Learning by the Riverbank

This summer I planned and enjoyed some wonderful learning opportunities. I worked closely with a group of colleagues on how to translate findings on neuroscience and behavioral psychology into best support practices at our school. I attended a wonderful teachers’ conference on Korea sponsored by the SPICE Institute at Stanford. I read some excellent literature on keeping school, and spent some quality time with friends and family.

However, I have to say that my single most memorable learning experience took me completely by surprise. I am talking about a three-hour introduction to fly fishing. I never had any previous interest in the sport. I only went to the lesson to accompany my daughter. But it was an extraordinary learning experience.

What made it so phenomenal? In no particular order:

  1. The setting — Rocky Mountain scenery, cool and dry on a perfect morning. Meeting our physical needs and inviting a positive emotional response.
  2. The size of the group — five of us total, which offered plenty of focused interaction and collaboration.
  3. Our teacher — a park ranger and master fly fisherman whose 30-year knowledge was only exceeded by his enthusiasm for bringing newcomers into the fold. He was a science teacher who combined the physics of casting with the biology of river trout. He was also genuine, generous, and passionate, an instructor whom we trusted.
  4. His presentation — informal lecture, equipment demonstration, and Q & A. His talk was well-honed and well-timed, but he was completely kind and responsive to our rambling questions. He gave us confidence and cued our positive mindset.
  5. Our performance — fly casting on the river. We made a lot of mistakes, but we trusted and respected each other. We worked through moments of failure together.
  6. The sport itself — an unexpected combination of high focus and low stress. We worked with nature, not against it. It was mindfulness and Daoism at the riverbank.
  7. The novelty– I had no preconceptions of the event, no idea what to expect. Hello, dopamine release!
  8. The bargain cost — part of our $20 per week national park pass, as were the other half-dozen programs we enjoyed and the countless unstructured hours we spent in the park.
  9. Seeing my daughter so enthralled — priceless.

That’s my take on the experience. You might be wondering what my child thought was extraordinary about the morning.

Feeling the rod in my hand. Watching the arc of my line when I cast. Seeing the river take my line downstream.

Learning by doing. That about sums it up.

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