Five Lessons: Building Fences and Making Connections

By Sarah McKinney

Back in March, a neighbor who was moving offered his used chain link fence to me for free knowing that I was looking to set up a fence for my dog. I had it in my mind to install the fence on my own. How hard could it be? Right away, friends questioned who I was going to hire to put up the fence. Skeptical and concerned, few of them gave me the impression they thought I could handle the project on my own. I wondered why this was. Was it that they thought I lacked upper body strength? Or was it that they had never known me to complete this kind of project before?

With friends’ comments ringing in my ears, “the fence” quickly became a project I had to prove I could complete by myself. Despite being determined to get the project done myself, self-doubt swirled in my mind. How much fencing material did I even have? Was it enough to enclose my backyard? Was I strong enough to lift the fencing on my own? Maybe there was some truth to the doubt I heard in my friends’ comments. Still, I set a weekend to complete the project.

Going off of the recommendation of the neighbor who gave me the fence, I rented an auger (i.e. post hole digger). I thought it would take me no more than 20 minutes to dig all of the necessary holes. I could not have been more wrong. Not being a native of Washington, I did not realize that just below the friendly six inch top soil layer lives a layer of potato-sized rocks, which soon sent the auger flying out of control. I struggled to manage the machine and each hole was more difficult than the last to dig.

Over an hour later, hole dug, I started putting poles in the ground. I was happy with my progress. But when I went to lift the roll of chain link, I soon realized I needed someone to support it while I attached it to the poles. Tired and covered in dirt, I was disappointed in myself. I thought I could finish the project on my own, but I was losing steam quickly. My arms had turned to jello. Reluctantly, I texted some friends for back up. Once they arrived, we got to work, developing a system as we went. We had the whole fence completed in under an hour.

While reflecting on the construction process, I realized that what I learned during this simple project sets a fitting tone for the Saints IgnitED blog and perfectly encapsulates what I have learned as a teacher candidate at SMU. Here are five lessons I would like to share:


1. Embrace a DIY attitude
Teaching requires a “go-getter” attitude toward everything from curriculum design to classroom management. You must be the driving force behind innovation and change. Sometimes you have to go at it alone. My fence project felt this way at the beginning. There is a lot to be said for the process of “doing it yourself”. Cultivate self-sufficiency in yourself.

2. Step outside your comfort zone
The idea of putting up a fence on my own was daunting to say the least. Similarly, teaching is not always about being comfortable; it’s about pushing yourself further, harder, and beyond for your students. Try new things. Surprise yourself. The profession depends upon innovation and risk taking.

3. Plan, but prepare for the unexpected
I’m a planner by nature, but my experience as a teacher candidate has shown me that sometimes, the plan will fail. Ever had a lesson bomb mid-period? Things tend to take a turn for the unexpected at that point, and you have to “roll with it”. I did not expect to hit so many rocks in the ground, nor did I anticipate having to call on friends for help. The plan for the day was rewritten, and that’s okay!

4. Collaborate
This is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned during the MIT program. Teaching is collaborative endeavor. As much as it is important to lead in innovation and adopt a DIY attitude on your own, find those people in your program, in your building, and online who are similarly motivated in the field of education. Most of all, collaborate with your students. My fence would not have been completed without the help of my friends. I just had to ask for help. Connect, grow, and learn together.

5. Failure IS an option
The whole time I was working on the fence, I kept wondering what would happen if I could not lift the auger or if the fence would not stay up. But then I thought, at least try! There is no harm in trying to complete this project yourself. With day-to-day teaching, there is always tomorrow. If the lesson flopped and the kids were giving you blank stares, try again tomorrow. And teach your students the same lesson.

The beauty of pursuing a career in education, I’m finding, is that you start to see the learning process unfold in every day interactions and activities where you may not have previously seen them. Think about when you have learned lessons applicable to teaching during the course of your daily routines and experiences. If you think about it for a while, I’m certain you will come up with something that is worth sharing with other educators and that merits personal reflection as you progress through the program and enter the profession.


About Sarah McKinney

I am a teacher candidate at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, WA pursuing secondary endorsements in History, Social Studies, and Middle Level Humanities. Find me on Twitter @mckinneysk !
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9 Responses to Five Lessons: Building Fences and Making Connections

  1. Tabitha Ellison says:

    I love a good analogy. This one rocks! 😉 Those are 5 great things to have learned and thank you for allowing others to learn them through your blog post!

    • Erika Wilson says:

      I also enjoyed this analogy Tabitha! It reminded me of when I thought I could build my brother a sand box all alone, and later figuring out that I need much more than myself to carry all of the sand bags to the back yard. How Sarah connected this with education is great. I will also implement those 5 things to follow:)

  2. Leslie Huff says:

    Such great lessons to learn. I’m still working on remembering some of these as I make my way through my own life.So many opportunities in life for learning. I’ve recently had to remind myself to be conscience of what I am learning as I watch my daughter learn. I’m glad to be “in the moment” enough to take advantage of my experiences, like you do, and learn. Thank you for such an insightful post.

  3. Erika Wilson says:

    I have really grown my PLN through this 30 day challenge and it finally occurred to me all the professional connections that are out there waiting to network with me to generate new ideas and thoughts. Prior to the challenge I had a twitter already and felt as though it was useless because all people I followed did was talk about what it is they were doing. Starting a professional network, and following users that are also teachers and that have so much knowledge to share has opened my eyes to a whole new chapter. Pinterest and Learnist are also very resourceful, however I really feel as though they take quite a bit of time to create boards, pin things etc. I do like browsing through and seeing what others come across though. I do want to eventually get to the point where hybrid networking is an everyday thing for me so that I become more and more familiar and comfortable with it. Similar to your analogy of building a fence, the networking with others makes it so that you are not in a closed room with a bunch of teenagers at all hours of the day. Instead you are sharing with people across the world your ideas and best practice, as they are also doing the same for you. I really enjoyed this experience and I hope to continue with it as I build the blueprint to my future as an educator.

  4. Brad White says:

    Yes, no question a life lesson every time I walk out of my front door.
    I did grow my PLN through this project. A couple things that were an obstacle are: 1. little background knowledge, 2: my perception, the use of social media and how it plays out in public schools is talked about in negative terms by administrators. 3. The amount of time one could spend on these tools is incredible. Who has that time?
    I’m glad I did get through it, I do have a basic working knowledge of how the sites work and will continue to monitor and adjust, while figuring out which one can be used in my classroom to help students.

  5. Love your outlook on teaching! Your 5 lessons are so wise and you make great points about teaching, as well as the importance of certain qualities in a teacher. Not only do we sometimes not realize the kind of patience it takes to teach children, but how important our attitude is in order to positively influence our students. Thank you for this post and I can’t wait to see what else you post on your other social media pages!

    Rylee Tripp

    • Madison Kenney says:

      I agree with you Rylee! I love how you related this to how patient a teacher needs to be, and to have a positive attitude. These are great tips when it comes to teaching! Teachers can plan for hours, but we never really know what is going to happen in the classroom and being able to adjust is key! Glad we all have each others support!

  6. Madison Kenney says:

    I definitely am glad we did this PLN challenge. It really grew my networking knowledge and showed me all the opportunities out there, that I can be apart of. It was challenging sometimes to find relevant topics for my interests and figuring out how the different cites work, but I am glad to work through the kinks now, rather than when I have my first teaching job. I will keep growing my network and read more educational blogs through my teaching career. I learn so much from other people and I know I cannot do this on my own! I am also excited to go into classrooms and observe more teachers and see how they run their classroom. Then I will be able to reflect on what they do and what I read, to further my knowledge on how I want to run my classroom.

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