of the iconic South American tea. Baker expeditions offer our school a glimpse into another way of life at end of the world. The fact that we get to paddle through this landscape is just icing on the cake.


Written by John Bengtson, posted under: Uncategorized

The World Awaits in Chile

And they're off! The air is buzzing around the Alzar School Idaho campus as students and staff prepare for their six-week adventure in Chile. Starting today, we will travel over 6788 miles to southern Chile were students will have the opportunity to stand in awe of the Andes mountains, paddle along the glacial waters of the Rio Baker and converse with native Mapuche villagers. For many, Chile is the crowning experience at the Alzar School. However, getting 32 students and 17 staff half-way across the world takes immense preparation, packing and patience.

Before coming to the Alzar School, as parents can attest, students are required to fulfill an extensive packing list. This list becomes even more refined as we prepare for the expedition and remoteness in Chile. Students are held accountable for packing their personal items. Despite a detailed Chile packing list, there are always questions and choices to be made. Do I need another base layer? Should I bring this hoodie or this fleece? On top of carefully packing personal items, students also help with the communal packing of gear which is even further complicated by the need to consolidate airplane baggage. Although the headaches of packing can be exhausting, the wave of excitement for Chile and the adventure ahead courses through the student body. Buen viaje!

Written by Anita Cussler, posted under: Uncategorized