By Blynne Froke
Our high school basketball team has had great players for decades, but we have only had great seasons a few times. The simple reason for that is that it takes more than some good players to win a game and especially to have a great season. It takes a great team. All the parts of the team have to work together. It is obvious that you need an athlete with ability and skills, but where does he or she get those skills? The coach and his support staff are responsible, of course, but then that coach has to be able to recognize what each player needs and address those skills or find someone who can. So now you have a player with great skills and a coach that can see that, but there is still something missing. You need more players that can work together. You need players that can share, plan and execute the drills that they have practiced. You need a team.
The Iditarod is a massive example of teamwork. Without teamwork this entire heroic venture would never happen. From the dog team to the musher to the officials and the gargantuan volunteer effort teamwork is present every time success is accomplished.
As teachers we must embrace this reality and squeeze from it every lesson it has. Whether we teach elementary, middle school, high school, or special programs team work matters. It dictates how we teach and what we teach and at every turn I see the Iditarod as the core to teaching values AND academic standards. Experiences from the Iditarod touch every academic area from physics to politics to psychology, but far more importantly it teaches students and teachers alike the values and responsibility of working cooperatively.
This year I changed teaching assignments and when I needed to kick energy into my curriculum I turned to the Iditarod and the passion and respect that I have for it. I also needed to reach out to fellow teachers for support and guidance through these first few months even though I have been teaching in the same district for the past twenty-four years. For my part of the bargain I offered my experience with the curriculum connections, values and secrets of the Iditarod. I asked my students to do the same. We had an amazing season.
Through Iditarod generated research reports my students found that working together to research multi-faceted topics makes the work far easier and more rewarding. Through cross-age “Trail Buddies,” teaching younger students about what they had researched, they learned that when you teach others what you think you know, you learn your own lessons more completely and in their efforts to raise book money for Alaskan village schools they remembered how great it feels to help others.
I established relationships with other teachers at the high school and at the primary strengthening bonds between disciplines and bridging the gaps that so often occur between primary and secondary sites as we transition the same students throughout their educational lives.
Last night at the welcoming reception hosted by Exxon Mobil for the Iditarod Winter Teacher’s Conference I spoke with administrators and business leaders that are reaching out to teachers and students to find cooperative ways to educate students and finding the Iditarod to be a rich and fertile theme for sharing these connections. I spoke with a professor from the University of Alaska that has been bridging the gap by inviting students as young as twelve to summer programs at the university in Mathematics for years with amazing college retention rates.
Too often we, as teachers, feel like we must forge our professional roads alone, but it is only when we reach out to find ways of sharing these tasks that we find the most success and rewarding support. We must demonstrate teamwork among ourselves so that our students can learn from us to be more independent, reliable team players that will be successful in a very complicated world. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has offered me the curricular, thematic and professional support to enrich my lessons and build stronger community within our school district.
It truly takes a team to build the future.