During our recent weXplore expedition to New Zealand’s South Island, Mother Nature tried to break our spirits from the get-go. We launched into the waters surrounding Abel Tasman National Park during a building rainstorm, our group taking a water taxi south of Separation Point and landing on the beach at Totaranui. We unloaded our gear from the boat and began to haul it to our first campsite, where students began setting up their tents and assembling under the cook shelter to prep for our afternoon hike. Our goal for the day was to hike north to Separation Point.
Map courtesy of Abel Tasman Kayaks
For a lot of our students, this was their first time on a weXplore expedition this physical in nature. Eight double kayaks were stacked up and ready for a five-day journey in the wilderness. With unrelenting rain continuously beating down on us, we began our hike along the rugged coastline. Halfway through the hike we gathered in a circle on Anapai Bay, where our guides asked each member of the group to define three goals for the trip. It is important to note that by this time most of the students were drenched from the falling rain despite having raingear.
As a former Outward Bound Instructor, I knew that a day like we were experiencing could either break or solidify our students’ Grit (one of our core values at TGS). Expeditions can be one of the most illuminating times for teachers. For the next five days I would be with my students for 120 hours. To provide perspective: a typical high school classroom teacher is in front of students for 50 minutes a day, four times a week for 36 weeks — a total of 120 hours.
While on expedition, I gain an intense perspective how our students handle stress, how they cope with adversity, how they interact on a team, and who they are as a person. In the classroom context I barely scratch the surface; the bell rings and the next herd of students roll into their seats.
Back to the rain: did you know that eyebrows were created to help shed the water and sweat from getting into your eyes? Halfway through the hike, my eyebrows stopped working.
I was just waiting for one of my students to lose it. It was that kind of rain. After setting our goals, we headed north for more hiking and I’ll admit I questioned our guides’ judgment at the time. We went on to Anatakapau Bay and then began the trek back to the camp, the rain coming down the whole way. The last kilometer, every step would push water out of my shoes. No one broke. They handled the rain and everything nature threw at them. That day our team exemplified Grit.
The rest of the trip was amazing and my students rose to the occasion of every challenge. Along the way we saw dolphins, seals, and sunrises, but for me the first three hours of our trip let me glimpse into their souls.