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Bixby Teacher Draws From Military Background

By EMILY RAMSEY
Managing Editor

DISTRICT TEACHER OF THE YEAR: Bixby Public Schools 2017 District Teacher of the Year Randall Briggs teaches U.S. History at Bixby High School. Briggs, a Tulsa native, spent 20 years in the U.S. Army before transitioning into a career as a public school teacher.


EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers


Randall Briggs’ first teaching jobs were vastly different from his current position as Bixby High School history teacher.

Briggs, Bixby Public Schools 2017 District Teacher of the Year, spent 20 years in the U.S. Army, where he served as a helicopter pilot. His last six years, however, were spent teaching social studies at both the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff Officer School in Kansas.

“By the time I retired from the army, I knew that I had teaching in my blood,” says Briggs.

So, after returning to Tulsa, he taught Leadership and U.S. History at Tulsa Public Schools for eight years and also taught at Tulsa Community College and Rogers State University.

He has been teaching with Bixby Public Schools and at the High School for 10 years. He teaches U.S. History and Advanced Placement U.S. History.

“I have always liked history,” says Briggs. “If it wasn’t my job, it would be my hobby.”
While Briggs has never had much trouble working with his subject matter, acclimating to his high school students has not always proven as easy.

“In the military, an order is issued and you must obey it, and that is how I taught at West Point,” he laughs.

“That doesn’t work so well in a high school classroom.”

During his almost 20 years of public school teaching, Briggs has zeroed in on one major element required by his students, something that took him a while to figure out.
“Students aren’t going to learn anything from you as their teacher unless they like you and they feel that you care about them,” he says.

That correlates to creating a classroom environment that fosters feelings of comfort, openness and concern, he continues.

Recently, Briggs was further aided by training that he received with Great Expectations (GE), a program focused on improving school culture and encouraging an excitement for learning and teaching.

Briggs then took the opportunity to weave himself more into his classroom, incorporating elements that made him appear more approachable, such as showing personal photos from his army days.

“Mr. Briggs has embraced the relationship-building part of the Great Expectations methodology to make himself more effective,” says Bixby High School Principal Terry Adams. “He continually evaluates his performance in relation to his students to ensure that his instruction and activities are producing the outcomes that he wants.”

In addition to growing his connection with students, Briggs hopes that when his students move on from his class, they leave with a stronger understanding of the importance and consequences of their actions.

“I want my students to understand that what we think, say and do matters; that’s what causes history,” Briggs says, “and what will result from various courses of action.

“Those are principles they will use for the rest of their lives.”

Briggs often references his experiences as a teenager and young adult to encourage his students, including discussing some of the qualities that it took him a while to learn, he says, such as discipline and perseverance.

He also appreciates his opportunity to teach American history and the real-life details that he can add based on his experiences in the army.

“Mr. Briggs has such extensive expertise in history along with his life experiences that he is able to go beyond the textbook and its superficial descriptions of historical events to give the students a vivid look at the nuances of periods of history and the events that shaped our country and world,” says Adams.

Briggs has also lately taken it upon himself to expand students’ historical experiences outside of the classroom.

In January, he took a group of students to the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C.

In May, he took the High School Academic Team, of which he is the head coach, to the state capitol to meet with State Representative Chuck Strohm. During that trip, they also visited the Oklahoma History Museum.

And in June 2018, Briggs plans to take students to Washington, D.C., and Williamsburg, Virginia.

Of the many character traits and knowledge that students gain from his class, Briggs hopes that one of them is a greater pride in their country.

“I want them to leave understanding that we are a force for democracy and freedom. Regardless of America’s shortcomings, people still want to come here to be a part of this country. It still offers great opportunities,” he says.

Updated 07-06-2017

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