Kayaking 150 kilometers is not an easy feat, and also not part of the everyday life of the average high school student. This unique lifestyle is very common in the day to day life of an Alzar School student. Through completing this challenging goal, the students fulfilled the six Foundations of the Alzar School; these elements include academics, outdoor adventure, environmental stewardship, cultural exchange, leadership training, and service learning.
The students on this expedition woke up early each morning in order to pack all their personal gear, complete their daily chores, and get the group prepared for embarking on the river each morning. Through this outdoor adventure of paddling on the river, these students fostered a relationship with the environment and learned how to leave as little trace as possible moving from one campsite to the next.
At the end of a long day of paddling through the beautiful wilderness of the Baker River, students would have an hour or so to complete schoolwork on their iPads. Each night a subject is assigned in which all the students complete work in that particular subject.
Two students from Los Escualos, a local kayaking club here in Cochrane, joined us for the entire expedition. They joined us for meals, leadership debriefs, and participated in other group activities on and off the river. Our Alzar School students were forced to go out of their comfort zones in order to communicate with the se students on a daily basis, and strengthened their Spanish skills socially and dynamically.
Leaders of the day (LODs) are assigned every two days and are in charge of facilitating the group and guiding them through different tasks, such as chores, meals, and explaining the overall schedule and goals for the next few days. Each evening, the group comes together to debrief the progress of the LODs that specific day, focusing on specific instances that show either a positive aspect of the 10 Elements of Leadership, or a delta, which is something that can be changed or worked on in the future.
It is essential for students to complete their chores in a timely manner in order for them to be set up for success during the day. This service learning is integral to the big picture of the expedition and the success of each day.
This expedition is just a glimpse into the daily life of an Alzar School Student and the uniqueness of this semester school. We are about to embark on another expedition before we spend time in the cities strictly taking classes, participating in cultural activities, and strengthening hard skills in white water kayaking. When we need a classroom, the world awaits.
The Paddle for Leaders program was created in 2015 as a way for the school to raise funds for its scholarship programs. As part of the effort, we commissioned Thatcher Bean Productions to help tell the story of our students and our vision for growing the school. Here are the videos created for this year's event.
Beyond our scholarship program, the Alzar School is gearing up to expand our facilities so we can have even more students have the transformative experience of a semester at the Alzar School. Watch our Vision for Growth or read more at alzarschool.org/vision
In Leadership class this semester students have been analyzing their own leadership styles, personality types, and communication techniques. They have built "hard" (technical) and "soft" (interpersonal) skills and received effective peer feedback on their performances as designated leaders. Using the Alzar School's "10 Elements of Leadership" as a vocabulary for self-analysis, students have looked at patterns in their feedback and identified their strengths and continued areas for growth. Finally, they identified goals for personal growth as leaders in the rest of their semesters.
Lately, students compiled this information in a reflective "Profile of Self as Leader" blog. See a few featured profiles of the brave leaders of 2015 below!
Top 3 strengths
- Community Membership & Service- I really enjoy working with my community so I think it is very important to have a strong bond with them. I always try to have a positive attitude in whatever activity we are doing. I like being able to have a strong relationship with my community and being able to think of them as my family.
2 Areas for growth
- Communication Skills- While I do a good job of voicing my opinion in group discussions I need to do a better job of communicating to the group I am leading and to the other leaders and staff. There were many times when half of the group I was leading didn't know what we were going to do because I didn't come and talk to them personally. I need to do a better job of informing each individual person on what is happening and if anything changes make sure to relay that information to them.
- 360 Thinking- When it comes to 360 thinking I think I do a good job at being able to prioritize problems and solutions, but I have a hard time making decisions. I am the type of person who evaluates all my options and that is why it takes me so long to make a decision. I also don't want the decision I make to have a negative effect on anyone in the group.
My Personality Quadrant: Spontaneous Motivator
My personality quadrant is spontaneous motivator. Being a spontaneous motivator comes with a lot of positivity. Spontaneous motivators are great at voicing their ideas and supplying passion to those ideas. They are good at having energetic conversations with other group members and they are "great at motivating people as they possess a sense of mission or vision." There are some things that can be slight down falls to being a spontaneous motivator. First they can be emotionally attached to their ideas and they can create a highly emotional climate if they put too much emphasis on challenging others.
My Leadership Style: Democratic
I am a democratic leader in that I try to share the decision making process with other members of the group so that everyone will be happy when the decision gets made. This leadership style tends to create a higher productivity and increases the group morale. Being a democratic leader ties into my personality quadrant which is spontaneous motivator. In both roles of being a leader I am trying to keep my followers in high spirits and get their input on what we are doing. The downside of having a democratic leadership style is that the decision making process tends to be a slow and long process, but at the end when we make a decision and my followers are happy my goal will be complete.
What happened. What I learned.
We were in Chile hiking out of the the Cochamo Valley from a 5 day backpacking trip when we came to a river. It had been raining all that day so the river had gotten higher and we couldn't cross at the exact spot where we had crossed the first day. I was leader of the day along with Lily and Madison. We were trying to figure out how to get across, they thought we should just go the way we came the first day because our feet were already soaked it didn't matter if they got wetter. I asked the group what they wanted to do and I got many different answers; some people didn't care, some didn't want their feet wet and others just didn't participate.
One of the girls and I went farther up the stream to see if there was a dryer way to get across. We found a spot that had lots of rocks and we would be able to get across without getting our feet wet. When I went back down and told the rest of the girls, some of them didn't seem too enthusiastic about it.
The end result was some girls followed Madison and just walked in the water, some found their own way, and some followed me on the more technical path that kept people's feet dry. What I learned from this and hope to grow from is that I need to make decisions faster and when I make a decision I need to make sure the other leaders are apart of that decision making process. If I make a decision I need to stick to that decision and make sure that the other members of the group respect my decision and follow it.
Goals for the rest of the semester
As I lead throughout the rest of the semester I really want to focus on the places that I need to improve on. Specifically on my decision making and communication to the group.
I am taking the first step in doing this by voicing the schedule to the entire group ( including parents,staff, and students) throughout this weekend. This weekend I need to make sure everyone in the group hears the information because the plan could get disorganized if it is not understood. By the end of Alzar I want everyone in the group to be annoyed by my voice because they have heard it so often.
Top three strengths from ten elements:
- personal leadership and follow-through - I aim to positively influence my peers by leading a good example for them. In other words, I try to do my best in academics, challenge myself physically, and keep myself organized in order to be a productive part of my community.
- community membership and service - In order to make this community function, I understand the importance of support for my friends and teachers here at Alzar. Since we live, travel, learn, and work together my relationships at Alzar are of the utmost importance to me, and I work every day to deepen the bonds with my friends.
- character - I strive to be an open, honest, and positive person. I always try to be my best self and improve my character in areas that may need growth.
top two areas of growth from the ten elements:
- communication - While I try to communicate with my peers when I am in a leadership position, I think that I need to make more of an attempt to clearly communicate my ideas to the whole group so that there is no confusion. Also, I think that I need to improve my communication skills with my fellow leader(s) so I am not the only one aware of the plan or vice versa.
- inspiring vision - While I do try to lead by example, I think I could try to inspire and motivate my peers more often. I want for my friends to see me in a leadership position and be energized by my enthusiasm and attitude.
My personal quadrant - Relationship Master
Out of the four separate quadrants, I identify as a relationship master. I am good at building my community and keeping this tight knit group together. I also love to work on a team and to hear the ideas of all of my teammates, sometimes before my own. I value what my peers have to say and I take into account their opinions before making decisions. Sometimes, since my relationships are so important to me, it is hard for me to make decisions quickly and efficiently. It is also difficult for me to make a decision if it has the potential of endangering my friendship with someone.
My Leadership Style: Democratic and People-oriented
I use the democratic leadership style often when I am trying to make an informed decision while simultaneously acknowledging the opinions of others. I don't think that it is necessarily fair for one leader to make the decisions all of the time without asking how everyone else feels. Because I focus a lot of my energy on my community, I would also consider myself people-oriented. I am curious daily about how everyone is doing and I try to have a good understanding of the stance of the group as a whole.
A moment of growth:
It was day four of five in our Cóchamo backpacking trip when the babe squad decided to tackle a tedious hike to a beautiful lake nestled between the cliff faces of two mountains. After hours and hours of hiking we finally reached this surreal lake. At this point my body was about ready to plop on the nearest flat rock I could find, but it miraculously didn't. Ellie asked us if anyone wanted to go the extra mile, literally, and try to make it to the summit of the mountain. Even though I am scared of heights, was obscenely hungry, and my legs were trembling, some piece of me wanted to keep going. This was the first moment of this hike where I think I grew. I realized that I needed to take advantage of every opportunity I received in the Patagonia.
Anyways, once I made this decision we starting hiking off trail up a unstable creek bed. My breaths got heavier and heavier each time my ankle slipped on a wobbly rock. After about forty five minutes we stopped. I could see the peak hanging about 100 ft away from me, but I couldn't reach it. We realized that there was no way to get to the top with the route that we took. At first I was so frustrated. I had just practically killed myself trying to get to this summit and I wasn't going to make it. Though, what I realized is that I had made it. Sure I did not summit the mountain, but I was still successful.
I had a sudden anagnorisis where I realized that success is relative and personal. It was a moment of growth because I finally accepted the fact that I was good enough and that I didn't have to reach the top of that mountain in order to prove that to myself. I found my trail name "stone summit".
Articulation of Growth Plan: Goals for rest of semester as leader.
How am I going to get there?
During the rest of the semester I want to focus on acquiring some characteristics from the "driver" quadrant of leadership. For example, I want to learn how to make decisions quickly and efficiently. To make this happen, I will not procrastinate my decision making. Also, I would like to have a stronger voice as a leader. While I think my ideas are valuable, I could be more direct in expressing them to my community. To do this, I will try to have better communication with the leaders and my community.
Top three strengths from 10 elements of leadership:
Resiliency and Resourcefulness:
I make sure to keep an open mind whenever approaching a new situation. If a problem does arises, I do a good job of keeping calm and confident while i access the issue. My enthusiasm and optimism makes the experiences much more enjoyable for myself and those around me.
I am well attuned to my own abilities and the needs of my group. For example I know that my kayaking skills are limited, but I do not let this stop me from challenging my self. By paying attention to the group moral, I am able to motivate them if needed, and assess if they will enjoy certain activities.
I do a good of time management and using my study halls throughout the day effectively so that I can complete all of homework in a timely manner. I also strive to prepare well for expeditions and pack the right kind of clothing.
Top two weaknesses from 10 elements of leadership:
One of the aspects of communication that I need to work on is making sure that their is a constant flow of information between the students, the teachers, and the LOD's. This is very important because everyone should have the same correct information of the day's plan and if there are any questions the LOD's should be able to answer them.
360 Degree Thinking:
When problem solving and working with a group to come up with a solution I need to work on voicing my own opinions and thoughts. While I tend to lead by example, it is important for me to take another step beyond this and have the courage to defend my ideas and make sure that my voice is heard.
My Personal Quadrant + explanation: Architect/ Analysis
I embody the architect/analysis leadership quadrant, because I prefer to have all of the information I can before making a decision. I am good at observing the situation and environment when there is a problem or decision to make and building an opinion and hypothesis off of all the information I can acquire. I am good at taking past experiences and my opinions and forming them into creative ideas.
My leadership Style: People-Oriented/Transformational
One of my leadership styles is people oriented because the group dynamic is very important to me. And I make sure that everyone in the community I am leading has the opportunity to voice their opinions. I do not want to make a decision as a leader that only a few people agree on, it is important to hear everyone's voice so that if a compromise needs to be made, it can be.
As a leader I know that I can benefit the group, but I also still have a lot to learn. I make sure to keep an open mind to others opinions and readily accept constructive criticism, especially when being debriefed after a Leader of the Day experience. This feedback mean a lot to me, because it makes me aware of how the group has reacted to my leadership. This makes me think about choices I made and things I can improve on. This way I can not only help the group to grow, but the group can also help me grow.
Moment of growth/learning as a leaders:
Metta, Chris, and I were the first leaders of the day, and we were chosen to take charge a few days into the Río Petruey kayaking expedition. Being the first group of LODs we were not exactly sure of everything that we had to have control of. For example we had to make sure that all the correct boats, kayaks, paddles, lunch supplies and all other logistics were taken care of.
The day ran relatively smoothly and our planning the night before payed off. We started the morning working on technical skills in the kayaks and rafts. The. After lunch we spent the afternoon kayaking and rafting down the river. The view was amazing as Metta and I attacked each rapid in the shredder.
Once we arrived at our take out, I made sure that we were getting all the gear pack onto the trailer as quickly as possible so that we would have more time in town. I suddenly realized that two of the teachers, Austin and Ned, were not with us. I quickly deduced that they had continued kayaking down the river. I was very embarrassed, because I had forgotten to talk to them about when they planned to stop kayaking and where they wanted to be picked up. Being the LOD everyone looked to me and my partners for the plan. At this point I was unable to decide if and when we were gonna pick up the two remaining kayakers and who would be running the shuttle when the students were walking around town. I vividly remember Sean asking me when Austin and Ned needed to be picked up and the panic I felt when I was unable to answer this question. This lack of prior communication created many new unexpected complications.
This experience showed to me the importance of communication and to know where everyone is and what their own plans are, especially if they differ from the groups. The whole community and especially the leaders need to be on the same page so that everything will function smoothly. Thankfully, some of the other teachers knew their plan and we were able to schedule when to pick them up, and the rest of the day finished uneventfully.
Articulation of Growth Plan: Goals for rest of semester as leader. How am I going to get there?
My leadership goal for the rest of the semester is to work on trying out different leadership styles other than the architect and analysis quadrant. I can do this by making sure that I have a strong voice in group discussions and not letting others overpower my opinion. I have to be confident when speaking in group, so that I can participate even more and see how the community reacts to my opinions.
I spent the year after I graduated high school living and studying in Italy - surrounded by, for the first time in my life, a language I had never been exposed to. The first times I was able to express my need to eat, introduce myself, or say good night to my host-family left me feeling accomplished, yet exhausted. After months, I felt the lightness and sense of accomplishment as I started to dream, joke, laugh, and live in a different .language. Having felt the reward of language acquisition, and having walked through the doors it had opened, I embarked upon the Spanish journey upon my return.
During my teaching fellowship in Fall 2014, and my first semester with the Alzar School, I had the opportunity to teach Spanish 4 - a class that challenged me, and allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the Spanish language and its complexity. Classes were spent wrapping our heads around the subjunctive (past, present, and future) - ways to discuss our hypothetical wants and needs:
"If I had been a superhero when I was a kid, I would have liked to have been invisible"
This semester has taken a different approach to language. Teaching Spanish 1, and I am remembering what it is like to be exposed to a language for the first time ever. When every word you see, hear, try to read, and try to speak looks a little like:
"romuh erahs ot dna ,sdeen ym dna flesym etalucitra ot ,em dnuora esoht dnatsrednu ot si tnaw i lla" - and you are trying, with all your might to make sense of it.
It reminds me of the common experience we have as humans, learning our first language. It is one that very few of us remember, but one I strive to emulate as I expose my students to Spanish - some for the very first time.
In order to accomplish my goal of "immersion", and prepare students for the reality of immersion that will confront us in a week when stepping off the plane in Santiago, classes have ben conducted in as much Spanish as possible since day one. Using pictures to learn new vocabulary and acting my expectations out (sometimes with hilariously failed gestures and interpretive dance moves), has been a switch from the grammatically heavy Spanish 4 class, but one that takes me back to the beginning. So pure, so tangible, and so practical as we head south to engage with and build relationships with a culture and people who do not share our first language.
The beauty of language is this. Before you know it, the above foreign sentence becomes clear... almost as if you were just reading it backwards...
In Spanish 2 we are celebrating our myriad of new adventures and experiences this semester through a Highlight Reel project. Students practice new grammar concepts from our final unit - demonstratives (this/that) and possessives (my/your/his/our) - in composing sentences in the preterite (past) tense to describe the highlight of each of the 18 weeks of Alzar School. They then create a visually-engaging way of illustrating these highlights!
Check out the Alzar School experience through the eyes of Jasmine and Roni! So much to be proud of this semester.
How many of the highlights can you understand through context, cognates and drawings?