Lessons I Learned… From a Horse
As a military wife, I’ve had to adjust to meeting a new batch of students every time my husband PCS’d, or had a Permanent Change of Station. Although the task is daunting-- I have to develop new, trusting relationships with students and parents just as I solidified the ones at my previous school-- I have developed an approach that I think is helpful for rookies and veteran teachers alike. Here it is…right off the saddle and into this blog:
I approach a new classroom like I would approach a new horse. With a classroom full of kids that have no idea who I am (perhaps don’t really care), might be distrustful of me (or indifferent), aren’t familiar with my teaching style (who is this giving us orders?!), it is not unlike approaching an animal that is naturally a prey animal. Always alert to danger, uncertain in new surroundings, spooks easily, horses are this way after hundreds of years of trying to avoid being eaten by predators. Because horses are vulnerable creatures, you must be cognizant of your approach as soon as you open that barnyard door. The same principle applies to stepping into a new classroom filled with anxious students...
It is a Partnership
We all know teachers who are tyrants-- heavy-handed with the punishment, constantly focusing on the negative, enjoy the power plays-- those are the ones who, if they jumped in the saddle and yanked too hard on the reins, would be greeted with a quick buck. These are the teachers whom students disrespect as soon as they aren’t around to maintain their tight control. So how do you develop a relationship with students built upon mutual respect and fostered by trust? The same way you would with a horse: viewing the relationship as a partnership. Mutual respect goes a long way between a rider and her horse. Tighten the back girth, get treated with a kick. Approach in an aggressive way, be greeted with a bite. This is a natural reaction from a horse. The same thing goes with a child or young adult. There is a difference between having authority and being totalitarian. And that difference is whether you will be landing rear-end first in the dirt, or riding tall in the saddle into the sunset.
Consistency is Everything
Consistency is key when riding a horse. A horse responds to pressure. If you want the horse to move sideways to the left, you move the reins across the withers towards the left while simultaneously pushing your right foot against the horse’s right side. The horse is trained to move away from the pressure. Some people do not understand this subtle communication between horse and rider. That’s why when you go on a family vacation to Mexico and take that scenic horse ride, inevitably someone in your family ends up in the bushes, frantically coaxing their horse to turn around. You cannot give false signals to a horse, or you'll end up on a "scenic" ride, brought to you courtesy of said horse. You must send a clear, consistent message. The same thing goes with kids. They need to know your expectations everyday they walk into your classroom. They need to know your disciplinary boundaries. They need to know that they are loved, but also that there are certain standards that must be meet. Kids and horses both thrive on consistency.
You Set the Vibes
It is easy to panic when you realize that all that’s preventing this horse from bucking you off and stomping you to smithereens is the fact that it’s trained not to do that. Horses sense panic, uncertainty, and insecurity. Whether it’s a smart-aleck horse that’s going to test your reaction to it doing its own thing, or a horse that is nervous amidst new surroundings, it is constantly gauging its actions by your reactions. People who have trained young horses know that as soon as you start to panic, the unsure horse is also going to start freaking out... and that’s not what you would call a joy ride. Same thing goes with kids. They can pick up on the vibes we put down. They are very adept at that, and honestly, I think it’s one of their awesome superpowers. However, if you let the wrong ones start to dictate your tone, then you’re in for a wild, probably bumpy, ride. Just like in the saddle, you are always in charge of the vibes you set in your classroom, that's a lesson that you can never learn too soon.
So, there you have it, a humble educator waxing poetically from her saddle. Yeehaw!