Does Being a Control Freak Make Me a Lousy Traveler?

That is the question that has been rolling around in my head lately. After my week of freedom to roam around Scotland, I joined the study abroad group. It’s a wonderful group of educators from my home state of NC and even a guest from New Zealand! Our group leader has arranged some wonderful outings for us as a part of the program. But it has been interesting going from this role of adventurer, being in charge of my schedule (within the confines of opening and closing hours and public transport and such) to having my days controlled and scheduled. And I’ve learned a bit about myself. Chiefly, that, while I thought I wasn’t that much of a control freak anymore, I seem to revert to that role when I feel cornered.

It really hit me the day we went to Winchester. Really and truly one of my favorite visits in England. It’s a delightful town. And if you know anything about British history, you know about the Bishop of Winchester and the amazing cathedral. Even if you’re a Beatles fan the name should sound familiar 🙂 I ended up breaking off with a group of folks who decided to take a Keats walk. Not really my choice, but I was ready to go along and give it a try. When we reached the cathedral we seemed to get sidetracked from that and even joined up with another small group from our class. It was decided a tour of the cathedral would be a good idea. So I wandered around for about 45 minutes, revelled in seeing the resting place of Jane Austen and took in the glory of the cathedral. When I was ready to go, I discovered that we hadn’t had our tour. There was a guided tour. And that’s when I felt it….the beginnings of a panic attack or, perhaps, a temper tantrum. I’ll never know because at that moment I made a decision. It was time to go on an adventure, by myself if necessary. There were several items on my list to see and meandering to do. So off I set!

It was amazing the physical change I felt in myself once I made this decision. Suddenly I had more energy, my step was lighter and I felt this rush of freedom. Armed with a map (and if you’ve read my blog, you know by now this almost guarantees I’ll get lost!) I set off to explore the town, with the eventual goal of finding the house where Jane Austen spent her last days. There was a street market going on that day, so I wandered through, soaking in the sights and sounds. I passed the Cornwall Pasty Co. and, of course, had to sample the local fare. Then I discovered that the remains of Winchester Castle were up the hill, where the supposed Round Table of King Arthur is located. Who could resist such a find? So, off I went. After a walk through the Great Hall and Queen Eleanor’s gardens, I began to make my way in the direction I thought Jane’s house was located. Have you guessed? I got lost. But in doing so, found quiet streets with adorable cottages offering me some solitude I greatly needed. And luckily Winchester is not as large as Edinburgh, so I was only a little lost. My wanderings finally brought me to The Kingsgate, the stone archway marking the old city gates. A walk through this piece of history found me on another quiet side street which led me to a discovery I had no idea I would find. An old hospital building. What a beautiful structure! Later research revealed that this is where the doctor(whom Jane Austen had come to Winchester to see) worked.

And just around the corner? The very unobtrusive mustard yellow house marked with a blue plaque as the site where Jane spent her final days. My adventure had succeeded and then some! From there, a short walk revealed Wolvesey Castle (the residence of the Bishop of Winchester) and an idyllic riverside walk. All ending back in the main town area at just the right time to meet with the rest of my group to travel on to our next stop.

As I reflected on the day, I began that line of questioning- what are the implications for the classroom here?

How often do our students feel that panic at being herded in one direction or another as learners when they yearn to go in a different direction? What does that look like? Is it defiance? A lack of effort in their work? Or perhaps no work turned in at all? Would the start of my day have been different if I had joined a small group? Does part of the frustration for kids in our classroom arise when we are trying to direct a large group in the same direction? Would more small group work allow for some of the flexibility the adventurers in our room long for?

I learned so much that day because I followed the path I wanted to follow. I even researched more about Jane Austen and her death when I returned to my room that night because I wanted to learn a part of her history I knew little about. No one else in my group that day saw and learned what I did. Does that make what I learned less valuable? Or more valuable because I will retain the learning longer because it was what I was interested in that day?

Yes, there are times when we do have to herd all of our travelers in the same direction. But, how can we limit that? How can we allow for multiple paths for the adventurers in our classrooms who each have knowledge they wish to seek in their own time and their own way? And how do we design learning experiences that allow for meanderings that might take them down paths to discoveries they never dreamed of making? Much to think about…

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