On September 5th-7th, nearly 100 of our facilitators from around the world met in Thailand to prepare for the upcoming season. It was an exciting few days full of learning, sharing, and overall enjoyment. We hope you enjoy the reflection below written by one of our newest facilitators, Greg Pettys.

As educators, much of our time is spent, well, educating. Our hours are long, time alone seldom and even after parting ways with students at the end of the day we generally continue racking our brains long into the night for creative ways to more effectively engage those who we are honored to teach. We love what we do, and feel immensely grateful for the opportunity to live lives of purpose. We are devoted to preparing the leaders of tomorrow by offering them tools that inspire them to see the world through eyes tempered by global awareness and empower them to make decisions with hearts matured by genuine empathy. But on occasion, we get to slow down a bit, turn the focus back around on ourselves, switch up the roles and become the ones receiving the education, learning how to, well, better educate.

This past week, close to a hundred JUMP! facilitators from around the globe gathered outside Bangkok, Thailand to share lessons learned from the field and from each other. We came together to gain a better understanding of the impacts resulting from the work we are doing, to offer support for one another, to nourish relationships, to reflect on ways we feel we could improve the work we do and ultimately to rekindle and strengthen our overall passion for empowering young people to become agents of change. 

Facilitators from all walks of life, representing and incredibly diverse and colorful prism of experience and perspective offered invaluable insight into the nuts and bolts regarding best practices within the ever-evolving field of experiential education. We asked many hard questions relating to the unprecedented challenges facing young people (and educators alike) today and acknowledged how the realities they (we) face require a new way of educating altogether. 

Our facilitator community is the heart and soul of the work we do. The amount of wisdom carried within this profoundly motivated network of impassioned educators is hard to fathom. In addition to educating youth, many of our staff members are marathon runners, ballet dancers, Frisbee enthusiasts and high alpine mountaineers. Many speak more than four languages. At least one speaks seven. Several work with refugees, offering aid to those whose governments ignore them entirely. Some are organic farmers, natural builders and seed-savers, who tirelessly work to protect seed diversity throughout the world. Our team includes poets, scuba divers, musicians and stand up comedians. One of our Cambodian facilitators was an ordained Theravada monk for 16 years. One of our Thailand facilitators taught people how to snowboard and white water raft through the mountains and valleys of Colorado for nearly the same amount of time. Many are community organizers who aim to empower people to act in response to pertinent matters such as climate change. Amongst us are yoga teachers, artisan bakers, mothers, fathers, siblings and even a professional bodybuilder. Some speak loudly, while others, preferring to lead from behind, are seldom seen. 

The leadership styles found within JUMP! vary greatly, and during our time together this past week we observed and experienced in myriad ways the benefits of adopting new approaches to this often times intimidating skill. Some prefer to be direct and concise while others are more artistic and expressive. Others desire a more democratic approach and seek consistent communication from all parties. Many are playful and some more serene. We learned ways to lead with laughter, vulnerability and even silence. Ultimately, we were reminded that there is no one way to lead, but rather there are as many approaches to leadership as there are people under the sun, and that everyone has the skills needed to lead already in them and when properly nourished and developed, this unique style is usually the best choice for everyone involved. As facilitators we benefit more from sincere approaches to embodying leadership than from a forced style that only imitates what we already know, because diversity strengthens all that we do. And this, we hope to also share with our students as they too learn how to become leaders themselves.

It is no small thing to travel far from home. It is difficult for the young people we work with and as we found out again during our facilitator training/gathering it is just as challenging for us. Some of us are parents and in order to make these events happen, we must forfeit precious time with our families. Some of us tend to land and leaving a garden for extended periods of time presents uncertain consequence. Athletes among us sacrifice their daily fitness routines. The devout among us leave their places of worship. We all make tremendous sacrifices to do the work we do and this became all the more apparent while together this past week, where we had the rare opportunity to let our guards down fully and more accurately share with each other our own personal stories and along with them the stories of what and who we leave behind when we come on these adventures in learning. This in itself was a huge reminder to us all of just how inspiring this group truly is and what teachers the world over often are asked to do, and of which they do so willingly, all with the shared belief that these sacrifices are more than worth it, considering the eventual outcome; young people receiving opportunities to come of age with joy, integrity and humility, globally aware and properly prepared to face the challenges of tomorrow. 

Experiential educators believe that while lessons learned within a classroom and taught in the traditional lecture-delivering method certainly have value, the more effective way to learn is by being as literally immersed in the learning itself as possible.  As such, a tremendous amount of energy goes into envisioning, sculpting and eventually executing activities and lessons that thoroughly excite and engage students, ideally by presenting them with what is being learned directly. For example, we strive to not merely talk about the importance of say, biological diversity, while confined to a neon lit, air-conditioned room, but rather we attempt to initiate dynamic and interactive scenarios that offer multi-sensory representations of what we are referencing or, when possible, by actually taking our students to physically participate with the plants, elephants, oceans, deserts, foods, sounds, smells, places and people of whom we are learning. We find this method of learning to result in students’ gaining a much deeper and far more tangible grasp of topics discussed, one that sows seeds of an even greater understanding which continues to grow for years after our classes end. And when a hundred or so fired-up facilitators come together to share their ideas on how best to create these experiences, the magic is palpable!

As change makers ourselves, daily we seek to find effective ways to help solve many of the greater problems our world now faces. This work never ends and if we are not careful, we risk serious burn out. In the current era in which we now find ourselves, a casual scrolling through morning news headlines can be downright terrifying; “Another species of animal has gone extinct forever.”, “Another community has been forced to leave their home behind as ocean levels rise as impacts of Climate Change intensify.”, “Another forest is burning as a result of forest mismanagement and corporate greed.”, “Another school has been attacked by another young man with an extremely powerful gun.”, “Another woman has been abused.”, “Another child’s parents cannot afford to provide their boy with the medicine he needs.” and on and on it goes. It is extremely depressing and the weight of it all can be debilitating. As educators, we not only need to stay informed and find ways to share relevant information with our students, we also need to be discerning as to what news we feel is accurate and true, what topics might be too difficult to understand, etc. We need to find ways to transmute heaviness into inspiration for activating hope. We need to wisely model appropriate grief and display how to move through it.  And none of this is easy. At our gathering we were able to provide each other with the support that many of us, often living on the frontlines of some of these more horrifying realities, so desperately need, all the while honoring the very real challenges this new generation faces. For a moment we took of our strong educator/facilitator masks off and admitted that we too can be afraid, uncertain, sad and even angry. We gave each other space to heal, or at least to begin the process. 

And before we knew it, it was time to part ways. With bellies full of delicious curries, heads toppling over with new ideas for games, activities, lessons and the like, with hearts overflowing with a feeling of genuine love and support, we wrapped up our 2019 facilitator training with an activity we often share on courses with our students; a gratitude circle. Taking time to properly recognize how much we admire each other and wish each other success in all endeavors, we honored one another properly and with care. And that was that. After a week of renewal and orientation, prepared to again go into the world and do what we do best; engage, inspire and empower the change makers of tomorrow. 

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, to all who made this facilitator gathering a success, and many more thanks to everyone who enables us to do the work we do, especially the students. We look forward to sharing and learning with you soon.

Gregory Pettys

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