Summer Series: Wilderness Maxims for Learning; Part 10

Maxim 10: –Leave no trace. Take only memories & leave only footprints.

For the tenth and final entry in our Summer Series exploring Wilderness Maxims for Learning, let’s consider perhaps the most well-known guiding principle of being outdoors. If any maxim could be regarded as primary in outdoor conduct, it may be this week’s. In the wilderness, it is always a challenge to leave without souvenir-taking—that cool rock, that river-washed stick, that fossil, that unique shell, that precious arrowhead or pottery shard—and it is an even greater struggle to leave no lasting impact from your time in the wilderness.

In learning, however, this guiding principle may become even more complicated. In fact, there may be multiple lenses through which to consider this week’s maxim: the student’s, any classmates’, the teacher’s, anyone supporting the learner’s, or any administrators’ perspectives. While considering this wilderness maxim as it pertains to learning may raise more questions than it provides answers, the act of questioning our various roles in the learning process, as well as the roles of those around us, is worthy of our attention and sure to bear meaningful fruit.

Connection to Learning:

As a student, it is critical to locate the edges between learning zones—to be able to move from what is comfortable and known through the fear of failing into the slight discomfort of actual learning, all without red-lining into full panic and overload. Rock climbing, for example, is obviously terrifying if one looks at it that way, while it can also become freeing and even meditative. Interestingly, there is not a lot online about how to make learning more fun as a student (rather than as a teacher). However, there is a lot to be said for retaining a sense of wonder and curiosity at all times rather than rigorously overexerting and exhausting oneself. As the paradox goes, it is wise to be playfully serious and seriously playful. 

girl on swing
Photo by Krivec Ales on

Perhaps, as a student, Leave No Trace implies that it is up to you to retain your beginner’s mind; to nurture your personal intellectual, artistic, mechanical, scientific, or mathematical fires through all darkness; to fiercely defend your passion and joy for growth; to approach new challenges as a variety of paths to select from rather than a dead end. In other words, a student sometimes leaves a trace of past learning challenges as a stain on their future progress or current goals. However, the student always retains the power to rekindle their joy for learning, with their next journey. Without ignoring socioeconomic realities or advocating any kind of boot-strap logic, knowledge is power and growth is an act of rebellion.

Still, what is the quality of the trace that one student leaves upon another, or upon an entire class? A single student has more power than they perhaps realize to either uplift or else terrorize an entire classroom from week to week. It may be strange to see it stated so plainly, yet it is certainly true that a student may detest a certain class period if they can safely assume that a particular classmate is going to continue to inflict others with their own angst around learning. It may be worth asking: do you, as a student, add to or take away from the learning experience of others? In what small ways could you adjust to increase the overall class enjoyment for others? Conversely, is there anything parents can do to help their students enjoy class more

And what is the quality of the trace that the teacher leaves? I worked with a teacher who would regularly use open and direct sarcasm with students, another who would insult and belittle students on a daily basis like a boot camp instructor, and a teacher (later promoted to principal) who regularly took extended phone calls related to their side-business during class while students worked independently. Sadly, it is common practice for teachers to leave harmful impacts upon entire classes of students, and I was not immune from this reality. I tried my best to learn from and reflect upon each challenging experience in order to reframe my practice, however, many teachers simply repeat the pattern. Bart, the student mentioned in previous articles, shockingly stated that they were willing to accept “a little” yelling from a teacher, “but not too much.” With so many students shell-shocked by tests, essays, and other ‘torturous’ aspects of schooling, one can only imagine all the ways that we can and should do better

This challenge to make education a process that fosters a lifelong love of learning extends to parents, guardians, caretakers, friends and family, administrators, and policymakers. Teachers are burnt out, students are stressed out, and school leaders are checked out. Overbearing or tactless higher-ups have the power to kill classroom culture with little recourse. This is practically common knowledge; an open secret of modern schooling. Why not choose a better path? Why not provide all learners with beautiful maps to help them explore all the trails they want with safety and support? Why not help every teacher do this in the manner that best suits them? Why not shift our focus to joy, process, and personal growth in learning? Rather than taking our baggage into the learning process and dumping it there, we can create lasting memories that serve to open new landscapes to every student, no matter our role in the process. 

hot air ballons in the sky
Photo by Francesco Ungaro on

Discussion/Journaling Prompt:

Think of a personal self-doubt or limiting belief you often carry into new experiences that you are open to leaving behind. You can either “free write” about anything that comes to mind when you think of this self-doubt, or you can consider any of the following guided questions and prompts to explore this more closely:

  • What emotions come up when you think of this self-doubt?
  • What emotions do you feel when you imagine releasing this limiting belief to try something new?
  • How does this limiting belief keep you from embracing new opportunities?
  • Do you find that the self-doubt is based on the past and are you open to allowing yourself a new belief for the future?
  • How would letting go of this self-doubt help you create a more positive learning environment, for both yourself and others around you?

Come back for more from our Blog in the following weeks. Like, share, subscribe, or comment if these ideas resonate.

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