Monthly Archives: May 2016

A Game Changer

Take Your Best Shot at Night Driving and go Varoomaloom Zoom
taking it Strong to the Hoop, Hoop Genius, and be a Game Changer.

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Recently, I had the opportunity to hear author John Coy speak to the Southwest Minnesota Reading Council in New Ulm, Minnesota on the campus of Martin Luther College. Coy shared about his experiences with writing books. With being an author of numerous books, one would think Coy’s experiences have been nothing but positive and easy.  This wasn’t necessarily the case, however.  Coy talked about his many failures on the road to success.

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Coy grew up being a reader, but had not really given the idea of becoming an author any thought.  It was not something that was considered an opportunity for him.  Once he discovered writing through a book writing workshop offered at the Loft in Minneapolis, he was inspired to author books for children and to get them reading.

Coy shared, “If you get books that address the genuine interest of the kid, it will get them reading.” He found an interest – sports!
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One of his books he highlighted was Game Changer. The book takes place in a segregated North Carolina in 1944.

In the morning on Sunday, March 12, 1944, a group of basketball players from the Duke University Medical School thought they were the best in the state and headed across town in Durham, NC. They knew they were playing a basketball game, but didn’t know who they were playing against. The players reached the gym to find the starting 5 of the North Carolina College of Negroes. The Eagles had a 19-1 record under their coach, John McLendon. Because of segregation, they were not allowed to play against white teams. That day the Eagles were going to break that law. Coach McLendon learned basketball from James Naismith, the gym teacher who created basketball. The game between the Eagles and Duke didn’t start so great with both teams not playing well. The Duke team took the lead at first, and then the Eagles took over. The final scores was Duke 44 to Eagles 88!  They played another game, but mixed it up, and it was shirts versus skins this time.
“Nineteen years before Dr. Kings ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and three years before Jackie Robinson broke the color line in the MLB, black and white players worked together as teammates in an illegal game in a segregated North Carolina.  These players had seen the future, but it would take time for everybody else to see it.” It wasn’t until 22 years later that Texas Western started 5 black players against Kentucky for the national championship and won.  The era of segregated big-time college basketball was ending.  Years later, John McLendon, who was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame for his phenomenal coaching career, said, “I just wanted to further the idea that we all played basketball, that we all played it well, and that we should be playing it together.”  Today, people don’t think twice about players of different skin colors.  It took courage for them to play together. “Coach John McLendon and those brave players who rose to the challenge in the secret game were years ahead of their time.”

The Game Changer summary was composed by guest blogger Jonah Vierstraete, age 11 and a just newly graduated fifth grade student.

For his research, Coy talked with 5th graders just like Jonah about their experiences. The 5th grade classes suggested changes on his novels. Sometimes the feedback was on 1 chapter, 6 chapters, or all 53 chapters of the book; it was their choice. The feedback resulted in more than 200 changes in his 4 for 4 series, including: Top of the Order, Love of the Game, Eyes on the Goal, and Take Your Best Shot.

Aside from his former fifth grade status just like Coy’s middle level, 4 for 4 series, it was appropriate to ask Jonah to guest blog with us because last year he selected John Coy’s, Take Your Best Shot, for his birthday book at school.  At Jonah’s school, the birthday boy or girl can select a book to purchase in his or her own birthday honor, and have his or her name and birthday added to the inside cover; he or she gets to be the first to check out the book and then share it with others.  It’s a fun opportunity for students, which they enjoy.

It’s not all fun and games though…writing is about taking risks.  Coy shared about his rejection letters and learning patience while waiting for his books to be published (about six years for a picture book).  There is give and take needed when working with a publisher and illustrator.  Sometimes things don’t go the way they are expected.  That is life.

Coy’s stories consist of fiction and non-fiction works.  Much of his fiction storylines are tailored around sports.  He also writes about sports (and other topics) in his non-fiction writing.

The thing about non-fiction is that we just want some good stories. The new non-fiction is like good fiction with the same things we enjoy about fiction – interesting openings, maintaining the elements of a storyline, and creative characters.

BLOG 5.25.16 Game Changer3An example of non-fiction work aside from the Game Changer is Their Great Gift. In collaboration with illustrator Wing Young Hwie, Coy was asked by the editor to write the story to match the pictures of immigrant families. The story of Hwie’s grandmother’s arrival to the United States is shared at the end of the story. It is about how her story changed Hwie’s story.  Likewise, Coy shared his own experience of attending college and the impact it had on his own life.  He estimated that there is approximately half a million dollars difference between the earnings from a high school degree and college degree in a lifetime. This story is an example of how we can change are own lives in a big way, but more importantly impact the lives of those to come.

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Coy leaves us with a final thought about writing.  “There is a lag time between what we need and what we have.”  John tells students, “You might have to be the one to write them.”  There is an author in all of us; we just need to tell our story.


Check out for more details on Coy’s work.
Check back to for more of Jonah’s works in the future. 🙂

Thanks, @johncoy23, for the inspiration for this week’s blog – and for inspiring the next generation of readers and writers.

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

New Beginnings Never Get Old

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It happens each spring and shouldn’t be a surprise. Kids grow up and spread their wings for the next adventure, leaving the nest and mama birdie. Graduation marks the closing of a chapter and the start of the next. It is a familiar storyline, and one we just wrote about last week. So why did it creep up on this mama birdie?

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This BLOG JV graduation S16week my oldest son, Jackson, graduated from the 8th grade. Maybe this isn’t a huge ordeal, but to this mama, it was an emotional one. It seems like just yesterday, I was on bed rest for 8 weeks patiently awaiting (while trying to postpone) his arrival. We have been on a rollercoaster called “life” since before he was born, and continue to be – or get back in line for another turn at the amusement park.
JV – as his cousin, Carter, nicknamed him – has been in the same school and part of the school family since preschool. He is now preparing for his next adventure – high school.

Don’t get me wrong – he is ready. He is growing up to be a fine, respectable, young man. He has taught me much about being a mama birdie along the way. He is ready. I may not be, but that is how life goes. We sometimes aren’t ready for the big leap. We just have to have a little faith and jump.

Two takeaways from this post –

Do what you can to prepare – but know they will make some good and bad decisions along the way. Guide them to make better decisions in the future and commend them for the good decisions made. Good or bad experiences – learn and grow from them and love them.

This last one goes out to the teacher candidates – do your very best – give your very best each day because the students are courting on you – the birdies are leaving the nest in some way at every grade and every day of every year…and need you. No pressure! 🙂

Congrats on closing this chapter and looking ahead to the next!

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

Teach With All Your Heart


“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” ~Confucius

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Congratulations to our SMSU School of Education 2016 graduates. Using the quote above and giving it a twist, our words of wisdom for all of you are, “wherever you teach, teach with all your heart.” The youth of the world deserve nothing less!

You’re off to great places…

One step in front of the other is how we make our way through life. Sounds easy enough, right? Well – it turns out some steps are just tiny, little inches forward while some steps are giant leaps. Sometimes we are prepared and just keep moving while other times we are not so much — and just fall over…but get back up!

No matter the step – three basic guidelines to keep you upright in your journey.

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Follow the leader – when you know it’s right. Make your own path if they aren’t going in the right direction.

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Walk with a buddy or two. Humans are collaborative in nature, and it makes the journey so much more enjoyable. Stick together and succeed.

Say thanks. As you go along your life’s journey, remember to thank those folks who have given you lots of encouragement along the way. Here’s a good example:

THANK YOU, Ken Stanek, now retired elementary principal. Thirty years ago you gave this hometown girl a chance in the education ecosystem. Even though I thought I was fired before I ever started because the school board back then questioned your hiring policies because “locals” we’re not hired. And the newspaper printed that doubt in the newspaper for the whole community to read, you, sir, stuck to your philosophy and by my side. You gave me my educational wings…and I flew! Thank you, Mr. Stanek, from the bottom of my heart.

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Now thirty years later your granddaughter is one of our SMSU graduates and you stand by her side encouraging her to use her educational wings to fly.

Graduates, it’s time to spread your educational wings and soar! Go out there and teach with all your heart.

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We are your #proudprofs.

Stay Calm & graduate on!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

I’ve Learned…

Blog I've Learned

Many years ago, probably 40 or so, when my dad was the Public Relations Manager at the Rural Electric Association in town here, he shared one of the REA newsletters with me. Inside that newsletter was a FAMILY TIME section. Written there were Andy Rooney’s I’ve learned… statements. GREAT advice. To my dad in heaven…thank you! 🙂

Well, I have learned a few lessons just this past weekend while hanging out with my four-year old grandson, Warren. You never know what’s going to transpire…

I’ve learned…when using an exercise ball in a small motel exercise room, to NOT let it escape and roll away towards a treadmill that is in use. Grandmas are not quick enough to stop it even if they try because everything seems to transform into S  L  O  W motion when trying to retrieve it!

When that semi-flat ball hits the treadmill, it gets inhaled vigorously like a vacuum sucking up a rug, and then viciously halts the treadmill in the blink of an eye.  I am extremely thankful that the man on the treadmill wasn’t hurt.  Even though I apologized profusely, his angry eyes never stopped burning a hole in my already speeding heart.

After tugging and yanking for about five minutes (no, that man did not help), it came loose at last. Caution sign in exercise rooms could read: “Dangerous exercise balls present, proceed with caution.”

To the man in the exercise room at the Marriott Residence Inn in Plymouth, MN…we are SO SORRY!!!!

I’ve learned…when you step off of an uneven sidewalk, you do NOT let go of your grandson’s hand.

Instead, you clench your fists (with his hand in it) preparing for the fall and take him down with you. And when it’s all over and you are lying on the ground rocking back and forth in pain, you realize all that matters is that the grandson is okay.

And then your heart melts when he asks with sincere concern in his voice…”you okay Grandma??”

Ankles heal…grateful Warren didn’t get hurt!!

I learned a lot this past weekend. Whew!! Grateful for no major catastrophes!!! 🙂 What is something YOU have learned this week???

Check out all of Andy Rooney’s “I’ve learned…” Might want to grab a tissue.  Enjoy…

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Warren learning about Grandma’s favorite smell… 🙂


Warren learning about ducks… 🙂

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