Leadership: Theory and Practice

Alzar School | 18.03.15

On our recent trek through the Cochamó valley, students gathered each night after dinner to receive the next day’s plan from the designated student leaders. We had hiked over seven miles to reach the floor of the Cochamó valley, an impressive meadow at the base of imposing granite. On one particular evening, Alton of Atlanta, GA and Austin of McCall, ID announced we would be venturing deep into Trinidad, a glacial cirque of steep rock walls, and a true sight to be seen. Behind this plan was careful consideration of different options for the day’s activity, and close attention paid to the needs of the group. The leader team for that day ruled out riskier hikes up La Paloma and Arco Iris in favor of the scenic views and relative challenge afforded by the trek into Trinidad. With respect to the group, our leaders recognized that some of our members were feeling ill and needed a day of rest and appropriately decided that our adventure would be a day hike, and that we would return to our campsite in the valley that evening. Our arduous climb to the top of Trinidad was rewarded with panoramic views of the Andean spine, and general sense of accomplishment among the members of our group.

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Such a sensation would not have been possible without implementing the school’s decision-making model, which was introduced during our designated hour of leadership class the day prior.


International travel provides an abundance of teachable moments. Some are foreseeable—we ask students to use their time in Chile to develop their Spanish language skills through conversational challenges—while others are unpredictable, effectively enhancing this unique experience that the Alzar School affords. In our recent paddling expedition, our staff team had to make a decision about where to take our students to develop their paddling skills. Initially, we were intending to paddle the Río Puelo, but had to consider other options after we learned that transportation was limited to the length of the river we wanted to use. Demonstrating the model of decision-making we in turn taught to our students, we decided that the Río Petrohue would suit our needs, be more accessible and provide an equal if not better alternative to our previous plans. Here at Alzar School we develop leaders twofold: by modeling good practice, and arming them with the tools and skills to grow.


Through this decision, we were awarded with a campsite on the shore of Lago Todos los Santos and the opportunity to paddle down Chile’s first federally protected river! Views of volcanoes abounded as we swept down playful rapids in the company of giant Chilean salmon.