Canoe Trips & Leadership

I Can Hear The Bullfrog Callin’ Me

My son wanted a family float trip with cousins for his 13th birthday party, so we loaded up the canoes and kayaks on July 4th and headed to the river. It had been a while since we had found the time and good weather to float, and I was definitely out of practice. Since my 21 year-old daughter Shalyn, home from college for a few days, had floated more recently, I let her have the back of the canoe, where serious steering skills are needed. I took the front, the power position. (For those of you who know me and may be wondering, yes, I do realize that I am a control freak and might regret not being in the back of the canoe. However, I’m trying to, well, let others lead).

Wonder If My Rope’s Still Hangin’ To The Tree

There are two things, really, that you need to understand when getting into a canoe, regardless of how often you do this.

  1. There is always the possibility of the canoe tipping and dumping you into the river at any point in the trip. If you do tip, don’t be mad. It makes it a more memorable trip, a fun story to tell later, an initiation. That event will be forever etched into your memory. It’s okay.
  2. Never take anything with you that you can’t afford to lose or get wet. There are water-tight containers, so definitely grab one if you have to bring things that shouldn’t be in water (phone, wallet, keys, etc.)

Love To Kick My Feet Way Down The Shallow Water

As we navigated the first part of our four hour float, I realized that my daughter and I were out of synch and out of practice. A well-oiled machine we were not. Getting the canoe to go where you want it to go when the current is also trying to dictate your path is tricky and requires communication, both paddlers knowing where you’re are going and how (angle, path, direction) you’ll getting there. It struck me then how leadership in schools or any business really, nicely parallels with a float trip.

Shoe Fly, Dragon Fly, Get Back To Your Mother

A good leader is needed for the trip, since there are things like supplies that are crucial to the success of the float: canoes/kayaks, sunscreen, bug spray, paddles, cooler full of drinks, snacks, fishing license if fishing, fishing equipment. The leader(s) also need a float plan, and a crew of friends and/or family to carry out that plan. The same can be said of education (or a business, for that matter). You still need things, people, and a plan. While there are one or two overall leaders on a trip (administration), typically, you also need a leader in each canoe (teachers), and they have to be trusted to do their job. Your trip members in kayaks (students) generally follow the lead of the trip leaders. I say generally, because the kayaks can go faster than the canoes, so they sometimes get impatient and float ahead of the pack (there are rope swings and fun to be had just around the bend). The trick is getting everyone paddling in synch (not both of us on the right or the left and oversteering), looking out for obstacles and ways around or through them, and lending a helping hand when needed. If we can manage that, we’ll get there unscathed and dry, usually.

Pick Up A Flat Rock, Skip It Across Green River

Navigating a district or building can be tricky like a river too. There are logs, rocks, and currents along the way that have to be dealt with or avoided, depending on the situation. Sometimes we make the wrong decisions about whether or not to go to the right or left of a big log, oversteer one direction, and slam right into it. It will happen at some point. Things can happen very suddenly, so snap decisions are not always the right ones. (Remember, though, we are making memories, which hopefully will make the trip a fond memory instead of a stressful one.) When you find yourself thrown from the canoe suddenly, unexpectedly (it’s usually unexpected since we never think it’ll happen to us), get your feet under you as quickly as possible and stand. Catch your breath. Use the log for leverage, if appropriate, hold on to the canoe, and wait for assistance (and try hard not to think about snakes, though you know they could be around). Remember, you aren’t traveling this educational canoe trip alone. Others will hear your partner scream (my daughter’s way of letting everyone know we were in trouble), and help will arrive. Don’t be afraid or too proud to ask for help. We should also be ready to help others if they get tangled up in a tree. Rescue items thrown from a tipped canoe. Lend a hand wherever you see the need. We are all in this together. Make the trip worth it. Together.

Partial lyrics are from the song Green River, by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

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