This past June I had the great privilege of traveling to Australia for a month. Off the coast of picturesque Exmouth, I had the opportunity to swim with the biggest fish in the ocean: whale sharks. I may be a risk taker in the classroom, but the thought of 'swimming with sharks' was far beyond my comprehension. I didn't want to pass up this once in a lifetime experience so I thought I would learn more about what all 'swimming with sharks' entailed...
The day before I had the opportunity to swim, I snorkeled for the first time with the rest of my tour group. At least you can say, I attempted to snorkel. I told the crew that I was not comfortable jumping in and that I needed some practice first. I was told you 'learn by experience, just jump in and you'll be fine.' So, reluctantly, I did and let's just say, it was not a success. I panicked as the other group members swam with the guide. I quickly fell behind and definitely wasn't able to see the beautiful reef that was just below the surface. Honestly, I was scared at what could be below the surface along the reef: Sharks, snakes manta rays, etc. Toward the end, I cut my hand on the shallow reef which made me panic even more as I knew there were sharks in the water as my hand continued to bleed. I was scared and just wanted the session to end...
As we arrived at the dive shop the next day to go on the whale shark swim, I had to sign paperwork stating that I was an 'experienced snorkeler.' I obviously knew my limitations and approached one of the staff members to explain that I wanted to go on the boat to see as much as I could, but I was far from an 'experienced snorkeler.' Jess, the staff member who patiently listened to my story about the day before, explained that she would personally make sure that I had not only a memorable experience, but an enjoyable one. I trusted her, signed the paperwork and my whale shark journey officially began.
There were twenty tourists on the boat and five crew members. The tourists ranged in age from kids in their teens to a lady in her mid-seventies. I realized that I should be able to overcome my fear and not receive special treatment, but I also knew that I needed help.
And I wasn't afraid to ask for it.
I told Jess I needed help snorkeling, so she arranged for a private snorkel session in the morning while the rest of the group snorkeled together. Jared, the crew member who snorkeled with me, was just as calm and kind as Jess. In just a few minutes, I gained some confidence and began to muster up enough courage to swim with the whale sharks later in the day, of course with Jess's help.
As we prepared for the first whale shark swim, Jess checked in with me and again, I asked for help. I told her that although I could snorkel by myself, I didn't know if I would be able to do so with a huge creature in the water with me.
I remember her not skipping a beat as she explained exactly what the plan was. She said that we would both jump in together, arm and arm as nine other tourists would follow behind us. She said she would find the whale shark, alert us to the exact moment to stick our mask in the water and that she would swim with me as long as I was able to keep my mask in the water...
So, again I trusted her. The first whale shark approached our boat, arm and arm we jumped in together, I stuck my mask in when instructed to do so, and then she swam as I watched the beautiful creature as it glided along effortlessly in the Indian Ocean.
|Whale Shark #1|
Picture credit: Exmouth Dive Center
|Jess is on the left and I am on the right. You can barely see the whale shark in the background but as you can imagine this is one of my favorite pictures from the swim.|
Picture Credit: Exmouth Dive Center
|Whale Shark #2|
Picture Credit: Exmouth Dive Center
Back on the boat, we saw two humpback whales, numerous dolphins and a dugong. Later in the day we snorkeled again and I actually could enjoy the reef and the beautiful fish and creatures that call it home. I know that none of it would have been possible without Jess. I know that if I let my first bad experience hold me back, I wouldn't have had the experience of a lifetime.
|Jess and I after a long successful day!|
And, I want my students to know it's ok to ask for help. I could have felt embarrassed or ashamed that I received special treatment from the crew. I could have felt like there was something wrong with me because I was scared. But, luckily I didn't, and luckily for me, someone took my request seriously enough to care that I had both a memorable and enjoyable experience.
To those of you who are preparing for the beginning of the school year, I hope you have both a memorable and enjoyable school year. Remember to encourage your students to ask for help when necessary and continue to be the all important leader in the classroom who will do anything to let his/her students feel a sense of success!
If you're interested in how the whole operation worked, here are the basics: Whale sharks are solitary creatures so they swim by themselves. Exmouth Dive Center has their own planes in the sky that spot the whale sharks and direct boats to the exact spot in the ocean. One of the crew members finds the whale shark once the boat is in place and instructs the first spotter to go in the ocean. The first spotter finds the shark beneath the water and then motions in the direction that the shark is swimming. The second spotter then jumps in with the group of ten tourists. Once the shark comes in view all the tourists and spotters swim alongside it. Here is a short video I recorded from the boat of a group jumping in: