Friday (belated) Tips: Do Something Scary

I spent this past weekend at a Boy Scout camp learning to spin firestaff.

What’s a firestaff? It’s a pole of metal, perhaps 1″ in diameter and about 5′ 8″ long, wrapped with Kevlar wicks at either end to form a cylinder 2″ in diameter and 2″ wide.  When dipped in Coleman stove fuel (or white gas), and lit, they form a lethal-looking device that appears to be as much danger to anyone holding it as facing off against them.  Deeply scary-looking.

And also beautiful to watch when held by someone who has learned even a little bit about how to move it around their body.  Imagine that.  It’s a performance art, and it requires as little as two hours of direct instruction — followed by a weekend of dedicated practice — to become competent enough with it to perform for others.

Now you don’t have to become a poi-spinner to do something scary. But take some time each summer to take a few risks and do things that would normally be hard for you.

I like my colleagues greatly.  They’re wonderful people.  But I think that we as teachers are usually risk-averse.  We tend to live in routines during the school year, and we tend to live in routines in our vacations as a result.

Yet our students, who live in the routines we set, are growing up to be equally risk-averse because we ask them to do hard things, and then we let them get away with doing the minimum.  We need to be out there, demonstrating that we’re learning new things and doing hard things that are frightening, just to prove that it can be done. How can we encourage our students to be creative, wild, innovative people, when we’re kicking back and relaxing?

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