What I've Learned from Goats

So, I know this seems like a strange title for a blog post about teaching, but if you’ll “bear” with me (see, another outdoorsy pun!), I think you’ll discover how relevant this is.  Now, I know that today, when we (or mostly our students) see the word “GOAT”, it’s as an acronym for Greatest Of All Time, and while that may seem like a wonderful goal, that’s not the goats I’m talking about. I’m talking about actual, living, wildlife: The Mountain Goat.

I started this blog out of inspiration from Aaron Hogan (who you need to follow if you’re interested in learning about how to handle all the cool developments in teaching that seem to happen at lightning speed).  His session at USM Summer Spark really ignited my reflective energies and gave me confidence in understanding that I need to share what I’m doing in my classroom, even if it seems obvious and simple, because it might not be obvious and simple to someone else.  So, I worked and worked on ideas for titles for the website, along with which company to go with (shout out to SquareSpace!), and realized that I am at heart, a nature person. From the time I was little, I’ve loved the outdoors, the freedom it offers, and the chance to reflect and discover more about ourselves.  When I focused on that, combined with goal setting, and a little inspiration from my new school (shout out to Summit Trail!), Summit Seeking seemed a perfect title.

At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering what all this has to do with goats, and trust me, I’m getting there.  Reflecting on all this time hiking and climbing up mountains, I’ve gained a true appreciation for the ease at which wildlife thrive in these regions.  I’ve also become truly fond of those animals that inhabit the upper reaches of summits, and discovered their journey in life holds lessons for us all. The mountain goats of North America are truly remarkable.  They climb to the highest peaks in the land, ascend and descend sheer cliffs, all the while caring for their young, avoiding predators, and maintaining their balance on some of the most unforgiving of terrain. If you pause a moment to reflect, that seems a bit like what we do as teachers.

Mountain goat mothers raise their young on these precipitous crags of mountains.  They teach them the climbing skills they’ll need to survive in these reaches by positioning themselves below them in case they fall.  Sounds a lot like a teacher scaffolding a lesson to help students master skills they’ll need in the real world! As the goats grow and live out their lives they must sometimes challenge themselves to climb up higher to avoid predators or find food, not unlike ourselves as teachers or our students, as we both must continually challenge ourselves in order to grow and become better people & professionals.  Finally, there is the ever present risk of failure, the stumble that causes us (or goats) to slide back down that cliff. But the goats know they must keep climbing, sometimes by another path, just as we must keep climbing when we stumble. We learn from our failures and stumbles and try again. We are just like them in this regard. The climb to the summit is a challenge, but we are rewarded when reaching it, and if we have learned to love the process along the way, we can thrive in these high altitudes.  The next climb is always there, waiting for us to take the journey.

So I’ve learned a lot from mountain goats.  I’ve been lucky to be close to several of them along the trails.  I’ve learned to challenge myself to climb to the high country professionally, to provide support to those I’m helping to climb (or find that support for myself), and to learn from my stumbles along the way.  I’m always seeking the next summit, but remembering to take in the lessons found in the journey, and be more like the goat.

Summit Seeker(s) of the Week: This week I’m shouting out an amazing teacher at my former school, Rachel Hand. Rachel teaches & runs the JAG program at Turner Middle School.  JAG stands for Jobs for America’s Graduates, and is designed to reach the most at-risk students in our schools.  These are the students that have often suffered severe trauma in their lives, and would often struggle to graduate, find a job, and be a positive member of their community.  Rachel takes these kids into her room, and by partnering with the general classroom teachers, work to help them learn positive social skills, job training, service to the community, and academic success.  The number of lives she impacts on a daily basis is incredible, and she is always finding a way to reach those “tough kids”. You need to follow her program @tms_jagswag to see the incredible things these kids accomplish with her guidance and help.  And since this post was all about goats, I officially declare her the GOAT at TMS!

Mother & kid near Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana

My guide on the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park, Montana