If there was one sentence you could say to someone that would make their day brighter, would you make a point of saying it? Would you take thirty seconds to organize your field group to shout, “You’re awesome, JD!” as you walk past the climbing specialist putting away the ropes and harnesses? Yes? Good work; you’re making moments that mean something.
The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, a delightful book by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, explains the power of intentional moments and the impact that a just a bit of planning can have on an otherwise ordinary experience. In this review, I’ll tie four of the concepts discussed in this book into teaching, community building, and life at High Trails.
If something is easy for you to do and will make someone’s day, will you do it?
Acknowledging someone’s presence and letting them know they’re doing something well can be as simple as speaking a single sentence. Getting an entire field group to shout that sentence in unison increases the uniqueness of the delivery and makes that single sentence more memorable both for the person on the receiving end of the message and for the people united together in the delivery. It breaks the script.
All recurring social situations have a “script” that people tend to follow – a rough outline of dialogue and actions that allow the situation to proceed smoothly. When dining at a restaurant, for example, it would be odd to ask the waiter if they’d like help washing the dishes at the end of the meal, whereas when eating dinner at your grandparents’ house, it might be expected that you offer to help out.
The “script” for walking in the general vicinity of another person involves giving them space and maybe exchanging a smile or wave, but we don’t usually purposefully call attention to ourselves or the other person when walking past someone. Collectively complimenting or just acknowledging the presence of someone near you is one way to break out of your box of normality and try something new that is both safe and positive. Every step out of your comfort zone (your “script”) is a step into your growth zone, and each time you do things just a little differently you expand your world view. I am intentional about pointing out and engaging in small acts of kindness and positivity with my groups, and there are also many larger elements of being at High Trails, from line dancing to spending the day in a wall-less classroom, that help students break their scripts and get out of their comfort zones.
Since even being at High Trails at all is a deviation from students’ normal school day script, their week here is a great opportunity to start fresh and make different, and hopefully better, choices than they do at home. The Power of Moments discusses the positive results possible when you ignore the past achievements [of students] and start from a clean slate.
All you really know about them is the way they act this week, and they always have a choice about how to act.
If you have a student whose behavior seems like it might become an issue, remind them that you don’t know, and don’t care, what they’re like at school. All you really know about them is the way they act this week, and they always have a choice about how to act. When students make particularly good choices, or tell you something they like about being here that’s different from home, remind them that they can bring this new way of thinking or doing home with them. The things you choose to do today can be the start of something good.
Peak and End of Experiences
On a related note, an entire chapter of the book is devoted to the idea that we remember the peak and the end of experiences.
Yes, students complain about having to take five minute showers, and sometimes waking up in the early morning is hard, but when I ask my table about their day during dinner, students talk about rock climbing and smelling vanilla trees and hiking to the lake. The peak of their day, or whatever happened right before dinner, is what’s most memorable.
As a field instructor, I am intentional about ending each day on a positive note, regardless of any struggles or mishaps we may have dealt with. During Summits, I tell students they can share their rose, bud, and thorn in any order, as long as they end with something good. We definitely don’t have perfect weeks here, or even perfect days, but during even the most difficult times we can look for the peaks and highlight the good.
So take those few moments to do a good deed. Stop for a minute to look up and enjoy the view. Try something new, and make a memory in this beautiful world. A single moment can have extraordinary impact.
At High Trails Outdoor Science School, we literally force our instructors to write about elementary outdoor education, teaching outside, learning outside, our dirty classroom (the forest…gosh), environmental science, outdoor science, and all other tree hugging student and kid loving things that keep us engaged, passionate, driven, loving our job, digging our life, and spreading the word to anyone whose attention we can hold for long enough to actually make it through reading this entire sentence. Whew…. www.dirtyclassroom.com