You are the Wild Card: A Summer Guide to Putting the PH Back in Phun!

Jon Konen
District Superintendent

Part 1 of 5 … Follow us in a five-part series that tells the story of how one dedicated principal observed positive change in the classroom when teachers incorporated the principles and philosophy from the popular book, The Wild Card by Hope and Wade King.

Pinochle seems to be a dying a card game, yet when you throw a wild card into the antiquated rules of the game…boom…the game and experience is blown apart!

One night at Seeley Lake, Montana, several friends sat around a table playing poker. At the beginning of the game, the buy-in was stored in the poker chip case, all the chips were equally divided, and beverages were distributed accordingly. The stage was set!

Each person began betting…everyone was "in!" I thought to myself, "This is strange for the first hand." The betting continued with each person thinking they had the best hand. Soon, everyone was "all-in." This was either going to be the quickest game of poker every played, or we were all this bad at the game.

When the betting ended, the first person turned over their cards, "full house." The second person, "full house." This continued all the way around the table until everyone had turned their cards over, "full house." Mathematically, this was impossible. I said, "Well, what the heck is wrong with this deck of cards….PINOCHLE cards!!!" The laughs began and did not stop…

What would happen if we truly did play a poker game with pinochle cards…how would that turn out? To be honest, it would probably be fun, as everyone would have a higher chance of tying or winning…win-win for everyone!

Can we create this win-win experience in our classrooms?

I have found a book, or more of an experience, that closely aligns with this win-win experience, as well as with my own personal educational philosophy, The Wild Card, by Hope and Wade King. Much of their work is based on the work of Ron Clark. The King's have written a magical book that gives you permission to change the game of teaching… and why not!

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The teacher is the Wild Card.

Over the next three blog articles, we are going to delve into a project for teachers looking to be the Wild Card…changing their instructional game! We will look at several approaches from this book, as well as others that can revolutionize a classroom. What a great project for any teacher and principal looking to make a PHUN change in their school. I use the letter's PH in fun to show that there is more than one way to spell fun if we are creative. Likewise, we should be thinking of other ways to teach the curriculum…the rationale for this guide!

Let's visit my elementary classroom, circa 1984!

I still remember sitting in Mrs. Smith's second grade elementary classroom in rows. Upon looking at the chalkboard in the front of the room, you would see my name was written on the board with not just one check, or two checks next to it, but a third check! Yep, I knew what that meant…a call home to my parents and a visit to Principal Gorder's office!

I loved that guy, and I know he liked me, but I knew there were going to be ensuing consequences. In 1984, my elementary school was on the cusp of following others states in the nation by enacting the ban on corporal punishment (1991 Montana finally enacted). In second and third grade, thereabouts, I went from getting swatted with a paddle when I got in trouble, to spending exorbitant amounts of time in detention and missing several recesses.

The teachers in my elementary school all believed in the teaching philosophy, which I know now was Lee Canter's, Assertive Discipline. Developed in the mid 1970's, this philosophy was a rage in classrooms across the nation during this time period, and it's no coincidence that it is still the most widely used classroom management philosophy in education. The designers, Lee and Marlene Canter, believed that the teacher should act in an assertive fashion in the classroom. One of the premises of this pedagogy was, "Students who comply are reinforced, whereas those who disobey rules and directions receive negative consequences."

Unfortunately, this led many teachers to go overboard on compliance and handing out "negative consequences." Many teachers missed the first and foremost vital characteristic of the Canter's strategies: building relationships based on trust! Many of the teachers commanded respect in the classroom instead of earning it.

Many of us who went to school in the 1980's still remember those teachers who commanded this respect from us. We also remember those teachers that we loved. We loved being in their classroom because the learning experiences were based on a mutual respect between the teacher and the student…a trusting relationship was formed.

One such teacher, Kathy Buckingham, is still in my memory bank…when she said, "Jon Lee," the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I listened right away and complied…NOT because she commanded respect, but because she truly cared about me as a student and had high expectations for me. We all respected her. She was a relationship builder! You will still see her on Facebook to this day connected to many past classmates over the decades she taught! I love that lady!

You are the Wild Card! is a series of blog articles melded into a guide that will help you think about your classroom. I want you to reflect on your classroom learning experiences for students. I want to give you some ideas of how you can change up your instruction for next year. The guide will also give you ideas on how you can implement these ideas in the upcoming school year! Each article will follow a similar format. The intent is to not change all your practices, but to infuse creativity, fun, the strange, weird, unusual, and the exciting into your classroom. Much like Hope and Wade King state, "The teacher is the Wild Card," we must continue to understand how much influence we have on the learning environment.

Last week I walked into the kindergarten classrooms at my school. Students had sunglasses on, beach towels sprawled out on the floor of the classroom, and students were working on reading, writing, and discussing literary components. Everyone was having fun and learning. When I asked the students why they were all dressed in beach gear, they said today is "v" for "Vacation to the beach" day. The kinders do a countdown to the final day using the alphabet. Each day has a theme!

My question is, why do kinders get to have all the sun and PHUN?

The teachers changed their whole classroom around. Students carried their beach towels everywhere: recess, music, and even tied them around their necks as capes for PE! As a principal, I spent time at the beach last Friday!

Let us take these experiences, at low cost to a teacher, and have some PHUN at all grade levels and across our schools!

Continue reading... find the second installment of Jon Konen's 5-part Wild Card Series here.

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Jon Konen