Lessons from the Ski Trail


This winter I’ve taken up cross country skiing.  It’s an activity the rest of my family enjoys, and encourages me to leave the coziness of the house to get some fresh air and physical activity.  As I embark upon this new adventure, I can’t help but draw comparisons between my experiences to those of our students.  Here is what I’ve observed:

  • Materials matter.  Having the right gear ensures I’ll be warm, safe, & dry on the trail.  Skiing would also be far more difficult if my boots pinched my feet or my skis were too long.
  • Teachers/Guides/Proficient Practitioners are vital.  My teachers (husband, son, & daughter) are supportive of my efforts, providing scaffolding and a positive learning environment.
  • Concise, just-in-time teaching makes all the difference.  At the trailhead the first time out, I received a few basic instructions to get me going.  My son skied by my side for the first stretch, providing a flow of timely feedback as I took those first strides.
  • Apprentices need masters.  It helps to have a model to emulate.  In my case, that means mimicking posture and other movements of my husband and kids.  Apprentices benefit from following in someone else’s trail before blazing their own.  It is far easier for me to follow the smooth tracks left by others than it is to plow through the powder to make my own trail.
  • Guided & independent practice are essential.  After making sure I got started that first time out, my son put some distance between us. This allowed me the opportunity to practice independently.  He, my husband, and daughter checked in frequently, but allowed some space for me to work on the skills they’d taught.
  • Learners need to feel supported.  When I fell, which I did with distressing regularity in the beginning, my teachers were there to (literally) get me back up again.  They also provided additional teaching so that I could avoid making the same mistake again (I found a great variety of ways to end up lying in the snow that first time out, so they had many opportunities for teaching/feedback!).  After repeated practice, I now fall less, have discovered some pitfalls to avoid (for example, I’ve learned that leaning back practically guarantees I’ll end up lying flat in a snow bank), and can pick myself up out of the snow after a fall.
  • Practice, practice, practice.  Getting out on the trail with regularity helps ensure I won’t forget what I’ve learned.  It also helps me improve.  I’m now gliding more than stomping.  I still fall, but less often – and I can get back up on my own.  Best of all, I now sometimes remember to take my eyes off my skis, pick my head up, and take in the beautiful landscape.

Learning how to cross country ski has put me back in touch with what it feels like to be a student.  As teachers, we help our students reach their goals through providing supportive environments, thoughtful lesson planning, scaffolding, feedback, and opportunities for practice.  With support, our students can pick up their heads to see the beauty in their own journeys!


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