Running up the Mount is always a hard slog, no matter how many times you do it. On those winter mornings, when it’s pitch black at 5.15am, there are plenty of reasons to stay in bed, and that voice in your head telling you to stay put doesn’t usually encounter much resistance.
But Jackie Webb is a master at switching off the bothersome dialogue. When she reaches the summit she thanks herself for trusting her instincts. In Summer she sees the sunrise, in Winter the street lights glimmer in the darkness – it’s always a stunning view, and it’s always a reminder to her of how much can be accomplished when you decide to ‘just do it’.
Toolbox of experiences
It wasn’t necessarily innate; she had to learn it. Sixteen years ago, when she was 25, she could barely run for a minute. She had returned from the UK “overweight, pale and pasty” and decided to make a massive change. She quit the dieting and took up running instead.
“When I could run five kilometres I thought I was a legend. Then I realised you could build on that by creating experiences in your life, and putting each achievement in your toolbox.”
When that critic in your head starts playing havoc the next time, you have your toolbox of experiences to call on for support. You know you can do it again because you’ve done it before, she says. It’s a message she shares with her students at ACG Tauranga where she is a secondary maths teacher. They are interested in hearing about her running training and the events she competes in. She uses these as examples to show students what is possible.
“They learn to apply this to their own lives, like running the cross country, and they tell me they feel better about themselves for having tried it. It goes into their toolbox of experiences. I’m not just here to teach maths; I’m teaching them about learning and developing as people.
“I tell them that running taught me to believe anything is possible if you break it down and do it in little steps. We can’t ever put ourselves in boxes because so much more is possible than what we might think. Running up the Mount is a good example. You build up to it and when I take beginners up, the look on their faces is fantastic. There is a real sense of achievement and they realise if they can do this, which is really hard, they can overcome other tough things in their life.” (By the way, check out the story of Christel Clarke who also found her strength and inspiration in sport. Only she has chosen kickboxing!)
This was a huge lesson in wellbeing for Jackie. She says it’s had such a positive impact on so many other aspects of her life. Now when she stands on top of the Mount for the second time in the morning (yes, she does it twice!), she feels pretty darned empowered to face any chaos her day throws at her. And she does juggle a lot of balls – three young children, full-time teaching role, after-school and weekend sport and activities, school board member, study, as well as her own fitness training, which also involves gym sessions for strength development.
Filling the emotional tank
After the morning run she enjoys coffee at a café with her jogger friends and then she’s home around 7am – often to a sleeping family – and she’s already had a day full of experiences.
“For me exercise is not just physical, it’s psychological and helps to make life so much more manageable, and I think I’m a way better teacher and mother because of it. When I take responsibility for my own health and wellness it helps everyone, not just me.
“I think it’s important for women to know that looking after ourselves and doing things for ourselves is not selfish and makes us much better at the roles we have.”
Having mates who also like adventures really helps with motivation. A few years ago Jackie and a group of girlfriends started putting money into an ‘adventure fund’. Every few months they take off for a weekend of running and mountain-biking. And usually throw in a thrill-seeking activity like white water rafting. She says it “fills the tank” and makes juggling all those things in her life possible. Inspiring example? Challenge yourself with A20 – scenic cycle tour from Mount Cook to Oamaru.
Jackie had been running for nearly 10 years before she joined the Mount Joggers Club in 2010. And that’s when the possibilities for adventure really opened up for her. Her first big event was the 18km Toi’s Challenge in Whakatane, which is a very steep grind up the Ohope Hill.
“That was really the beginning for me. You get to the top and look out across the sea and realise you wouldn’t have seen that view unless you made the effort to get up there. After that I did the Goat Alpine Adventure Run, the T42 Trail Marathon in the Central North Island and the Cape Kidnappers Challenge which involved river crossings where you’re literally swimming through the water. I’ve also run two other marathons, numerous ‘halfs’ and other adventure events so I’m always looking for the next challenge.”
Practice makes progress
In the classroom Jackie tells her students that maths, just like running, takes practice. The dissertation for her Masters in Education, completed in 2014, backs this up. Her research focused on student motivation in maths and found that effort is the greatest variable in success over the long term.
“You can be naturally mathematically brilliant but unless you put in the effort it’s only going to take you so far. And if you’re not naturally gifted but put in the effort, you will gradually improve. It’s so important to have that self-belief; that you can and will improve, with effort.
“My philosophy is about having connection with students. If they trust me to teach them, that connection is huge in terms of variables of success. I tell them I’m not judging, I’m helping them to learn.”
Jackie is a foundation teacher with ACG Tauranga, the region’s newest private school, which opened in the first term of 2015 with just 18 students from Years 1-9. During the last two years she has also taught PE and set up the school’s annual sporting events, such as the athletics day, cross-country competition and EOTC events (Education Outside the Classroom). In February the school year began with 113 students up to Year 11. Still small enough to offer intimate class sizes. Jackie says it makes it easier to track student progress and identify when a different learning approach is needed.
“It makes for a great teaching and learning environment because, as teachers, we also integrate a lot more across the faculties and learn from each other. When the students are learning symmetry in art we can also study this in maths. It helps to reinforce concepts for the student.”
Plans in sight
The Masters study, and a professional leadership course she completed last year, have whet her appetite for further study. Possibly a PhD to further investigate the theme of motivation in mathematics education. But it’s not the only plan simmering in her pot of ideas. Jackie has the New York Marathon in her sights and has recently co-founded a new business. Breathing Space aims to help families through the ordeal of modern living by creating more breathing space in their lives.
“Breathing Space was born out of a recognition that life is getting busier and more complicated. The vision is to create calm in personal lives and homes by providing a service of professional organisation.”
For someone juggling so many of her own balls, she might just need to book herself a consultation!
Words Millie Freeman | Images Jodie Sweetman, Jodi Sweetman Photography + Supplied