Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Avanti Salon

I’m not a big Reality TV fan. I’ve never much cared what the Tribe speaks or what the Real Housewives of anywhere have to say to one another.  But flipping channels the other day I came upon Tabitha’s Salon Make-Over.  Tabitha goes to failing beauty salons all over America and makes them live.  OK, I probably know less about Beauty Salons than I do about Reality television, but she caught my eye when she brought the staff of Avanti’s Salon to the Harvard boathouse to learn to row and, more importantly, to teach the owner to lead.

Sometimes we miss the transferable skills that rowing offers our kids.  It’s intimidating to have to stand up in the stern and take charge.  There’s nowhere to hide.  The well groomed young stylists who pulled an oar in the Harvard boathouse saw almost instantly the analogy between rowing and working, between coxing a boat and leading a business.

We talk about teaching leadership in schools across the country.  I wonder if that’s even possible without putting kids in the position of actual leadership.  I allow myself to hope that when it’s time to lead their own office or team out in the work force, or when it’s time to support their leader, my kids will remember the lessons they learned rowing a boat together in Station Maine.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I think it was DaVinci who adjured us to learn from nature.

A trick I learned years ago was to take a piece of string, maybe three foot long, and tie it in a circle.
Each child gets one circle and a pad and pencil. they put their circle down on a random piece of lawn
or forest floor and write down all the things they see within that circle, then write intelligent questions
that come from their observations.

All of the observations and questions are shared with the group at the end of ten minutes.

Adventures don't necessarily need to invoke a boat or foreign shores. Sometimes they are inches away from your nose if only you can take the time to look.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What One Emphasizes

The trick is what one emphasizes.
We either make ourselves miserable
Or we make outselves strong. 
The amount of work is the same.
                                     Carlos Castaneda

Friday, February 24, 2012

Inquiring Minds

On of the serious joys of taking kids on the water is that the lesson is different every single day.  Kids are encouraged to ask intelligent questions and are given intelligent answers, to which they genuinely listen.  In a single day we can cover world history, local history, physics, seamanship, mathematics, marine biology, natural science, and a host of other subjects.  Our lessons drift with the tide, literally and metaphorically, but in our brief 45 minutes we are able to include dozens of learning moments.  These moments excite me as much as the kids and we feed off each others’ energy.

A child’s mind is naturally inquisitive.  Given a rich environment and supportive companions the questions come naturally and learning flows.  There is so much to discover.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Congratulations Belfast

Station Maine doesn't live alone on the coast of Maine.  Our good neighbors and ardent supporters in Belfast have an amazingly strong and successful adult rowing program.  Check out the great article in the Portland Herald.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lord of the Rings

We watched a Lord of the Rings marathon today.  All three films in ten hours, all of us crowded into Katie’s living room which her family kindly turned over to us for the day.
I’m not sure how I can qualify watching a movie marathon and eating junk food as education, but something in me knows that it is.  Cheering for the Hobbits,  laughing at Gimlie, collectively hating the Orks is so much fun when we’re together.  Maybe Californians are right and a movie needs to be a shared experience.  Shared with friends.  Good friends.  And doing something outrageous like a movie marathon is always a plus.
Of course I don’t recommend sitting in front of a flickering screen over hiking, rowing, creating, or doing in all of its forms,.  But occasionally on a cold winter day with friends, a movie marathon can bring a group of close friends even closer.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Old Chinese Proverb

Man who say it cannot be done should not interrupt man doing it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Experiential Learning

Experiential Education isn’t all about experience. Sometimes it’s about a new setting that makes a student more willing to learn.

At low tide one of my students asked how the pier was built.  We in Rockland have a wonderful history of Working Waterfront that offers much and varied maritime architecture.  This particular pier was formed with a crib built against pilings and filled with loose rocks.  With that as our motivation we set off rowing to look at different pier construction in the south end.

The kids noticed, almost instantly, the next pier over at Rockland Marine was built of well formed granite blocks.  They were fascinated as I explained the island granite industry that provided so much of the building blocks of this country.  As we rowed over to a cribbed pier that has long ago collapsed we were lucky enough to meet a gentleman on an adjoining dock who remembered from his childhood that this had been Steam Boat Pier.  He remembered train tracks going right out to the end of it and the trains unloading grain, wood, and stone on to waiting boats.  It its day they had been steamboats.

Not one of us on that boat was anything less than fascinated at what we were learning.  It’s all written in a book somewhere, I guess.  How much more interesting is it to be there, to touch the stones, to discover, and then, when your interest is peaked, to be taught.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Launching a gig is generally a simple affair.  Back the trailer down the ramp, float the gig off, and you’re away.  With Middle School kids, though, launching offers a plethora of learning opportunities.

The beauty of this particular boat and ramp is that because of her size and the angle of the ramp we don’t put the rudder in until she’s floating.  Or, in this case, not at all.  Putting the gig dockside without a rudder is simple for an experienced cox.  It is amazingly scary for the young and inexperienced.

Rocks on one side, an inconveniently placed large boat on the other, students had to truly focus, drawing on weeks of training.  They had to truly depend on one another.  The crew needed to trust the cox.  The cox had to know that the crew would be sharp on their commands.  Four students maneuvered delicately towards the dock as I pushed the gig off the dock again and again and put different students in “the hot seat” of command.

Red Jacket sits comfortably in her slip in Rockland’s south end, a tribute to the courage of seven 12 and 13 year olds, and the community that recognizes the value of launching a gig as education.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentines Day

I got a flower for Valentines Day.  The Student Council at the Middle School decided that everyone, staff and students, should have a flower on Valentines Day.  Having made that decision, they acted, asking the new flower shop in town, Snapdragon, for their help.  Snapdragon agreed to donate 250 carnations to the cause.
Station Maine does not hold all the cards on Experiential Education.  The Student Council encourages kids to become involved with their school and their community with the understanding that young people who learn early that they can make a difference will continue to make even bigger differences when they are grown and running this community and this world.
I feel privileged to live in a community that understands that.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I’m convinced that every experiential program out there, every program that deals with kids in general, needs a well mannered dog.  I laud schools in Maine that now permit teachers to take keep their dogs in the classroom.
Dogs are forgiving and understanding.  When a kid has misbehaved, when he feels like he’ll never understand fractions, when her best friend won’t talk to her, when nobody in the world understands, the most normal human reaction is to go hug the dog.  Those few moments of tenderness, happiness, warmth, or just quiet while you scratch the furry ears or allow your hand to be licked can bring the whole day back into perspective.  And studies are back, children with asthma who are raised with a dog in the home are found to be less likely to be asthmatic as adults.
Sometimes we all need a break from the human race.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Changing the World

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
                                                                             ...Margaret Mead

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Lighthouse

We rowed all the way to the Rockland lighthouse today with Alt. Ed.  That’s about a mile and a half each way.  I won’t call it an Olympian feat or anything, but for these kids in an open boat in the middle of winter it was an unimaginable triumph.
The best part about this triumph from my point of view, was that I didn’t do it.  I suggested it at one point, weeks ago, and dropped the subject.  The kids took the ball.  They set a goal for themselves, one that from their perspective, was challenging.  The leadership within the crew rose up and pulled the others along.  When the wind came up from the east, as it will in the mornings, they became more, not less determined to fight it and win.  Blissfully, that same wind helped to blow us home in time for the bus.
The crew came back elated.  The endorphins from the exercise, of course, kicked in to do their magic.  But these kids have had very little success with the school system or in life.  Here they set a serious goal, they pushed hard for that goal, and they succeeded.  They were triumphant and they should have been.
Any wise adult can now ask them, quietly, “Look at what you accomplished because you set a goal and worked for it.  Imagine what else you can do.”

Friday, February 10, 2012

Wave Theory

We felt the waves of vibration coming from the tug boat today.  The vessel was just running its generator, but waves, as my physics professor lectured so many years ago, travel.  As college students we watched the diagrams and yawned through the films in physics.  We dutifully memorized the necessary “laws” and promptly forgot them.  But today we weren’t even all that close to the tug boat, and the vibrations carried through the iron hull, across the water, into our own hull, and right through the seats of our trousers.
There is, of course, significantly more theory to waves traveling than we felt in our trousers.  A good teacher, and we have many in Rockland, will make that point, and will connect it to those vibrations.  But we will remember them, we will remember wave theory, because of what we felt out on Rockland Harbor.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I don’t think we need to be taught to see natural beauty.  We know.  I’ve seen dogs and cats transfixed at the sparkle of the sun on snow.  I’ve seen deer tracks, fresh every morning, on the rise above my home best suited to watching the sunrise.  We seem to need in our culture to be given permission to see and acknowledge beauty.  We are subtly disapproved of in the Western world for taking a moment to smell the roses, or, worse yet, attempting to share that magic moment.
Our kids deserve better.  No matter how rich or poor we are the sunset is ours. The sparkle of the frost on the brown grass, the lace like patterns of branches against the blue sky, the colors of the sea, the waving tendrils of a sea anenome, the sweet smell of wood smoke are all a natural part of our day here in Maine.  More important than teaching our kids to appreciate “fine art” we need to give them permission to appreciate the world around them.
Their world, and ours, will be better for it. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Courage, by its very nature, involves fear.  We all aspire to courage, particularly our young people who are barraged by a never ending array of superheroes, Jams Bond, Nikita, and video games.  Our kids want to know if they have courage, but in our sanitized lifestyles, where is courage to be found?
We found it on the gig today.  The assignment was to back up into the tugboat and touch the tire without actually touching the boat or letting the gig touch it.  For a thirteen year old cox, this is a serious challenge.  The wind blowing.  The behemoth sized vessel looming up on us, the responsibility of steering backwards.  It’s a lot to manage.
Of course she succeeded.  She slapped the tire and pushed us off.  Were we in any real danger?  Absolutely not.  That’s not the point.  The kids, especially the cox, felt danger.  She felt fear.  And she faced that fear and accomplished the task at hand.
That, in any culture, is the definition of courage.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Kids need responsibility.  Genuine responsibility. Our middle America lives make this hard.  There aren’t cows to milk or fences to mend so the sheep don’t get out.  Parents work hard, but they do it quietly tucked out of sight making that work a useless tool to educate their children.  Somehow setting the table and vacuuming the rug doesn’t much cut it for a child.
Youth programs in the physical world are important.  The more physical, the more important, the more real the responsibility, the stronger is the lesson that will last for the rest of their lives.  I’m not quite ready to put a thirteen year old at the helm of the Titanic yet, but to put a fourteen year old in charge of a crew of experienced rowers is almost a no brainer.  The responsibility is physical, visceral, and nobody can take it lightly.  The child grows.  Kids begin to believe in themselves. 
People who believe in themselves can do anything.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Senses

In life, and consequently in education, sensations (what we receive through the senses) are of greater importance than ideas.  They are not only more reliable, and far more enjoyable; they are also far more penetrating and profound.  They touch, when properly received, the core of man’s existence.                                         Erich Meissner

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Starfish

We had Mixed Rowing today.  It’s challenging getting people together in the winter to go out on the water in an open boat.  Only the hearty need apply.  Yet four hearty Mainers braved the cold and we were off.

The glory moment, for me, came after we had finished our row and were on the dock.  A twelve year old had spotted a starfish under the dock and wanted to retrieve it.  He stuck his skinny little hand in the icy ocean fearlessly and came up with his prize, just at that critical time when the starfish was feeding.  Starfish, as you may know send their stomach out after they have opened whatever delicacy they plan to consume.  Many of us have studied this phenomena.  Few have actually seen it.

The older members of the crew listened politely, genuinely interested while this youngest rower showed us his starfish and explained what we were seeing.  Everybody saw it as the perfect blend of academic and experiential.  None of us would have had this unique opportunity had we not been outside, living life, doing something real.

Yes, I know it’s “officially” a sea star.  Old habits die hard.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Talent is a funny thing. We all search for it in our children, that spark of magnificence. But the chance of anyone's talent coming to life in a vacuum is exactly zero. Mozart was exposed to music from birth. Tiger Woods was playing golf as a toddler. So many people who are talented in wildly remote areas of life can go back to a time in their childhood when they discovered something so amazing that they just had to pursue it.

This is our job as educators. It needn’t involve a huge outlay of funds, but it needs to be real. It could be something as simple as a parent turning a lathe in class or one of the teaching staff playing the accordion. We can see thousands of skilled and talented individuals on line, but when an actual human being who is standing in front of you right now is moving his hands over that piece of wood and making magic it becomes real. It becomes possible.

Is not the point of education to open new vistas for our students?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Successful people

I chanced on an interview television the other day.  Successful people by most standards that we use to measure success, interviewing other successful people.  A common thread in their success seemed to be that each had hated school as a child, and each for a different reason.  Most of us know people with similar stories.  Many of us have similar stories of our own.  It's not that the teachers were bad.  We've all had many caring compassionate teachers.  It was that some aspect of the system stifled us and kept us from blossoming.  Systems have that tendency because one size almost never fits all.

How can we as teachers and as caring human beings lead our students towards discovering their passions instead of locking them into programs that just don't fit?  How can we open doors towards new experiences in the classroom and out?  How can we give our students the courage to explore new skills and new ideas?

I ask myself these questions every day.  I expect, or at least hope, that most teachers are doing the same.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


It was too icy to get on the boat safely this morning with Alt Ed.  I taught a hypothermia/frostbite class instead with the understanding that although not everyone in that class will be a seaman, all of us live in the State of Maine.  Winters here are every bit as harsh as you read about.
The class sat in rapt attention for all of an hour, listening ardently, asking intelligent questions, bring relevant life experience into the conversation.  Their attention was drawn by the fact that they were preparing to save lives, their own or someone else’s, some day.  This is 100% relevant to their life experience and so it is important to them here and now.  
There are so many things to know in this world it boggles the mind.  Can we not somehow find ways to teach things that are genuinely relevant to our students while making them aware of pathways of learning that they can access later, when they are ready?  I don’t know.  Grist for the mill.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


While we were carving ice this weekend one of the chisels slipped at the same unfortunate moment that someone else’s knee slipped.  The cut wasn’t serious.  I got the call and ran back from my meeting with a parent to find the crew continuing on their carving as if nothing had happened.  They had found the first aid supplies, cleaned and bandaged the cut, and moved on to the important work of finishing their sculpture.  When I asked why they had called they reminded me that standing orders were to call me if anybody gets hurt.  They didn’t need me.  They just needed me to be in the loop.
Every experiential education program teaches their students first aid.  Once our kids are trained, and fully understand the limits of that training, they need the opportunity to actually use that training.  I couldn’t be prouder of the crew of Station Maine.  The knee will be just fine.  The strength of character learned from the incident has grown even stronger.