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Deanna Gilane

Beyond The Gym Floor—Deanna Gilane

Jamie O'Connor, a teaching assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois, speaks with Deanna Gilane of Bloomer Middle School in Bloomer, Wisconsin.

Click here to see the full transcript.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: So welcome back to Beyond the Gym Floor. Today, we are joined by one of my favorite former students. Yes, I'll admit that I have favorites. I'm only human. In fact, I'm planning to sprinkle a few of you throughout the next few years. So Dee, I'm going to let you introduce yourself and let our listeners know where you teach.

DEANNA GILANE: Well, thank you for having me. It's exciting to be here. I'm Deanne Gilane, and I teach in Bloomer, Wisconsin. Very small town, about 3,500 people. Never heard of it until I was interviewing and applying for jobs. Knew I wanted to stay in the Eau Claire area after I graduated college. And they had an opening at their middle school, which is a 5-8 building. And when I-- actually, a little fun fact-- when I drove into Bloomer, we have this sign that says we're a jump ahead of everybody else. And a little fun fact, we are the jump rope capital of the world. We run a jump rope competition every year and due to COVID this year we didn't have it as big or large scale. And kids have 10 seconds. And they try to jump and get as many jumps as they can in 10 seconds. And then they compete against kids in grade levels and kids from other schools. And then on a Saturday, there's this big competition. And kids from all over Wisconsin come, and it's a pretty cool thing. So if you ever have a chance to look it up, just look up Bloomer jump rope competition. And I think the world record that someone said in Bloomer was 72 jumps in 10 seconds.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So you're telling me-- first of all, let's just get this out of the way. I was hearing like some booing in the background. And I think it was because our listeners heard that you live in Wisconsin. It's OK, everyone. Wisconsin's all right. Look, they are our northern neighbors. Stop the booing. And number two, I feel like that's one of those small town things where they make up some reason to get on the map. Like, we are the jump rope capital of the world. What? But you know what? No judgment. It's cool. It's cool.

DEANNA GILANE: Yeah. Yeah. So I actually grew up closer to Illinois than I did-

JAMIE O’CONNOR: See, there we go. I knew that's why I liked you.

DEANNA GILANE: Yeah, so I grew up in South Milwaukee, which is probably only about a half hour to 45 minutes from the Illinois border. So pretty familiar with the Illinois area.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's good. Again, you know my heart belongs to Illinois, even though now I have a little chunk still sort of reserved for Wisconsin. I love my Wisconsin folks. So you just mentioned where you grew up. What led you to Physical Education, like what led you down this path?

DEANNA GILANE: Yeah. I think the biggest thing just growing up was having those teachers throughout my educational career-- whether that was elementary school, middle, high school, college-- that kind of influenced me. And a lot of the teachers that I had that were my mentors and my role models were Physical Education teachers. I was pretty into sports growing up. And I loved playing sports, just being active. And I knew that I wanted to be able to share that love of physical activity with other kids. And I thought, what better way than to teach because you have an opportunity to impact every day that you come to work. So from a young age, I just had a lot of really good influences and teachers that kind of pushed me into that educational role.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So you-- right out of the gate then, when you started at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire-- you signed on for PE right away. So you were part of the softball team for that University, and you knew right away that's what you wanted to do.

DEANNA GILANE: I did. Yep. Yep. Actually, when I first came to college at the University of Eau Claire, I was declared a Special Education major. And then pretty early on in the four years or the five years that I was there, I switched to regular Phy Ed. And then I had the Adapted PE, so I still knew that I could get the work with the special ed kiddos with my Adapted PE.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Now you mentioned through our email communication that you are now in charge of an at-risk program at your school. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

DEANNA GILANE: So over the last couple of years, we've developed a at-risk program in the middle school. And our middle school is a 5-8 school, so our at-risk program right now is just sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. And it's an hour a day, where the kids come to myself, our school counselor, and then our other Phy Ed teacher. He actually runs it with us. And they spend an hour catching up on some schoolwork, maybe that they're behind on, missing assignment work. And then we also teach them daily life skills, resiliency skills, how to be able to handle things in the classroom if they're uncomfortable or if things aren't going their way. Kind of teaching them how to bounce back. And ultimately, their goal is to be able to stay in class.

So we do a lot of really challenging, hard work with those kids every day to just meet them where they're at. Give them skills to be successful in the classroom. Be an advocate for them during the school day outside of some of their gen ed teachers that they do have. So that's primarily the basis of the program. The kids get into the program on a number of things, whether that's truancy issues or academic issues, behavioral concerns. And then we actually have kids that have graduated out of our program.

So we have three trimesters in the school year. If they can come to us the first trimester, they learn these skills, can develop those skills to be able to function in the classroom and stay in the classroom, catch up on work, stay caught up on their work, not have any behavioral concerns, they actually graduate out of our program. And we've had a couple of kids that have done that. We have an eighth grader that's ready to get out of our program.

And that's probably one of the most fulfilling things as an educator in the at-risk program is you have a kid that comes to you, who might not necessarily have those skills that they need to be successful in the classroom. And then you work with them to develop skills-- coping skills-- when things don't go right. And then you see them, in a matter of 12 weeks, be able to take ownership of their education and show you that they can be successful. So I think that's a really good feeling as an educator in the program.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I mean, it sounds awesome. And it sounds like the fact that your district is taking this on is cool because I can't even think of something more important than coping and resilience when it comes to just existing as a human being. It's one of the most important life skills, I think, that kids need. And the fact that you-- are you seeing a difference? Are you seeing that it's making an impact?

DEANNA GILANE: Yeah, so we have nine kids in our program right now. And if I were to look back at the kids from their previous years, they've drastically increased their work ethic in the classrooms. They've minimized the amount of missing assignments they have. I think they just-- when you see them around the halls-- they just carry themselves a little taller. They're not so quick to get angry. They have more self-regulation skills.

And then the coolest thing I think, in our group is there's three adults. But then there's nine kids. And there's kids that are in sixth grade, kids in seventh grade, kids in eighth grade. And might not necessarily be super close outside of school, or friends even, once they leave the classroom. But when they're in our classroom, they're one big, tight close-knit community. And we build in activities daily for them to do that.

And it's just cool to see kids that necessarily wouldn't hang out with each other come together and support each other. And kind of look out for each other. So to be able to do that is really cool. And then every semester or trimester we have the kids, they do a service project to give back to people. Just to understand what it's like to do something bigger than ourselves. And we just finished, actually, a fundraiser that we did for the Ronald McDonald House Charities. And our kids got our community involved, got our school resource officer involved, our police department, and they raised over 1,200 items.

And it was just really cool to see kids that come to us in a state where they're defeated because school is hard. And then to be able to turn around and run a fundraiser and give back to a charity that they probably won't see the impact that they've had on that charity. But just seeing how proud they were and knowing that they contributed to something was a really awesome, awesome opportunity. And like I said, the kids do all the planning, all the organizing. They run it all. We just kind of do the logistical things for them, make the phone calls. But they do it all and--

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's cool.

DEANNA GILANE: Yeah it's awesome.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: It's so neat to go from a place-- to see that transformation-- where it's like these students who are struggling and then all of a sudden they're taking on leadership role with regard to a really important charity. That's really neat, Dee. I'm impressed.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: So do you integrate any-- back at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, do you remember using that Journey Toward the Caring Classroom book when we did some adventure-based learning? Do you use any of those activities to try to help them to form a community?

DEANNA GILANE: Yeah. So weekly, we have a schedule. And Mondays, when they come in, they circle and they do a weekend share. And they kind of check in to see where everyone's at. And then Tuesdays and Thursdays are usually those resiliency-building skill days. And then Wednesday is our community day. So we do community-building things, team building activities. They play games together a lot of the times. That hour, we have the gym open and a lot of the times they're just like, can we go run and burn off some energy and some steam? So we'll go play. We'll set up the badminton nets. We'll go play pickleball, all of those types of games. And it's really cool just to see them kind of compete with each other. And joke around and feel comfortable in a very low-risk situation.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Neat. So then what's the most important lesson your students-- whether they are in at risk program or perhaps in your Physical Education or Health Education classes-- what's the most important lesson your students have taught you over your five years of working?

DEANNA GILANE: I think the biggest thing that the kids have taught me is there's no cookie-cutter way to do things. And every kid's not going to fit into this specific mold that people think they should. And just to be able to be flexible with the kids. And just understand kind of where they're coming from.

And I was talking with our school counselor the other day, and we came upon this quote that the kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's great. That's great.

DEANNA GILANE: And I think that is just really true to-- not necessarily at-risk kids-- but I think just all kids in general. They come to us from different homes, different backgrounds. They all need something that's a little bit different. And like I said, there's no cookie-cutter way to do it. So what might work for one kid might not work for the other kid. And you've just got to go with it. And you've got to be able to adapt and adjust.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Yeah. And it seems like even just based on your answer to that question that-- I typically ask folks like how do they try to reach their students, and it sounds like you try to reach them by just meeting them where they are and recognizing that they are an individual.

DEANNA GILANE: Absolutely. And I think if you take time to invest in relationships with kids, their output that they have in your class is going to be a lot higher because they feel valued and they feel important. And they see that I see them as an individual. And I know little things about them. And you got to figure out what makes your kids tick. So I just think building that community, whether that's in your Phy Ed classroom, in your Health classroom, in an at-risk program, just making sure that the kids know that they're valued.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: So then any additional advice? And we can give this advice to the current students at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. We could give it to the U of I kids. What would you tell them? What else would you tell them, because you're already giving them so much. But what other advice do you have?

DEANNA GILANE: I just think going into education, obviously it's about the kids. And meeting the kids where they're at, doing things that are fun, showing the kids your quirkiness. I played a little 15 pencils game with the kids today, and I beat them every time. And they're like, you know the trick. And you know, just being able to be fun and be silly with the kids.

But also I think going into education, and a thing that I should have done a little better in my first year, was making sure that you have that work and outside life balance. So you don't burn out. Making sure that you take time to take care of your health and your personal life. And finding things that you enjoy outside of school. And just having that balance, I think, is a very important thing when it comes to education because education can be tough. It's a challenging field to go into. Every day is a little different, especially now during COVID and different restrictions and all those types of things. So just taking care of yourself and making sure that you set some time every day for personal care.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Agreed. I did the exact same thing in my first few years of teaching, where I felt completely obliterated by the end of every day. And was not taking care of myself. Like that whole idea of when you're on the airplane, you got to put your own mask on first. And in many ways, the first few years of teaching, you don't.

DEANNA GILANE: Absolutely.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: You're constantly planning, you're constantly just-- your mind cannot focus on anything except for getting prepared for school the next day. But it's important to take care of yourself. So, Dee, as an educational hero, your students and others need to know a few extra things about you. If you weren't a teacher, what would you be doing?

DEANNA GILANE: If I weren't a teacher, I probably would be doing something in the medical field, whether that was like athletic training or an occupational therapist or something to help people. Kids, adults, I mean, I really love working with kids. So I would say something in the medical field.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: OK. Are you an early bird or a night owl? And so it's sort of taking school out of the equation. In the summertime, are you an early bird or night owl?

DEANNA GILANE: In the summer? I am for sure a night owl.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Night owl?

DEANNA GILANE: Night owl, yep.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: All right. What's your typical go-to breakfast, if you had one?

DEANNA GILANE: Typical go-to breakfast usually is some scrambled eggs with some shredded cheese on the top. And then I actually put it in a tortilla shell.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh, that's really good. I like that.

DEANNA GILANE: And you can actually make them ahead of time and freeze them. And then you have them.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: That's what my last guest, Matt Jahnke, said, the same thing. And now I need to get on that because I love kind of a breakfast burrito. Favorite guilty pleasure fast food, like if you're on a road trip?

DEANNA GILANE: I would definitely have to say Culver's.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: I love Culver's. I take my son there once every two weeks or so. I love Culver's.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Favorite TV show right now, like what are you bingeing?

DEANNA GILANE: Well right now, actually the Chicago Fire and the Chicago Med shows. Wednesday nights, those are usually what I watch. I'm a big Grey's Anatomy fan but we're a little low right now.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Same. I love Grey's. That is my soap opera and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

DEANNA GILANE: Yeah, absolutely. And I was a little sad when they started the new season, and then we got a couple episodes in and we've taken a break. And I'm just ready for it to come back.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Too many breaks, Grey's. We need you back.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Need to know what happens with Meredith. Is she going to be OK?

DEANNA GILANE: I know, right?

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Oh. Dee, thank you so much for being a guest on Beyond the Gym Floor. I am quite proud of you, so well done.

DEANNA GILANE: Thank you. Thank you. It was awesome to be here. It was fun to share and fun to just talk.

JAMIE O’CONNOR: Thank you.


JAMIE O’CONNOR: Thank you so much for being a guest on Beyond the Gym Floor. And if you would like to be a guest or simply have a comment or a question, you can reach me,

JAMIE O’CONNOR, at Encourage your friends to listen and subscribe to the show, either through iTunes, iHeartRadio, or Spotify. Thanks for listening, folks.

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