Monthly Archives: December 2016

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates…Until It’s Not

Just like Forrest Gump and his momma say, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”  Yum! Well – sometimes anyway.  Other times not so much.

It’s that time of year when we reflect on the past and look ahead to the future and really, really try to live in the present while on winter break.  We LOVE Christmas time and Christmas vacation! 🙂

So what have we learned from this year…


Just like Forrest and his wise momma said… life is indeed like a box of chocolates.  Each day brings something new and unexpected.  Some of the days are like the best pieces of melted caramel in milk chocolate that one can imagine.  Other days are a little more like the dark chocolate with some jelly something or other inside.  What?  You like those chocolates?? Well – we each have our own opinions and perspectives.  Just consider the most recent Presidential election… or not – depending on your outlook.  We are all different, and we all help make the world go around.  With that in mind, what will you do with your chocolate in 2017?  Eat it? Give it up? Share it?

We’re still working on the list of lessons gleaned from 2016.  We are living up each moment until we ring in 2017.  Hope you find time to live it up with your family and friends as 2016 draws to a close and we welcome in 2017!

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

Life is Like a Piñata: Jam-Packed Full of Surprises


“People are like piñatas, chock-full of unexpected goodies.” ~Patsy Clairmont

December is jam-packed full of birthdays. All three of my grandkids have their birthdays this month. My friend, colleague, and blogging partner has her birthday coming up this week on the 22nd (oh please send her a happy birthday shout out on Twitter @drvteacher 🙂 ). And, of course, the most famous birthday this month is on December 25th. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Back to birthdays. One exciting activity at my grandson’s birthday parties the past few years has been the breaking of the piñatas. What little one doesn’t love to swing a bat as hard as they can at the hanging object that is stuffed full of unknown goodies?

The kiddos all took turns. I know my granddaughter was giving it her all to bust that bumble bee wide open. This always makes me a tad bit nervous though. As the kids were swinging, I was praying silently that those future little baseball players hang on to that bat after smacking the piñata. 😮

When the piñata was finally broken and all the goodies fell to the ground, those little ones dashed to the treasure lying on the carpet, then dropped to their knees to gather up as many of those yummy treats as they possibly could hold in their young arms. “Oohs” and “aahhs” escaped from their tiny lips when they discovered more than just candy. SURPRISE…toys galore. Unexpected glow rings and puzzle shapes that challenged even the Grandpas.  Many happy kiddos at the end of that birthday party.

A few nights ago my hubby and I had the fun of attending an early birthday party for Dr. V. A party planned by her hubby that she swears she had no idea about. SURPRISE…just like a piñata, the room was jam-packed full of family and friends waiting to celebrate with her. Lordy, Lordy, Someone is 40. 😀 And, YES, 40 looks fabulous on you!


This surprise birthday evening was jam-packed full of fun and laughter and stories and music and food and overall awesomeness. Chock-full of blessings. Just as life should be. Happy birthday, dear piñata friend. You are jam-packed full of beauty and kindness and humor and love. 🙂 Thanks for being a blessing in my life.

As we approach Christmas, the best birthday party of all, I challenge all of us to be a piñata in someone’s life this holiday season. Christmas can be very difficult for some. Not everyone will be joyful during this joyful holiday. Be jam-packed full of surprises for others.


Maybe some have recently lost a loved one and will be spending Christmas without that person for the first time. Surprise them with a card, a phone call, or a face-to-face visit. Watch a movie or share some hot chocolate together.

Maybe some are in hospitals fighting for their health. Surprise them with a Christmas stocking jam-packed full of goodies such as books, shampoos, CD’s, journals. Possibly put one together for a child, a teenager, an adult, and a senior citizen.

Maybe some feel alone. It’s possible that the waiters/waitresses who just served their customers food have no family nearby. Surprise them by leaving an extra-large tip with a note of appreciation.

Maybe some are down on their luck and are struggling financially. Buy a gift card to a grocery store that also has a gas station. Surprise them by hand-delivering the gift card, complete with a hug, and let the person know that a thank you is not necessary. The only expectation would be to pay it forward someday when they can afford it.

Yes, indeed. Life and people are certainly like piñatas, chock-full of unexpected goodies. Be a piñata for others today and EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.  And…happy birthday to you…whenever your birthday is. SURPRISE… 🙂

Stay Calm & Be Someone’s Piñata!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

What Motivates You?

“Let it drive you or defeat you… only you can choose.
No one owns your attitude but you.”

These one-day-famous words were once said by Mama Bear to her Baby Bear.  Okay – I may just be the Mama Bear in this story.  You see… Baby Bear was facing some adversity and the porridge was no longer just quite right.  School, teams, responsibilities, …the tug-of-war of it all can be consuming.

It is hard to see our kids struggle – whether it is our children at home or our children in our classrooms or our children in activities or our children out in the world.  There is not necessarily an age limit where it stops hurting when the challenges come knocking and are no longer at bay.  You may have heard this one before… “Knock, knock.”  “Who’s there?”  “Life’s challenges that’s who.”  ….and I forget how the rest of the joke goes, but I know how the story ends.  We either finish it the best we can or start fresh or walk away.  Well, in most situations, it should only be option A.

“I get knocked down, but I get up again… you’re never going to keep me down.”  These lyrics randomly pop in my head when life gets overwhelming and the going gets tough.  It all started back during my undergrad work when I was challenged beyond my imagination juggling life away from home, my studies, my internships, my responsibilities, and of course my social obligations.  Were these events life changing?  You bet.  Were they world ending?  Not so much.  At the time, I wasn’t so sure, however.  That is the beauty of facing challenges and conquering doubts.  Although we may feel in over our heads, we can tread water and eventually swim back to shore. …Now back to the song – I am not quite sure if these are the true lyrics to the tune, but they certainly were and remain true for me.  Get back up and just keep swimming.

So what motivates us to “keep on keepin’ on” each day?  Some ideas based on thorough research… or rather, Deep Thoughts by Dr. V.  (I apologize that only a certain population of SNL viewers will understand that last statement.)

Finding clues to the next stage of the game…


Helping others find their clues…


Finding enjoyment and passion and life…


Witnessing the strength of others…


Pushing ourselves to do better and be better…


Being a part of something bigger than ourselves…

Family & friends…

…and of course furry friends with BIG brown eyes!

What motivates you?

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade… or just let the sour stuff ruin your day.  We choose how we live and what we do with the lemons headed down the aisle of life our way on any given day.

Stay Calm & remember…where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

Ways to Conquer the edTPA: SMSU Teacher Candidates Share Their 2-Cents Worth


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The end of the semester is close which means many of our SMSU teacher candidates are nearing the end of their student teaching experience. In addition to their 16 weeks in the classroom, they also had to wrestle with their Education Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA)! No small feat, mind you. So, recently hearing that our SMSU teacher candidates are passing their edTPA’s with distinction makes us profs hoot and holler and cheer with joy.

Currently, the edTPA is a MN Board of Teaching (BOT) requirement. As reported by the BOT website…In 2011, the Minnesota Legislature enacted a requirement to make a performance assessment a required part of all teacher preparation programs. Teacher preparation programs including alternative teacher preparation programs under section 122A.245, among other programs, must include a content specific, Board approved, performance based assessment that measures teacher candidates in three areas: planning for instruction and assessment; engaging students and supporting learning; and assessing student learning. In response to the 2011 Legislative mandate, the Board of Teaching has adopted the edTPA as the performance assessment for Minnesota teacher candidates (

According to our SMSU edTPA conquerors, it was no easy task to survive this BOT expectation. These teacher candidates agreed upon a few edTPA stressors that caused them to stumble (but not fall):

  • Accountability for both edTPA and student teaching at the same time
  • Time away from the most important thing…teaching
  • Emotionally drained
  • Lost time with family
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Insurmountable pressure to pass
  • Time consuming

Here is an example of what one exhausted teacher candidate shared about her edTPA journey: “To be honest, doing the edTPA while student teaching was awful. It took away from the teaching experience. I’m a parent and lost time with my children. It left me drained, tired, overwhelmed and exhausted. One day I spent 15 hours straight on one task and didn’t even finish it in that sitting.”

While many teacher candidates grappled with the edTPA, most of them persevered, never gave up, and defeated it for a ginormous WIN! They not only passed, they excelled. How? Below, these successful teacher candidates offer the following suggestions so you too can conquer YOUR edTPA:

Pre-Student Teaching edTPA: Pay attention to the edTPA you do during your pre-student teaching experience. Make it seem like the ‘real deal’ because then when it comes to student teaching you will understand and be comfortable with the structure and expectations.

Rubric Score: Shoot for the highest score on the rubric. Go for the 5 while making sure to cover all the points found in 1 – 5. Pay close attention to the rubric level of progression.

Level of Progression: Carefully and thoroughly read the current Understanding Rubric Level of Progression found for your content area. Print it off and use it.

Make Good Choices: Read through this support guide very carefully. It is full of helpful hints on how to organize, write, and understand the edTPA.

Order of Completion: Start it early. Select the task you want to work on and then do two numbers a day. Example: 1a, 1b; 2a, 2b, and 2c. Do each part of the whole number thoroughly. Then be done for the night…unless you are on a roll, then by all means keep going. Have a time frame…set goals such as be done with Task 1 by a specific date and Task 3 by a specific date, etc.

Pursue Support: Find a support group of 2 or 3 others who you can meet with to work together on the edTPA. Use social media for assistance. Start a private edTPA Facebook group to allow for discussions (and venting). Check out advice on Twitter @edTPAtips. Also seek out assistance from other supports such as PassedTPA for strategies. Remember to google it.


Proof Read: Anytime you write anything you should always have someone proof read your material. OR…better yet, read your material to someone and anyone who will listen. When you read it out loud, that really helps you hear it and see it then fix it!

Plan and Align: Plan, plan, and plan some more. Make sure your goals and your assessments align with each other. Restate your central focus often so the evaluator doesn’t have to go back to look for it.

Take Time for You: Take some time away from the edTPA to keep your sanity in check. Find positive ways that will destress you. Go for a walk, get a massage, listen to music, drink lots of water, prepare and enjoy a nutritious meal, laugh a lot, go on a lunch date with family or friends, and…eat desserts first (because did you know that stressed spelled backwards is desserts? 🙂 ).

Wholehearted congratulations to all our teacher candidates who passed their edTPA! We are your professors, couldn’t be prouder. If you can’t hear us, we’ll yell a little louder. 🙂 Two thumbs up, teacher candidates. We loudly applaud you while giving a standing ovation!  

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