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Steve Gardiner reaches a new summit

Climber, author is 2008 Montana Teacher of the Year


Billings teacher Steve Gardiner is accustomed to scaling heights. He has climbed some of the highest peaks in the world, including Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mt. Aconcagua in the Andes (highest peak in the Americas), and the north ridge of Mt. Everest.


Steve Gardiner with students


He has run the Boston and New York marathons. He has published over 500 articles in publications such as the New York Times, plus a book on teaching and three books on mountain climbing.


And this September, Gardiner reached the highest summit a Montana teacher can attain by being chosen as the 2008 Montana Teacher of the Year.


The Teacher of the Year program annually honors a teacher who exemplifies the best in the teaching profession. The program is sponsored and administered by the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation.


An interview committee composed of the 2007 Montana Teacher of the Year, Gary Carmichael; other educators; a parent; and a high school student chose Gardiner as Montana Teacher of the Year from among three finalists.


Gardiner, an MEA-MFT member, teaches English, newspaper, and yearbook and is the head cross country coach at Billings Senior High.

He said he never expected to spend 29 years teaching English-it was his least favorite subject in high school. But in college, Gardiner found four professors who changed his thinking forever.


"They gave me a love of reading, writing, and publishing that has become my way of life," he said. "I'm lucky."

Gardiner's students apparently feel lucky, too. They clamor to get into his newspaper classes, even though it requires vast amounts of writing.


"His students have a respect for him that is almost reverent," said Billings High English teacher Judy Barnes.

"They win awards; they publish; and most of all they grow as I have never seen students grow."


Go with the Flow. Gardiner has two strong beliefs about the learning process. First, "successful learning is a Flow activity," he said. He cited psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who defined Flow as the "state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter." Teachers who get students engaged and self-motivated, he said, foster students who love learning.


Lead by example. Second, Gardiner believes in modeling the behavior he wants to see from his students. "Modeling is the way every child learns, from how to tie a shoe to how to drive a car," he said.


Gardiner brings his own writing to class so students can observe his process and discuss it with him. He does each workout he assigns to his cross country runners. And every day he joins students in "Sustained Silent Reading (SSR)," a program he has used for 29 years to fight what he calls "aliteracy" in students.


Most high school students "are capable of reading but choose not to," Gardiner said. Through SSR, students choose books they want to read and share 15 minutes of daily reading with him and other students. He has seen SSR turn many non-readers into avid readers. "I have hundreds of success stories," he said.


Banish aliteracy. Gardiner has published a book on SSR-one of the many ways he shares his expertise with other teachers. He is also involved with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and earned his own National Board Certification in 2002.


Make it happen. Gardiner sees a strong similarity between his mountain climbing, running, and teaching. "You can't run a marathon without significant planning and preparation," he said.


Mountain climbing, too, takes enormous logistical and mental preparation. So does working with a new school newspaper staff and launching a new yearbook. "You have to envision, plan, and make it happen," he said

He is still making it happen in the climbing world as well as in teaching. Gardiner is part of a campaign called "50 for Tibet" that is raising funds for Tibetan people by climbing the highest mountain in each state. He is also raising money for a desperately needed hospital in Kenya. "Because I have traveled the world, I have an expanded sense of community," he said.


Gardiner will represent Montana at the National Teacher of the Year event and will serve as a spokesperson for the teaching profession in Montana throughout the year.



Teacher of the Year finalists. This year's Teacher of the Year finalists include Carrie Thiel, an English teacher at Flathead High School in Kalispell; and Brian McGeehan, a science and mathematics teacher at Chief Joseph Middle School in Bozeman. Along with Gardiner, they will be honored at a special celebration during the MEA-MFT Educators' Conference in Belgrade October 18.




Congratulations to these outstanding teachers and MEA-MFT members!


Read about the 2007 Montana Teacher of the Year