My Ron Clark Academy Experience

This is a guest blog post by friend and SMSU alumna, Kelsey Stanek Brust, who is currently a 4th/5th Grade Multiage Teacher at RTR Elementary School in Ruthton, Minnesota. Kelsey just completed her first year of teaching and is excited about making her classroom a place where students want to be. You can reach her at or on Twitter @KelseyStanek

Blog KelseyRon

When I was a junior at SMSU, I learned about Ron Clark in Dr. Wendy’s ED 423 Classroom Management class.  We watched the movie, The Ron Clark Story, and learned various strategies that he used in his classroom that we could apply to our own management philosophy.  From then, I have thought it would be absolutely amazing to have the chance to visit the Ron Clark Academy (RCA) located in Atlanta, GA.

Fast forward three years, I finally had my very own classroom and I was the TEACHER. 🙂  I found huge value in social media for professional development and networking reasons and came across so many educators throughout the nation who have shared their classroom transformations and just being “RCA Inspired.”  And then BAM!  I was like I NEED to go there!  I read so many blogs about teachers who have experienced the RCA training and I read more about the training itself and all its details.  The RCA training isn’t very cheap so I debated whether I should go now or wait a few years.  The more I thought about it, I just knew that I needed to go now.  I took the plunge and registered for the summer conference.  TALK ABOUT BUTTERFLIES!

Blog Kelsey RCA Excited

Let’s fast forward again.  It’s finally the first day of the training.  I was unbelievably nervous because I went to RCA alone…just me, myself, and I.  A small town girl who is used to seeing five people on main street and now I am here with over 650 educators whom I have never met!  Deep breath…smile and wave people, smile and wave. 🙂  The staff was finally opening up the gates for us to plow in and start this phenomenal experience.  There was music blasting, kids dancing and cheering, and then there was Ron Clark!!!  He was greeting us as we came in with a hugely infectious smile and then he came up and shook my hand and said, “Welcome!”  Yes, Ron Clark shook my hand!!  Is it socially acceptable to never wash my hand again?!? 🙂

The energy of this place is outstanding.  We are all heading into the gym and on our way in we pass by Kim Bearden.  Ya’ll…she is the most kind-hearted, down to earth soul you will meet.  While we were waiting in the gym, the students came up to us and started up conversations with us.  The conversational skills that these middle schoolers demonstrated was astounding!!!  Once everyone is settled in the gym, Ron skips out on stage and speaks to us about the revolution they want to make in education.

He says that education should be young, fun, sexy, and hot!  It shouldn’t be worksheets and frowns by bored teachers.  What kid is going to want to be a teacher when they grow up if all they see is their teacher passing out lame worksheets and not having fun at all?

From there, we were split into groups and went to various workshops throughout the day.  We were also able to see classrooms in action with the students.  We finally were able to go to Ron’s room and watch him teach.  It was AMAZING!  There was music and no one was talking. Ron was just using a whole bunch of signs and sign language for what the students were supposed to do.  Pretty soon he was on the tables dancing and waiting for the students to complete their math problem correctly.

Following the Q & A, we were going to be slide certified!  Ya’ll…I’ve been on my share of slides, but this slide was the fastest one I have ever been on!  Again, there was music and kids dancing and singing.  When I shot out of the slide and landed on the floor, there were teachers helping you up and a then a student handed you a slide certified sticker.  This was like a rite of passage!

Following the certification, we transitioned into Kim Bearden’s book release party for her new book, Talk to Me.  I had one goal for going to RCA and that was to get a picture with Ron Clark.  I found him with a line of seven people behind him so I bee-lined it over there and got in line.  Finally it was my turn.  BUTTERFLIES!  BUTTERFLIES!  BUTTERFLIES!  We got our picture together and then he asked where I was from and couldn’t believe I was there alone.  He then proceeded to take my phone and take a selfie of us.  Not trying to toot my own horn at all, but he didn’t take a selfie with anyone else in line when I was there so we’re pretty much BFFs. 🙂  And just like that day one was complete.

The next day I woke up so energized and pumped to get back to RCA.  We started out the day with a house competition.  If you are not familiar with the house system that RCA has implemented, stay tuned.  RCA (staff and students) is divided into four houses: Amistad, Reveur, Altruismo, and Isibindi.  Each house means something different.  On this day, we were supposed to wear the shirt for the house of our choice.  I chose Reveur which is the house of dreamers, the go getters.  The energy in the gym during this house competition was unbelievable!  Everyone was having so much fun and our passion was showing through.

Blog Kelsey Housechoice

Following this, we went to more valuable workshops and classroom observations.  Ya’ll…the entire school is so intricately decorated and it all totally fits the Harry Potter theme.  The day went so fast and pretty soon Ron was doing his closing speech along with Kim.  I wanted to cry when it was over because it was amazing and I didn’t want it to end.

Blog Kelsey Houses.jpg

I learned so many valuable things, but I believe that the most important thing I learned is if you want a change to happen or you have a vision for your classroom or school, YOU need to be the change because it starts with you.  There was a quote that sat above the main door at RCA that really resonates with me: “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Blog Kelsey Ralphwaldo

Do something different with me and join the revolution to make education “young, fun, sexy, and hot.” 🙂  ~Kelsey

Stay Calm & Love Teaching!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

Life Changes

“You make your plans, and you hear God laughing…Life changes, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.” – Life Changes by Thomas Rhett

Love, LOVE, L O V E this song!  It is real life. It is so true.  We make plans all the time, and it (life) doesn’t always go according to plan.  This happens and all we are left to do is shrug and move on… or dwell on it, and be unhappy.  Make plans and change plans. We just need to be flexible. 

A real life example happened this week.  Without much advance planning, the two of us found ourselves planning to attend a teacher educator workshop at the University of Michigan.  That was our plan as of last week anyway…

Wendy’s story…

Waking up in an airport motel…(not a college dorm room, Mr. Thomas Rhett 🙂 ). Plans were in place to fly out of Sioux Falls on Monday to meet Dr. V. at the Minneapolis airport at 6:30 a.m. and then we would be on our way together to the educator workshop in Michigan. I had an early flight so stayed in the airport motel. My alarm gently woke me up at 3:00 a.m. and by 4:30 a.m. I was boarding the airplane. My first thought was, ‘seriously, who flies at 5:00 a.m.?’  Well, I discovered a lot of people do. This flight was full with over 100 people on board. 

The plane was pushed back from the gate at 4:55 a.m. which made me smile and think this was going to be great…5 minutes ahead of the planned take off.

Ain’t it funny how life changes (it sure does, Mr. Rhett). Plans changed. About 15 minutes after we were pushed away from the gate, the captain came on the intercom and announced there were some engine ignition problems but that it should only take about 15 minutes to correct. He also announced that we’d have to be pushed/pulled back to the gate to take care of the issue. So we waited. We were finally pushed to the gate about 15 minutes later.

Meanwhile, I’m texting Dr. V. and my husband. He is behind the scenes trying to find flights and seats, which were limited. Maybe one that would get me to Michigan late. Bummer.

Forty minutes later, the captain came back on and apologized with more bad news. The mechanics team wouldn’t be able to arrive to fix the problem for at least an hour maybe more so the plan was to deplane. All passengers were allowed to get off.

Ya make your plans and ya hear God laughing. (Yes, indeed, sir. Proverbs 16:9 says it this way “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Can I get an Amen?). Because this was a mechanical issue, I was given full refund of my flight ticket. No questions asked. My plan was to join Dr. V. in Michigan. I guess God had a different plan.

Have fun, Dr. V. Can’t wait to hear all about it. 🙂

Blog Life changes

We don’t always know why our plans don’t work out, but that’s life.  So keep making plans… Just don’t get too disappointed when they don’t always go the way you had planned.  Great thought for all of us – especially for educators. 

Stay tuned for more on Practice Based Teacher Education….

Stay Calm & Plan On!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

Wendy’s Wednesday Wisdom: Turn Your Uglies Into Lovelies

Blog Wendy's Wisdom

May I just expose my uglies today? My morning routine is to wake up, grab a cup of coffee and head to my devotions chair. I read four devotions every morning…one is my Guideposts Daily Devotions book and the other three come through my gmail account.

So, I got comfy in my Jesus chair, picked up my phone to go to my gmail account and I unconsciously tapped on Facebook…grr!  I had a few notifications so thought “Okay, Lord, I’ll just look at these quickly and then get to my devotions.”

Oh, silly girl.

One of the notifications tripped my trigger. Irritated me. Bugged me bad. Made my blood pressure go up. And why? It wasn’t even a comment made at me. It wasn’t a comment on anything I had posted. And yet, my ugly side came out.  WHY????

I shut down Facebook and had a little conversation with the Lord. Why do I react this way to this person, Lord? Is it jealousy? I don’t think so. Is it class with me being on the lower end? Nope. What is it, Jesus? I don’t like this feeling so help me figure this out, Lord, so I can get over it and be at peace.

Well, God is good and my answer came in my devotions. Not just one devotion but THREE out of the four had the same message. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I believe I have some insecurities going on. I want to be good enough. I want to be present enough. I want to be loved enough. For some reason I’ve allowed this person to make me feel less than any of those. This person has done me no wrong. It’s MY issue, and I have to remember that I am enough. I have to forgive myself for allowing this person to trip my trigger. To push my buttons. I have to love this person for who he/she is because, like me, he/she is enough. That is what God spoke to my heart through my devotions this morning.

Blog GIG

The first devotion that I read hit home with me. So much so that I shared it with several lady friends via text messaging. So many great quotes but the one I shared along with the link was this: “God has uniquely and precisely created you with specific gifts and talents to do exactly what He has called you to do.” This applies to me. This applies to the person who I started out the day irritated with. This applies to you.

If you’d like to read the rest of the devotion titled “When Comparison Kills Confidence” by Sharon Jaynes, click here:

Blog Tony Evans

When I opened up my second devotion in my gmail account, just the title made my heart do a little dance of excitement.  After reading the last devotion’s message and then seeing this title “You Were Custom Made,” I knew, without a doubt, that the Lord was speaking to me loud and clear. My favorite sentence in this devotion was: “This means you can stop trying to be somebody else and be satisfied with the unique person God made you to be.” WOW. I’m listening, Lord. I am who I am, and this other person is who he/she is!

If you’d like to read this devotion written by Dr. Tony Evans, check it out here:

Blog daily guideposts

In my Daily Guidepost Devotion, the author reminded me that “I am who God says I am, and He says I am perfect in His sight.” Yes, I am and so is this person too. Wish I could share a link on this one with you but it is in book form, not on-line. 🙂

Love who you are. You are uniquely made. You are who God says you are…beautiful, forgiven, chosen, loved. Be you. And remember…those people who sometimes irritate us and bring out our ugly side with no apparent reason why, they are also uniquely made, and God loves us all.

Find a good devotion to start your day. It can turn your uglies into lovelies.  There you go. Wendy’s Wednesday Wisdom.

Stay Calm & Be You!
Profs Dr. C. & Dr. V.

Hey Kid

You’ve got to be kidding me.  It simply cannot be this date again…already – June 30th. It has been three years ago since we prayed for a miracle so that he could stay. We prayed for a miracle so that he would peacefully let go.  It was a struggle that we all shared on that last day of June in 2015.  It is a struggle that we continue to share this last day in June of 2018.  It’s a story that we continue to share.  “How can we not talk about family when family is all that we got.” ~Wiz Khalifa  We remain #Carterstrong.

Today’s blog is in memory of Carter Joseph Boerboom; it is written by his sister, Katie Boerboom, for families who are fighting cancer and praying for their own miracles.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hey kid,

It’s been a while.

I remember this day, 3 years ago. It was the last day I heard your voice. I remember how tired you looked. I remember holding your hand, and I remember the last time we talked.  You said my name out of nowhere, and told me you loved me. I love you too, and I miss you every second, of every minute, of every day.

There are lots of days that I wonder if things could’ve been different – if there was some magic cure – if there was some possibility that we could be sitting here together today, enjoying the lake. I know how much you loved the lake, and so I try as best as I can to enjoy it enough for both of us; but it’s not the same without you.

There will always be something missing. I miss waking up to the sounds of basketball dribbling in the kitchen. I miss finding new shows to watch with you. I miss your goofy sense of humor; and even more than that, I miss your goofy laugh. I miss driving you around – and I miss letting you drive my car (sorry dad). I miss when you’d play with my hair. I miss the shenanigans you and Sam used to pull. I miss our ice-cream trips. I miss my brother – I miss you.

It’s so hard to believe you’d be a senior this year. I’m certain that if you were here that Coach K would already have a Jersey for you (that’s the Duke coach, right?). You were so special. You are still so special – you endured something that no one your age should ever have to go through – and I hope you know what an inspiration you are to so many people. I think one of the hardest things when you left us – was trying to figure out how to keep going. It was the simple thought of you, my 14 year old little brother –  who showed more strength and grace than any adult I’ve ever known… it was by your example that I was able to keep going. Kid, you’re my hero. I hope someday that I will be as strong as you were that day. I hope someday that I will be able to live the way you did.

For many, stage 4 cancer is a death sentence; but you somehow managed to keep living until the very end. You fought for your life, and you didn’t let cancer win. I’m the proudest sister in the world, and I am so very blessed to be able to call you my brother. I think about this day a lot – and we never really got to say goodbye; I’m glad we didn’t. I’ll see you again someday.


Your big sister

Carter enjoying the ride
Carter enjoyed his ride!


Stay Calm & See You Again Someday!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V. 

Lessons Gleaned From My 40th Class Reunion

Class Reunion 40

I can remember when I thought 40-year old people were ancient. I guess it’s all in one’s perspective. What are some sayings about time flying by so quickly?

Time sure flies when you’re having fun.

Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future.

If I could put time in a bottle.

If I could turn back time.

Time waits for no one.

And, my favorite saying from Andy Rooney… “Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.”

This past weekend, the PHS Class of 1978 celebrated our 40th class reunion. It was a delight to reconnect with so many great people, and I believe everyone had a fantastic time. I sure did.

Thanks to everyone who joined in on the planning, decorating, and clean-up. BIG thanks to everyone who came. We had a phenomenal turnout. Without you showing up, it wouldn’t have happened. It was a team effort and I’d say we were victorious. So high fives for everyone!!

Here are a few lessons I learned from #reunion40…

Social Media Teamwork Works: “Teamwork divides the task & multiplies the success.” Spot on!! Because of Facebook and the private messaging ability, many classmates were able to share their ideas for the reunion. We had a group message going and private messages going. We also had text messages going (because not everyone is on Facebook). Once tasks were completed, we could post pictures of our accomplishments on these messages. It kept classmates in the loop, and it worked well!

Less Is More: From decorating the float to decorating the venue, the motto was ‘keep it simple.’ The reunion didn’t have elaborate decorations. We photo copied pictures from the annual and randomly spread those on white round tables then added a little ribbon of the school colors to each table. We didn’t cater the meal. We had a pot luck and had enough food to last for a week.

Preschool Teachers Have Beautiful Handwriting: If you need anything hand-written when decorating a float or the venue, find the preschool teacher classmate and ask her to do the honors. Permanent black markers do not come with erasers. So trust that teacher’s handwriting (thank you Miss Cindy ❤ ).

With Age Comes Wisdom & Forgiveness: For me, this reunion was my favorite. When I think back to high school, I know there were people I hurt with my words or my actions. While most of the time life was good in high school, let’s admit that there were arguments and disagreements and bullying and cattiness. Thank goodness we change. Thank goodness we become wiser. Thank goodness we forgive. At this reunion, we reunited after not seeing each other for a while, decades for some, and we just visited and hugged and laughed and cried together over life.

Memories Are Our Diaries: In 40 years we have lost 14 classmates. That seems like a lot to me. We created a memory table and decorated it with an old PHS graduation gown and hat. We placed photo copies of these classmates around the table with the framed saying “Memory…is the diary we all carry about with us.” Fourteen balloons in school colors sat on the table. After we took our group picture, we let the balloons go in memory of those classmates who have gone before us.

Classmates Are Generous: We had a free will offering bucket setting out on a table. With the donations collected, we were able to pay for the venue. You all rock!

Pic On A Stick: During the parade, we carried our graduation “pic on a stick.” This was a huge success. These made people laugh, and of course the parade goers appreciated it because no one recognized us now that we are 40 years older. 😮 Make an 8 X 10 of your graduation picture, then glue it to a piece of cardboard that has been glued to a paint stick. Thanks to Julie for the fabulous idea and to True Value for donating the sticks.

Friendships = Priceless: Yes they are, Tom! No matter how old we are, friendships will always be a gift from above. Just like marriage, though, it takes effort and commitment to make sure those friendships keep going. My best friend in high school is still a good friend today. Even though we don’t see each other often, we make the effort to visit and get together occasionally. Marilyn…thanks for being there for me all through the years. You’re the best.

The reunion was a blast, and it was so fun to reconnect! Whether we meet again in 5 years at the 45th or in 10 years at the 50th, my prayer for all of you is that the Lord blesses you with fabulous health and much happiness.

(Reunion recap via this video. Video credit goes to classmate and friend, Tom Johnson)

Stay Calm & Reconnect!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V. 

Co-Teaching: Educators Collaborating for Learners … Two Brains Are Better Than One

BLOG co-teaching
google images

Once in a while, spending some quality time alone is just plain good for the soul.  Going solo provides an opportunity to be calm and reflect.  It can provide an opportunity to gather one’s wits and plan for what’s next.  During this reflection time, some of us like to make a list.  Some of us like to listen to music.  Some of us like to take a nap and recharge.

While spending time on our own is important, part of our human nature is to be social creatures and be together.  Just as we can alone, we can brainstorm and reflect and prepare for tomorrow together.  As the proverb expresses, “Two heads are better than one” – or something along those lines.  It can be amazing what we can accomplish together with effective collaboration.

With a single head, teaching can be an overwhelming and lonely world if we let it be.  When we join forces with our colleagues, we can move mountains to change the world one mind at a time.  Considering this specifically, co-teaching is a framework that does just that – puts minds together to help other minds.

There are a variety of ways to effectively collaborate with colleagues in co-teaching.  Some of the most identified models of co-teaching include:

  • One Teach, One Assist
  • One Teach, One Observe
  • Station Teaching
  • Parallel Teaching
  • Alternate Teaching
  • Team Teaching
  • Peer Teaching

It is important for co-teachers to find out what works best for their students and their colleague.  Co-teaching is definitely not a one-size-fits-all model, and the models can change to meet the students’ and teachers’ needs.  Check out these videos for more information on co-teaching models:

Martina Wagner with Wagner Educational Consulting points out some benefits and challenges to co-teaching:

-Opportunity to problem solve and collaborate
-Enhanced personal support
-Increased confidence and professional development – two brains are better than one
-Extra support for students
-Absence of stigmatization
-Increased participation rate with lower teacher : student ratio
-Improved classroom management
-More on-task time… for the students and the teachers J
-Additional positive connections with adults

Challenges: Questions to consider…
-Whose students are these?
-Who gives grades? How do we grade?
-Whose classroom management rules do we use?
-What space do I get?
-What do we tell the students? the parents?
-How can we get time to co-plan?

BLOG Co-Teaching 2
google images

Although there is tranquility in solitude, consider giving co-teaching a try in efforts to increase interaction and student achievement.  After all – two brains are better than one…  just ask my co-blogger. 😉

Stay Calm & Co-Teach ~
Profs Dr. C. & Dr. V.

Love Your Students Every Single Day


“This beautiful 50 foot pine tree…I lay back and look up through the branches of this tree that I call home. I look at my mom and my sister and am amazed at how peaceful they can sleep here. Me? I have to protect them no matter what.” ~Vin Shambry

After listening to Vin Shambry tell his story of living part of his childhood homeless, now every time I look at pine trees, it is from a brand new perspective.

When I see towering evergreens while on a drive, on a walk, or visiting a friend, I pause and wonder…

How tall is that evergreen?

Is the ground under it smooth enough to sleep on?

Are the branches low enough to the ground to be hidden and feel safe?

Would a family be able to fit under there?

This NPR podcast called The Moth Radio Hour reminded me of what Brian Mendler, author, speaker, creator of #30secpd, and classroom management expert, repeatedly says in his workshops and on Twitter. Not all students are excited for vacations. They live in chaos and dysfunction. School is their safety zone.

blog brian mendler

Educators, as we look forward to summer vacation, let us not forget that some of our students will be in survival mode during their time off.  Be empathetic and verbalize how much you care about them. Are you willing to be available for your students even during your restful days of summer? If yes, please let them know. Love your students! Not just during the school year but…Every.Single.Day.

Blog students who are loved at home

(Click here to listen to Vin Shambry tell his story called Outdoor Camp…

Stay Calm & Enjoy Summer!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

A Belated Mother’s Day Gift…to the Younger Version of Me

BLOG 5.2018 Mother's Day gift

Mother’s day is a wonderful day to acknowledge those who have and continue to love us unconditionally and miss those who are no longer with us. Thanks to my own Mom 🙂 I spent this past Mother’s Day watching my three sons play basketball and football.  It did not involve a relaxing brunch on the patio with a mimosa.  It involved snacks in a cooler bag while traveling from gym to gym and back again and then to the field.  It involved a Mother’s Day card, gift, and single flower from my boys – and not to forget the pens and “No” button from the girls (my nieces who know  me so well).  The day most importantly involved hugs and kisses from the kiddos.  It was wonderful overall!

At one the gyms, I witnessed something that reminded me of some of the things that I have learned and continue to try to learn along the way.  It caused me to reflect…
Why do we do this? All of this? Why double or triple book?  Why do you drive your kids all over for activities? We should be cleaning the house or could be relaxing with a book. 
So I may not have all the answers to the questions… I have slowly found some, and I thought I would take a few moments to write down the answers for you – the younger version of me.

Listen to the voices.  You will hear them say, “Are you crazy…driving your kids for hours to practice?” “Do you really think they will go pro?”  Answer those voices loudly and clearly.  “YES!”  I am listening to the voices now… the right ones… the ones coming from the backseat for those long drives while doing homework. They mean the most to me, and I miss them already because although the days sometimes seem long, the years are flying by.  “YES!” My kids will go pro.  The reason you chauffer your sons everyone both near and far for practices and competitions IS to make them the BEST!  It is the type of best that you need to learn more about.  It is not to be the best athlete in the competition. It is to be the best version of themselves in life. They will be professionals in life – no matter how their paths wind.  They are learning communication skills, versatility, adversity, advocacy, prioritizing, and you bet, budgeting.  The crazy ride cannot happen without it. There are growing pains involved with it all. Even when they mess up and aren’t perfect, help them grow and love ‘em up. Just keep stretching and listening.

Be quiet.  As we have become seasoned parents of young athletes, we have grown a considerable amount as supporters from the stands.  Don’t be mistaken… grown does not equal perfect.  Everyone stumbles.  We learn through failure and perspective.  We have slowly been learning perspective. Even if the team or school does not, implement the 24-hour policy for contacting coaches and teachers. If it is a safety concern, that is something different entirely… and you will know the difference.  If not, write it down. Don’t yell at the refs or your player on the court… you like to focus on “boxing out” but by the time you yell it, it’s too late.  Still working on this one…it is a favorite one of mine at any age.  “Box out” is in the running for most widely used shout out, but now behind phrases like, “Nice job, buddy” or “Keep your head up.”  In this judgmental world, there are plenty of nay-sayers out there so no need to add to that mix for your own kids.

Judge less.  Just a reminder that you are not perfect… Did I say that once before?  Even when you are older and wiser, you are not perfect.  That’s okay.  No one is… even if they think they may be.  Judge less and love more.  Everyone has something in life that they are dealing with, working on, living with… cut them some slack and hope that the love is returned.
Be naïve.  Be realistic. This does not have to be hypocritical.  Think they can along with them, but know that can means and looks differently for each person.  Help them pursue their dreams with their eyes wide open. Perspective continues to be your word this year. 🙂

Just be.  Be who you are and the parent that you can be at the time.  It’s okay to strive for perfection but expect less and just be okay with it.  Your house is not spotless – so what and who cares.  If they care, then they don’t care about you.  Oh – do continue to just try to get your kids to make their beds, however.  Just let your kids know that you love them no matter how many minutes they play or what activities they want to discontinue because they no longer love them.  Politics are everywhere so just love them and let them know it is okay to just be… just be kind, just be honest, just be respectful, just be.

There is so much more advice that I want to give you, but I recall all too well how I did not always like being told what to do a younger age… sometimes I still don’t at an older age. 😉

Again, no one is perfect so cut yourself some slack.  Like the fact that you wanted this blog published three days ago – so what?  The world is still turning, and your older self is continuing to learn to prioritize with perspective.  Just because you wrote this and are reading this doesn’t mean that you will get it right each time all the time.  We have grown as parents with our own sons as individuals, learners of the game of life; we have learned that there is so much more to the game than the ball on the court…  the character on and around the court is what truly counts.

Enough already…you need to get going…you need to pick up your kids from school and get them to their activities tonight.  Oh- but one last one because even your older self continues to try to squeeze in one more thing… life is short and no one knows when the clock runs out… so hug more and keep on huggin’!

Stay Calm & Momma On!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V. 



Happy Mother’s Day in Heaven, Mom…

Blog mom

Happy Mother’s Day in heaven, Mom…

I wish you were here so we could sit down with a hot cup of coffee and one of your scrumptious banana bars with cream cheese frosting and enjoy each other’s company.  Since you aren’t, here is my Mother’s Day thank you to you in heaven.

Thank you for teaching me unconditional love. You taught me that no one is perfect. We all make mistakes, and you know I made many of them growing up. Still do. As the years passed you continued to love me through my ups and downs. Yes, I disappointed you; yes, you reprimanded me; however, you never threw me out with the trash. You loved me no matter what.

Thank you for teaching me forgiveness. You taught me that regardless of how bad I thought an offense was, it needed to be forgiven. You demanded that I be quick to forgive and make amends. To not judge, and don’t assume. To always, ALWAYS get both sides of the story before making a decision.

Thank you for teaching me independence. You taught me that if there was an issue with someone or something, it wasn’t your job to run to my rescue. No hovering or lawn mower (bulldozing) parenting from you! It was MY job to figure it out. When my second-grade teacher was mean, you told me “the Harder she gets the smarter you get so keep working at it” (yes, I had Mrs. Harder in 2nd grade).  When mean girls poked fun at my flaws, you did not call up the mothers of those girls and yell at them. Nope, you told me to go talk with them and try to work it out, or just let it go and to remember “this too shall pass.”

Thank you for teaching me to fight. You taught me that life is worth fighting for. You fought cancer twice, once in your 50’s and once in your 70’s; you fought the darkness of depression when you lost your only son in a car accident; you fought to be the best caregiver for dad when he lost his memory to Alzheimer’s and his eyesight to Macular degeneration; you fought boldly against dementia when it had its sharp claws in you; you never gave up. You fought back, you endured, you were strong and courageous. I pray I never have to go through the trials and tribulations that you had to go through in life. But if I do, I pray I can be as audacious as you were.

Thank you for teaching me to celebrate life. You taught me that there’s always a reason to throw a party. You were a social butterfly and cherished a joyous get-together. You had parties for everything… birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, confirmations, holidays. I think you even made up a few of your own holidays just so you could have a party. You appreciated people and you wanted to share your celebrations of life with them.

Thank you for teaching me to laugh. You taught me that a good belly laugh is good for the soul. You had a delightful sense of humor. Your quick wit was a trait I absolutely adored in you. From the crazy exercise contraptions that we bought together, to the uncontrollable giggling in church, you were the perfect example of jovial. Your grandkids have inherited that from you, and now they are able to get me to laugh by using their quick wit. And most days I really need that laughter.

Thank you for teaching me to appreciate music. You tried hard to teach me to sing so thanks for the effort.  You had a beautiful voice, Mom. Harmonizing was your gift. Plus, you could yodel, play guitar, and play piano.  You loved Alan Jackson and Johnny Cash, and you also enjoyed a slow waltz and a two-step. I am still in awe of your musical talent.

Thank you for teaching me to be prompt.  You taught me to show up at least 10 minutes early to any appointment or job or game or whatever. To this day I still try to arrive early. Doesn’t always happen (especially to department meetings—sorry Dr. V.), but I try my hardest.

Thank you for teaching me to accessorize life. You taught me that lipstick and earrings and fun shoes and gum make life a little more glamorous. You were a sharp dresser. You even made sweatpants look good. You flaunted your dangling earrings and your colorful lipstick. As you aged, the snazzy shoes weren’t as important to you, but you could make tennis shoes look like high heels. Your granddaughter has taken on your love of shoes. We call her “goody 200 shoes.” 🙂 And gum…you always needed a piece of gum close to your fingertips. We even buried you with a tube of lipstick, fancy shoes, and a pack of gum.

In spite of all that, Mom, I am grateful for I Samuel 16:7b – “The LORD does not look at the things man (people) look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Amen to that…I’m grateful Jesus loves you and me just the way we are—with or without lipstick and earrings and snazzy shoes.

I’m sure there are many other lessons you have taught me, Mom. Not enough room here for all of them. I just want you to know that I miss you tremendously, I love you enormously, I ask you for forgiveness of any heartache I may have caused you, and please save me a room up there next to yours so we can once again share lots of love and laughs.

Happy Mother’s Day and see you someday soon.

Love your daughter…

Stay Calm & Happy Mother’s Day!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

What are some life lessons your mother has taught you? Please share in the comments below and then make sure to tell your mom.  

The Global Achievement Gap – From Minnesota to Finland

This week’s post features guest blogger, Mr. Christian Skillings, a graduate student at Southwest Minnesota State University, who I have had the priviledge to serve as his advisor and chair his graduate work.  He is ready to change the world – and has been already.  There is so much more to share about this educational leader as he is on his way to great things… without further ado, Mr. Christian Skillings.

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 10.44.07 AM

Hi all,

My name is Christian Skillings and I am a graduate student at Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU). Currently, I am making the final revisions to my thesis and will be graduating this May with my Master of Science in Education, emphasis in TESL. Being so, I was approached to summarize my research and findings, which took place over the last year in both the United States and Finland.

The foundation of my study came after reading The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner. If you have not had the chance to read this book, I strongly encourage all educators or aspiring teachers to do so. The critical point presented by Mr. Wagner is the undeniable statistics on the United States’ troublesome education system; namely, the widespread inadequate preparation of secondary students. Currently, the United States is experiencing a global achievement gap, which as stated by Wagner (2008/2014), is, “The gap between what even our best suburban, urban, and rural public schools are teaching and testing versus what all students will need to succeed as learners, workers, and citizens in today’s global knowledge economy” (p. 8). As a result of the global achievement gap, it has been found that high school graduates are unprepared for the rigors of higher education and the workforce. In a survey of 63,366 entering community college students, conducted by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCSCE), the Center on Standards and Assessments Implementation (CSAI) (2016) found that 67% of high school graduates were required to take remedial courses upon entering community college.  Furthermore, Wagner (2010) found nearly 50% of employers, in a survey of more than 400, felt that individuals out of secondary school were “deficient” in preparation, in addition to the 65% of university professors that reported students as being unprepared for higher education. (Sorry for all the statistics and APA citations. This project has made me a bit of a nerd and APA prude).

So…… it is apparent learners are lacking the attributes needed to succeed, but what skills are exactly required? Wagner (2008/2014) termed the needed skills “Survival Skills, whereas others, such as Hilton (2015), coined these attributes “21st-century skills.” Regardless of the terminology, secondary school graduates must possess the ability to: think critically and problem solve, collaborate across networks and lead by influence, have agility and adaptability, demonstrate initiative and entrepreneurialism, effectively communicate, access and analyze information, inspire curiosity and imagination, and self-management. This is a long, but necessary set of attributes that are sought out in today’s knowledge economy.

Reflecting back on my own personal education experience, it became obviously that I was, and perhaps still am, a part of this achievement gap. Moreover, current reform measures in the United States and pedagogy in the classroom do not appear to be narrowing this global achievement gap. Thus, I looked internationally to find a nation that was succeeding in the world of education, in addition to equipping their students with the noted 21st-century skills, subsequently producing more college and career ready individuals. Finland, a small Nordic nation, against all odds, was a potential answer to my search. Perhaps I also just wanted to appease my insatiable appetite for travel! Nonetheless, I ventured across the Atlantic to study the Finnish education system.

Long story short; I won’t bore you with the minute research details, I studied two Finnish lower secondary schools (Grades 7-9) and two Minnesota middle schools (Grades 6-8), allowing me to make a comparative analysis of the two education systems. Specifically, I looked only at Grade 8 in Minnesota and Grade 9 in Finland. Why, you might ask, did I only study those two grades? Because research points to Grade 8 as being a tipping-point in college and career readiness (Doughtery, 2015; Royster, Gross, & Hochbein, 2015; Schaefer & Rivera, 2012). In Finland, Grade 9 is the year before secondary school, so for applicability reasons the 9th grade was studied. My research goal was to uncover 3-4 transferable aspects of the Finnish education system that better equip students with the noted 21st-century skills. Furthermore, I wished to take a more in-depth look at the ideological similarities and differences between students and educators in Minnesota and Finland.

After collecting all of the data, using the aid of a student survey, educator interviews, and classroom observations, it was time to see if distinguishments between the two education systems could be made and conclude on tangible elements of the Finnish education system that could be of use, here in Minnesota. Below are the most significant findings:

Unfortunately, it can be discerned that an apparent preparedness ideology gap exists among both Minnesota learners and educators. Taking the results of the student survey and educator interviews, nearly 100% of students (n = 201) and all educators in the studied Minnesota middle schools stated that their education was properly preparing students for higher education and the workforce. This, however, is simply not true if we look at the statistics of prior research.

Furthermore, in association with this preparedness ideology gap, based off of the results of the question; becoming college and career prepared needs to be achieved by the end of middle school (lower secondary school), it was found that only 41% of 8th grade students in Minnesota understood the urgency to become college and career ready. In addition, relating this student survey item to the educator interviews, the ideology held firm when speaking with teaching personnel. Based of the inquiry of whether or not educators in Minnesota viewed the 8th grade as a tipping point for college and career readiness, 0% of interviewees responded yes and 50% of Minnesota educators responded with skepticism by reporting yes and no. The results of Finland vastly differed, as over 85% of students felt the need to be prepared at this young age. Furthermore, an incredible 90% of Finnish educators viewed Grade 9 as a tipping point for future college and career readiness.

Okay, so it is now even more obvious that our education system needs a little help, both in practice and ideology, in order to better prepare student for life after secondary school. Compiling all of the data, four elements of the Finnish education system were noted as significant and transferable to the Minnesota education system. These items include:

  • Modeling Finland, Minnesota middle school students could benefit from increased college and workforce knowledge, in addition to explicitly attempting to equip students with 21st-century skills, that a curriculum-backed college and career readiness program can offer (Finland has a national requirement of 4-hours per week of college and career readiness courses). This college and career readiness program should be a part of the school curriculum and act as another year-long course.
  • In conjunction with the implementation of a formalized program, attempts to incorporate teach-by-topic/multidisciplinary teaching and learning should be made. Teach-by-topic is the current reform measure in Finland, and will be nation-wide by 2020.
  • Educators in Minnesota could assist students in meaningfully acquiring classroom skills and knowledge by increasing wait-time. This is something we have all been taught in theory, but it is not uniformly applied in all classrooms.
  • In association with increased wait-time, Finland’s education system places a high value on student autonomy. It is common for Finnish educators to consistently reiterate and explain to students that they are in charge of their own learning, academic success, and personal prosperity. The teacher merely acts as a guide to knowledge; with minimal lectures and just a few examples at the beginning of class. In Minnesota, learners are given less opportunity to work at their own pace and classes are much more teacher oriented.

Finally, we have come to the end of this rather long post. What I hope you take from this writing is the realization that we can easily implement many of the fruitful elements of the Finnish education system. Of course, an entire education system cannot be transferred over, but Finland could be used as a model.

As for me, I will be moving to Beijing, China, this summer to start my teaching career and continue my research. If you would like to further discuss my research, please do not hesitate to drop me a message:  or simply stop by my office BA 119 (next to the wrestling room).

~Mr. Christian Skillings