Classroom Culture: Our Shared Journey

Teaching is a great example of a shared journey.  Each year is a little bit different. We build kinship and camaraderie with our colleagues and team over time.  Within our classes, we intentionally build community among our students as the year progresses.  

The more I learn about the Iditarod, the more I come to understand how it is a shared journey for everyone involved, not just for the mushers on the trail. Volunteers come together once a year to work together and make new memories. New workers are welcomed in seamlessly, while old friends connect.  Rookie mushers learn from veterans. Everyone shares wisdom and material items with one another.  Whenever I read of how an experienced musher shares an entire dog team with a new participant, I am astounded at the amazing level of trust and community this shows.  

DeeDee Jonrowe helps Mille Porsild get her sled and team ready. Photo: K. Newmyer

A few days ago, it was a Friday before a long break. Normally teachers would agree that this can be a difficult day.  But I noticed that the classroom culture I was building around the Iditarod had paid off. In a regular morning meeting, I asked my students what they think being on a shared journey means.  This is what they said:

“When you say community, I think of how sled dogs work together to get to the finish line.  They help each other reach the end of the race.” –NM

“If one dog gets hurt, everyone stops to take care of that dog.” –CS

“Our school has to work together. Just like the Iditarod everyone has to work together as best we can.”     –JR

“There is a whole team of people behind every musher.  Everyone has to work together to make them successful.” –PA

“In our classroom we have jobs that make the classroom good, and we focus on stuff we have to do.”  –HB

“If one of us falls down, the others help pick them up.  If we don’t have all the Iditarod volunteers and helpers, the race wouldn’t happen.”  JH

“Ten students in our class have been at our school since pre-K.  But if you’re new, people welcome you.  It’s like a sled dog that just joined the team.”  MS

Cooks at Skwentna Checkpoint work together to prepare delicious food for the mushers. Photo: Terrie Hanke

Our shared journey continues outside the classroom, too.  Last week I participated in a district-level meeting in which representatives from 45 campuses met with our superintendent to share positive happenings, ask questions, and discuss areas of improvement.  One of our district priorities is a focus on a Culture of Belonging—which this gathering exemplified. Teachers shared what they are doing on their campus to create a culture of belonging. I put an Iditarod spin on their ideas you can use for your class or campus.

Create a blank sled or dog graphic for each of your staff members. Exchange or assign names, then each staff member will decorate a sled for another member. Display the sleds or dogs on a wall in your school.

Put together a “Musher Profiles” wall or web page that shows a photo, Bib (or room) number of the staff member, hometown, and status as a veteran or rookie teacher.  You could opt to include a short bio of each staff member and their “sponsors.”  This would be a wonderful benefit to students also.

Express gratitude! On our campus’s staff November Fun calendar, we are being challenged to write thank-you notes to colleagues. I created a half-sheet of stationary that you can use to let someone know you are glad they are with you on your shared journey of teaching and learning.  Download it here.

Now that we’re entering a season of holidays when we come together as friends, family, and colleagues, use the Iditarod to celebrate your shared journey.  I’d love to know what you create. Email me at