Mike Higgins District One teacher of year

A teacher who has made an impact in his classroom with innovative teaching methods for many years has been named the Outstanding Educator for Big Horn County School District No 1.

Rocky Mountain Middle School history and social studies teacher Mike Higgins was honored with the award at Saturday night’s Lovell Area Chamber of Commerce Community Banquet held at the Lovell Community Center.

Rocky Mountain history and social studies teacher Mike Higgins is the 2012 Outstanding Educator for School District No. 1.

In his letter of recommendation, Rocky Mountain Middle/High School Principal Tim Winland called Higgins an excellent teacher who incorporates technology into his lessons to promote learning, calling him an expert in using technology to engage his students on a daily basis.

“Teaching history to middle school students can be a difficult challenge,” Winland wrote. “Mike uses the internet to access video that contains important events in history exposing students to the past while at the same time raising their interest level. Students don’t just ‘watch movies’ in Mike’s class. He actively involves the students in lively discussions by using higher order thinking strategies to pique their curiosity.”

Winland wrote that Higgins also uses a number of different writing strategies during class to get students to respond and keeps parents and students informed by developing his own web page and blog.

Higgins also coaches three sports, Winland noted, connecting with students on the field as well as in the classroom. Higgins teaches fundamentals and promotes a love of sport and competition “through his enthusiasm while coaching his students,” Winland wrote.

Video presentation

On Saturday night, Winland introduced Higgins and played a video about the teacher entitled “Celebrating Educational Excellence.” In the video, Higgins called teaching “my calling,” noting, “Social studies and history teach you about being a good person.”

Interestingly, District No. 2 Outstanding Educator Joshua Sanders was featured in the video along with his brother Caleb, who also teaches at Lovell High School. The brothers described how Higgins would use hands-on learning to teach history, for instance breaking up pottery and putting it in the ground for students to find, excavate and then reassemble.

Higgins noted how he used a boat game to teach students about trade and economics, noting that “the more we trade, the wealthier we become.” The Sanders brothers said they simulate things in their classrooms based on what Higgins does in his class.

“It makes you feel really good that you had an impact on somebody’s life,” Higgins said in the video, noting that his father had a lot of curiosity and he got his interest in history from his dad. He said teaching can be both exhausting and exhilarating.

Higgins called education a three-legged stool that includes the teacher, the students and their parents. All three are needed to “make the magic happen,” he said.

During comments that followed the video, Winland said a great teacher is like the difference between a good player and a great player in athletics. The great players make those around them better, Winland said, and that applies to Higgins and his teaching.

After receiving the award, Higgins said he was pleased to be on the same program with Josh Sanders, saying the chamber of commerce event “kind of completes the circle for me.”

He said he appreciates that school administrators have allowed him to teach the way he has wanted to during his career, telling the story about a time when he was simulating the gold rush by having students look for tiny pieces of paper he had hidden in the school library. Things were “getting pretty wild” and students were practically “swinging from the chandeliers” when a group of adults walked in. It was the incoming superintendent of schools, he recalled with a laugh.

“The school has been putting up with me for 25 years, and I’m deeply grateful that they have allowed me to do my thing no matter how crazy things get,” he said.

He called his career a “great marriage” with the community and students and said he is grateful to the school and his colleagues, noting that the award has allowed him to reflect deeply on his career and heightened his awareness about what a privilege it is to teach.

By David Peck