The Educator as Sherpa

By Jarred Pike, Guest Author

In the formidable landscape of learning, students need an advocate who has scaled the ridge for themselves.

Sherpas have gained renown for providing specialized support for foreign trekkers and mountain climbers. The Tibetan people who live on the Himalayan slopes serve as apt models of effective teaching in large part because climbers’ lives depend on it. The personal relationship between climber and Sherpa is founded upon trust and openness. A lack of trust or willingness to be vulnerable can reap significant costs during the journey for everyone involved. They are partners who must rely on each other, recognizing that each contributes to the goal of reaching the top and returning fully intact.

As with any endeavor, there must be a clear destination, set of expectations, and means of success. Clarity upfront minimizes distractions, maintains focus, and allows for flexibility in the event that something unforeseen occurs.  Sherpa and climber must hold a constant, reciprocal discourse, whether for individual legs of the climb and the journey as a whole. Understanding mundane details can be crucial and serve to affirm progress as well as exhort the partners as they engage the daily tasks before them. Such communication develops trust and inhibits fear of falling, even in the midst of traversing cliffs and crevasses.Through these experiences, the climber is vividly and progressively exposed to the mountain . The Sherpa leads in the climber’s primary exposure introducing the processes and practices necessary  in ascending the summit.  The learned skills transcend mere theory as climbers must practice and develop to make progress for themselves. However, the precarious climb across a ladder straddling a crevasse cannot be rushed. Prior experience and preparation are essential if both teacher and student are to achieve their mutual goal. If the Sherpa does not lead from experience, if the climber does not implement the learned skills properly, neither will be successful.

Reflecting the commoditization of education, the pervasiveness of adventure tourism has altered the relationship between Sherpa and climber. What was once considered a personal patronage to undertake a truly desired and treacherous experience has become in many cases an indentured servitude to provide an entitled clientele with a thrilling, yet secure experience.

More often than not, the relationship between the Sherpa and the climber is situated in the context of a community. Thus, the climber is able to depend secondarily on the group for encouragement and refinement of thought and skill from peers who may have greater experience and/or clarity of understanding. In this way, learning and development is not solely individual but cooperative, with the Sherpa serving as an observer. Despite the pressure to continue the trek, the Sherpa must supervise the climber to determine whether he is ready for the next stage. This assessment is ultimately for the good of everyone involved and helps the Sherpa to evaluate his own methods of skill development.

Schools may instill this advocate model in a few ways. First, if teachers are to properly engage and exhort students to learn, becoming fluent in the fundamentals of learning is essential. Gregory’s Seven Laws of Teaching and Van Brummelen’s Walking with God in the Classroom are both thorough and practical volumes in this effort. Second, a clearer understanding of redemptive discipline in classrooms is helpful in developing more effective teaching. Discipline is not a contingent aspect, but rather an intrinsic part of education whereby boundaries are reinforced and the learning environment is guarded. T hird, teachers must be leery of rushing through content to say they covered it. The formative, devotional aspects of Bible courses, for example, are equal in significance (and directly tied) to content and methodology. A teacher’s pedagogy reveals what she values more truly and fully than her words or the curriculum. Teachers should be encouraged to view their role with the class more from an organic relationship, than a transactional means-to-an-end. Lastly, an important part in establishing effective teaching includes incorporating the school’s vision in the classroom. Inculcating students and parents with the school’s values and the bigger picture can serve as a means of solidifying commitment to what it means to “train up a child in the way they should go.”

Sherpas and teachers alike must learn to communicate well so that students may thrive in their current endeavor—understanding the concepts fully, retaining them deeply, and wisely putting them into practice. As Nicholas Wolterstorff put it, “One does not merely choose to learn, but always what to learn.” Students will attempt to summit the peak. They have already begun the trek. It is up to educators to orient their students, expose them to the mountain first hand, cultivate the necessary skills, and lead them in the most successful path.

Jarred Pike teaches upper school Bible at Evangel Classical Christian School in the bustling metropolis of Alabaster, Alabama. The Lord has blessed him with a beautifully hospitable wife and three vigorous, willful children. He enjoys aesthetics, communication, and pepper jack Cheez-Its. He holds a BA in Marketing from the University of Montevallo, a MDiv in Christian Ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a MEd in Educational Leadership from Covenant College


2 thoughts on “The Educator as Sherpa

  1. Excellent article! I pray all teachers read this article and press it upon their hearts in knowing the importance of their roll in each child’s life.
    Thank you Jarred for your time and research. I truly enjoyed it!


  2. Perhaps teaching and leading a classroom of students to a successful end is more difficult than the sherpa’s intensive one-on-one training. A school teacher must skillfully be maintaining order and whole classroom concentration daily during the less intensive teaching process.
    I enjoyed the article Jarred, as a teacher you know your subject very well !


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