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I live in Virginia Beach, VA. My city is the juxtaposition of a relaxed beach town and a military powerhouse. Here, it is commonplace to abrubtly come to a halt mid-conversation for a minute or two, as an F/A-18 Hornet or Super Hornet soars by overhead.

Most locals (myself included), find this roaring jet noise endearing. It makes us feel safe. We attribute it to the sweet sound of freedom!

For years, I’ve listened to these lightning fast machines thunder by from my cozy spot on the couch, at times rattling the windows. From the water’s edge, I’ve watched them dip, dart, and dive in the horizon, with wonder and gratitude.

Never, and truly, I mean NEVER in my wildest dreams, did I imagine that I would be given the chance to actually fly in one, with the U.S. Navy’s super elite Blue Angels squadron no less!

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I could write an entire novel about this 40-minute flight, but since I’m a blogger, and blog readers typically appreciate brevity, here are a couple quick highlights!

*I pulled 6.9 G’s (which equates to a gravity force of 6.9 times my body weight) without passing out!

*I did 360 degree barrel rolls (and then became fast friends with a little, white plastic bag the pilot kept in the cockpit just in case).

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The crew chief warned me that the flight alone would be a battle, both physically and emotionally…and I can attest to that! I felt like kissing the ground upon landing. Nevertheless, my time in the sky with Lt. Tyler Davies was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

God bless these incredibly brave, strong, and talented pilots, and God bless America!

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Now that I’ve had a few days to recuperate, the education nerd in me just can’t help but comment on all the direct parallels to best teaching practices I observed during my time with the Blue Angels at Naval Air Station Oceana. Here are 10!

1) Gradual Release: A week prior to the flight, my family and I were given a tour of the control tower, base operations, etc. We tried the flight simulator, and the day of, received an extensive debrief. In short, I didn’t just show up and fly. I was given ample opportunities to ask questions. There was a natural progression, and our kids need this gradual release of responsibility, too!

2) Zone of Proximal Development: I like adventure, but this type of adventure was definitely outside of my wheelhouse. While in the air, my pilot encouraged me to try new maneuvers while offering step-by-step support. Lev Vygotsky refers to this as the zone of proximal development. Students should live in this ‘yet to master’ space often!

3) Model, Model, Model: The hic maneuver…I just couldn’t seem to grasp this very important breathing technique. It took several people modeling it to me several times before I got it. Showing often trumps telling!

4) Expect the Best, Prepare for the Worst: During the debrief, I signed my life away. The crew chief spent about 10 minutes reviewing emergency ejection procedures also (my poor, poor mother). Have you ever had a lesson backfire? Plan B’s are key!

5) Takes a Village: This was NOT a one-man show! It took the communication/collaboration of many to get that jet off the ground, such as the maintenance personnel, crew chief, pilot, and air traffic control specialists. It often takes teamwork to reach new heights!

6) Fail Forward: Prior to the flight, the crew chief jokingly described ‘winning’ as not passing out and/or throwing up. By definition, I lost (but could make an argument for earning a participation trophy). John Maxwell believes that “all roads to achievement lead through the land of failure.” Each ‘failure’ is a stepping stone. I know I’d do better if given another shot! I’m in no doubt stronger because of it.

7) Culture of Excellence: The very mission of the Blue Angels “is to showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence…” This is evident in everything they do, from the meticulous preparation of the air crafts, to the flawless execution of complex maneuvers in high-pressure situations. We must set the bar high for our students and ourselves!

8) Health and Wellness: My pre-flight diet consisted of water, bananas, and bagels (as instructed). However, I rocked out at a Bruce Springsteen concert the night before, so I didn’t get a good night’s sleep. This arguably could have impacted my performance. We must be good to our bodies to be our personal best.

9) Build Trust: While taxiing to the runway, my pilot struck up a conversation, asking me a few personal questions and sharing a couple anecdotes about himself. This three-minute conversation helped ease my anxiety. I saw the person behind the pilot. How do you share your life with your students?

10) Sky is the Limit: Literally! I never thought about doing this. I never realized that I was capable of doing this. I had to be told it was possible, and once the opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it! Let’s encourage our students to chase daring, unlimited, magnificent, and bold goals! We must create a culture that inspires our students to dream BIG!

If interested, here’s the news story. I’m so thankful that I got to share this experience with fellow city-wide Teacher of the Year, Brad Ward, and newscaster Kim Cung. A day I’m sure we’ll never forget…

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