Monday, July 29, 2013

Participant-Centered Approach

I just finished helping organize aspects of the Appalachian Trail Biennial Conference in Cullowhee, N.C. It brought together more than 900 people to hike, learn, collaborate, maintain, and cultivate awareness for the Appalachian Trail. Among the activities of this event are guided hikes, more than 150 of them. Many of these hikes are lead by people who hike all the time; they are strong hikers who easily churn out a 3 mile-per-hour pace. However, not everyone who attends these events are capable of hiking quite that fast. This requires modification on the part of the hike leader to only hike as fast as the slowest hiker, a motto I learned well as a Girl Scout and practiced as a Girl Scout leader.

As a dance teacher of a modality known as The World GROOVEMovement, I was trained to facilitate dance. This means that rather than strictly governing “right” and “wrong” on the dance floor, I permit people to explore a simple move their way to get to the heart of their authenticity. This type of fitness class is counter to what most Americans are familiar with these days, with an expert instructor dancing at the front of the room, with everyone else striving to emulate her without success. The disconnect created in this situation with the leader as the center of focus means that it’s difficult for students to access what is actually happening to and inside of their bodies as they move. Instead of observing, they’re flailing and trying valiantly to keep up.

I see similarities with the traditional group exercise model and the model of hike leadership with a lot of groups who are taking people out to hike. Instead of aiming for success (after all, everyone can hike and enjoy it if it’s at a pace they can achieve and enjoy), we can often be led by our strengths – to charge ahead – instead of letting our newest participants set the pace, explore the territory, and guide their own experience.

As a model of leadership, how can I facilitate this kind of awareness in our volunteers? How can our clubs identify the interest and level of its members and cultivate their exploration and turn it into dedication (newbie to die-hard)? How can we change club culture from exclusive club to inclusive experience? 

It's about all of us. Each of us, individually and collectively - my other takeaway from the Biennial that I'll post separately.