This summer, we took our two grandchildren, ages nine and 11, on a road trip to our cousins’ farms in eastern Oregon.  It was an opportunity for them to get to know relatives as well as actually work with cattle and crops.

From the moment we arrived, their cousins engaged them in farm activities and expected them to contribute.  Our grandson was briefly oriented to how to drive a four-wheeler and then expected to effectively and appropriately use it to assist in herding cattle; our granddaughter was introduced to riding a horse and engaged in a long ride along the confines of the farms.

As I observed our grandchildren’s experiences I found it interesting the high level of trust our cousins had in them and the confidence each of them immediately gained to meet their expectations.  And of course the corresponding skills they developed and enhanced during our time on the farm.

As we headed over to herd cattle our cousins explained to us:

  1. The task at hand (to bring cattle from a large field into a corner corral and load them onto trailers);
  2. The strategies we would use (as they rode their horses to herd the cattle we, on four-wheelers, assisted them ensuring the cattle headed to the corral and did not escape);
  3. The way they would communicate with us (including not to be offended if they yelled instructions or told us to stop doing something); and
  4. What to do if we had questions (ask loudly).

Our grandson understood the scope of the work, his responsibilities, ways to communicate and the anticipated results.  Then the herding began and just as had been explained most of the cattle headed in the correct direction while a few needed additional prodding.  Our grandson followed directions, moving the cattle at times and holding his position to ensure none escaped, and soon all the cattle were effectively led to the corral and then loaded onto the trailers.

At the same time our granddaughter was riding horses with her cousins and as we returned for a quick lunch, we saw the confidence and skills she gained during her morning rides.  The rest of the afternoon both of our grandchildren rode horses and four-wheelers throughout the farm.

Their progress and success was a direct result of their cousins’ trust, high expectations and confidence in them and correspondingly they build skills at a quick pace as they contributed to the daily jobs on the farm.  It was also obvious to us that their confidence and skills “generalized” to other family-oriented activities throughout the week.

Of course I relate these observations to schools and how we can motivate and engage students to gain knowledge and skills as we:

  1. Trust and expect them to successful;
  2. Effectively communicate with them;
  3. Be available and comfortable with their questions;
  4. Establish the consequences of their contributions; and
  5. Effectively measure progress and success.

While schools are not directly equivalent to farms with cattle and crops there are many similarities that encourage me to learn from our grandchildren’s experiences and integrate them into my motivation and education strategies.

What lessons did you learn from your summer experiences?  And what are the implications for you and others?

Terry Pickeral
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Terry Pickeral

Terry Pickeral, has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations, evaluation and civic development. His commitment is to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens.
Terry Pickeral
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