Friday, October 17, 2014

Intro to Wilderness Survival & Servant Leadership

"Equipping students to impact the world for Christ."  One thing that I think makes CAJ such a special place is how committed the administration and staff are to making this school mission statement our genuine mission; a goal towards which every aspect of our curriculum is working (ideally, anyway).  This next bit is crucial: our leadership team understands that some things are learned more effectively outside of the classroom setting.  
School Without Walls (referred to as "SWOW" in CAJ shorthand) falls during the first full week of October each year.  The 9th graders conduct team-building and service initiatives on campus and around the Higashi Kurume area, the 10th graders travel to Lake Yamanaka near Mt. Fuji to deepen their understanding of the natural world and our obligation to care for the environment, and the 12th graders travel north to Ishinomaki (the area most affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami) to assist in service projects.  
The 11th graders embark on a four-day, three-night hiking trip in the mountains west of Tokyo.  This is the trip that I know best, as I've accompanied as a chaperon five times now.  I've written a detailed description of Wilderness Camp before, and will not endeavor to do so again.  My intent in this blog-post is to discuss the curricular value of such an experience.
All of these trips, 9th grade through 12th grade, are designed to prepare the students for a week-long mission trip to Thailand in March of their Senior Year; to cultivate a heart of service in addition to providing opportunities to serve.
The focus of the 11th grade Wilderness Camp is Servant Leadership.  This is broken down into three main emphases: Leadership, Follower-ship and Personal Integrity.  
This year, I had the privilege of co-leading with the colleague who developed the Wilderness Camp curriculum, and who has played a major role in developing the SWOW curriculum as a whole.  With this in mind, I made a point of looking for the big picture this year--something that can be quite difficult in the moment when the kids are tired and hungry, and struggling to set up camp, and daylight is fading fast.  What I saw was tremendously encouraging.  The kids learn valuable lessons about leadership, follower-ship and integrity firsthand as they hike.  
Each student has two chances to lead the rest of the group, paired with another student.  The student leaders must figure out when to take breaks, and for how long, when to eat lunch, what order the students should hike in, where to camp for the night, how best to set up camp and prepare dinner, how to build and maintain team morale and other duties that I'm likely forgetting.  The first day is often a shock for the students, many of whom have never hiked before, have never been truly hungry before, and have never been away from their screens for more than a few waking hours before.  Often the students' knee-jerk reaction to the sudden introduction of these challenges is to turn their attention inward.  Even if they are not complaining, they have a difficult time looking out for the needs of their teammates.  This is a normal human response to difficulty, really.  However, through intentional debriefing and discussion each night, as well as ongoing discussion about the various components of servant leadership (divided into themes for each day), the students come to recognize the importance of selflessness, graciousness and outward focus to the success of the team as a whole.  In living out the real and at-times painful case study of hiking in the woods as a group, the students internalize lessons about servant leadership which would have been purely academic in any other setting.
By the end of the week, our debrief discussions were lively and insightful; the students had really connected with the the week's themes.  I am excited to see how these lessons translate back into the classroom as the school-year goes on, and I hope that the lessons will endure just as much as the memory of wilderness camp itself!

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