Category Archives: teaching

Goals

One of the season’s first forays onto dry trails at Cady Hill, Stowe, Vermont


With the transition from the spring to summer semesters here at Sterling College, the trails have dried out, the sun rises earlier, and it’s been easier to find a few more hours in the week to focus on training. The Sterling running team has started 5:00 am summer practices three times each week, which has helped add more miles and more hill workouts into my weekly regimen.

Some students are starting out and running trails for the first time, some training for the upcoming Mount Washington Road Race, and some have longer term goals. Each person’s goals are unique, of course — from running a mile to completing a race to running across a small (or medium-sized!) country — the actual goal doesn’t matter.

What matters more is that we find meaning and intention in the goals we do build, and keep close those whose strength can help support us. A good friend recently asked me how I could find such focus on resilience and hope. So much so that my vehicle for doing so — running — has become a central part of my life — and the processes of training, planning, organizing, mentoring, and sharing stories of both adventure and climate.

When I leave for Norway in mid-July, I know that I’ll have the support of family, friends — so many new friends who have helped to support this work. I’m looking forward to meeting with new friends along the Arctic Trail and during stops in Svalbard, Tromsø, Bodø, Kautokeino, and elsewhere.

My goal, huge as it may seem, is at its heart really simple: I am just trying to figure out the best way that I can contribute to building meaningful communities and having thoughtful conversations.

And running has become a way for me to do just that.

From a recent training run on Mount Elmore, Vermont

Ecology and Teaching at SXSW!!

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I’m looking forward to setting off for Austin, Texas on Sunday for a week of SXSWedu talks, meetings, and conversation….not to mention the predicted 75-degree temps!

I’ll be giving one of the Future 20 talks at 11:30 on Thursday, March 9th about Ecology as a Model for Teaching.

Here’s the presentation description:

Grounded in a pedagogy of interdependence, collaboration and co-evolution, this talk will outline essential methods and tools necessary to integrate ecological systems thinking into curricular and instructional design. Building curricula based on ecological models helps to focus on organic, open and engaged learning experiences that coalesce around learning outcomes, around ‘real-world’ ecological challenges and around learner-centered approaches — where the boundaries between student, teacher and the world all blur and begin to evolve into a new paradigm of an intentionally engaged ecology.

If you’re in the area, stop on by!

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Hold fast your hope

For our second class meeting in Sterling’s introductory A Sense of Place course, we read the introduction to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, in which she writes:

The thing about a crisis this big, this all-encompassing, is that it changes everything. It changes what we can do, what we can hope for, what we can demand from ourselves and our leaders. It means there is a whole lot of stuff that we have been told is inevitable that simply cannot stand. And it means that a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.

Can we pull it off? All I know is that nothing is inevitable. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.

Her book, published only 3 years ago, presents a dire outlook for the global climate, but also an audacious hope that *this* could be the catalyst for global cooperation, collaboration, and community building that would build the foundation for a resilient future for both humankind and the environment.

When we read her words in 2017, however, it is a lot easier to feel that hope slipping away, and the potential for disastrous effects on the global ecosystem seems inevitable.

It is even more important, today, for us to build strong and resilient communities — through conversations, collaboration, and open transparent communication. We need to recognize that everything has indeed changed. This work is not easy, and the results are not quickly forthcoming, but it is essential.

As Klein writes,”a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.”

Time to get moving.

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Facts and science in a complicated world

Amid the political, social, and emotional tumult across our national stage this year, I have treasured my time training as a time to step outside the web of tweets, truths, media blackouts, funding cuts, posturing, and ‘alternative facts.’

Maybe to help me find some solid footing, during my hours (and hours) running, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about glaciers.

In particular, I have become preoccupied with glacial responses to climate change,  which is the rest of this post is all about. I hope you read on, but if you don’t (if glaciers <gasp> aren’t your thing), at least take away this:

Few things in this world are truly simple, and most are deserving of close attention to nuance.

The world is complicated.

Facts are essential.

Embrace complexity.

Climate change is one of those things. We can track the changing surface temperatures, ocean salinity, water temperature, glacial melt, polar sea ice extent, sea level, shoreline erosion, permafrost melt, and so on — all of which are small parts of a hugely complex system.

And all of which have, for many years now, painted a clear and compelling picture of a warming climate.

Even as we begin to understand the complexity of the climatic system, though, we can often find puzzling contradictions, like surging glaciers, which appear to store energy for decades in a period of quiescence and then release a burst of movement so quick it can often be thousands of times faster than the glacier’s typical speed.

Only about 1% of all the world’s glaciers fall into the category of surging glaciers, and they appear in one of the greatest concentrations in the Svalbard archipelago 500 miles north of Norway. One glacial system in particular, Nathorstbreen, surged forward more than 15 km over the course of 4 years — sometimes moving as fast as 25 meters per day (2500 times faster than normal).

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A satellite view of the Nathorstbreen surge from ‘Surge dynamics in the Nathorstbreen glacier system, Svalbard’ by M. Sund, et al.

Glaciologist Heidi Sevestre, an expert on surging glaciers around the world, admits,

Today in a period of global glacier recession, glaciers surge in many parts of the world. Surging glaciers complicate the investigation of glacier response to climate variability.

Dramatic as it is, a surge is simply another data point in a massively complicated global system. A glacial surge does not mean that these glaciers are growing. Their volume is still dramatically decreasing. Between June and August 2015, in Svalbard alone, glaciers lost four and half million metric tons of meltwater every hour.

That’s nearly impossible to imagine, but it matters.

This is where beliefs and facts based on empirical observation meet — and where we need to work hard to be sure that far-reaching decisions are based on evidence and are not merely reactionary.

Silencing the sharing of data, as complex or unimaginable as that data may be, is anathema to building resilience, community, or sound decision making.

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The Nathorstbreen Glacial System image from TopoSvalbard / NorskPolarinstitutt

 

We started a new semester yesterday, and in an effort to help students explore their new surroundings here in Vermont, we looked at, among other things, Terry Tempest Williams’ 2004 essay, Ground Truthing, in which she writes about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska:

The power of nature is the power of a life in association. Nothing stands alone. On my haunches, I see a sunburst lichen attached to limestone; algae and fungi are working together to break down each rock into soil. I cannot help but recognize a radical form of democracy at play. each organism is rooted in its own biological niche, drawing power from its relationship to other organisms. An equality of being contributes to an ecological state of health and succession.

A radical form of democracy begins with us, the people, making clear that facts, science, and transparency are essential — whether for building resilient communities or making intelligent decisions about our relationship with the natural world.

Ecology as a Model for Teaching

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I love it when synergy happens. And in my world, it seems to happen all the time. Like this, for example — I’ve proposed a workshop for the SXSWedu Conference and Festival next March that integrates my love of teaching, ecology, design, systems, and of course running!

The talk will “outline the essential methods and tools necessary to integrate ecological systems thinking into curricular and instructional design.”

In a nutshell, it’s all about how to integrate *what* we teach about–like the natural world, ecology, and climate resilience–into *how* we teach about it.

Want to know more?

You can find the proposal  — and, most importantly, vote for it — here!

Movement & Mindfulness

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The Movement and Mindfulness Labyrinth at Sterling College

I had the great pleasure of facilitating an intensive class called Movement and Mindfulness at Sterling College over the past two weeks. As part of the course, the students and I participated in on and off campus meditation sessions, moving conversation, Feldenkrais, Tai Chi, rock climbing, rowing, walking, event mappingJapanese forest bathing, walking meditation, running, yoga, yoga trance dance, labyrinth building, and lots of reflection. Nearly every day found us in a different place or thinking and moving in space a different way.

When I took on the course at the last moment, I had little idea of what to expect, and even less of an idea about how much an impact the course would have on me. I needed only about 15 minutes to decide to facilitate the class — mostly because it seemed a natural extension of my own expression of mindfulness through running over the past few years — and more so even since Climate Run: Iceland a year ago.

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Community Rowing at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center

Over the past two weeks, our goal was simply to be open to exploring the embodiment of mindfulness through a broad range of physical, meditative, and reflective activities. What we actually did was far more significant and I anticipate much longer lasting; we learned to leave space for one another, we learned to find and trace the limits our ourselves, we learned to draw strength from the place where mind and movement intertwine.

There could hardly be more important lessons in any class.

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Event mapping at Barr Hill, Greensboro, Vermont

Just before we closed class with a final session of Tai Chi out on the lawn beside our newly opened labyrinth during a reprieve from the day’s rain, we shared our definitions of key terms from the class. I was given Perception as Action, which could hardly have been more appropriate. After a couple of days thinking about Perception as Action, I came back to  the work of Matthew Tiessen (as I have elsewhere), who I think helped to ground the essential focus of our class:

Each of us is a site-in-process, a crossing, where forces come to play.

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Rock climbing at Mount Wheeler, Sutton, Vermont