I have tried ocean kayaking three times, and experienced both success and failure each time. The biggest challenge with the sea kayak is facing the waves head-on. Although the waves seem calm when I am standing on shore, they become terrifyingly large when seated in a kayak, looking into their frothing faces. As the waves approach the instinct to turn away and paddle back to shore is overwhelming. On my first attempt, I succumbed to the impulse – only to be ripped from the kayak, beaten by its hard shell, and tumbled through the unforgiving sand. The pain of the failure was intense. This first beating helped me stay strong when pointing the nose of the kayak toward future incoming waves. I have yet to determine if the rush is worth the effort. Time will tell. But it does remind me of a similar “can I do this?” rush felt on my first day of teaching and over and over throughout my career as an educator.
I remember the pain when I failed a student, faced an angry parent, or received unforgiving (but much deserved) critical feedback. I remember when I first tasted the salty sting of educational cynicism. I remember when I became “at risk” of looking back more often than forward. I remember when I thought that I was “good enough.” I remember when I realized that the waves ahead of me looked infuriatingly like those I had already faced. Most importantly, I remember that every time I put my energies into facing a new wave with optimism, I have come out alive: smarter, braver, and happier than had I stayed watching on the shore. My roles as teacher, instructional coach, professional developer, principal and educational consultant have immersed me in the seas of both happiness and humility. I have experienced beatings as merciless in education as the sea ever offered, but like the waves and the kayak, the pain that comes with self-reflection has been key to gaining the needed knowledge and strength for future success.
My husband and son, who have watched me from the waves beyond on their surf boards, would tell a different story – probably the story of Mom, who isn’t “ready” to try surfing, briefly bobbing on a kayak at the edge of the shore and then heading back to the comfort of her beach chair and novel. It looks so simple to those already far out there. But learning to face a new challenge is not easy. It is terrifying. And it is exciting. I know what I learned. . . . I know what I next need to learn. The next step is my choice. The waves are equally daunting, but facing them will lead to the joy of discovery and improvement hop over to these guys.
We become so competent at standing on the sand and watching while the waves lap our toes and splash our thighs. The joy and accomplishment in this act is real. Yet I have learned to walk further into the water and dive under the oncoming waves in order to reach the deeper, pulsing swells beyond. I have learned how to relax and “go with the flow” those few times I failed to pay attention and got hit by the rogue wave, waiting it out, holding my breath calmly, until the wave let me go and I could come out on top again.
So must we educators learn to use the new tools that might help us go further into the depths of successful student learning! Might we fail as we learn and get a bit beaten? Of course. But when the ultimate learning takes us further than we can swim alone, it is worth the risk. We must not be afraid to step off the sand into the waves. Do we tire of the waves? Wish the tide to stop its pull? No. Every time we ride a wave, we gain skills and attitudes and understandings that will help us face and conquer the next one. Keep it coming. We educators love conquering our fears, riding the waves, and swimming in the sea of learning. We will face the challenges before us, and we will become stronger, smarter, and more confident as we do so.