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NOV. 27, 2018

Giving Can Take Many Forms

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If you have not already done so, I highly encourage you to read the most recent OA blog post by Malcolm Campbell-Taylor.  Malcolm, one of our three resident wilderness educators, keenly describes a topic I wish to dive into further: practice, and more specifically, the practice of giving.

Giving is an art form of gratitude, one which, as Malcolm mentioned, can be practiced and refined over time.  It can be rewarding and provide that “warm and fuzzy” feeling we all know. Something just feels right when we have put time, energy, and sincere thought into the well-being of another or something larger than ourselves.  The culmination of that effort is a tangible sign of gratitude. Like a nice dinner with friends, I like to think it is always better homemade rather than bought. I do not mean to say it will necessarily taste better, but it will be your hard work, your appreciation when it turns out to be a deluxe five-star meal or your “teachable moment” when it smells, looks, or tastes like a gray mass (questionably unidentifiable).  This is the beauty of practice: It is okay if something does not work immediately. It’s actually awesome. Upon his invention of the incandescent light bulb, Thomas Edison stated, “I have not failed. I have succeeded in proving 10,000 ways that won’t work.” When our students practice giving, they are learning. They are gaining insight into themselves and how they relate to the surrounding world, learning how to show appreciation, and becoming problem-solvers rather than problem-dwellers.

Nevertheless, the nature of giving is inherently a double-edged sword.  It evokes positive feelings such as joy, inspiration, or appreciation. Conversely, giving also carries with it feelings of uneasiness, discomfort, or frustration.  How would you show or tell someone “I’m grateful” in meaningful and relatable way? How do you give feedback that might be tough for you to deliver or for the recipient to digest, knowing your only intent is to support their growth?  Giving isn’t always easy. It requires thought, detail, and personalization, and it might not work the first time or even the second time.

At The Outdoor Academy we embrace this dynamic nature as part of our curriculum and culture. Students practice giving through a variety of opportunities throughout the semester, like giving thanks before meals, making handcrafted gifts for Giving Day, or sharing constructive feedback with peers and faculty.  Every Monday night students and faculty come together for a community meeting and take time to reflect on the progress of the semester.  This is a space to share thoughts, ask for support, and to identify areas of improvement as well as possible and realistic solutions.  At a recent community meeting our natural science teacher, Ted, posed the question, “do you think we are meeting our greatest academic expectations?”  He then asked the students to go the extra mile and set the tone of academic curiosity and perseverance. He shared, “I want to give you a challenge. If I wanted you to sail through and get an easy A, I would give you readings and present concepts that you would always understand instantly.  I want you to ponder, to feel okay with being confused, and to ask questions, because that’s where the real learning happens, when we push those limits.”

I’m sure this was not easy to share, but it was a piece of constructive feedback that gave Semester 47 a new goal. Giving goes in all directions, and as our faculty practice giving by providing intellectually challenging coursework, our students grow as scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, friends, and innovators.  In our hands-on learning environment, we aim to provide students with the drive to continue the practice of giving and the willingness to learn new methods. We ensure our students have a place to try without judgement, identify what works and what does not, and leave each semester having observed and tried giving in ways that will apply to their lives back home.

 Giving can take many forms, as it should.  It can look like kind words in the form of a note or a knitted hat with a hole in the top for that person that needs a ponytail.  It can look like a challenging class project or a lesson on navigation. At OA, our only expectation is that it is based in gratitude for another as well as care and consideration for their growth, and in this season, we hope this culture of giving can be practiced no matter where they go after OA.

By Sarah Post, Admissions Counselor