Ain’t No Rocky Mountain High Enough
As a classroom teacher, it was easy to take the time to reflect in the summer. Even though I often did curriculum work, taught summer school, or other did education-related jobs between the end of June and late August, I also spent a good deal of down time with my family to decompress. To be honest, I needed it. Badly. Life as a middle school teacher was a thrill ride that is like no other job I've held; I loved it, yet it wore me down. If you know a middle school teacher or principal, or if you are one, you know what I mean.
My role now is more "steady-eddy" at ASCD, and I love this job, too. But with a 12-month schedule that never has a natural (in other words, mandatory and unpaid) break, I find it a little tougher to free myself completely from work. Last week I was fortunate to get away with my family, which included my wife and two boys, and my wife's cousins who have an elementary-aged son. We headed to Colorado, where they live, and got to see a part of the country we never saw before. You cannot match the energy of three boys between the ages of 8 and 10, especially when cooped in the car with them all day. The fun part about having the boys along for a ride like this is you get to experience a new place together. That's not always the case for us when we go away because oftentimes we've been to that place before (the beach, Disney, family homes, etc.).
As a new adventure, we journeyed through Rocky Mountain National Park. You see, we are east coast kids, where a mountain of 3,000 feet above sea level is big and usually a few hours from where we live. In Colorado, a 3,000-foot mountain is called a speed bump. It's impossible to describe the adventure, and any photo you've seen doesn't do it justice. In a word, it's magnificent.
We decided as parents (via text message from the front seat to the "way back" seat in the SUV) that all devices would be turned off once we were in the park so we could take in the scenery and not be distracted by phones or other things you'd bring on a long car trip. The view was surreal, but I found myself practically paralyzed by the height. Fortunately, I wasn't driving. We took a sliver of a road to a visitor center and then through switchbacks and cliffside roads to hit 12,000+ feet. Again, as a sea-level person, seeing nothing by the side of a mountain is great from a distance, but when you're on a spaghetti strand of a road along the side of it, you change your perspective.
We made our way to a town called Estes Park on the east side of the mountains and then opted to take a one-way dirt road back toward that same visitor center because it was a shorter route for the trip home. This so-called "road" is closed all winter and had nothing, I mean nothing, to prevent you from sliding off the mountain. Did I mention it was a dirt road? My panic-meter was pegged as we drove, but something wonderful also happened. As we made one of the many U-turns on a switchback, we noticed something moving in the woods. We stopped and looked toward the movement as a beautiful elk walked through the woods, and then another. It was a reminder that we were just visitors to their habitat, and by the time the third elk walked past, I was able to scramble to get the camera and take a picture.
Now, you may be wondering what does all of this have to do with the theme of reflection? For me, it's the natural reminders that I need at least annually that there's just so much out there while we're busy with our lives that we need to stop periodically. These mountains have been here for centuries, the animals do what they need to do to survive and certainly aren't worried about test scores, multiple measures, electric bills, or if each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. But perhaps they do worry about their young, like we do. The time in nature, even if I'm surrounded by 4,000+ lbs. of glass and steel, is a reminder that we need to put our gadgets down and soak it all in.
The next day we floated down a section of the Colorado River and saw a pair of bald eagles and then were lucky to see their fledglings hopping and trying to fly along the rocks and banks of the river. Even as adolescent birds, their wing span was as wide as a Chevy and they were impressive with their brown and speckled feathers. The boys were thrilled, but to be fair, I think the adults were more impressed since it was such a rare sight. Even our guide, who has been running trips down that section of the river for years, never saw a whole family and was excited to share his story with the other guides once we were back to shore.
So, as summer comes to its inevitable close—and I know some of you reading this have been back to school and work for a while already—we should be reminded to record these events. At the beginning of the summer I asked my family to start writing in a Moleskine notebook when something exciting happens. It's a chore for the boys sometimes, but I want to have a tangible book to come back to someday, even with the current state of a paperless world. I know their iPods and my iPhone or iPad can take notes, but I'm always fearful those notes and messages will get lost in the next upgrade. I feel a little more secure with the old fashioned, handwritten notebook. So far, the book has trips and memories with friends and family members, but it also includes minor accomplishments. Just this morning my younger boy wrote in huge block letters, as only a rising 3rd grader can do, "I WAS CAMPER OF THE WEEK!!!!!!!!!!!" Take a few minutes to record those memories, reflections, or inspirational moments from this summer. We all know how great it is to go back and see them again when the next tough day comes along.
Kevin Scott is a strategic advisor for Constituent Programs at ASCD, facilitating its programs and initiatives created for younger educators, such as the Emerging Leaders and ASCD Student Chapter programs. He also provides services and consultation to ASCD affiliates. Before coming to ASCD, Scott served as member services manager for the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) at the National School Board Association (NSBA), where he facilitated meetings with members, wrote CUBE's Urban Edge newsletter, provided content for NSBA's BoardBuzz blog, and maintained CUBE's presence on Twitter. Scott spent seven years teaching 7th grade history in Fairfax County Public Schools and has worked for other associations as the education director.