Month: February 2015

Back in 2004 I was lucky enough to be in a position to be invited to attend a three day training workshop with my co-workers lead by Tom Leahy, president of Leahy & Associates out of Boulder, Colorado. The workshop was titled the Innovative Team and focused on facilitation of team building and teaching tools for group problem solving. I gleaned a lot of new information and techniques from Tom, I was impressed by his facilitation style as one that would allow for the group to take charge of how we were going about completing the task but he also knew when to step in and re direct us. He also taught us some tools that helped to move the process forward while still allowing everyone to have their say in decisions and be heard when needed.

At the time of the training, I was still young and had recently been promoted into a leadership position focused on staff management. I had been working on developing my own leadership style and especially how to manage employees who were older than me; many of which were also in this training. It was a struggle to work with them sometimes, either because of the age difference or maybe it was just a difference in personality types, whatever it was my frustration level was pushed to a breaking point during the workshop. We got trapped in “Analysis Paralysis” over and over again; talking, questioning, re-questioning, and afraid to try anything, then questioning our fears and why we couldn’t move forward. Ugh!

I found myself holding back in the beginning because I felt unsure of my role in the group which was a combination of administration and corporate facilitators and I was one of the youngest in the room. I guess I must have been muttering to myself about how I thought we should solve the problem and Tom overheard, because at the end of the second day he encouraged me to speak up more. So on the last day of our training I stood up and made my voice heard and it went great. I feel like in some ways that day was a turning point for my relationship with many of the corporate facilitators. With Tom’s help I was able to show them why I had earned my new position in the company and I felt a new level of respect from them from then on. At the end of the workshop Tom pulled me aside to congratulate me on stepping up and told me to keep it up because this team needed a good leader. That meant so much coming from him and has stayed with me all these years since.

ACCT conference in beautiful Palm Springs, CA.
ACCT conference in beautiful Palm Springs, CA.

At the beginning of this month I had the opportunity to travel to sunny California for the 25th annual International Association of Challenge Course Technology conference. So many crazy outdoor educators all in one place! The conference is jam packed with workshops about every aspect of our profession from facilitation to operations and management of challenge courses and zip line tours. I was so happy to see that Tom Leahy was leading multiple workshops over the next couple of days because of the experience that I had with him ten years ago, but with all the workshops to choose from I questioned if his would be the most beneficial for me since I had already been though one of his trainings. Luckily as I was debating which workshops to attend I ran into Tom and asked him what he would suggest. His answer was simple, after ten years there is a lot that he has continued to learn and improve about his facilitation and trainings. And he was right; the two workshops of his that I attended were both very informative and inspirational. It reminded me of the importance of not becoming complacent with how I have always done things, but to constantly seek out new perspectives. Also I have been very appreciative of the reflection that this experience has lead me to about where I have come from, where I am now as a leader/trainer and the growth that I still have in front of me.

Giant domino activity in a corperate leadership workshop.
Giant domino activity in a corperate leadership workshop.
Debriefing activity using random objects and toys.
Debriefing activity using random objects and toys.


Rachel Doody-Rachel Doody | Program Director

I always smile when one of our participants mistakenly calls it “Experimental Education”, because in a way Experiential Education is about experimenting and trying new things. However, the principles of Experiential Education have evolved since at least the late 19th century, and are well past the stage of being considered a far out “experimental” form of education.

Team building

Experiential Education is rooted in the actual experience of an individual or a group. The more remarkable the experience is, the more opportunities exist for profound learning and growth. Educational philosopher John Dewey (the same John Dewey that invented the Dewey Decimal System) observed in the early 1900’s that if students learned the skill of critical thinking, they would teach themselves far more over the course of their lifetime than they could ever learn by memorizing historical dates or mathematical formulas.

Mr. Dewey also believed in the concept of “serious play”, that people can strengthen their critical thinking skills by reflecting on experiences that challenge them to look at the world in a new way. Experiential Education allows participants to form opinions and plans, test out their hypothesis, see the results, and think about what just happened and what to try next; much like the scientific method of experimentation.

So whenever I hear someone say Experimental Education, I usually don’t correct them. After all, some healthy experimenting is a big part of the learning experience!

To learn more about John Dewey’s educational philosophy, check out one of his most well-known books, Experience in Education.


mark-headshot-Mark Diedering | Summer Camp Director

One of the things we struggle with here at Hemlock Overlook is dampness and humidity. Especially when it comes to our gear. Anyone who has ever spent time in Virginia during the summer can relate.
One of our winter projects has been to create a storage and supply area for our paddling gear. This Personal Flotation Device (PFD) shed is a ventilated and lockable structure, and is like a normal shed, except for a few things.
As you can see the sides are made of lattice for increased airflow. We are able to hang up to 60 PFD’s on the rack system in the rear of the shed to allow them to air dry and not be exposed to the elements directly. After the vests are dunked into a microbial solution they are hung to dry for the next days use. The rack system allows for the vests to be hung according to size.


We used 1.5 inch PVC tubes that were cut to about 20 inches. The tubes are seated into a hole that was drilled with a hole saw. After applying adhesive on the end of the pvc tube, they were tapped into place using a rubber mallet. The floor area underneath the life vest was left open to allow the water from the PFD’s to drip off and not make the rest of the shed floor wet.
Installing the roof
Determining our cuts

danny-main-Danny Stevens | Facility and Fleet Director