On a recent #FITTeaching trip to upstate Michigan, I was invited to go kayaking on the Rifle River. While I have been a passenger, I’ve never kayaked solo before. I was a little intimidated, but also intrigued, and my hosts reassured me that it would be a piece of cake. I was told there was one important thing to remember: don’t grab onto a branch because that will tip you over.
We began paddling down the river and it was truly spectacular. The sun was shimmering on the water and shining through the trees.
I relaxed into the journey, chatted with my hosts, and craned my neck to view the scenery. I became overconfident and failed to anticipate a branch leaning well into the river and the next thing I knew, it was coming up fast. In my panic, I did the one thing I wasn’t supposed to do: I grabbed the branch, tipped the kayak, and dumped myself into the river.
No injuries (except my pride) — and my hosts kindly retrieved my kayak (now well down the river) and helped me back in. As we continued, they gave me some pointers on how to properly hold the paddle, how to use it as a rudder, how to control my speed. I focused more on my job and managed to stay afloat, despite the occasional obstacle.
Here’s the thing: at a certain point in life we become comfortable with our skills and enjoy our expertise. We tend to concentrate on doing the things we’re good at. It can be easy to forget that there’s great value in trying something new.
For those of us who teach, it’s critical to remember that our students are novices. We ask them over and over again to experience discomfort and try new things. That’s really hard — and we need to be there to support them when they take the occasional fall into the river.
Will I try kayaking again? Absolutely. My hosts gave me an opportunity to experience successful failure. I dumped myself in the river and learned from my mistake. I look forward to another outing where I can try out what I’ve learned and develop a new set of skills.