Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

Learning to Ride

I don’t have a business degree. I haven’t taken classes in statistics.  And although my teacher training included work with management of groups and individuals, business-related personnel coursework has been quite limited. I keep this business running by learning from what I need to do. 

I actually feel like I do have a lot of background in this type of learning. For many years I worked with the Outward Bound model of experiential learning.  I spent a couple years with the Minnesota Children’s Museum where play was designed for creating learning experiences.  And life itself has provided me with experiences that have created rich learning in areas of budgeting and forecasting, management and coaching, sales and marketing, in maintenance and repairs, and in food preparation and service.  There is no degree that I can point to but in many ways I draw on these experiences as my foundation for creating my workplace and gathering place.


This month I’m making an effort to support the staff, students and families of Lake Country Montessori school, where experiences within a classroom and outside of the classroom are structured in ways to enhance learning and develop creativity. Founded in 1976, Lake Country School is a Montessori school serving 300 children ages 3 to 14.  Students come from the Twin Cities and beyond. LCS moved from the Basilica of St. Mary’s to the Kingfield Neighborhood during the summer of 1980. Students at LCS learn through purposeful activity carried out in developmentally appropriate urban and rural environments where the choice of meaningful work is expected and respected. While at their rural campus, students plant, harvest, care for animals, maple sugar and much more. 


The richness of experience as a teacher is available to all of us. However, it requires openness to change and willingness to let the experience take hold and even reorient our understandings. 

An example of this richness comes from a bike ride.  I have a deep and fond memory of the day when my father took my sister and I to downtown North St. Paul to pick out 10 speed bicycles and the ensuing thrill of that evening as we rode around our block.  It didn’t matter that my younger sister was getting a bike the same time as me, because I was feeling so much joy at the speed, the shifting, the brakes and even the water bottle holder!  I biked throughout my high school years as transportation and as a method to get away when I needed time to just be alone.

So it was with some surprise that I learned from Kaleb, a seventh grader in the Outward Bound charter school where I taught, that he had never ridden a bike and wasn’t willing to try.  We had even rented bikes for students who didn’t have them to prepare for our school’s trip from St. Paul to the St. Croix River along the Gateway Trail.  We understood that most of our students would need to build some strength and endurance and we had faced the possibility that we might even need to teach bike riding skills to a few.  But to face resistance from Kaleb, that I hadn’t expected.

Kaleb and I started with some basics about balance and mechanics.  I shared stories of my youth, but they weren’t really his experience and didn’t seem to relate.  I gave him an out – if he took the time to try to learn how to ride, he could skip the long distance ride and be a “support team” member in the van that was to be available to provide repairs.  With some reluctance we were able to make a few shaky runs around the parking lot with me mostly hanging on as his training wheels much as I remember my father teaching me.

A few days later we had scheduled a ride with the class to the state fair grounds for some extended riding time.  Kaleb and I hung out at the back, far from the racing kids, and just tried to keep him balanced.  His fears were deep, and a fall that day confirmed his fears.  We bandaged up his knee and agreed that it would be okay to walk his bike back to the school.

But something else had taken hold of him.  He had recognized the freedom of movement and speed too.  He had felt the magic of rolling. He had begun to develop a new set of experiences.  He was learning. 

The week before the school trip, Kaleb told me he’d like to try to ride part of the trail.  And when the day came to ride to the river, he got on his bike and pedaled slowly along for several miles before taking the offer to ride in the van and support the others.  He could imagine himself as a biker, not a good one, but at least someone who could and would bike in the future and I could imagine myself as a patient, caring teacher because of this shared experience.