Education, Instruction Can Be Life-Changing

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As we continued our discussion regarding the vision of Payson High School, I told a story of a freshman woods student, Garrett, and how his crafty shop teacher (no pun intended) was able to guide him toward a successful high school career and onward toward a medical career.

Of course, the story is not fiction. In fact, it is the story of someone I’m very close to, who is a practicing physician in Spokane, Wash. 

As I try to avoid speaking “educationese,” let’s take a look at some significant instructional components used by Garrett’s teacher.

What jumps out initially is, “… it was obvious to Garrett that Mr. Davis seemed to know a lot more than just woods.” Mr. Davis really got to know his students. I recently sat in on a talk by Florida’s Chancellor of Schools Jim Warford. Warford, who oversees a $16 billion budget and 300,000 students, came from a “poorest of the poor backwoods dysfunctional family.” He credits his success to one teacher, “Ms. Mary Kay” with whom he remains in contact to this day.

His clarion call is “Relationships, relationships, relationships.” Great relationships are the foundation for great instruction. Great teachers build bridges with their students. They ferret out interests, strengths, likes and dislikes, using those to make instruction real and relevant to their students. 

Another element in Mr. Davis’ instruction was that of integrated curriculum. Though he taught shop, Mr. Davis was a master at bringing in standards from other areas such as math and English. While Garrett seemed a little irritated and confused by this, his relationship with his teacher was such that he was willing to make the stretch.

Let’s face it, as our world continues to move into a technological age, students will need greater skills in all the academic areas to be successful. Integrating those skills into each and every area is a key.

Mr. Davis noticed Garrett’s ability to do exemplary work with his hands. He seized opportunities to celebrate great work while challenging him with advanced individual projects like the mountain dulcimer.

Perhaps even more importantly, Mr. Davis chose an opportune time to plant a “seed” in Garrett’s mind for his potential. Anyone can be a purveyor of facts. Great teachers connect with their students and use that connection to cast a vision for what can be. This is as much a part of the instruction as the material being taught.

Mr. Davis’ introducing Garrett to the biology teacher and setting him up to rebuild lab stations was no accident. Mr. Davis was giving Garrett an opportunity to apply his woodworking knowledge to a real life situation.  He was also setting Garrett up with a relationship that would be instrumental in a path toward science and eventually medicine. Great instruction involves not only casting the vision but taking the time and energy to help students make the connections necessary to pursue their dreams.

Somehow, in the hubbub of an instructional year, great teachers find a way to accomplish this with their many students.

Mr. Davis kept in touch and influenced Garrett for his entire four years of high school. This too reflects excellent instruction.

So what do we mean by “… finest instruction” at Payson High School?

Instructors who establish caring and productive relationships with students; instruction that is solidly based on standards, but causes students to use, learn and apply skills associated with those standards across various disciplines; teachers who recognize and celebrate student successes and are able to help those students see a clear picture of what they can be, and a staff that works together to accommodate students and find areas for them to be successful.

As you can see, the notion of “finest instruction” extends far beyond what goes on behind the door of one classroom.

Next week, what kind of people do we want in our school to accomplish this superhuman task?

Until then, some exciting things are taking place on our PHS Web site. We are updating it regularly and have formatted the calendar so it is more user-friendly. Here are two ways to get there: www.pusd.k12.az.us/phs or google: payson high school, az and click on it. Explore the site. I want you to see all the great things that are happening at PHS, so do it soon.

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