Spotlight: Barbara Buckley on Student-Driven Inquiry and Reaching the Top of NH’s 48 Mountains

Barbara Buckley wears many hats at The White Mountain School: english teacher, director of Residential Life and Social Committee advisor. Barbara is also a passionate outdoors person who holds a distinction that’s special among many hikers – she’s climbed every 4,000-foot mountain in New Hampshire. It’s a feat that’s recognized by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Barbara explains more about her love of hiking and the connection between Student-Driven Inquiry and outdoor activity in the following Q&A.

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How did you discover hiking and other outdoor activities as recreation?

One day I was driving through Franconia Notch and looked up at the mountains that surrounded me. I wondered what the view was like from up there and thought it was silly to just wonder. The next day at church, I overheard a woman talking about wanting to go for a hike so I interrupted and said, “I’ll go”, not caring where we would go. That was Rebecca, my hiking partner for most of the 48 4,000 footers.

What does working for a school with a strong emphasis on outdoor offerings mean for you as professional?

It means that we, as a school, recognize the importance outdoor activity plays in the health of mind, body and spirit, and the impact the outdoors has on a student’s ability to focus, learn and be happy. It also means that I understand our students’ need for getting outside during class on beautiful days and the restorative power of being in nature.

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How has your enthusiasm for the outdoors enabled you to connect to and relate with students?

I think students connect with adults they can trust, and to gain that trust adults need to be honest and authentic. Like many of our students I love to be outside and active, but I can’t imagine myself ice climbing. I acknowledge the difficulties I have faced on certain hikes, yet I never gave up, despite my limitations or setbacks. I am honest about doing what I love, yet recognize that all outdoor activities are not for everyone.

Has that enabled better conversations in terms of Student-Driven Inquiry and Essential Skills and Habits?

Absolutely. We are all at different stages on journeys to develop exemplary skills and habits. Recognizing where we are along that progression is the first step in setting off to achieve our goals. I love the metaphor of SDI and a hike. You start out with a goal, establish what path you’ll take, prepare everything you’ll need and then run into an obstacle. You need to change plans or direction, but you need to keep going (unless the weather is bad and you don’t have the proper gear) to reach the summit. I truly understand the beauty and effectiveness of SDI, and recognize how valuable the experiences of failing, making adjustments and succeeding are.

What would you do if you couldn’t hike anymore?

No! Could that happen? If it does happen, I would do everything I possibly could do to be in the wilderness somewhere. I have so many amazing memories and 4000 photographs with which to remember the feeling of being in the middle of a silent nowhere or on granite on top of the world.

Read more about all our staff on the Meet our Team page.

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