Education – Nick Furhman

Nick Furhman, Ph.D., is the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor, at the University of Georgia. Also known as “Ranger Nick,” Dr. Fuhrman’s professional background is environmental education. He is also a TV personality and motivational speaker and has been honored by numerous prestigious teaching awards and is a TED speaker on “The One Thing All Great Teachers Do.”

[Applause] [Music] so [Music] nick has been honored by numerous
prestigious teaching awards he's a ted speaker uh and uh has been known famously for his talk the one thing all great teachers do more than 10 million hits on that talk alone here to share his story and explain what's in this box is nick furman thank you thank you thank you [Music] get to bring this thing home good afternoon everybody boy have i got some news for you and it applies to every single one of you each and every person in this room is a teacher did you know that everybody in here is a teacher and one of the things i want to do today is convince you that you're a teacher i may be an educator a person that holds that title of a professor but all of us are teachers and i hope that this message today that i can share with you is one that helps you deal with the time of change that we're in now boy we sure are and as each of us work with one another
and in teams and with our relatives and our friends to inspire change i want to be able to show you that you are an impactful teacher every one of you i want you to think about a favorite teacher of yours and i want you to think to yourself about that person whether it's back in second grade or back just a few years ago in church or a boy scout or girl scout meeting that you went to with your grandchild once you think about that favorite teacher and with your buddy next to you talk to them about what words or phrases would come to mind when you think of that person and how they would respond to the situation with which we find ourselves in today how would that favorite teacher of yours respond take about 17 seconds with the person next door to you there talk to them about some words or phrases that come to your mind when you think of that favorite teacher let's do it now and then we'll come back together we're actually going to save what you talk about to the end of the talk so let's do that now
okay all right so you got some words or phrases that come to mind when you think of that favorite teacher whoever that person might be we're going to come back to that a little bit later on in our talk today as we bring it home but i want to tell you a story about a favorite teacher of mine and it was a person that for less than an hour he spent with me as a seven-year-old child and set me on a path to where i am today in my career so it's the power of less than an hour that this guy who we all recognize as ranger bill that was what we called it and on this particular day in perry hall maryland where i'm originally from i was on my carpet square in miss trinco's elementary school class and we were all anticipating ranger bill's visit ranger bill was a park ranger with the maryland department of natural resources and he brought with him into our
classroom an owl and a hawk and a vulture and a snake and a turtle and all of these animals were ambassadors of the messages that he was sharing they were teaching tools and i got to tell you i was on the edge of my carpet square i mean if you could be on the edge we all were because this guy wasn't just educating us he was edutaining us you ever heard that smile on my favorite words edutainment this guy had an ability of turning down all the distractions in our mind and captivating us with animals and he was there for less than an hour and then he left and i went home and told my parents about it i said my gosh i know what i want to do when i grow up i want to be like ranger bill before that my great-grandmother used to call me your little preacher boy and she always believed it i would go on and become a preacher and folks have said to me nick have you ever thought about being a preacher i probably would do that had it not been for ranger bill we ended up getting in touch with ranger bill my parents and i and to make a
really long story short i cleaned a lot of cages for ranger bill for about eight years sorry to spend time with him but i got to watch him teach in front of audiences and edutain in the way he captivated folks using animals and i finally turned 16 years old and ranger bill offered me a job with the maryland department of natural resources it was a dream and i'll never forget the day that a news broadcaster put a television camera in front of me i was standing there holding an owl in fact here's a picture of me holding a great horned owl a few years ago on the left and then the one on the right a little bit more recent it's my favorite animal of all time to work with is a great horned owl they're wonderful but i remember this guy putting this camera in my face and he called me he said i'm standing here talking to ranger nick he said it and right when he said ranger nick i felt like i had really made it you know like all these years i looked up to ranger bill and this guy called me ranger nick and it was just incredible to think about i went on to college first generation
college student went on to college and thought that i would just go to college majored in forestry i thought i'd go back to maryland and continue teaching in maryland to groups just like this but only for an hour and then leaving but what i discovered as a student as a graduate student is the power that you can have when you spend a little time with somebody and i got to see students grow and change over weeks and over semesters and that's what hooked me into teaching and it convinced me that not only was i a teacher but all of us are teachers as well i want to talk to you today about some of the things that i believe that great teachers do and how they respond in this time of change the first thing that i think that great teachers do is they harness teachable moments isn't that a cool phrase teachable moments if you make a mistake call it a teachable moment and it just makes it seem better that guy bob ross you ever seen him painting on pbs and things is just unbelievable as a painter he calls
things happy accidents call it a happy accent makes it feel better just a teachable moment you make a mistake it's a teachable moment as an educator i love to capitalize on and harness teachable moments and one of the things i do at the university of georgia is i use animals in teaching and i teach a class called teaching with animals and it's just like it sounds it's like a public speaking class but involving animals and i know that y'all are probably waiting for me to either trip over this box or what in the world is inside of this box that i brought with us today we drove down from athens george's just so this little lady could come out of this box i'm going to take her out and show her to you and hopefully we can get it right on the camera so y'all can see this little lady helps me harness teachable moments let me show her to you and i talk to her because she is a sweetie hey darling look at i i want you to see her on your camera look at this if you can get a close-up of this face my goodness hey darling
look at this dad what are you doing is she on there we're over here this camera over here look at that look gank this is a eastern box turtle and this is an eastern box turtle that's missing a leg as sad as it is she had a little run in with a lawnmower and survived it but has been in our home for about two years and will remain for the rest of her life which could be up to 80 years so she'll probably end up being in a will that we have for our kids but this little lady miss sharon we call her sharon is so good at helping me harness teachable moments and what you're seeing there on the slide is a life skills wheel from 4-h that's really big into 4h a youth development organization and oh there's look at that sweet faith hey darling all the folks looking at you sometimes if you tilt her a little bit she kind of waves at you with that arm maybe she'll do it today but the coolest thing about using an animal like this to do things like teach those life skills communication problem solving critical thinking thinking on your feet
is that this turtle helps to relieve public speaking anxiety i want to tell you how and i hope that she doesn't demonstrate it today okay so don't do this but i'm going to tell you i have football players that take my class that are scared to death to stand up in front of an audience in class they may stand in front of 90 000 people and run around with a football but stand up and deliver a message in front of your peers that's tough well all of a sudden i introduce sharon in my teaching with animals class and i hand her to one of my students a football player let's say or any other student and they're holding sharon and all of a sudden their anxiety seems to go down and we actually study this the influence of animals on reducing public speaking anxiety so i'll watch a student will actually videotape my students as they're teaching and holding an animal and then something like this happens and sharon don't do this but all of a sudden a teachable moment happens and sharon peace all right it happens and the student is standing there holding sharon
and she pees and all of a sudden the student laughs and the class laughs and sharon probably secretly laughs too like i gotcha and then all of a sudden from that point forward their teaching is so much better they capitalize on a teachable moment they go with it it's not scripted this is a conversation we're having with an audience that moment that unplanned moment does incredible things for that student in building confidence in their communication ability so when unplanned things happen teachable moments happen we as teachers have a decision we can either capitalize or we could ignore them i say capitalize on let's take advantage of that teachable moment and before one of those teachable moments happens darling i'm going to put you back okay now that you're waving and everybody aren't you just sweaty isn't that something i'm gonna put miss sharon back we call her sharon because i like to use her and sharing things about wildlife you know so that's how it goes the dad jokes are just awful when i'm a teacher that's what you that's another thing you get to do as a teacher so
harnessing teachable moments is very very very important i want to talk about another thing that i think great teachers all of us do and should do even more of and that's evaluate ourselves as an educator it's tough to do because it's sometimes well it's difficult not to take comments from our audience our students personally we need to take time to evaluate what we're doing and ask the question how am i doing as a communicator and what do i need to do to change to better reach you as a learner and that takes data and that takes change but the idea of evaluating ourselves i have a thing on the slide that says a reality check throughout my semester i'll do anonymous reality checks with my students just sending them an online link and saying how are things going for you the past two years with this pandemic asking that question how are you doing and meaning it you'd be incredible some of the things students tell you now i'm not a psychologist but they will tell me things that i want to sit down with them and say well tell me how are things going because you really seem
like you're struggling as a teacher we need to have that sense of care and all of us have that in us sometimes it just takes that opportunity to say when you say how are you doing to somebody really being prepared to listen and mean it how are you doing taking that opportunity to say that doing your own reality check as you work with others keep that in mind as you leave here today be willing to evaluate yourself i've been humbled for the past almost nine years to do a television segment called ranger nick go figure you know it's called ranger nick and bless the camera guys hearts because they have a hard enough time keeping up with me when i'm doing the show so i really appreciate you guys doing that too i'm trying to maintain where i am i have these sudden bursts of enthusiasm you know i just can't help it that's a good thing about a teacher but accepting imperfection is important because i sure have a lot of imperfections and when they put that camera about six inches from my face like ray's doing right there well you pick up on your imperfections you ever watch yourself on video before well
that's a accepting imperfection you know all of my students watch themselves teach and that's such a rewarding experience for them even though it's awkward it shows them things that they're doing that they can improve on nothing personal just shows them what you can do a little bit better polish a little bit more so important to do that except imperfection as you're getting that information from your friends and colleagues on how you're doing be willing to accept that you're going to need to change a little bit and rely on that data and one of the best things we can do when we ask that question how am i doing and you gather all that data be willing to give it back to the people that gave it to you and say listen i i heard what you said here's what y'all told me and here's what we're going to do about it my students have been amazed when i actually read their comments and well ranger nick's actually going to change based on what we said wow pretty cool at building that sense of rapport i'll tell you something else about accepting imperfection during the pandemic some of the folks at the university of georgia reached out to me and said so nick
how can i better prepare my lectures online as a professor and tape record them so my students can watch them i want to do a better job at that and i said well what are you doing they said well i'll script out my lecture and i said whoa whoa right there right there you scripted it out and throw that script away how conversational can be when we be when it's scripted i said have a general outline i said i know i know but what if i'm sitting there and i'm taping my lecture and then my cat runs across the back of my chair in my home when i'm trying to tape it i say you know what that's beautiful let the cat do that because that shows your students that you're a real person they're getting a glimpse into your life you ever run into your teacher at the grocery store before when you were a kid you know and you're looking into their cart what do they have in there they're they're a real per i've run into students of mine and i'm worried like oh god what did i have in the car but they're a real person and that builds a sense of rapport between you as a teacher and your students so i tell the
faculty at the university of georgia listen don't script this stuff make it conversational make it a little bit more loose and flowing and i think you'll find that your students will treat you more like a normal somewhat normal human being right so that's a good thing so the importance of imperfection i want to tell you a story i have friends that know that i've taught at the university for about 14 years now and it's just the coolest job in the world i really mean that this is my very very favorite thing to do is stand up in front of folks and teach and i learned so much from my students and i wish we had an opportunity today to get that feedback together but one of the things that i do in my classes and i've gotten busted on a little bit by this from some of my friends they know that i teach college students i teach graduate students i teach students that are working on phds and when i read good work from my students and they earn a 90 or higher on one of their assignments i put a stamp on their assignment i stamp it and people are like nick come on this
isn't fourth grade why are you putting a stamp on i said look i really think it matters you know like i'll have a little turtle stamp and if you get a 90 or above i write excellent work right on the assignment and the students are you know at first i thought well maybe they'll you know really think this is super hokey and they do but you'll see them when i'm handing assignments back kind of looking at each other's papers oh wow i got a turtle you know would you get these are 20 some year old 30 some year old students getting excited we're given feedback but there was a time that i almost stopped doing this all together i almost stopped relaying feedback altogether with the stamps and just started grading put the grade on there and give it back and i almost stopped until a particular event with a football player so when i was at the university of florida i went to the university of florida for my phd and when i'm in athens i can't say university of florida too often i know i can say it here pretty well but i was at the university of florida as a graduate student and i
was there teaching a large class it was a public speaking class and a lot of the football players a lot of the athletes would sit in the front room and so when i would be handing back assignments i would hand back these assignments and did that at the end of class and then i'd go back to my little cubicle there in my office as a grad student and my cubicle was like in this back corner of this office there was a window there and i'm in the background i can't escape so when a student comes in i'm there you know i can't run from them and on this one particular day there was a knock at the door i had just gotten back to my cubicle after handing out the assignments and there's a knock at the door and it's this football player at the door and the guy who's like a linebacker he took up the whole door like he he looked like a refrigerator you know standing there and he had the test in his hand the test looked like one of those little post-it notes i mean that's how big the guy was he's just stan uh ranger nick can i talk to you for a second come on in come on so he comes over to my desk and he's very serious and he hands me his assignment and he goes
i got a 91 percent on this and i didn't get a stamp big big linebacker and i look at it and sure enough i must have forgotten to put a stamp on it so i said gosh i am so sorry i must i had a lot of students i must have forgotten so i reached into my desk and i got this little owl stamp i love owls you know from the picture i got this little owl stamp and i stamped it on his assignment and i wrote owl standing job just like that and i hand this assignment to this big football player and this guy walked out of there i mean like he was going to go show his mom just so excited and there were other grad students sitting behind me in the office and they were just kind of like what in the world what are you doing i said look i don't know i just put stamps on there and it elevates the quality it gets them excited to do an assignment that guy wanted to do a better job on the next exam to see what other stamp i had that's the kind of power of feedback
we spend a lot of time today focusing on what's negative what could be improved let's take a minute or two when you leave here today remind somebody how good of a job they're doing maybe it's with a stamp or a star or whatever it might be gosh that's motivational we need that today it matters it matters the last thing i think that great teachers do in these times of change is they teach not just present when i have a lesson plan that's in front of me and i'm going into class it's a lesson plan it's not a lesson script and i preached on the value of not scripting something but what if a teachable moment happens in class a discussion that we have i've got to be willing to set that lesson plan aside and capitalize on that discussion moment what you're looking at there in that picture is a wonderful picture of another one of our turtles and one of my students visiting an organization called extra special people and esp for short is just outside of athens georgia and
there are several hundred individuals with special needs i call them special abilities because that's what they are these individuals have special abilities and my students take our animals my wife and i have all these animals at home and they take these animals my students to esp and they teach those participants and i got to tell you when it comes time to overcome public speaking anxiety and they see the way those participants engage with sharon and some of our other critters it's incredible the relationship that's what teaching's about it's not just presenting and i got to tell you at universities we do a lot of presenting we've got to get back to teaching relationships engagement turning down the noise all the distractions it is absolutely about relationships and i think that's something that's so so powerful so as you think about that today as you leave here think about how you can teach others not just present to them well you take a look at some of the five things that i've said today about things that a great teacher would do and i
wonder what you told your neighbor i think we talked about things like harnessing teachable moments and evaluating yourself and accepting imperfection relaying feedback with stamps and teaching not just presenting but isn't it all about that's what a great teacher does they care and i think that maya angelou said it best look at that line isn't that the coolest thing people will forget what you said they'll forget what you did but i tell you what they're going to remember how you made them feel it's stuff like this that i love doing and i hope that you all get a chance shoot me an email or a text or call let me know a story of a great teacher in your life i'd love to hear and i so much appreciate your time thanks for making me smile i hope i made you smile y'all take care good question nick i have one question yes sir let's just say i'm in your class let's i'd like a question that begins with let's just just say i'm in your
class and i get a 64. what stamp do i get yeah i might we'll give you some encouragement well let's try this again well thank you so much that was really fun and i couldn't agree more it's the unexpected usually improvised moment and i've certainly done this on television plenty of times where it's the mistake i make that people remember they don't remember the news i present they they remember where i flubbed or you remember those moments in in the course of a day that that come organically right they happen organically and they are more important in many ways than th than the scripted content you came in on i don't want to hurt i'm going to get miss sharon out of here nick thank you so much you put a smile on lots of people's faces [Applause]