Teaching to Promote Learning in a Dynamic Environment
Welcome to the machine, the loud, fast moving, sometimes unpredictable, always changing machine. You must develop a skill set that transcends standard teaching and learning if you hope to be successful teaching in an environment as dynamic as a whitewater river. Your classroom is always in motion, and it possesses some unique traits that you will ultimately have to manage without any conscious energy.
For starters, in order to be understood, you must be heard. Whitewater produces white noise. Therefore, when you are trying to teach over one of the planet’s most effective noise machines, you must modulate your tone, pitch, and volume. The observant reader will notice that volume is third on the list. Simply attempting to communicate by shouting over the background will not only make you hoarse, but also create an environment in which your students literally spend the whole day getting yelled at. As we all know, getting yelled at is no fun. Instead, try altering the tone and pitch of your voice until you find a way to pierce the roaring maelstrom.
A river spends its entire life, and all of its energy, wandering towards the ocean; sometimes the river meanders slowly, at other times it hurtles at a breakneck pace. Regardless of where you are, the river is never a good place to sit still. When you are teaching, have your students raft up by holding on to one another, grab onto the shore, or sit deep in a protected eddy. If your students are struggling to stay in a place where they can see and hear you, they will not be able to pay full attention to the information you are introducing. In addition, if your students begin to drift away, you will have to stop your lesson, re-group, and likely start over again. Before beginning any lesson, be sure to set you group up in a way that allows them to be comfortable and secure.
When teaching on the river it is important to extend your sphere of awareness. On a basic level, you need to be aware of what is happening in a larger physical space than you would be if you were simply out paddling on your own. You should constantly be checking upstream and downstream so you know what is going to happen before it does. Whenever possible, you want to be acting instead of reacting. Secondly, you should constantly be making predictions based on the information that you’ve gathered through observation (i.e. Who is likely to flip in this next drill and how can I position myself to help?) Finally, it is important to look for cues from your students, learn to recognize how people act when they are comfortable, tired, hungry, thirsty, scared, etc. An ability to monitor the little details is one of the traits that separates good instructors from great teachers.
(ensure that they are comfortable physically and emotionally)
You don’t always have to simply speculate whether your students are physically and emotionally comfortable. From the outset of any course you should do your best to establish an environment in which your students feel comfortable communicating openly. Try to play down bravado and ego as much as possible. It is to your benefit to have students that are willing to let you know when they aren’t feeling comfortable. Do your best to be approachable by showing genuine concern for your students.