The phrase “Expedition Behavior = Grace + Awareness” is posted on the wall behind grade six science teacher, Bill Hamilton’s desk. As we started preparing middle school students for our annual fall orientation trips a few weeks ago, Mr. Hamilton offered this simple equation from his extensive background in outdoor education. The equation would serve as a framework for how to be in community with one another successfully, as we embarked on those expeditions.
In my 20+ years of living it as a teacher and administrator, middle school, without a doubt, qualifies as an expedition. It’s got all the elements–a journey, necessary and right-sized risk-taking, excitement, joy, and discovery. Grace shows up in the way faculty and students do their part–plus a little more–and in quickly learning to accept that mistakes are one of the most valuable ways to learn and make good choices going forward. Awareness comes in the form of looking out for our own, as well as others’, needs and interests, and attending to our relationships in an inclusive community that fosters belonging.
Our physical expeditions this year in sixth grade to Thompson Island Outward Bound, in seventh grade to Cardigan Mountain, and in eighth grade to Project Adventure allowed each of us, faculty and students alike, to practice grace and awareness. It looked like students pausing and moving aside on a high ropes element to lend a hand to their classmate who was struggling to make it up to their level, waiting for a friend on the trail, making someone laugh or enjoying some hot chocolate when morale was low and folks were wet and cold from a rainy day, or gathering around a campfire for warmth, s’mores, and shared songs and laughs.
One of the natural and most magical elements of an expedition is the way that one quickly learns that if you enter into it together with others as a group, the only way to come out of it successfully, is with others as a group. It is only satisfying and victory is only achievable if everyone is healthy, well taken care of, feeling safe, and most importantly, all together. After experiencing a group expedition, to come out alone because maybe you ran ahead or got to the top ahead of everyone is just not enough anymore. It no longer satisfies that deep young adolescent need for companionship and integrity.
What could be a better metaphor for the grades 6-8 journey than an expedition? Here, already in October, we are settling into the early stage of our middle school 2022-2023 expedition, and no matter where it leads us this academic year, we are practicing grace and awareness and looking forward to completing it successfully together.