Cancer Sent Her to Alaska & Cancer Brought Her Back Home

Blog Alaska Students

An SMSU ELED alumna recently returned to Minnesota from Alaska where she taught for a year. I wanted to hear all about her adventure so we sat down with a cup of coffee and this is what I learned. Cancer sent her to Alaska. Cancer brought her back home.

Emily hopped on an airplane with her husband to move to Alaska because her friend Sarah (also an SMSU alumna), who is battling a genetic skin cancer, asked her to come. Sarah invited Emily to travel to Alaska because she wanted her son to be around strong women. Emily, being that strong woman who has survived cancer herself, was concerned about her friend’s health, so off she flew…to help care for her friend and her friend’s son.

Blog Alaska Sarah (2)

Sarah and her son…

While there, Miss Emily taught in the Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD) in Bethel, Alaska. She shared why she believed this school was a great district. She also shared a little advice on preparing yourself for their tribe world if you would choose to teach there.

BONUSES of Teaching at Bethel

DOWNFALLS of Teaching at Bethel

Respectable salary (She started at $59,900) Extremely high cost of living. $60,000 in Alaska would be like $30,000 in Minnesota.
Decent insurance through Integrity Insurance with a $100 deductible. Medical facilities aren’t the best and she got sick right away with Bethel Crud because of different air quality, water, etc. Medications had to be flown in from Omaha, NE.
Housing available. High rent. Spent $250 a month for 900 gallons of water, which is supposed to last a month for everything…showers, washing dishes, flushing, etc. Yikes… 😮
Back-to-school professional development conferences offered with dynamic speakers and breakout sessions and the district covers the cost. Professional Development Conferences are held in Anchorage, Alaska, which is an hour away—by plane only.
Learned and taught specialty classes such as berry picking, fishing, mouse food hunting (yes, you read that correctly 😮 ), and more. No prep times in Bethel. You teach all day long.
Hot lunch for the students is guaranteed each day. Some of the food served is old, expired.
Students work hard and give their best. 7% of students pass state tests in math.

5% of students pass state tests in English.

50% of students graduate from High School.

Kids are failing.

Some students have IEP’s. A three-year IEP, and no SPED teachers so paraprofessionals become the SPED teacher.
The people are kind, humble, and truly care.


Many broken homes, addictions, violence. and suicides. Many children have some kind of trauma going on in their lives.
Cooler temperatures. Common to have fifty below zero temps.
Wealthy because of the oil. Extreme poverty because of the oil. The government gives the people a SMALL amount of this wealth each year. She believed it to be $1000 a year.
School is the safe place for the students. Harassment and bullying happens in school. 😦

One other experience that Emily shared made me wrinkle my nose, which would be offensive in Bethel. Sorry Bethel, Alaskans.

Are you a fish eater? I LOVE fish, especially salmon. However, NOT to the extent that Emily learned to eat it while in Alaska. The people of Bethel believe in subsistence…nothing is wasted. It is a matter of survival.  For example…Emily ate every part of the salmon. She said the eye socket was her favorite. It tasted like prime rib. Eeew…I’m sorry, I couldn’t do it.

Blog Alaska Salmon

Emily’s dad is now wrestling with cancer. Because of the uncertainty of this, Emily hopped back on a plane and came home to be with her family. Welcome home, Emily.

Sarah, who still lives in Alaska, is doing better and taking a chemo pill. Emily’s dad is also doing well for now because his cancer is in remission. That is wonderful news! Thank you, Jesus, and please continue to bless both of them, Lord.

Teacher candidates, if you would like to teach in Alaska, Emily highly recommends considering the LKSD in Bethel. She would love to visit with you anytime about the opportunities there.


Mouse Food Hunting

Blog Alaska Fishing

Bethel Student Fishing


Miss Emily and her kids and Emily gets all photo credit

Stay Calm & Go On A Teaching Adventure!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V. 


Give Thanks

As we think about the holidays and the recent celebration of Thanksgiving, we give thanks.  We give thanks for so very much… and even more than we really thought about before… We are thankful for the relationships that we have with the people we hold dear.  We are thankful for family and friends – new and old – and those yet to be made.  We give thanks.

JR thankful

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Here are just a few of my thousand words possible as I remember and give thanks…

Thankful. Home. Son. Prayers. …Rewind several days – Basketball. Fastbreak. Dunking? Maybe, Maybe Not. Bleacher Steps. Base of Head or Neck. Frozen. Shock. Caring Coaches and Volunteers. Ambulance. Scared. Prayers. Emergency Room. Disbelief. Possible Paralysis. Helpful and Kind Medical Team. Prayers. CT scan. Helicopter. Prayers. Hurry. Pack. Family. Prayers. Drive. MRI. Involuntary Movements. Prayers. Wait. Swelling. Spinal Concussion. Spinal Contusion. Prayers. Wait. Texts. Calls. Questions. Concerns. Community. Prayers. Voluntary Movements. Prayers. Family. Smiles. Relief. Future Surgery. Anxious. Prayers. Wait. Smiles. Family. Amazing. … Thankful.

This wild roller coaster ride reminds us to give thanks for family, friends, and community.  Without each other what a lonely world this would be. Thank you.

Stay Calm & Give Thanks!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V. 

Be S.M.A.R.T. and Boost Up

curriculum guide covers final.indd

I had the opportunity to volunteer in my grandson’s kindergarten classroom the other day. Kudos to his teacher and to all kindergarten teachers. Oofta…it is a busy place. Lots of learning going on in there…

…Learning to write, and read, and listen, and count…

…Learning to follow directions, and sit still on their assigned square, and sequence a story, and use the greater than/less than sign, and write the numeral 7 by chanting “across the top, down from heaven, that’s the way to make a seven”

…Learning to raise their hand to speak, and to not pick their nose and use a Kleenex instead, and to set their bathroom clips on the table when they leave the room…

…Learning to freeze then give the teacher their eyes, and to be kind to each other, and to be independent learners.


Thank goodness for brain breaks. Those moments in the classrooms when teachers give the children a break from working and allow them to play and talk and smile and laugh and sing and dance.

My grandson’s teacher introduced me to the brain break program called Boost Up Stations®.  I have been in education a long time, and this was the first time I had heard of it. Maybe you already know what this is, but I was intrigued and loved what I saw.

The children were in charge of setting up the stations. Once the stations were ready to go, the teacher assigned her kiddos to specific stations and off they went…

Station 1 – Hanging Ball: A tennis ball hung from the ceiling and directions were to tap the ball gently alternating hands while counting to 10.

Station 2 – Mazes & Wagon Wheel: Children traced the wagon wheel, the curved line, and the straight line while covering first their right eye, then their left eye, then with both eyes open.

Station 4 – Color Boxes: Children named the color of the boxes as they played hop scotch.   

Station 9 – Stacking Cups: The students each took two turns building a pyramid with the plastic cups.

Station 12 – Ball Bounce: Students bounced a ball while alternating hands and saying the alphabet or counting by 10’s.

See what I mean? Oofta! 🙂 When 12:30 lunchtime rolled around, my grandson and I were starving. We gobbled down the hamburgers and fries then headed out to recess to play tether ball.

blog boost up lunch

According to the MN Learning Resource Center (2015), the Boost Up Stimulating Maturity through Accelerated Readiness Training (S.M.A.R.T.) program is a multi-sensory approach, intended to develop and boost the physical and neurological readiness skills students need to succeed in school. The program has been designed to help students progress at their own rate and enhance their abilities in a positive, play-like atmosphere.

Thank you, Mrs. G. for allowing me to help in your room (and also for lending me your S.M.A.R.T. Curriculum). I had a fabulous time.

To our SMSU teacher candidates…if you have not heard of this Boost Up S.M.A.R.T. program, take a moment to check it out. It will be worth your time.  

Stay Calm & Boost Away!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V. 


Like Captured Fireflies
-John Steinbach-

In her classroom our speculations ranged the world.
She aroused us to book waving discussions.
Every morning we came to her carrying new truths, new facts, new ideas,
Cupped and sheltered in our hands like captured fireflies.

When she went away a sadness came over us,
But the light did not go out.
She left her signature upon us,
The literature of the teacher who writes on children’s minds.

I’ve had many teachers who taught us soon forgotten things,
But only a few like her who created in me a new thing a new attitude, a new hunger.
I suppose that to a large extent I am the unsigned manuscript of that teacher.
What deathless power lies in the hands of such a person.

MACTE TotY F2017

“We’re in the business of guiding the future…It’s a serious business” exclaimed Cory Bulman – the 2017 MN Teacher of the Year.  Mr. Bulman recently spoke to MACTE – Minnesota Association of Colleges for Teacher Education members to share his words of advice.  His opening lines along with his sharing of John Steinbach’s Like Captured Fireflies told us that we were in for a treat.  So… maybe not too many can get so excited over a poem and a few words of advice, but I know I certainly did and perhaps you will too…

Other words of advice to digest by Mr. Bulman:

“As a learner – as a teacher – I am their unsigned manuscript. I am their legacy.

Model our own sense of curiosity and wonder.

Allow our students to stumble.

Before we can expect them to trust us as teachers, we need to have them trust us as learners.

Most important trait of all – authenticity.

Use life to teach about perseverance and strength.

Teaching feeds the soul and leads you while you think you are leading others.

Teaching is not a part of a one-man or one-person show.  We are in an ensemble.

MACTE Growing in the Profession F2017

Perfect teachers are only in movies written by disgruntled English majors. 😉

Real teachers have no halos around their heads. They just hustle. They try to keep up with the laughable workloads.

Teaching matters…you are the candle in the darkness.

Compare teacher to new driving – judge the risk and take the turn as an experienced teacher.

Own when you stumble – make amends and move on.

You have to be willing to laugh at yourself or you won’t survive. Show students you are human.

Share authentic experiences.  If they have a different background, continue to share personal story and where you come from.  Have the conversation – not the answers.

Go with the skill sets that work for you. Your personality seeps in to what you do.  It’s okay. You have to be allowed to become yourself. You aren’t a robot. It’s alright to be who you are and infuse yourself into what you do.

Educators need to keep our eyes on the real prize – help students catch the fireflies.”

Stay Calm & Model Curiosity and Wonder!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V. 




Blog Praylikepirate

From that title, you are probably thinking how in the world do those two words go together…pray and pirate. Stay with me for a moment while I try to explain.

This weekend has been a weekend packed full of so many emotions.













With many of these emotions came the questions, “How can I help? What can I do to make it better?”

A sweet baby boy born with no brain activity. He went home on a feeding tube with the brand new momma hopeful his condition will improve and he will be able to laugh and play and sit up someday.

A neighbor going through chemotherapy for breast cancer and the first four treatments were evil, taking her down into a pit of sickness. This diagnosis came to her barely two weeks after she lost her husband unexpectedly.  She continues to fight and is thankful for her children who are there to help as often as they are able.

A cousin celebrated his 70th birthday. He gave me a hug but could not recall my name. Even more sadly, he did not recognize his son. His family shared that he has dementia and they are considering moving him into a nursing home.

Another cousin grieving the loss of her 8-month-old granddaughter to bronchial phenomena, which is a silent killer of infants. She is drowning in sadness. Her tears were endless while we visited.

I am heartbroken for these beautiful human beings. I want to help. I want to make it better! What can I do?

I can pray! I can PRAY like a PIRATE:

P – Praise God first. Thank Him for all his goodness (Psalm 75:1).

R – Repent of all our sins for we are sinners in this world (Acts 3:19).

A – Acknowledge that he is God, our savior, our guide, our comforter, our healer, our love (Proverbs 3:6).

Y – Yearn to know Him. Build a relationship with God by reading scriptures and spending time with him (Psalm 63:1).

like a

P – Passionately pray unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

I – Intently ask the Lord for what we hope for (ex. healing) then believe and trust (Luke 22:44).

R – Repeatedly give thanks for His goodness and for hearing our prayers (Matthew 7:7-8).

A – Audaciously come before the throne on our knees with love in our hearts (James 1:7-8).

T – Tenaciously continue to pray and ask for help for those we love (Romans 12:12).

E – Explicitly pray for people, events, problems, troubles that are in our lives (John 15:7-8).

We know the answers to prayers are not always what we hope for. Yet, never lose hope, and continue to have faith and to PRAY like a PIRATE in the precious name of Jesus.

blog cousins

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

Trick or Treat: What to Give a Diabetic to Eat

Blog Diabetes

My teacher friend says Halloween is her favorite holiday because she LOVES seeing all her elementary students dressed up in their costumes.  During my ED 346 Children’s Lit class, a few teacher candidates recently shared the book Trick or Treat For Diabetes. Oh my…did it bring back memories.

My daughter, Jamie, was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at the age of four. However, this certainly did not stop us from taking her trick or treating. She got lots of candy, which we would sort through at the end of the night. We would make two piles…one pile was the treats she could keep, and the second pile was treats we did not allow her to consume. The candy that was off limits was sold to her older brother, Kyle. We all know who really paid for the candy, but Kyle still enjoyed the bounty of sweets he received.

At the same time, Jamie would get plenty of treats that she could keep. Our church family was the best. We made sure to stop at their homes as they had special treats waiting for Jamie. We fondly remember the Biever and VandeVoort families. They would have Diet Mountain Dew® waiting just for her. She loved stopping at those two families’ homes. A BIG thank you to both families for making her childhood trick or treating experience extra special. ❤

We reminisced a little more and came up with a list of other special treats that she remembers getting from people who also blessed her. People such as her grandparents, her teachers, the neighbors, Sue Wathen, and the Nepp’s. We felt tons of small town love, that is for sure!! Below is a list of some goodies she remembers getting…

  • Fruit snacks
  • Sugar free gummy bears
  • Gold fish
  • Bags of chips or pretzels
  • Sugar free gum
  • Any sugar free candy (but she says to eat this in moderation because it can cause intestinal issues 😀 )
  • Stickers
  • Color crayons
  • Pencils
  • Gift cards (she remembers certificates to Pizza Hut)
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Fruit Roll-Ups

Hopefully, this list will give a few ideas of what treats to give to the diabetics in your classrooms or schools or programs, or those kids knocking at your doors.  What treats will you be handing out this year? I will be giving my usual…Mott’s Fruit Snacks…just in case there might be a diabetic ringing my doorbell and shouting “TRICK OR TREAT.” Happy Halloween on Tuesday, everyone. 🙂

Blog TrickTreat1

Stay Calm & Have Fun Trick or Treating!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V. 

Dear Dr. V. and Dr. Wendy: Questions From Our Teacher Candidates

SS Methods 2017

We asked our teacher candidates to imagine that they are sitting across from us individually at a table in the student center enjoying a cup of coffee or a soda together. We then asked them to write down one question they would like to ask us during this coffee date. No limits…ask away. What would they like to know?

The questions were incredible. So many of them to answer…so little space to write in this blog. Though we wanted to answer every question because each one holds its own uniqueness and importance to the teacher candidate who asked, we picked just a few to add to this blog…maybe there will have to be a Part II.

Teacher Candidate (TC): What was your biggest fear when starting out as a new teacher?

Dr. Wendy (WS): My biggest fear was not being prepared. Every year in August, I would have the same recurring dream…that I showed up on my first day of class with nothing ready to go. Thank goodness some dreams don’t come true.

Dr. V. (SV):  Not knowing it all.  Then I finally figured out that I would not know it all, and I shouldn’t know it all.  I did not fail my students when I said, “I’m not sure of that answer.”  I was helping them grow as learners and modeling for them when I then said, “Let’s find out together.”

TC: In our first year of teaching, how do we obtain the countless games, resources, decorations, etc. that will be used in our rooms? Do we need to obtain these ourselves before teaching or is it part of the budget?

WS: In my first year, I had a room full of ‘stuff’ that the retired teacher left behind such as the cursive alphabet on the front wall above the chalkboard/whiteboard and a few bulletin board borders.  I also had some materials from college that I still have and use today. Our budget allowed us so many dollars each year to purchase items for our classrooms. Just know that teachers supplement their classrooms with their own money.

SV: Put your loved ones to work.  I enlisted my little sister’s services.  She was just a “college” student at the time so I used up her free summer time prepping my classroom.  Most of it was my budget along with the good will of mentor teachers and the local Good Will.  There was a small classroom budget, but with my optimistic idealism, I needed more.  Hindsight: Less is more… it is you, the teacher who learners need… the colorful room is just an extra.

TC: My boyfriend lives in Kansas and moves all the time with his job. How do I deal with this with licensure requirements?

WS: Whatever state you move to, visit their Department of Education Website. Their licensure requirements are listed on there somewhere. My daughter graduated from and taught in Boise, ID for a few years. She then moved to Minnesota. She visited the MN Department of ED website and began to fulfill all the requirements that they have listed. Yes, she had some frustrations, but she got it accomplished and has been teaching in MN for 5 years.

SV: Start by getting your MN licensure. Do not go through all the work to get there and then almost get there but not get there. Get it?!  Once you have your degree and licensure in place, pack your bags!  Okay – not quite so quickly… Check with the Department of Ed for that particular state as each state has its own requirements.  If you do well on your edTPA and are licensed in MN, that will take you places.  MN has high standards for educators so all the torture you go through to get your license, pays off.  Your learners are counting on it!

TC: Did you ever struggle financially with a teacher salary?

WS: When I first began teaching in 1987, my salary was $17, 800. Quite honestly, I thought that was a lot of money then. I had worked in banks as a teller and my teacher salary was WAY MORE than my bank salary. My mom, who had been working in the same bank for almost 30 years, was only making $18,800 in 1987. I started just a thousand dollars below her. I was proud and so was she.  So, NO, I have never struggled on my teacher salary. In my lifetime, my teaching salary has been MY highest salary ever. Others may not agree.

SV: Yes – struggled with finances at times but never with my calling.  Teaching is a profession of the heart.  You have to be ready to sacrifice some for the good of others.  I started at a private school in 1998 at $17,600 – so just below Dr. Wendy about a decade later in life.  It was great at the time since I earned about $2,000 as a teacher’s aide previous to that while earning my licensure.  It goes up from there – so perspective is everything.

TC: If you were hiring a new teacher, what is the most important thing you are looking for?

WS: I would want someone who is able to build positive relationships with students. Someone who will always be a champion for children.

SV: Positive game-changers who are willing to lead by example and put learners first.  It is important to care for one’s self as well – so don’t get me wrong there.  What I am talking about is an individual who is compassionate and has a passion for teaching and learning.  They aren’t there for summers off.  They are there to change the world one student at a time, one day at a time  – even when it is hard.  Believe me – some days will be like that.  Effective teachers know this, embrace this, and teach anyway.

Remember…we told them they could ask us anything they wanted to so let us end with these two questions that have nothing to do with teaching…

TC: What does marriage really take to be successful?

WS: After celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband and I talked about this very question. What made our marriage thrive? If you want to know the “WE DO’s” of our marriage (Example: We do choose to be ‘we and ours’ not ‘mine and yours’ in everything except our underwear :-)), please check out my blog on this very subject…

 SV: Collaboration – just like any relationship.  Work hard. Play hard. Agree to disagree sometimes.  Set goals and celebrate accomplishments.  Be the other person’s cheerleader even when you don’t feel like cheering.  Don’t keep secrets – except for surprise gifts.

TC: What kind of soda do you like?

WS: An ice cold Coke in a glass bottle just pulled out of a cooler full of ice. YUMMO! 🙂

SV: 7-Up or Dr. Pepper or Root Beer… I actually don’t drink a lot of soda, but when I do, I enjoy a fizzy fountain pop with ice.

Teacher candidates…even though we were not able to have coffee or soda together…let’s make a date to get together in the near future. Until then, we hope these answers will help you grow professionally and personally.


Stay Calm & Keep Asking Questions!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V. 

Making Memories and Telling Stories … Homecoming

It is a quiet sound…the soft sound of a music box.  The one in my hands is not mine, but it brings me back to a time when I held my own music box as a little girl.  Imagine – a satin-lined, pastel pink box that could be held in the hands of a young girl.  Inside is a ballerina who spins to the music when gently opened.  Holding this music in my hands that is not mine brought me back to being in the middle of my yellow-accented bedroom more than 30 years ago.  This instant time travel was simply from the chime of a few beats of this quiet music. My mind picked up the memory, and started telling a story within seconds.

Amazing what a memory can do – it can tell our stories.  Recently this past week, author/speaker, Tracy Nelson Maurer, spoke on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State at the Southwest Minnesota Reading Council’s Fall Conference.  Tracy shared three keys to writing success: inspiration, information, and imagination.  She sparked our memories and helped us see our stories.  We all have stories to share.


This past week was full of stories at SMSU sparked by memories as we celebrated Homecoming 2017.  It was not a standard week of Homecoming festivities at SMSU this year, however.  We are celebrating our 50th year as an institution, a community, a family.  This week allowed us a time to share memories, tell our stories, and make new memories to share in the future.

Here are a few highlights of the memory-sharing and memory-making week…
The 50th SMSU Charter Signing

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Door Decorating Contest — School of Education was awarded second place!

Guest Author/Speaker Tracy Nelson Maurer

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School of Education Alumni Tent, Parade, and Football Game Festivities

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All-School Reunion

We all have a memory and a story to share.  Continue to share them – as we connect with the past and storytell in the future.  Let us inspire, inform, and imagine together. Listen to the soft music, and let it play.

Stay Calm & Make Memories!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V. 

Choose to Be the Top 20

Google Images

Collaboration is a key ingredient to success.  We can do so much more together than we can alone.  Recently, SMSU Provost Dwight Watson shared a text with us – Top 20 Teachers by Paul Bernabei, Tom Cody, Willow Sweeney, Mary Cole, and Michael Cole.  We had seen this book once upon a time, but its message was one to be renewed for us.  According to the authors of the book, success is the summation of great results and a great ride.

“Great Results are those outcomes we desire when we go to work each day… Great Ride means we want to enjoy the experience. We want to enjoy what we do and have meaningful relationships with our colleagues.  We wouldn’t consider it a great success if we attained great results in our work but hated going to school every day.  Nor would it be a great success if we enjoyed hanging out at school every day but never accomplished anything worthwhile” (2010, p.1).

Teachers can make the learning experience both – a great ride with great results.  “In essence, teachers have power to activate the potential in their students to make a positive difference in their lives” (2010, p.2).  The authors point to being part of the Top 20 when potential explodes into great results and a great ride.  We are all top 20.  We are all bottom 80.  Sometimes we are the best self we can be.  Sometimes we are not the best self we can be. It is how we handle situations – how we think, how we learn, and how we communicate that determines where we place ourselves – in the top 20 or bottom 80.  “The Top 20 and Bottom 80 labels in this book are not intended to be a comparison between people.  Rather, they are simply a way of understanding two dimensions of our own selves” (p.4).  Where do you choose to be?

BLOG Top 20 potential

The authors share a variety of topics as they consider Top 20 Teachers.  A few areas of focus include: seeing things differently, creating a positive environment, creating connections, and listening to understand. We thought quite a bit about our teaching and learning and what we do to positively impact our learners.  We are in the business of promoting and modeling the art of being reflective practitioners.  Considering this, we decided to invite some of our colleagues to respond to the following question. How do you make a positive impact on your students and build a culture of curiosity in the teaching and learning process?  Their responses were thoughtful, and showed us their Top 20 qualities to help students experience great results with a great ride.  This is what they had to say…

“I draw extensively from the work of Ellen Langer, Harvard social psychologist, related to mindfulness.  The forty plus years of work she has done on mindfulness focuses on how to foster flexible, creative and critical thinking processes in the classroom, business settings, delivery of physical and mental health services, etc. (The construct of “mindfulness” that Langer has evaluated is not the same as what is described in the mental health literature that draws from Eastern traditions such as meditation, yoga, etc.) I have used four of her publications as texts in various psychology and LEP 100/400 classes since 2004 and students consistently note the content in Langer’s publication to be the most transformative for them among readings I assign in class with regarding enhancing curiosity, increasing their openness to new experiences, enriching their personal relationships, increasing their willingness to take risks, and enhancing their creative thinking capacities (for example).”
~Dr. Christine Olson
SMSU Professor of Applied Psychology

“At the age of 15, Eleanor Roosevelt traveled to England to study, and there she encountered Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre, who would mentor her for three years. Together, they traveled to Europe, visiting places of poverty and spender. Eleanor studied literature, art, history, languages, and in the process she gained self-confidence and confidence in her ideas. In her autobiography, Roosevelt wrote of this experience: ‘Mlle. Souvestre shocked one into thinking, and that on the whole was very beneficial.’ That is what I do to build a culture of curiosity in the teaching and learning process. I try to shock my students into thinking.”

kolnick falls
~Dr. Jeff Kolnick
SMSU Professor of History

“I like to think I make a positive impact and build a learning culture by first teaching students about social skills.  I like to make sure I learn each kid’s name and where they are from, and I constantly challenge them to do the same with their fellow classmates.  If they feel like you care about them, then they are more willing to learn and curiosity will come naturally.  I encourage social interaction that doesn’t involve technology, small group communication during class, make them debate a topic, and take a side even if they don’t agree with it.  I make them be involved in the community, more than just the campus of SMSU, it forces them to talk to strangers.”
~Brian Frana
SMSU Asst. Football Coach & PE Instructor

“Set a comfortable tone to the classroom. I begin each day with a corny joke and a ‘thought to ponder’ on the board. I also work at learning the students’ names and something about them. These may seem like silly little things, but I have found that students look forward to coming to class and remain engaged. Also, interjecting personal stories and experiences to bring the information into real-time for them.”
~LeAnne Syring
SMSU Assistant Professor of Special Education

“In my courses I allow for student choice in completing and designing projects. In the end, I want the project to be part of the bigger final outcome so the assignments or projects leading up to that are scaffolded ideas that should easily fit into the end capstone project. I have received positive feedback indicating they like this format that provides them opportunity to actually prep for the final project, while building understanding of the topic and content. Generally, we discuss in the classroom then move to an open room where students collaborate with peers and work together. As they work I provide feedback or clarification as needed. This format works well and engages student’s curiosity as they work toward their final goal.”
~Dr. Mary Risacher
SMSU Assistant Professor of Education

“How does a teacher create a positive climate to optimize students’ learning? Through the demonstration of unconditional positive regard‎ (Rogers, 1959) a teacher forms the foundation upon which exhibited elements of invitational theory and practice‎: Respect, care, optimism, intentionality, and trust (Purkey & Novak, 2015), sows a fertile learning community.  This emotionally nourishing environment then produces  a bounty of student exploration, innovation, and critical thinking!”
~Dr. Chris J. Anderson
SMSU Assistant Professor of Special Education

“To build a learning environment that fosters creativity, thinking, and the development of curiosity, I have embraced constructivist practices and create learning experiences based on learners’ passions.  This has been remarkable in the online classroom as I watch students develop relationships, understanding, and knowledge with classmates that they have never met.
Currently, there are English, ELL, reading, math, and more instructors creating magic together, not in isolation.  Everyone has a powerful voice. Their ideas and their passion are giving insight not only into content, but to practice.  This has been a joy to watch unfold as learners embrace ideas and cheer for each other.
This has been facilitated by “being there” – all the time.  Not only merely assessing, but adding and questioning.  Joining in the joy and the passion that drives teachers.  I am excited for them and for their students.  Education is changing. I am surrounded by brilliance.”
~Dr. Toni Beebout-Bladholm
Marshall Senior High School English Teacher
SMSU Adjunct Professor

What did we learn from all of this?  We teach alongside rockstars, who are shaping the world one student at a time, one day at a time.  It is not just great results that lead to success. Great results and a great ride equal success.  Teachers can make all the difference. We choose our Top 20 selves to guide, mentor, and care for our learners.

Stay Calm & Choose to be the Top 20!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V. 



This is Who We Thank

Blog gratitude

Student teaching is the final hoorah of all teacher prep programs. You work and work and work at your studies and then the big day comes when you are placed in a classroom with a mentor teacher so you can learn and grow as a professional.

Sometimes the placement is AWESOME, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes your university supervisor is AWESOME, and sometimes, not so much. Whichever circumstance you find yourself in, you CAN learn from it. You can learn what to do and what NOT to do.

I (Wendy) was placed in a 4th grade classroom in Worthington, MN.  I purposely asked to be placed there to escape a certain professor/university supervisor. I naively thought he wouldn’t travel that far from SSU to supervise anyone. To my chagrin, this supervisor ended up being mine. I was a nervous wreck!

As I look back on this experience over 30 years ago, it was the BEST experience of my life! My classroom mentor in that 4th grade classroom was Paula Krekelberg. Can we say DYNAMIC teacher? Passion, energy, enthusiasm, creativity…all in one package! Lucky me!

She was the 1986 female version of Dave Burgess before #tlap even existed. She was phenomenal, and I became a Paula Krekelberg. I begged and borrowed and tweaked ALL of her teaching ideas, plus her teaching style and teaching philosophy.

Gingerbread House Day in December is still one of my favorite memories from Paula’s classroom. She collected milk cartons, graham crackers, and candy galore then invited parents in to make Gingerbread Houses with their kids. I started the Gingerbread House tradition in my first 3rd grade teaching position at Brown Elementary. I no longer teach there, but the Gingerbread House tradition still prevails…over 30 years later.

Thank you, Paula, for being the best mentor teacher ever.

The gentleman who was my university supervisor was also one of my professors at SSU. He wasn’t one of my favorite professors because he intimidated me. 😮 So when I found out he was my supervisor, I was deflated…and a lot scared.

Lesson learned…he was the BEST supervisor I could have wished for. His personality was slightly different as a supervisor than it was as the professor. I adored him as my supervisor, and he gave me so many helpful hints after he would watch me teach a lesson. Forgive me, Lowell, for misjudging.

I’ll never forget the first time he came to watch me teach, I was over prepared. My plan was to knock his socks off with my awesome teaching skills. Well, needless to say, the lesson bombed. As I cried through our conversation afterwards, he kindly said to me… “Wendy, it was a good lesson. You just forgot to give them your expectations.” It was that simple. From that day forward, I always share my expectations of my students with my students about EVERYTHING.

Thank you, Lowell, for being the best supervisor ever. 🙂

My student teaching experiences were much the same… I (Sonya) had wonderful days and days that I cried to cope.  I just did not understand why those cute little kindergarten kids could not tie their shoes.  I mean – I built them a rainforest fort to go along with the literacy unit I was teaching. How could that not impact their motivation to successfully tie their shoes?!  My awesome classroom mentor, Lynn Robertson, very kindly and gently helped me see the error in my novice ways and that the children were simply not all developmentally ready for my expectations.  Keep in mind – this was kindergarten over 20 years ago – so a much different place in a crayon-centered world. Thank you, Mrs. R.!  I am grateful for your guidance.

After my feelings of failure in kindergarten, I moved into the 5th grade for the second part of my student teaching experience, and there – I found my people.  My classroom mentor, Deb Krimm, and the students taught me so much.  I can picture my desk.  I can picture Mrs. K.’s smile and her outfits.  (After all – I was trying out my new teacher clothes and style so I took notes!)  I can picture the room.  I can picture lunch duty in my brown plaid jacket that made me feel like a teacher.  (Never underestimate the power of a great suit …professional attire that our teacher candidates LOVE …or maybe hate?)  I will never forget learning to make wax candles, soap, butter, and more for the 13 colonies unit the night before my students, and being so excited for all the learning that went into it – for me… for my learners.  I am grateful for that.

My university supervisor’s name escapes me…I want to say “Jan….”  (Clearly Dr. Wendy’s memory is better than mine!  I would search it up in my files on my floppy disks, but I am aiming to meet a strict professor’s deadline – aka my blogging partner-in-crime, Dr. Wendy.) 😉   Please don’t mistake my error of name-filing for lack of impact.  I can clearly picture her in my mind, and more importantly, I can still hear her words and feel her challenges that helped strengthen my teaching.  I walked in to student teaching a little intimidated of her, and it grew into a sense of respect throughout the term as I learned that I am not perfect, and that’s okay.  None of us are.  She taught me that if I am not challenging myself, I am not challenging my learners, and that’s simply not okay.  Don’t settle for anything less than my best. For that challenge, I am forever grateful.

Lesson learned… perfection just means it’s time to set a new challenge.  Be grateful to those around you who help show you how to grow.  Life is simply boring otherwise.

Be grateful for your past. It brought you to today. Be grateful for today.  It tells your story for tomorrow (Thank you, Dave Burgess for the #tlap, #gratitude challenge).


Stay Calm & Thank a Teacher!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.