Monthly Archives: April 2018

Everything I Know About Teaching I Learned From Moving Snow….

This is a guest blog post by friend and colleague Dr. Rhonda Bonnstetter who is a Professor of Education for Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minnesota.  Dr. Bonnstetter is serving in her 13th year as a Professor of Education at SMSU. Dr. Bonnstetter enjoys spending time with her children and 15 grandchildren, supervising student teachers, and working with in-service teachers to improve their pedagogical practice. You can follow her on Twitter at @jrbonnst.   

Blog guest rhonda snow

The title is meant to mimic a book of short essays called “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” written by American minister and author Robert Fulghum (1986). If you have not read his work, I highly recommend it; Fulghum discusses how many of the struggles we face as adults could be improved if we applied lessons we learned as children, such as sharing, cleaning up after ourselves, being kind to one another, etc.

We all face challenges, both in our home lives and our teaching lives, and I’m certainly no different. My world changed dramatically last year when I lost my husband of almost 40 years quite suddenly to a heart attack.

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That has forced to me change how I look at things, including rather mundane Minnesota tasks like moving snow. As is often the case, my husband had taken care of the majority of the ‘moving snow’ tasks over the years. Now this task is still there, but needs a different approach. I am fortunate that my son lives nearby, and has been willing to take this on for me, but on a Sunday morning in January, he and his wife were gone on a short vacation to Mexico, and I had been blessed with about 2 inches of fresh, white snow overnight. The snow should be moved so that it doesn’t get packed down by walking or driving on it, creating icy patches that take ‘forever’ to thaw. But, this looked like a big project. I decided to take it on with my trusty shovel, since I had made a New Year’s resolution to get more exercise (at least 5,000 steps/day, with a goal of reaching 10,000 steps). I’ve found that I have a hard time exercising just because it’s good for me; I am much more likely to stick with it if I am actually doing/accomplishing something, rather than just spending time on my treadmill. So, the shovel it is! Along the way to a clean driveway, I had plenty of time to ponder. Here are seven things I realized I have learned along the way, and they tie into teaching perfectly…

Blog guest rhonda yard

1.) Big jobs can seem daunting at the start. I have a BIG yard to clean out, and it looked a bit overwhelming at first. I decided to break it up in to chunks, and to tackle each chunk at a time. That made the task more do-able. The same is true for big projects at work, such as curriculum mapping, or taking on the latest teaching initiative in your district. Our students often have the same problem – a project that we assign can seem insurmountable. We can help them to learn how to break that project into smaller chunks, and tackle one at a time, rather than do it for them as teachers. They won’t learn how to apply this strategy if we always do it for them!

2.) Take a few minutes to see how the pros do it. I was pushing snow and pushing snow, but some would fall off the edges of the shovel, and I would have to go back to clean it up. That wasn’t too efficient and was taking extra time. Soon I saw a county snowplow come by, pushing snow off the road. I noticed that his blade was at an angle – not just to move the snow to the edge, but it also helped to keep the snow from rolling of the inside and piling up on the road. Once I tried using that technique, I was spending less time going back for clean-up. The same is true in teaching; take a look at the research on a topic. How have the pros attacked this problem or one similar to it? Education journals can be a wealth of knowledge, and can save us a great deal of time as teachers – we do not have to reinvent the wheel! We can use the wisdom of others to help us deal with the teaching problems that we face.

3.) Bring along a friend. Tackling big problems alone is exhausting! I let my puppy out while I was shoveling the snow, and his favorite activity is to have me throw his ‘ball on a rope’ so that he can retrieve it. He LOVES bounding through new snow, so the combination of chasing his ball and tromping through the fresh snowfall made his day! Watching his joy and being part of it helped to make my day better as well. The same is true in teaching – you probably have friends or colleagues who are dealing with similar problems. Choose to tackle them together, as part of a PLC in your school or just as friends. Attend a conference together, or take a graduate class together. We make each other stronger and better when we work together!

Blog guest rhonda dog (2)

4.) Take a break from time to time. About half way into my snow-moving project, my hands were getting cold and my fingers were starting to ache. I could have given up and just left it to go inside where it was warm, but I decided to try taking a break. After a few minutes of rest, I was ready to step back out and keep working on it. Teaching and dealing with students, parents, administrators, and more can be exhausting at times; in order to be our best, we all need to take a break from time to time. One of the biggest challenges many teachers face is finding a balance between work and home life. Some teachers I’ve worked with make it a point to never take school work home with them – literally and figuratively. They stay at school until 4:30-5:00 each evening to grade papers and create lesson plans, so that when they leave, they are fully prepared for the next day and they don’t need to bring anything home. Others find ways to build in time at home to work on these teaching tasks. The important thing is to not get so wrapped up in making a living that they forget to also make a life for themselves outside of school. Take a ‘me’ day from time to time, or schedule time in each day to be with family and friends. Your mental health will be better, and you will be a better teacher when you take time to recharge your own batteries.

5.) Use your talents to do what you can, then let the sun (and the Son) do the rest. Once I had the majority of the snow moved off the yard, the power of the sun started melting the little wisps that were left, leaving a clean, dry surface. I have long been a believer that this is also true in life; we are each given a variety of talents to use. We are expected to develop and use those talents as best we can, and then God will step in and take care of the rest. This probably comes from hearing the old adage, “God helps those who help themselves”. Principals expect this of their teachers as well; not every problem child can be sent to the principal’s office for that person to deal with. As a teacher you need to use all the talents you have to address the student issues in your classroom; once you have done all you can, then it’s time to call in a higher power whether that be the child’s parent/guardian, the principal, and/or your school’s psychologist.

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6.) Sometimes ‘helping’ isn’t….  As I was moving the snow, several people drove by, and a few even waved. No one stopped to help – and I was glad that they didn’t, especially once I was done. I felt a big sense of accomplishment in taking on this project and completing it on my own. I had met my goal of at least 5,000 steps already by noon! Sometimes as teachers and parents, we want to protect or help our children, so we swoop in to ‘help’ them to tackle problems, sometimes even if they haven’t asked for help! This does a disservice to our students/children, as we take away that feeling of pride and accomplishment in solving the problem for themselves. In the end, that is the opposite of helping them – it can actually keep them from developing the sense of confidence and self-efficacy to deal with problems on their own. This is where the constructivist model of teaching comes in; facilitate learning, don’t feed it to students piece by piece. Help them to learn to take charge of their own learning, and they will become lifelong learners who can ‘move the snow’ that comes their way, whether it be mountains or molehills!

Blog guest rhonda steps.jpg

7.) Don’t forget to have fun! If you stop enjoying what you do, it’s time to re-think what you are doing. Do you need more challenge? Do you need a new location? A great job in a toxic atmosphere can be draining, and a lousy job with great co-workers can be a wonderful experience! Maybe you need to move to a new grade level, or a new district. Maybe it’s time to think about moving into administration or adding a new license to give you some new challenges. Life is short – love what you do and do what you love!

Blog guest rhonda friends

Fulghum, R. (1986). All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. New York: Villard   Books. ISBN 978-0-394-57102-7

Stay Calm & Move On, Snow!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

Education Action Researchers = Significant Presentations

Blog Action Research Group

Teacher candidates walked the stairs or took the elevator up to the 2nd floor at the Schwan’s Regional Event Center (REC) the day before the BIG conference to practice a run-through of their presentations. The majority of them had never seen the upstairs to the REC…where the suites at the SMSU football stadium are located. Many walked through the venue admiring and just taking it all in. The best comment made that morning was when a teacher candidate sat down in one of the chairs where the keynote would take place and with a big smile on her face she said, “I feel so important.”

That is what a positive environment can do for us. When I shared with my friend what this young gal had said, my friend added: “a hospitable environment can equal significant outcomes.” It sure can, Mel! The REC was a hospitable venue to host our 3rd Annual Education Action Research Conference, and we most certainly celebrated the significant outcomes of the keynote speaker, the presenters, the evaluators, the tech supporters, and the visitors.

The teacher candidates did a marvelous job of presenting the projects they conducted  during their yearlong studies at rural schools in Minnesota. From Graphic Organizers and Story Mapping to Digital Flashcards and Word Walls, these action researchers provided insights on the outcomes of when literacy strategies are implemented into elementary classrooms.

Congrats, Action Researchers. Accolades to ALL on a job well done! 🙂


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

The Power of the Light Switch

Our life is what our thoughts make it.
~Marcus Aurelius

BLOG 4.4.18 Switch

Imagine a light switch for a moment.  Flip it up – and voila … let there be light!  Flip it down – and poof … the light is gone in a blink of an eye.  If the light switch is on, it really makes it easy to find what you are looking for.  If the light switch is off, it really makes it hard to find what you are looking for.  (And no – you can’t use the flashlight on your phone to help  you.)  In Dr. Caroline Leaf’s 2013 book, Switch on Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health,  readers learn about the power of a light switch and how it compares similarly to switching on one’s brain.  Amazing to consider!

I recently went on an adventure that allowed my brain some time to think and to be creative.  I found myself reading Leaf’s book… and then taking notes.  It took quite some time to read because I kept getting distracted by taking notes in attempt to memorize Leaf’s points.  In fact, I couldn’t get the book finished in time for this blog, but I just couldn’t wait to share it with you …  Read on to see some thought-provoking quotes from Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book sprinkled in with some of my own two cents.  Enjoy!

BLOG 4.4.18 Switch2“What would you do if you found a switch that could turn on your brain and enable you to be happier, healthier in your mind and body, more prosperous, and more intelligent?” (Leaf, 2013, p.13).

Um – YES! Sign me up! Dr. Leaf tells us how – and it’s simple too. Your mind is the switch. Page one of the prologue gives away the secret – and makes me want to read more. I have always heard and preached about the power of positive thinking… and now I know that I am positively right about being positive.

“The choices we make with our mind impact generations” (p.14).

“If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought. ~Peace Pilgrim” (p.15).

Leaf pairs scripture & science throughout her book with amazing clarity and connections.  Her words direct us to common language in our lives…
We believe in God the Father…
Believe in yourself…
I think I can, I think I can…

“How we react to the events and circumstances of life can have an enormous impact on our mental and even physical health” (p.20).

“You can do whatever you set your mind to…” (p.20).

A recent example of this was when I was visiting my Grandmother.  She has not been doing so well and has needed help getting out of her chair… except when she “gets something  in her head” and “makes up her mind to do something” as Grandpa kindly puts it.  Notice in the video that she has dancing on her mind. 🙂

Grandma and Grandpa dancing S18

“Mind over matter” (p.25).

“Happiness comes from within and success follows – not the other way around” (p.26).

A somewhat controversial yet powerful statement – “You don’t have to fear that if a condition runs in your family that you are going to get it (for example, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or depression)” (p.26).

“Matter does not control us; we control matter through our thinking and choosing. We cannot control the events and circumstances of life but we can control our reactions” (p.32).

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Leaf 2013, p.62 and the Good Book – aka Bible – Philippians 4:8).

Consider “5-16 minutes a day of focused, meditative capturing of thoughts” (p.75).

“We cannot control the events and circumstances of life, but we can control our reactions to those events and circumstances” (p.82).  Amen.

“…state of mind in which we switch off to the external and switch on to the internal… in this deeply intellectual state… is more focused and introspective… we move into a highly intelligent, self-reflective, directed state” (p.82).

“In this directed rest state, you focus inward, you introspective, and you appear to slow down; but actually, your mental resources speed up and your thinking moves to a higher level” (p.83).  Wonderful rationale for siestas and vacations!

In closing, the light switch is yours to decide what to do with … flip it on or off.  If I can give any advice, think positively and let your light shine.  It makes the world a much brighter place for us all. 

Stay Calm & Switch on Your Brain ~
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.