Monthly Archives: September 2017

Choose to Be the Top 20

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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. 


Know When to Engage, Mavericks

Blog top gun

One of our favorite movies is Top Gun starring Tom Cruise (Maverick) and Anthony Edwards (Goose).

In the movie, Commander Viper reprimands Maverick and Goose for breaking one of the Top Gun Rules of Engagement. Viper sternly reminds them that:  “…Rules of engagement exist for your safety and for that of your team. They are not flexible…obey them.”

We offer the same advice to our teacher candidates when it comes to the battlefield of social media such as Facebook and Twitter. If the ‘conversation’ on either one of those turns sour, DO NOT ENGAGE.

Sometimes schools can become the target of negative comments on Twitter or especially Facebook. A few outsiders can become ‘vocal’ and shoot written bullets through these social media platforms if they do not agree with decisions being made.

If this should happen to you or your school, we strongly recommend you stay out of the conversation. Do not engage. If personal expectations are not met, people tend to get upset and there is nothing you can do to change their minds. Even positive comments back to them may not help (speaking from past experiences of our own…we Mavericks should not have engaged). 😮

An elementary principal once shared this wise advice… “anytime a written message is sent out to 25 (250) parents, that message can be interpreted 25 (250) different ways. Choose your words wisely.” Wisdom right there!

Now that a brand new school year is in session, always seek out the positives, and stay far, far away from the negatives. Always do what is best for your kids. And, please….be smart on your social media platforms. “…Rules of engagement exist for your safety and for that of your team. They are not flexible…obey them.” Know when to engage, Mavericks!

Blog Top Gun Convenience

Stay Calm & Obey the Rules of Engagement!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.