| Dru Falco

Instructor Training: Learning from Each Other

Cottonwood Institute staff members taking a selfie with one of our tents

At Cottonwood Institute spring instructor training, staff members learned from each other, modeled real trip practices, and bonded! Written by Program Manager Dru Falco.

At Cottonwood Institute, we want to cultivate an atmosphere of continual learning and community care. Our spring instructor training this year embodied those two values. Eleven folks attended, some of whom have been working with Cottonwood for a year or five, and a few who were brand new! The team congregated at Cal-wood’s Outpost campsite, which is a new spot for many of us. The site is further from the main Lodge than the campsites at Cal-wood, offering solitude and a beautiful view of still-snow-covered peaks.

A whiteboard with our staff training Group Living Agreement listed. Everyone has a chance to teach

Several veteran instructors were volun-told to share lessons with the group. Sadie led us in constructing a Group Living Agreement (GLA) for the weekend, and we talked through how we could implement GLAs on our programs. A GLA is a contract that everyone creates together based on how we want the group to move and act. We came up with points like “celebrate vulnerability,” “don’t be afraid to share half-baked thoughts,” and “let Erin know if she has boogers in her nose.” With students, instructors can reference their GLA throughout the trip and adjust it as they go based on the group’s needs.

Once we felt satisfied with our own GLA, Ruthie regaled the group with a round of Predator/ Prey, where everyone is blindfolded and the goal is to tag everyone else out. This game helped us awaken our other senses besides sight. Then, Ruthie challenged us to build a fire that can be lit by one match and will stay lit as long as possible. Everyone told the story of their fire, talking through which methods they used and why.

Trip modeling

Ruthie with her fire!Throughout instructor training, we modeled what we would do on one of our real programs with students. Carly talked us through tent setup, covering the 5 W’s and the camp triangle (or bear-muda triangle). Jarrod gave a trailhead safety talk, and later did his nighttime speech on how to stay warm and what to do if you need help. We rotated through setting up and cleaning up meals as we do with students on a trip, and Sadie gave her tent-take down lesson, showing off an expert tent-rolling technique.

Building bonds

The best part of coming together for instructor training is being able to enjoy each others’ company. Since our admin staff works remotely and field instructors work part-time, we only have a few times a year when we’re all together! We were able to play fun games, help each other through anxieties (celebrating vulnerability!), and share laughs around the fire.

We also set aside specific times for instructors to talk in small groups. Throughout the training, instructors paired off in different combinations that reflect upcoming program assignments. They were able to discuss their backgrounds and educational philosophies; talk through how they would respond to risk management scenarios; and even start planning for future programs. Since it’s often difficult for instructors to find time to meet before their trip, we set aside time at every training for folks to get ahead.

Spring training gave us so much that we can take into the field to share with students. Thanks to all of our instructors who continue to bring their best selves to Cottonwood Institute programs.

Three CI staff members at the campfire singing a song together.

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