“My little school system of Cannelton, Indiana, has not only given me the opportunity to see the world, but given me the tools and the support to share the world with my students!" ~ Joan Goble
A blond-haired woman walked into the back room of the Perry County News office in Tell City, Indiana, where my mother’s retirement party was taking place on December 28. I recognized her instantly. It was Joan Goble whom I met at my book event/signing at the public library on December 19, 2009, and have since become friends. I smiled, she smiled and when we got to each other, hugged. Joan is a fellow cancer survivor; she has chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
March is Women’s History Month, so I wanted to profile at least one (of the many) women I admire. Joan was kind enough to answer some questions for me. Reading her answers, I discovered what an amazing, inspirational woman she truly is; I had no idea. She is a teacher—a transformational teacher who has implemented ways to inspire and challenge her students with innovative projects that have led to international collaboration opportunities and travel. She is not only an example of the kind of educator U.S students deserve, but also a reminder (to legislators and superintendents across the nation) that we cannot afford to lose teachers of her caliber.
Deborah: How long have you been teaching and what made you want to go into that profession?
Joan: I have been in the teaching profession now for 32 years. I have taught at Cannelton Elementary for 30. As a child growing up I was always in awe of my teachers. I totally respected them and wanted to please them. I had great teachers throughout my school years, and they inspired me. I felt that they made a difference in my life so I wanted to make a difference too. I had debated between going into the medical field or the teaching field. As a freshman in college I made the decision to become a teacher.
D: What grade do you teach now; in the past?
J: My first real job was substitute teaching for a year, all grades. That is how I landed my job at Cannelton Elementary. I had substituted quite a bit for Cannelton and when a job opened up that summer I was offered one. It was a third grade position. I held that position for 28 years. My school system is very small. We only have one class per grade, so I was THE third grade teacher at the Cannelton School System for those 28 years. I think third grade is such an exciting grade to teach. Children of that age are just starting to really think beyond their classroom and are so eager to learn.
When our school became an "online" school in 1996, I decided to start an after school media club. I began working with older students up to sixth grade. I found that I enjoyed working with them just as much. Then, two years ago the 5th grade teacher retired, and I asked if I could replace her. I did, and I totally enjoy it.
D: You teach in a very small community, how has that impacted you as a teacher with regards to the resources the Cannelton school system has?
J: I love teaching at Cannelton. I feel that even though we are small, we have made our voices heard. We Cannelton teachers all involve our parents and community in the education of our students. As in the old saying, "It takes a village to raise a child," I think that includes the education of children as well. Cannelton is very proud of its school system and so there has always been a lot of support. I have felt that first hand many times over the 30 years I have taught here. Any time my Media Club has needed support from the community it has been there 100 %. I know that we could not have achieved what we have without that support.
D: The population of the city of Cannelton was estimated as of July 2009 to be 1,130. How many students are in the school system?
J: Cannelton Elementary has one class per grade, and the average class size is around 20. The Junior/Senior High School is the same as far as size of classes. I am not exactly sure of the whole entire school system's size, but I would say it averages around 260 to 280 students, maybe more some years. (Joan was right about the size.)
D: You have developed several programs for your students. What are they and how did you go about implementing them?
J: Our school has had many programs set up for the students to get involved in. One program that our school was involved in that helped us to make a connection with other schools not only in Indiana, but nationally and even internationally, was the state program called The Buddy System. This program, beginning in the very early 90s, allowed our school to not only become an online school, but gave every student in grades 4-6 an online computer to use. It was the beginning of networking, and we were in on the ground floor for Indiana public schools. At that time I taught third grade, which was not a part of the program, but I benefited as well due to all of the teachers getting an online computer.
Then in the summer of 1996, I went to a summer class on using the Internet in the classroom and I was hooked. The following year I decided it would be nice if our school had a Media Club, so I started it that year. We mostly connected in online projects where we could collaborate with other schools.
Our first collaboration was with a school in Australia on a research project about trees and forests. That project has led to many connections with schools around the world. Unfortunately, the Buddy Project has lost state funding and is no longer around, but it definitely gave our school system a basis for future collaborative projects.
I am mostly a project-based teacher. I love to involve my students in active learning, so anytime I can involve them in a project where they can take ownership for the process, as well as the product, I go for it. Examples include many online projects/websites. There are many that are my favorites, but I will share a few here.
One that continues to this day to give us learning opportunities, and "fame" even, is "Our Wonderful Moon Tree." It is really involved, but in short it allowed us to make connections with NASA in paying tribute to Moon Trees, living monuments to the Apollo Space Program. It was also written about in a BBC article that also aired on BBC radio in 2005. Last month, the story appeared in USA Today. It mentions our school and our involvement in initiating the search for all of the Moon Trees.
Another project that helped us to broaden our horizons beyond Cannelton, beyond Indiana and even beyond our nation's borders, was TENAN: The Endangered Animals of the World web project. I worked with Rene de Vries, a teacher from the Netherlands, to create this project. Schools from all over the world were invited to research endangered animals from their regions and send in their reports for us to publish. TENAN was active from 1998 until May 2007. We had to end it for various reasons, mainly due to our schedules becoming too busy—not enough time to devote to keeping the project active. It broke both of our hearts, but we had to. However, we have kept it online because we feel it has been and continues to be a good resource for students.
One great opportunity that was a direct result of this project was when the United Nations Environmental Program contacted us (Rene and myself), inviting us to send a delegation of our students who worked on TENAN to the UNEP Millennium Children’s Conference on the Environment in May 2000. This is also an excellent example of how the community of Cannelton, and really all of Perry County, Indiana, supported us. We were able to raise enough money to send 9 students to this conference held in Eastbourne, England. Rene was able to send 11 of his students too. Not only was it a thrill to get to see England and meet students and teachers from nearly 100 countries, we were able to meet our partners in the project for the first time. We had worked for over two years on this project and finally students from each school could meet face to face!
Because of my work in online shared learning, collaborative projects, I have been given many opportunities to share what I have done and learned with teachers in Indiana, several states in the USA, and I have also traveled and presented in London and Brighton in England, Copenhagen, Denmark, several parts of Japan including Tokyo and Asahikawa, and even traveled and presented in Tianjin, China. My little school system of Cannelton, Indiana, has not only given me the opportunity to see the world, but given me the tools and the support to share the world with my students!
D: You also volunteer and are involved in your community outside the school?
J: Yes, I have been on our Perry County Museum board since 1998, a board member of the Perry County Animal Shelter since 2008 and am currently the Secretary. For ten years I was on the board of We the Youth of Perry County. I have served on various other county committees, most recently the committee for the 50th Anniversary Memorial Service (a wonderful event) of the 1960 Plane Crash.
D: You are a cancer survivor. How did you discover you had CLL and when?
J: The cancer was a shock...totally had no idea. I had gone to the doctor because my left leg was losing some muscle mass. Several doctors looked at it and some tests were ordered, then finally a CBC (Complete Blood Count) was done to see what that might show. There was no evidence of muscle damage in the blood, but it showed a critically high white blood cell count. I was then sent to a specialist (oncologist/hematologist) who did more blood tests and diagnosed me with early stage CLL. That was in late August 2009. I am in what is called the "watch and wait" stage—no treatments at the moment. Every four months I go back to the oncologist and he does a CBC, checks my lymph nodes, and asks questions to see what symptoms I may have.
D: How has that impacted your day-to-day life?
J: I would have to say mostly it has made me take better care of myself. I am more aware of my body and try to keep myself from getting sick. It is a challenge, since I work with children every day. I try to keep my stress level as low as I can, and I use (and have my students use) hand cleanser constantly to keep colds and flu at bay. I try to enjoy each day that I am well.
D: How is your support system?
J: My support system is great. First I have my family...my husband and my two children are very supportive, and patient! At home I can have my days when I just want to whine and feel sorry for myself and not worry about the consequences. I get it out of my system and no one at work or out and about is the wiser. (Well, until now that is...ha ha!)
At work I have much support as well. I have not told my students of my illness because I feel there is no need to worry them. I also have, of course, friends like you and the online friends I have found at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, as well as a wonderful Facebook group, CLL (Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia).
I highly recommend to anyone with any kind of illness like this to find a group online to join. There is a lot of love and support out there, and it can be so comforting and reassuring to know that you are not alone in fighting the good fight!