This picture is of the “Helo Dunker” at International Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. It simulates a helicopter crash into water. It doesn’t look very scary, yet it induced the deepest, most primal panic in me. The space is rather small when eight people sit inside it, and there is nothing to hold on to. I quickly realized that I should have been listening to directions rather than the lyrics to Three Dog Night’s “Shambala” in my head, which happens way more frequently than it should.
“Wait, what?” I squeaked.
“Don’t worry, you won’t drown,” my friend, Anthony said, adjusting his Go Pro camera to capture our imminent deaths. “But it’ll sure feel like you are.”
“Crash positions!” the operator yelled.
Once dropped, the “helicopter” rapidly fills with water, and it reached my chin almost immediately. Pictured: Nightmare fuel added to my collection
It’s easy to panic and it took everything in me to keep from bouncing off the metal walls. While drowning is only simulated, the stress and panic are very real. Thankfully, other teachers were paying attention and I watched as they quickly executed our evacuation plan. As I dove under water, I realized I could see Shelby’s shoes ahead of me. I followed them through the immersed hatch, gasping as I broke the surface, hoping I didn’t look as terrified as I felt.
The one in the yellow helmet will be needing a bit of therapy
One of the “special set of skills” belonging to English teachers is the ability to turn everything – even your own terror – into a metaphor. And once I could breathe normally, I could admire the construction of the exercise because it creates a situation that feels very much like being overwhelmed at work. And like real life, it rewards planning and calm. Which is easy for me to say as I sit typing this far away from water.
If we’re growing, that means we’re always being thrown into the deep water. Especially if you’re in any kind of leadership position. Deep water, like complex problems, can make you quickly feel like you aren’t ever going to be okay. But, the thing about water is that you can float. And the thing about surrounding yourself with great people – much like my colleagues at school and in the 2015 class of State Teachers of the Year – you will find that they will help you when it feels like too much.
So here are my takeaways from the Helo Dunker:
1. Trust your team
2. Resist the urge to react
3. Breathe and believe that you will be okay – because you will
4. Follow your plan and the mission will fall into place
Bonus takeaway: Three Dog Night, whom I’ve loved ever since my mother bought me their 8-track when I didn’t win the Hutchinson County Spelling Bee
Photo Credit: Tom Rademacher – 2015 Minnesota Teacher of the Year and all-around great guy0