Lessons from fly fishing

I’ve been journeying this summer, traveling and exploring. No matter where I’m at or what I’m doing, my teacher-brain is always working, whirling away as I relate everything to life in the classroom.  Almost every activity I do transports me to the schoolhouse.

I had this experience recently when fly fishing (sounds random, right?). As I was learning the ebb and flow of angling, my mind was thinking about what lessons translated to education.

Much of this reflection can from my observations of the instructor, Alex. He had been a college basketball player, towering at an intimidating 6 feet 7 inches. But despite his lofty height, he is a gentle giant and an amazingly patient teacher.  Alex had just retired from education, most recently as a high school principal. Now he spent his days teaching others how to enjoy his passion. Here are a few of the lessons I learned from this lifelong educator.

Comfort can be the foundation of relationship. Alex said that as principal, he made sure to never wear a suit when meeting parents. Why? It made many of his working class parents uncomfortable. When he dressed down, he felt it removed any hierarchical feelings and helped build trust—the beginnings of a partnership.

Relationship is important. Alex has a mantra: the day starts with clients and ends with friends. He takes the time to talk to his “students,” listening to their stories. I think that’s a beautiful goal for what we should hope for with the parents in our schools. We should work to closely tie the learning relationship with our students as the keystone.

Practice on dry land before wading into the water. Before fly fishing, we spent a lot of time back-casting in the parking lot. Then learning to tie flies. Then more casting. Without the possibility of a fish in sight. I think about how this relates to the craft of teaching. When learning the ins and outs of the profession, we need lots of practice before we move into the waters of the classroom with live students.

What looks “natural” is actually very intentional, learned, and thought out.  Not everyone can do it and it takes some mad skills. I’ve seen A River Runs Through It and fly fishing looked like a piece of cake. What I learned? Just because Brad Pitt makes it look easy doesn’t mean anyone can pick up a fly rod and rock out a cooler full of rainbow trout. It takes skills, practice, and many well thought out moves.  It takes time and practice.

Learning from each other leads to increased effectiveness.  I was fly fishing on my birthday, with the company of my father and boyfriend. I was good at casting, my dad at being patient, and my boyfriend at hooking the fish. By sharing our strengths and learning with each other, we were able to all grow.

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