Monthly Archives: May 2018

Love Your Students Every Single Day


“This beautiful 50 foot pine tree…I lay back and look up through the branches of this tree that I call home. I look at my mom and my sister and am amazed at how peaceful they can sleep here. Me? I have to protect them no matter what.” ~Vin Shambry

After listening to Vin Shambry tell his story of living part of his childhood homeless, now every time I look at pine trees, it is from a brand new perspective.

When I see towering evergreens while on a drive, on a walk, or visiting a friend, I pause and wonder…

How tall is that evergreen?

Is the ground under it smooth enough to sleep on?

Are the branches low enough to the ground to be hidden and feel safe?

Would a family be able to fit under there?

This NPR podcast called The Moth Radio Hour reminded me of what Brian Mendler, author, speaker, creator of #30secpd, and classroom management expert, repeatedly says in his workshops and on Twitter. Not all students are excited for vacations. They live in chaos and dysfunction. School is their safety zone.

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Educators, as we look forward to summer vacation, let us not forget that some of our students will be in survival mode during their time off.  Be empathetic and verbalize how much you care about them. Are you willing to be available for your students even during your restful days of summer? If yes, please let them know. Love your students! Not just during the school year but…Every.Single.Day.

Blog students who are loved at home

(Click here to listen to Vin Shambry tell his story called Outdoor Camp…

Stay Calm & Enjoy Summer!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

A Belated Mother’s Day Gift…to the Younger Version of Me

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Mother’s day is a wonderful day to acknowledge those who have and continue to love us unconditionally and miss those who are no longer with us. Thanks to my own Mom 🙂 I spent this past Mother’s Day watching my three sons play basketball and football.  It did not involve a relaxing brunch on the patio with a mimosa.  It involved snacks in a cooler bag while traveling from gym to gym and back again and then to the field.  It involved a Mother’s Day card, gift, and single flower from my boys – and not to forget the pens and “No” button from the girls (my nieces who know  me so well).  The day most importantly involved hugs and kisses from the kiddos.  It was wonderful overall!

At one the gyms, I witnessed something that reminded me of some of the things that I have learned and continue to try to learn along the way.  It caused me to reflect…
Why do we do this? All of this? Why double or triple book?  Why do you drive your kids all over for activities? We should be cleaning the house or could be relaxing with a book. 
So I may not have all the answers to the questions… I have slowly found some, and I thought I would take a few moments to write down the answers for you – the younger version of me.

Listen to the voices.  You will hear them say, “Are you crazy…driving your kids for hours to practice?” “Do you really think they will go pro?”  Answer those voices loudly and clearly.  “YES!”  I am listening to the voices now… the right ones… the ones coming from the backseat for those long drives while doing homework. They mean the most to me, and I miss them already because although the days sometimes seem long, the years are flying by.  “YES!” My kids will go pro.  The reason you chauffer your sons everyone both near and far for practices and competitions IS to make them the BEST!  It is the type of best that you need to learn more about.  It is not to be the best athlete in the competition. It is to be the best version of themselves in life. They will be professionals in life – no matter how their paths wind.  They are learning communication skills, versatility, adversity, advocacy, prioritizing, and you bet, budgeting.  The crazy ride cannot happen without it. There are growing pains involved with it all. Even when they mess up and aren’t perfect, help them grow and love ‘em up. Just keep stretching and listening.

Be quiet.  As we have become seasoned parents of young athletes, we have grown a considerable amount as supporters from the stands.  Don’t be mistaken… grown does not equal perfect.  Everyone stumbles.  We learn through failure and perspective.  We have slowly been learning perspective. Even if the team or school does not, implement the 24-hour policy for contacting coaches and teachers. If it is a safety concern, that is something different entirely… and you will know the difference.  If not, write it down. Don’t yell at the refs or your player on the court… you like to focus on “boxing out” but by the time you yell it, it’s too late.  Still working on this one…it is a favorite one of mine at any age.  “Box out” is in the running for most widely used shout out, but now behind phrases like, “Nice job, buddy” or “Keep your head up.”  In this judgmental world, there are plenty of nay-sayers out there so no need to add to that mix for your own kids.

Judge less.  Just a reminder that you are not perfect… Did I say that once before?  Even when you are older and wiser, you are not perfect.  That’s okay.  No one is… even if they think they may be.  Judge less and love more.  Everyone has something in life that they are dealing with, working on, living with… cut them some slack and hope that the love is returned.
Be naïve.  Be realistic. This does not have to be hypocritical.  Think they can along with them, but know that can means and looks differently for each person.  Help them pursue their dreams with their eyes wide open. Perspective continues to be your word this year. 🙂

Just be.  Be who you are and the parent that you can be at the time.  It’s okay to strive for perfection but expect less and just be okay with it.  Your house is not spotless – so what and who cares.  If they care, then they don’t care about you.  Oh – do continue to just try to get your kids to make their beds, however.  Just let your kids know that you love them no matter how many minutes they play or what activities they want to discontinue because they no longer love them.  Politics are everywhere so just love them and let them know it is okay to just be… just be kind, just be honest, just be respectful, just be.

There is so much more advice that I want to give you, but I recall all too well how I did not always like being told what to do a younger age… sometimes I still don’t at an older age. 😉

Again, no one is perfect so cut yourself some slack.  Like the fact that you wanted this blog published three days ago – so what?  The world is still turning, and your older self is continuing to learn to prioritize with perspective.  Just because you wrote this and are reading this doesn’t mean that you will get it right each time all the time.  We have grown as parents with our own sons as individuals, learners of the game of life; we have learned that there is so much more to the game than the ball on the court…  the character on and around the court is what truly counts.

Enough already…you need to get going…you need to pick up your kids from school and get them to their activities tonight.  Oh- but one last one because even your older self continues to try to squeeze in one more thing… life is short and no one knows when the clock runs out… so hug more and keep on huggin’!

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



Happy Mother’s Day in Heaven, Mom…

Blog mom

Happy Mother’s Day in heaven, Mom…

I wish you were here so we could sit down with a hot cup of coffee and one of your scrumptious banana bars with cream cheese frosting and enjoy each other’s company.  Since you aren’t, here is my Mother’s Day thank you to you in heaven.

Thank you for teaching me unconditional love. You taught me that no one is perfect. We all make mistakes, and you know I made many of them growing up. Still do. As the years passed you continued to love me through my ups and downs. Yes, I disappointed you; yes, you reprimanded me; however, you never threw me out with the trash. You loved me no matter what.

Thank you for teaching me forgiveness. You taught me that regardless of how bad I thought an offense was, it needed to be forgiven. You demanded that I be quick to forgive and make amends. To not judge, and don’t assume. To always, ALWAYS get both sides of the story before making a decision.

Thank you for teaching me independence. You taught me that if there was an issue with someone or something, it wasn’t your job to run to my rescue. No hovering or lawn mower (bulldozing) parenting from you! It was MY job to figure it out. When my second-grade teacher was mean, you told me “the Harder she gets the smarter you get so keep working at it” (yes, I had Mrs. Harder in 2nd grade).  When mean girls poked fun at my flaws, you did not call up the mothers of those girls and yell at them. Nope, you told me to go talk with them and try to work it out, or just let it go and to remember “this too shall pass.”

Thank you for teaching me to fight. You taught me that life is worth fighting for. You fought cancer twice, once in your 50’s and once in your 70’s; you fought the darkness of depression when you lost your only son in a car accident; you fought to be the best caregiver for dad when he lost his memory to Alzheimer’s and his eyesight to Macular degeneration; you fought boldly against dementia when it had its sharp claws in you; you never gave up. You fought back, you endured, you were strong and courageous. I pray I never have to go through the trials and tribulations that you had to go through in life. But if I do, I pray I can be as audacious as you were.

Thank you for teaching me to celebrate life. You taught me that there’s always a reason to throw a party. You were a social butterfly and cherished a joyous get-together. You had parties for everything… birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, confirmations, holidays. I think you even made up a few of your own holidays just so you could have a party. You appreciated people and you wanted to share your celebrations of life with them.

Thank you for teaching me to laugh. You taught me that a good belly laugh is good for the soul. You had a delightful sense of humor. Your quick wit was a trait I absolutely adored in you. From the crazy exercise contraptions that we bought together, to the uncontrollable giggling in church, you were the perfect example of jovial. Your grandkids have inherited that from you, and now they are able to get me to laugh by using their quick wit. And most days I really need that laughter.

Thank you for teaching me to appreciate music. You tried hard to teach me to sing so thanks for the effort.  You had a beautiful voice, Mom. Harmonizing was your gift. Plus, you could yodel, play guitar, and play piano.  You loved Alan Jackson and Johnny Cash, and you also enjoyed a slow waltz and a two-step. I am still in awe of your musical talent.

Thank you for teaching me to be prompt.  You taught me to show up at least 10 minutes early to any appointment or job or game or whatever. To this day I still try to arrive early. Doesn’t always happen (especially to department meetings—sorry Dr. V.), but I try my hardest.

Thank you for teaching me to accessorize life. You taught me that lipstick and earrings and fun shoes and gum make life a little more glamorous. You were a sharp dresser. You even made sweatpants look good. You flaunted your dangling earrings and your colorful lipstick. As you aged, the snazzy shoes weren’t as important to you, but you could make tennis shoes look like high heels. Your granddaughter has taken on your love of shoes. We call her “goody 200 shoes.” 🙂 And gum…you always needed a piece of gum close to your fingertips. We even buried you with a tube of lipstick, fancy shoes, and a pack of gum.

In spite of all that, Mom, I am grateful for I Samuel 16:7b – “The LORD does not look at the things man (people) look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Amen to that…I’m grateful Jesus loves you and me just the way we are—with or without lipstick and earrings and snazzy shoes.

I’m sure there are many other lessons you have taught me, Mom. Not enough room here for all of them. I just want you to know that I miss you tremendously, I love you enormously, I ask you for forgiveness of any heartache I may have caused you, and please save me a room up there next to yours so we can once again share lots of love and laughs.

Happy Mother’s Day and see you someday soon.

Love your daughter…

Stay Calm & Happy Mother’s Day!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

What are some life lessons your mother has taught you? Please share in the comments below and then make sure to tell your mom.  

The Global Achievement Gap – From Minnesota to Finland

This week’s post features guest blogger, Mr. Christian Skillings, a graduate student at Southwest Minnesota State University, who I have had the priviledge to serve as his advisor and chair his graduate work.  He is ready to change the world – and has been already.  There is so much more to share about this educational leader as he is on his way to great things… without further ado, Mr. Christian Skillings.

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Hi all,

My name is Christian Skillings and I am a graduate student at Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU). Currently, I am making the final revisions to my thesis and will be graduating this May with my Master of Science in Education, emphasis in TESL. Being so, I was approached to summarize my research and findings, which took place over the last year in both the United States and Finland.

The foundation of my study came after reading The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner. If you have not had the chance to read this book, I strongly encourage all educators or aspiring teachers to do so. The critical point presented by Mr. Wagner is the undeniable statistics on the United States’ troublesome education system; namely, the widespread inadequate preparation of secondary students. Currently, the United States is experiencing a global achievement gap, which as stated by Wagner (2008/2014), is, “The gap between what even our best suburban, urban, and rural public schools are teaching and testing versus what all students will need to succeed as learners, workers, and citizens in today’s global knowledge economy” (p. 8). As a result of the global achievement gap, it has been found that high school graduates are unprepared for the rigors of higher education and the workforce. In a survey of 63,366 entering community college students, conducted by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCSCE), the Center on Standards and Assessments Implementation (CSAI) (2016) found that 67% of high school graduates were required to take remedial courses upon entering community college.  Furthermore, Wagner (2010) found nearly 50% of employers, in a survey of more than 400, felt that individuals out of secondary school were “deficient” in preparation, in addition to the 65% of university professors that reported students as being unprepared for higher education. (Sorry for all the statistics and APA citations. This project has made me a bit of a nerd and APA prude).

So…… it is apparent learners are lacking the attributes needed to succeed, but what skills are exactly required? Wagner (2008/2014) termed the needed skills “Survival Skills, whereas others, such as Hilton (2015), coined these attributes “21st-century skills.” Regardless of the terminology, secondary school graduates must possess the ability to: think critically and problem solve, collaborate across networks and lead by influence, have agility and adaptability, demonstrate initiative and entrepreneurialism, effectively communicate, access and analyze information, inspire curiosity and imagination, and self-management. This is a long, but necessary set of attributes that are sought out in today’s knowledge economy.

Reflecting back on my own personal education experience, it became obviously that I was, and perhaps still am, a part of this achievement gap. Moreover, current reform measures in the United States and pedagogy in the classroom do not appear to be narrowing this global achievement gap. Thus, I looked internationally to find a nation that was succeeding in the world of education, in addition to equipping their students with the noted 21st-century skills, subsequently producing more college and career ready individuals. Finland, a small Nordic nation, against all odds, was a potential answer to my search. Perhaps I also just wanted to appease my insatiable appetite for travel! Nonetheless, I ventured across the Atlantic to study the Finnish education system.

Long story short; I won’t bore you with the minute research details, I studied two Finnish lower secondary schools (Grades 7-9) and two Minnesota middle schools (Grades 6-8), allowing me to make a comparative analysis of the two education systems. Specifically, I looked only at Grade 8 in Minnesota and Grade 9 in Finland. Why, you might ask, did I only study those two grades? Because research points to Grade 8 as being a tipping-point in college and career readiness (Doughtery, 2015; Royster, Gross, & Hochbein, 2015; Schaefer & Rivera, 2012). In Finland, Grade 9 is the year before secondary school, so for applicability reasons the 9th grade was studied. My research goal was to uncover 3-4 transferable aspects of the Finnish education system that better equip students with the noted 21st-century skills. Furthermore, I wished to take a more in-depth look at the ideological similarities and differences between students and educators in Minnesota and Finland.

After collecting all of the data, using the aid of a student survey, educator interviews, and classroom observations, it was time to see if distinguishments between the two education systems could be made and conclude on tangible elements of the Finnish education system that could be of use, here in Minnesota. Below are the most significant findings:

Unfortunately, it can be discerned that an apparent preparedness ideology gap exists among both Minnesota learners and educators. Taking the results of the student survey and educator interviews, nearly 100% of students (n = 201) and all educators in the studied Minnesota middle schools stated that their education was properly preparing students for higher education and the workforce. This, however, is simply not true if we look at the statistics of prior research.

Furthermore, in association with this preparedness ideology gap, based off of the results of the question; becoming college and career prepared needs to be achieved by the end of middle school (lower secondary school), it was found that only 41% of 8th grade students in Minnesota understood the urgency to become college and career ready. In addition, relating this student survey item to the educator interviews, the ideology held firm when speaking with teaching personnel. Based of the inquiry of whether or not educators in Minnesota viewed the 8th grade as a tipping point for college and career readiness, 0% of interviewees responded yes and 50% of Minnesota educators responded with skepticism by reporting yes and no. The results of Finland vastly differed, as over 85% of students felt the need to be prepared at this young age. Furthermore, an incredible 90% of Finnish educators viewed Grade 9 as a tipping point for future college and career readiness.

Okay, so it is now even more obvious that our education system needs a little help, both in practice and ideology, in order to better prepare student for life after secondary school. Compiling all of the data, four elements of the Finnish education system were noted as significant and transferable to the Minnesota education system. These items include:

  • Modeling Finland, Minnesota middle school students could benefit from increased college and workforce knowledge, in addition to explicitly attempting to equip students with 21st-century skills, that a curriculum-backed college and career readiness program can offer (Finland has a national requirement of 4-hours per week of college and career readiness courses). This college and career readiness program should be a part of the school curriculum and act as another year-long course.
  • In conjunction with the implementation of a formalized program, attempts to incorporate teach-by-topic/multidisciplinary teaching and learning should be made. Teach-by-topic is the current reform measure in Finland, and will be nation-wide by 2020.
  • Educators in Minnesota could assist students in meaningfully acquiring classroom skills and knowledge by increasing wait-time. This is something we have all been taught in theory, but it is not uniformly applied in all classrooms.
  • In association with increased wait-time, Finland’s education system places a high value on student autonomy. It is common for Finnish educators to consistently reiterate and explain to students that they are in charge of their own learning, academic success, and personal prosperity. The teacher merely acts as a guide to knowledge; with minimal lectures and just a few examples at the beginning of class. In Minnesota, learners are given less opportunity to work at their own pace and classes are much more teacher oriented.

Finally, we have come to the end of this rather long post. What I hope you take from this writing is the realization that we can easily implement many of the fruitful elements of the Finnish education system. Of course, an entire education system cannot be transferred over, but Finland could be used as a model.

As for me, I will be moving to Beijing, China, this summer to start my teaching career and continue my research. If you would like to further discuss my research, please do not hesitate to drop me a message:  or simply stop by my office BA 119 (next to the wrestling room).

~Mr. Christian Skillings