As I write, students and adults are heading out on Long Fall trips. Monday was a day of packing backpacks, learning how to set up tents, doing swim tests, and beginning the process of creating a working group out of the 10-12 people who will spend this time together. I like the term “expedition behavior” which is used by outdoor educators; it suggests that each individual’s contributions to the group are critical. In my own childhood and adolescence I spent many months on an ocean-going sailboat in various parts of the world – the phrase used there was if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem, which in that case was meant in a very practical sense.
On Long Fall students will be practicing a tool for giving feedback – the ‘Situation, Behavior, Impact’ protocol gives a simple outline for how to give constructive reflections to an individual or group about how their actions have landed with others. Having practiced this during Long Fall, students will also use it in the dorms, and we hope it will add to the general skill set of our community. The idea is that practicing talking directly and helpfully to people when the stakes are pretty low will help students learn to have more difficult conversations when they need to. This ability to have usefully difficult face-to-face conversations for the purpose of moving a society forward seems to be in low supply in the United States right now.
Our new international students have been here for some days already, and what a wonderful group they are! For some of them this is a first venture away from their home country, and others are truly citizens of the world, having lived on several continents already. We have a Chinese citizen from Angola, a French citizen from Thailand, and US citizens from Hong Kong and Madagascar, to name just a few. We are still waiting on a visa for an Afghan boy who is currently a refugee in Pakistan.
Putney is not representative of the whole world, for sure, but we do try hard to create a small world here in which students can practice learning from others and seeing themselves in a new perspective. For some students this is their first experience of not being in the racial majority. For others it is the first time they understand that ‘white’ is also a racial category. For all of them we hope to create opportunities to grow both their sense of self and their abilities to enjoy the company of diverse others.
Most of all, though, Long Fall is a time to enjoy the outdoors and each other, and for new students to get to know a couple of teachers well and have a group of student friends. We don’t overload it with earnestness, just enough to plant some seeds for the rest of the year. They will return dirty and happy on Friday, and be ready to start classes the next day.
All the best to all of you,