Reflections from the Road

Nature is an incredible teacher. It has impeccable wait time, provides an endless array of challenges, and above all, offers an engaging classroom. Yet, too often, we look past nature’s simple but powerful lessons that are waiting for her most curious pupils. We are consumed by the daily grind of our lives.


This past summer I was fortunate to take an epic road trip and visit more than 10 National Parks and National Monuments. Along the way, I tried to pay close attention to Nature to learn what she could teach me about teaching. Here are a few lessons I learned:


  1. Have a plan! A wise teacher once told me, “If you don’t have a plan for students, they will have a plan for you.” The importance of planning was very evident during a summer visit to Big Bend National Park. The heat and water’s scarcity meant much advanced planning to stay fully hydrated.


  1. Patience is key. Many caves have been plundered of their most beautiful features. Thankfully, Carlsbad Caverns National Park has been able to preserve the wonders of nature’s patience. Drip by drip for eons, the cave took its form. Now, it displays this full glory, a splendor only possible with time. So it is with teaching. Pack your patience and be amazed at what can be created as you give a lesson, a student, or a class…time.

  1. Don’t forget to pay attention to the little details. It’s easy to gawk at the expansive views on the Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s Permian Reef Trail. However, if you don’t pay attention to the small details, you will miss the most incredible features of the hike. Fossils fill the stone cliffs along the way! Just like in the classroom, the small stuff can make the biggest difference in the larger scheme of things. Mind those details.

  1. A little can go a long way. When you think of cacti and deserts, you might imagine a barren landscape with little to see, do, or learn. Not so at Saguaro National Park! At first glance, the park appears brown and stark against the backdrop of mountains and tall, green cacti soaring skyward. But this wonder is actually dotted with brilliant colors and plants that have been a source of medicine, food, and tools for thousands of years. The Native people found many uses for what was made available to them. They were resourceful, and they show us that being resourceful often means being creative enough to see something seemingly little and transforming it into something useful.

  1. Sometimes you can only do so much. Between a jam-packed schedule and detours, the best laid plans often go awry. Our plan to visit Petrified Forest National Park went awry as we raced against the ticking clock of its visiting hours. We made it, but we had to accept the fact that we could only see and explore so much. The school year, the school day presents the same problem. There is rarely time to do everything. But that is OK. You can only do what you can do. That is enough.

  1. Sometimes we can’t always see the bigger picture. The hike down to Bright Angel Campground in the Grand Canyon is accompanied by unparalleled views of this most impressive geologic feature. Yet, along the way, the steep cliffs towering above the path as you descend the 9.5 miles down to the Colorado River obscure the 18-mile wide gash in the earth. It’s still a stunning view, but it became easy to lose sight of the expansive grandeur all around us. The classroom can be just as limiting sometimes. It’s important to take a step back to be reminded of the bigger picture and purpose for why you do this work.

  1. It’s OK to go off script. Arches National Park is one of my absolute favorites. How could we plan a trip where we drive past it and not stop for a visit? Faced with a decision to stick to the script or veer off, we veered! When a teachable moment or a great question from a student lands in your lap, you’re faced with the same dilemma. Don’t be afraid to go off script! Great experiences are sure to follow.

  1. Know your limits. Canyonlands is hot and dry. Towards the end of a long trip with many miles already beneath our feet, we were eager to get one last big hike under our belts. As we ventured out, we realized just how tired we were, and we didn’t push it. The teaching profession presents exhausting challenges as well. Just remember – if you don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of anyone.

  1. Embrace diversity. Mesa Verde National Park was different from all the other Parks on this trip. The cliff dwellings amazed. Sturdy structures dangled on the precipice, where they had been for hundreds of years. It was something to think about their durability and the fact humans called them home so long ago. It was awesome, and it was a timely reminder that it doesn’t take an expansive landscape to make your jaw drop. It is important to embrace difference and appreciate the perspectives diversity provides.

  1. At times, showing up is half the battle. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is the Monday of National Parks. At first glance, it might not seem like much to look forward to, but if you want to see them all, you have to go. As we discovered, there was more to it than we originally imagined. There were pleasant surprises. We had to show up to discover them. Just like a Monday, you got to show up, but be open to being pleasantly surprised for a strong start to the week. And remember: Monday always turns into Friday.

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