Friday, October 16, 2009

Lessons learned by building a boat

By Anna Schachner
Bachelor of Physical Education and Coaching

A few weeks ago I went to Ottawa and met up with 60 students to spend four days together in pretty close quarters at the 2009 Physical and Health Education Canada Student Leadership Conference.

We took a bus to Camp Walden, which is about two hours west of Ottawa. Friendships began almost instantly. We were split up into six groups of 10 people and took part in activities to build our confidence and comfort with one another.

It is amazing how well you can bond with someone after such a short period of time. I am very motivated, adventurous and optimistic about life, so it was great to be surrounded by people who shared similar passions and interests. Most of the people I really bonded with were from Ontario and Nova Scotia. We all plan to stay in touch and meet up in the summertime.

We also got to know all the mentors, who all worked in physical education and wellness, including one of my instructors here at Douglas College, Brian Storey (he's on the right with the pink headband doing the Thriller zombie dance). Through the stories they shared with us, I learned the importance of building relationships, community, and connections. They also led outdoor activities everyday like mountain biking, rock climbing, low ropes, yoga, hip-hop and adventure challenges. In all of the activities, there were aspects of team strategizing and problem solving.

Paddle this!
The canoe-craft activity is one that really stood out for me. Each group had to build a watercraft using three canoes, eight pieces of rope and five pieces of plywood. The canoes had to be tied together and made sturdy using proper knots to hold everything together. The challenge was that nine students were designated builders but not allowed to speak, while only one person could speak and direct but could not touch anything.

This really helped us focus on alternative ways to communicate and trust the leader, the only one who was allowed to speak. Not only did we build a sturdy watercraft, we had to have everyone on the raft canoe to one end of the lake and return while one student was blind folded, one pretended they were hearing impaired, one pretended to have a broken leg, and another acted as if they had a broken arm. Initially, we thought that the students with differing abilities could sit in the middle and not paddle, but then we thought about inclusive activities and arranged it so that everyone had a role. The whole activity really used different methods of team building, problem solving, communication skills, and trust.

As a group we listened to people’s suggestions and strategies and would build off of one another. No ideas or strategies were ever ignored or wrong – it seemed the more discussion we had, the more people got involved and had ideas to feed from. It was really great to see student leaders come together because everyone was engaged in the task and would listen so well while others were speaking.

The experience was unforgettable. It has made me want to take more risks, trust others, keep in touch, close any negative open loops that have been itching in the back of my mind, and help create positive, active environments. At first, I was sad to leave Camp Walden, but now I know that rather than be sad that it ended, I should be happy that it happened and take what I learned to help myself and those around me to get engaged with life and be positive leaders.

For an instructor's perspective on the 2009 Physical and Health Education Canada Student Leadership Conference, visit inside douglas.