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Report to the Board of Trustees, June 2021

Friday, June 18, 2021 8:12 PM | Elena Chin (Administrator)

NIA Report

Elena Chin, NOLS Employee Association President

June 2021

Cycles of Community Healing

As we roll into another busy summer season it feels wild to reflect on how different things were 12 months ago. This time last year, a Covid-19 vaccine seemed like a distant hope, and our choice to resume programs seemed very ambitious. Dave Durant, the then NIA President spoke to ideas for “NOLS 2023,” and did what he could to paint a picture of the impact of the Reduction In Force and an idea for how the school could rebuild.

We are in such a different place now than I could have imagined.

The Field Staffing Office, in collaboration with many others I’m sure, has begun implementing a ton of the asks that Field Instructors have been sending up the chain for years -- full travel for expeditions, job security through avenues beyond AFP, career-path support, and so much more. Big changes in hiring and supervision in Wilderness Medicine Admissions are adding much needed support to our future students, and are addressing needs that employees in that department have been asking about for years. Operations is adding staff in key areas, and it seems like the Field Staffing Department(s) will finally live next to Locations and Admissions in the Org Chart. 

I think back to all of the Blue Sky brainstorming sessions we did in the Field Staffing Office in the years that I worked there, and the things that are happening now were things we barely let ourselves want back then. 

And here comes the big old “yes, and” that we love so much in adaptive problem-solving.

For many employees there are feelings of excitement, of possibility, of gratitude for finally being seen. And there are also feelings of exhaustion, of continued mistrust, of frustration that the changes came too late for them. 

Community healing is non-linear, and our path forward likely won’t be linear either. If we plot NOLS’ organizational response to employee concerns on the “Accountability Ladder*,” many of the above changes would put us somewhere between “Find Solutions” and “Make it Happen,” which is fantastic. For many employees at NOLS, that is enough to go on, and we’re psyched to charge forward. For others, healing and reparations will be needed before we can grow trust again. 

So for many, the “yes, and” feels really true. Yes, we’re so glad to be seeing these changes, and we’re exhausted from the impacts of Covid-19 and the Reduction in Force. Yes, we can’t wait to see the school move forward, and we’re not sure if we have the motivation to see it through anymore. Yes, these changes seem great, and the core challenges are still unaddressed. Yes, in some ways we’re at “Make it Happen,” and in some ways we’re down the ladder at “We Can’t” and “Blame Others,” or worse, still “Unaware.”

As we roll into another busy summer season, let’s hold all the nuance in our hearts and minds, and consider the ways in which we can honor all the “yes, and”s and the humans who hold them. 

If we can do that, who knows what we’ll have space to imagine in our next Blue Sky brainstorms?

*The Accountability Ladder:

Imagine each statement as a rung on a ladder. The rungs above the dotted line are generally considered “Accountable Behaviors,” and the rungs below the dotted line are generally considered “Unaccountable Behaviors.” As you move up the ladder, behaviors become more accountable, and as you move down they become less accountable.

This is a widely-used model, and there are some great Google Images of it out there!

Make It Happen

Find Solutions




Wait and Hope

“I Can’t”

Personal Excuses

Blame Others


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