This past week brought the annual Tri-State Rodeo to Fort Madison. 75 years of “…some of the best rodeo action on earth”. I don’t follow the circuit, but I LOVE attending the Tri State Rodeo each year. The dust, the dirt, the livestock, the clown, the cowboys & cowgirls, the cool fall nights – it’s rodeo time!
Despite attending for the past 25 years or so, I know very little about the rodeo. There are several events that make up a typical rodeo performance: saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, team calf roping, barrel racing, and the featured event: bull riding. All events are a race against the clock. In the case of bronc and bull riding, the race is to stay on that bucking horse or bucking bull for 8 seconds.
As I watched the performance on Wednesday night, an analogy between rodeo and school starting forming in my mind. (Side note: I’m terrible with analogies!) 8 seconds is such a short amount of time in the rodeo world, just as 180 days is such a short amount of time in the school world.
In the rodeo world, those cowboys have just 8 seconds to get the job done. In the school world, we have just 7 hours in a school day. By the time we account for lunch, recess, specials, and transition times, elementary general education teachers are left with a mere 4.6 hours of instructional time. That’s 4.6 hours each day, 5 days a week, for 180 school days to guarantee proficiency on an inordinate number of math, science, social studies and English Language Arts standards. That’s 180 days to guarantee proficiency for 20 – 30 students who did not choose to come to school: they did not sign up for this gig. Our special education teachers and interventionists have these same time constraints with the added stressors of filling in gaps for our most struggling students and working around the schedules of all general education teachers.
In the rodeo world, those cowboys have just 8 seconds to work in tandem with the bucking beast they have mounted. In the school world, we have just 30 – 45 minutes per day, if the stars align, to work in tandem with our colleagues to plan high quality instruction for all of our students. Working in tandem, at its best, is known as collective efficacy, the single most effective teaching practice (effect size of 1.57 – that’s HUGE!) as identified by John Hattie and colleagues. A quick Google search tells us that collective efficacy is defined as: “A group’s shared belief in the conjoint capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given levels of attainment.” It’s a powerful practice, with very little of the needed time to curate.
In the rodeo world, those cowboys have just 8 seconds to give it their all, if they are able to stay on for the entire 8 seconds. In the school world, we have just 4.6 hours of direct instruction and 2.4 hours of less structured time with our students to give it our all. Giving it our all for 7 hours can seem nothing less than impossible when we consider the the infinite number of decisions we make in a day, trauma that our students come to us with, and the feeling of inadequacy we feel at knowing how to deliver curriculum effectively. Some days, we may feel like we are unable to “stay on” for 7 hours.
In the rodeo world, those cowboys have just 8 seconds of a wild ride, hanging on for dear life, trying to maintain control. In the school world, we have just 180 days to accept/adapt to/embrace inevitable changes. We have 180 days to love each and every child in our care. We have 180 days to support some of our burnt-out colleagues. We have 180 days to alleviate the fear, angst, and anger of some of our parents. We have 180 days to meet high-stakes testing demands. We have 180 days to be master implementers of curriculum in multiple subject areas.
In the rodeo world, 8 seconds must feel like an eternity on that wild animal. In the school world, a 30-minute lesson can feel like an eternity when I am not well-prepared and lessons unravel & behaviors escalate right before my ill-prepared eyes. 8 seconds can feel like an eternity when I haven’t planned for every single second of the day, when I haven’t thought through “What will I do if…” “What plan do I have in place for…” “What’s the best thing that could happen with this lesson?” A 30-minute lesson can feel like an eternity when I haven’t followed Anita Archer’s advice:
Essentially, educators perform miracles every single day. And we love doing it, despite the wild ride that accompanies those miracles!