Position your Students for Success

While summer vacation is quickly waning, teachers from all different areas are already thinking about the upcoming school year and are developing plans which are going to make it successful. Regardless of content which one teaches, the grade-level, or years of teaching experience, it is evident that every teacher strives to create a welcoming and engaging classroom environment.

Integrating the Iditarod into the classroom is a perfect way to not only address all of the subject areas, but it also allows you to learn about your students, focus on character, and build a team.

Often times, people- adults and students- who are unfamiliar with the Iditarod think that mushers simply put dogs in the harness and the team is good-to-go. In fact, the mushers strategically place their dogs in certain positions based on qualities, characteristics, and responsibilities.


Lead dogs are located in the very front of the gangline. They are often alert, intelligent, attentive, and good listeners. They must listen to the commands of the musher, guide the team, find and follow the trail, and set the pace.

Swing dogs are positioned right behind the lead dogs, and like lead dogs, swing dogs are also good listeners and intelligent. Additionally, swing dogs are often observant and intuitive. One of the primary responsibilities that swing dogs have is they help the lead dogs steer around corners and safely make turns.  

Team dogs are often strong and show tremendous endurance. Their job is to help pull the sled and maintain the speed.

Wheel dogs are positioned closest to the sled. Wheel dogs are typically very strong, calm, and composed. Wheel dogs help make tight turns and usually take on the most weight.

Teaching students about sled dog positions is valuable because it shows students that everyone has a particular strength which enables them to contribute to the team. Much like being in a collaborative learning environment, every student learns differently and possesses various qualities. Challenge students to evaluate their own qualities. Guide them toward finding how they can help others around them. Consider having students determine which position they would hold on a sled dog team and have them explain their reasoning.

If you have students collaboratively work in groups throughout the year, it is often a good idea to assign each member a particular role. Consider using these “Idita-role” cards with your students and create an atmosphere where students successfully work together!