Inspiration All Around

The first official day of the 2019 Iditarod Educators Conference opened with our 2019 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, Brian Hickox.  There were so many amazing ideas shared throughout the day, it almost kept me from being nervous about my own presentation.  Almost.  By the end of the day, capped off with a visit to the legendary Jon and Jona Van Zyle, my head was spinning with inspiration.

Brian is going to be a phenomenal Teacher on the Trail.  He already has done a great job, posting a wide variety of perspectives and lesson ideas.  Today, I was impressed by his combination of graciousness, playfulness, and sincerity. He shared some great tech resources.  I’ve recently stuck my toe into the tech waters of Kahoot and Flipgrid.  Brian helped me see how much farther I can take them, and how powerful they can be across a wide range of activities, from debates to STEM to social-emotional learning. 

After his session, Brian spent some time Skyping with a class.  I watched him lean in to the screen, beaming a huge smile for the children. As students ask questions, he responds thoughtfully, “that’s a great question!”  His answers were informative, genuine, and livened up with a dash of humor.  I could tell the students felt heard, respected, and valued, and that they will long remember talking to the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.

Scanning my notebook, where I tried to capture some of the ideas as they were being shared, I have big stars popping up all over the place. I love Brian’s Iditawalk challenge, and I think it would play well at my school.  I love the murals shared by Brian and Sara, and the variety of ways people create IditaRead and IditaMath challenges.  I love how Heidi was able to take the idea using litter names and exploded it into a million possibilities. They are definitely going to be popping up in my classroom, along with the sock puppies.

One thing I know, and saw over and over again today, is that reading a lesson on paper is nothing like seeing and hearing it in action.  When Sara described and showed photos of her I- Kid-a-Rod (I’m not sure how she spells it— but I’m sure it will show up in the resources), the stars on my notes got huge!  I started to see teams of my own students in the race, with the roles and rules, checkpoints and hazards, and creative twists and turns that reflect the Iditarod trail.  We have a wetland and a newly-carved forest path on the periphery of our school yard, and I can see it now: my students… hooking up to gang-lines, mini-mushers learning how hard it is to push a rope, trying to gee-haw their way from our classroom to the wetlands and forest.  Then creating their own trail to host younger students.  Yes, I can see it already.

The other thing I know, and that I saw over and over again today, is that Iditarod education just gets richer the more I hear.  I could keep coming to the conference year after year and still expand and deepen my ability to reach kids with Iditarod.  I remember Terrie Hanke sharing about character education when I was here in 2015.  Today, she went right to the heart. Right to my heart. She speaks about integrity with integrity.  I WILL be bringing the Universal Values of Alaskan Native People to my classroom.  I WILL be adjusting my classroom rules to look more like HAWL. I WILL be bringing the story of GOPHER to my classroom, and we WILL be following Sanka Dog.  And during Iditarod, we WILL be watching for Terri’s Eye on the Trail, because that’s where I know the stories with heart will be found. 

We wrapped up the day with a visit to the Van Zyle home/studio.  I was sad not to be able to visit their dogs, and that we didn’t get as many old-Iditarod-stories out of Jon as we might, but it was mesmerizing to be surrounded by Jon and Jona’s art and artifacts.  The stories of Iditarod and Alaska are told in many ways.  Tables full of artfully displayed artifacts. Finely crafted containers. Native and native-inspired artwork. Photos of early mushers and mushing. Paintings. Alaska and sled dog-inspired textiles.  Stories everywhere.