This past week I took a belaying course. It was kind of important. If you don’t take the course and pass it, you aren’t allowed to belay. And I want to be able to do that!
So what is belaying, you might be wondering?
When you are rock climbing, the belayer is the person on the ground. As your partner climbs, you are moving the rope through the belay device to get rid of the slack. You also control the brake so that if they slip, they won’t fall very far…ie. plummet to the ground.
Thankfully, my nephew graciously signed up with me to avoid having to partner with a stranger in COVID times. I was fairly confident that he would be a good student and not let the above example happen!
It’s always good to have a reminder of what it is like being on the student-side of things: to remember that learning something new is not easy. At one point, I had asked so many questions that I apologized to the instructor, saying that as a teacher I should be a better student. But I was actually being a great student:
The 2.5 hours were all hands-on with a 3:1 student to instructor ratio lol.
And it was STILL hard.
I can’t imagine how much I would have taken away from the course if it had been us sitting in a room, with the instructor just telling us about the knots to tie. No rope. No demonstrations. No climbing.
Answer? Not much.
As it was, we practised every skill that a belayer needs. The most fun, of course, was the falling - that millisecond of exhilaration as you are near the top…and just let go.
At first, we would tell our partner that we were going to fall, so that they could mentally and physically prepare for what needed to happen.( KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE BRAKE ROPE!) After a bit, we practised unannounced falls, because I can tell you from experience, you don’t always know in advance that you are going down!
The most important skill, though, is likely communication. Verbally, there are a few universal commands to learn, to confirm with your partner what is happening or what you want to happen. But there is also non-verbal communication, keeping your eyes on them and being aware of what is happening.
Like with most things, as I was on the wall or belaying my nephew, I had school-connections running through my head! Here’s three things we could transfer to our classrooms:
1. Let kids fall off the wall more often. Purposeful falls. Accidental falls. I didn’t practise belaying for ‘if’ someone is going to fall, but ‘when.’ (You will fall!) We need to let kids know that learning happens when we take risks and push ourselves; and we learn when mistakes happen because we are learning from those mistakes.
2. Communicate and watch. I was really thinking about triangulation of data as we went through the night. We spent a lot of time in observation and conversation. We watched the other pair as they climbed, listening to the instructor’s feedback. We watched each other go through the intricate steps of knot tying; sometimes I helped my nephew and he helped me, but more often it was just talking and working through the steps together. I think in our classrooms, that is another important lesson: it’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to talk it through with someone. It’s okay to listen in when the teacher is working with someone else. Learning is not done in isolation.
3. I’ll repeat that once more: learning is not done in isolation. When there is a climber and a belayer, you are a team. We depend on each other to be safe and have a successful climb. We have different responsibilities in each role, and we need to understand them both because we will do both. In the classroom, I am a learner as much as I am a teacher. And I want our students to be teachers as much as they are learners.
(Something happened in Visual Art before the break that was so cool: one student had learned a technique, promptly showed it to another student, who in turn taught it to another student lol. When a fourth student asked me about it, I sent them to the last student who had learned it so they could teach it too.)
And for the “BUT IN REAL LIFE!” counterargument, the interesting thing about the night was that it was all practice. Just feedback and learning. When we are ready, we will go back for a ‘test’ to show them our skills. We will try until we’ve demonstrated that we know what we are doing.
And then…climb on!
Hope everyone enjoyed a short break. Have a great week!
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