Adaptive Expertise Part 2 of 3

Author: Patrick Baker  • 
You’re traveling at 200 kph. In 30 minutes, 53 people, each with enormous suitcases and a backpack, must exit two separate train cars, each with one aisle and one exit. You have 3 minutes to do so before the train leaves for the next stop. You have two children, 25 teenagers, and 25 adults of various ages (not including the theoretical age of their knees!). You’re in a foreign country where none of the group knows the language. This isn’t a bad word problem on the SAT— it’s real. What do you do?
As one of the adults, I merely suggest that they may need a plan… But then step away. From there educational magic unfolds.
One sixth grader, a sophomore, two juniors, and two seniors step into action to devise a plan. One that involves spatial sense, but an interesting dilemma with weight, age, and efficiency in mind. There was debate and many ideas exchanged over one another, but soon, unlikely architects emerge and others either listen or ask “what do you want or need me to do?”
Having recently come from two days at Normandy, I couldn’t help but make connections to that orchestration of various forces (armed, geographic, and nature) to eventually see success. And while I do not diminish the enormous loss of human life on those shores and the battles that followed, I watched the live action with intrigue, excitement, and anxiety at what seemed impossible to do in three minutes (especially considering it took us 7 minutes to get on and we made the train 5 minutes behind schedule several hours before).
Then, at 7:06, the train slowed into Berlin’s city station. Students began their choreographed and communicated plan. Two boys jumped out and with them, two bags a piece. Four other boys and girls tossed bag after bag, as other members of the party calmly and efficiently moved off the train during intermingled moments. Watching from the window, as I was designated as final sweeper, I watched with Churchill-esque delight (minus the adult beverage), as the students continued to carry out their landing at Germany’s capital city station. Just for giggles, I also started the stop watch when the door first opened.
As I stepped from car 31 with the final bag in hand, I looked down to the phone and pushed stop. 2:00, flat.
The students erupted with high-fives, enormous smiles, and barbaric yawps. But we didn’t know that we weren’t done with unplanned situations.
First, we discovered that the escalators were inoperable. So… up the stairs for most, and for the aforementioned knee-issue group, the small European elevator. But yet again, another obstacle awaited.
In the 7 degree weather (OK, that’s Celsius but it’s still cold!) and spitting German rain that began to fall, a bus waited for us. A nice, black, new looking Mercedes bus even… But not nearly the size we were used to…which is to say, it simply didn’t have enough space for either our party or our luggage. But a group of chivalrous students stepped up after some encouragement from “the governor” and went to work to align the bags in Tetris-like perfection under the motor coach. The driver was either uninterested or too tired to help at any level, but the students made it happen. And again, jubilation ensued when the final bag went in and we boarded the bus.
And the best part? A man, a guide and local citizen who has worked with our school before, gets on the microphone in the bus and utters the greatest compliment about Allen Academy.
“What an incredible display of adaptive expertise today.”
I couldn’t agree more, Daniel.
Best,
Matt

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