Caterpillar: “… and who are you?”
Alice: “I… I hardly know, sir, just at present- at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”
-Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
This past week spent backpacking on the SHT has been filled with challenges, new experiences, learning, and growth. These remarkable students have intentionally put themselves in a position where they are out of their comfort zones, and by doing so, they have opened themselves up to the opportunity to grow into people who they were not when they woke up. Coming in with their own experiences, backgrounds, and notions about their individual abilities and potential, each student has a particular mindset that forms how they see themselves and how they interact with others. Our challenge to these students during this initial portion of the semester is to learn about the power of our mind and how it shapes how we see ourselves and the world we live in. By practicing what is known as a Growth Mindset through the willingness to face challenges, through viewing “failure” as an opportunity for growth, and through developing a passion for learning, these students are discovering how powerful and capable they are both as individuals, and as a team.
A key part of this learning is the traditional study of leadership theory and small group dynamics. Before the start of the course, each student took the Clifton Strengths Finder survey to learn about their innate talents and what drives them. In further discussing and exploring these findings in the context of a remote wilderness setting, these students are taking advantage of the opportunity to put this learning into practice so that they can start consciously and intentionally turning these talents into true strengths. In the spirit of Growth Mindset, they are leaning into this experience and are discovering what that means for themselves as individuals, as well as what that means for the group culture that they are creating for themselves. To aid in this process, our incredibly patient and experienced Outward Bound instructors have been providing tools for us in a structured way, and then encouraging us to put them to the test and practice them while being supported by their coaching and guidance.
One of the very first tools they have equipped us with is Ownerships, which is a form of self-feedback that invites us to reflect on ourselves and how our actions impact one another. Throughout the day, we make time and create space for everyone to share with the group the ways in which they have positively contributed to the group dynamic, as well as constructive ways they could work towards more productively contributing to the group dynamic. Beyond that, we have learned how to give positive feedback to one another, which takes the form of verbalizing what we appreciate about each other. Similarly, to maintain a positive group culture, we have been practicing giving constructive feedback to each other so that we can bring frustrations, tensions, and conflicts to the surface, and address it in a productive, proactive, and effective way. To give this feedback, we must assertively and honestly state our concern and follow it up with how it makes us feel. We then take ownership for our role in the situation, and complete it with our request going forward. To receive this feedback, we must open ourselves up to hearing how other people are experiencing our actions without trying to justify, explain, or defend ourselves. While initially it may be awkward or uncomfortable to do this in such a structured way, our instructors remind us that through this practice, we can work towards using these communication tools in a more natural and authentic way. Additionally, we must keep in mind that when done in a constructive manner, feedback is a gift and an invitation to widen our perspectives, to self reflect, to connect with others, and to grow. As a small group, we must learn to live well together, and being out in the wilderness and depending completely on one another is an incredible way to directly experience how effective these tools can be in contributing to a positive group culture that includes accountability and working towards common goals.
When we can come together and try to hear each other, we can open ourselves up to having authentic and meaningful connections with one another, and in doing this, we are making our worlds bigger and brighter. We can’t wait to really start putting these tools into action these next two weeks in the Boundary Waters. We got this!