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Pinnacle achievement

International honour for lifelong contribution to experiential education

Teaching and Learning


As her paddle dipped the water of the Athabasca River, Dr. TA Loeffler was fully immersed in her journey exploring Northern Canada.

The summer 2018 sabbatical project she coined a “Paddling North” saw Dr. Loeffler, a professor of outdoor recreation in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, and her partner, Marian Wissink, cover 3,080 kilometres between Jasper, Alta., and Tuktoyaktuk, NWT.

From left are Ben Martin, Marian Wissink, Dr. TA Loeffler and Lisa Murphy in Fort Chipewyan, Alta.
Photo: Submitted

As their boat advanced along the river, the perfect stillness of the water and quiet landscape was interrupted with a high pitched “ping” — the voyagers had intercepted cellphone coverage. Out of habit, Dr. Loeffler checked her phone for the incoming message – unaware of how profound it would be.

The email in her inbox revealed the news that she had won the Kurt Hahn Address from the Association for Experiential Education (AEE). Shocked and dazed, she said aloud, “I got the Kurt.” Astounded, she repeated the phrase throughout the day. “I got the Kurt!”

The Kurt Hahn Address is awarded annually to a longstanding contributor to the field of experiential education. Hahn (1886-1974) is one of the most recognized thought leaders of experiential and outdoor education.

“Winning the Kurt is an amazing honour — it’s a pinnacle of my career.” — Dr. TA Loeffler

Back in St. John’s, Dr. Loeffler recounts receiving the news in such a perfect location with a beaming smile.

She’s stored her paddles for now, and is back at her professor post with the school. She says she still feels a sense of surrealism about the whole event, which took place at the AEE conference on Nov. 9 in Orlando, Fla.

“I always hoped to give the address, but I honestly never thought I would have the opportunity. Winning the Kurt is an amazing honour — it’s a pinnacle of my career. One of the highest honours I have ever received.”

Power of storytelling

In addition to the award, Dr. Loeffler presented a keynote address at the conference.

The event theme was on the power of storytelling and narratives in research and writing. Dr. Loeffler’s address, called We Are the Sum of Our Stories, was inspired by Kurt Hahn himself.

Hahn wrote: “I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion.”

Dr. TA Loeffler enjoying the view in Canada’s North.
Photo: Submited

Dr. Loeffler shared her own stories reflecting on each of the five qualities, as well as how we pass on philosophy about teaching and education. She wove into this the scholarly thoughts of Parker Palmer, bell hooks, Joe Kincheloe and others.

“It was my intention to provide an inspiring, visually beautiful presentation that makes the audience reflect, smile and even laugh,” she said. “I hope people left feeling appreciated and inspired to return to work renewed.”

Dr. Loeffler has received much recognition for her work to date, including two awards from AEE: the Outstanding Experiential Educator of the Year Award in 1999 and the Karl Ronke Creativity Award in 2007.

She attributes much of her success to her father and grandmother. Both were significant people in her life and exposed her to experiential education at a young age. She dedicated the Hahn address to them.

Dr. Loeffler says she is grateful for the ongoing support from the women’s professional group at AEE, including Dr. Karen Warren and Dr. Denise Mitten, who have been mentors and collaborators.

Her keynote address will be available online at a later date.

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