Monthly Archives: March 2020

Everyone Needs A “Shop”

My hubby is a skilled woodworker. He has built some gorgeous projects over the years. Ping Pong Tables, Cribs, Murphy Beds, TV Entertainment Centers. Amazing (startling impressive) stuff. Check out his chalkboard murphy bunk bed! 👇 Our grandkids LOVE it.

But…woodworking is not his profession. He actually works as a computer ‘architect’ or as we laypeople know it…a computer programmer/engineer.

Sometimes…this work fries his brain.

Think about it…we have issues with our computers and we go totally bonkers. We send in a loud, panicked SOS to our Tech department for help (thank you SMSU Tech folks for putting up with us ❤). My hubby is like the Tech department…kind of.

He writes programs using Java Language (and, no, he told me that does not mean coffee🤷‍☕). Then when there is a ‘bug’ in the program, he is called upon to figure it out and get rid of those bugs. He strains his brain. He stretches his debugging skills trying to figure out the problem until those skills almost snap.  🧨

Now and again, this debugging can take days, yes DAYS, to solve the issue. Nasty bugs!! 🕷 So…needless to say, when he comes home (well, now when he comes out of the home office since we are all working remotely 🙄) he is a tad bit stressed out. A tad bit mentally exhausted at the end of his work day.

His release??

He goes to his shop. That is where he builds things.  And that is where he ‘de-stresses.’

COVID 19 has a lot of folks stressing, including us. I’d say we are getting a little irritable around here. So how do we find balance in all this? How do we de-stress? My advice is…we all need our own “shop.” What is YOUR “shop?” What is it that you love to do? What is something that will help you let go of stress?

Some like to run, ride bike, or go for a walk (🙋 That’s me). Some may want to write a story, read a book, or listen to a podcast. Others may enjoy singing or dancing or just listening to their favorite tunes. Some might choose to draw, play games, watch a movie, or play an instrument like a guitar or piano. Maybe some want to learn a new skill like playing the ukulele. 🎻

Maybe someone needs to blow off steam by pounding the piano keys like Mr. Rogers did when he was frustrated, or maybe someone needs to go outside and whack a tennis ball against the garage door over and over (🙋 that used to be me when I was a kid).  

Minnesota was given a Stay Home Executive Order yesterday. Now more than ever…I ask you, what is YOUR “shop?” Find your “shop” and de-stress. ❤

Please share with us in the comments how you are de-stressing during this trying time.

Stay Calm and Find Your “Shop!”
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

Virtual teaching SOS! – Part II 

Hello? Hello? Are you out there? Oh – now we can see you! Zoom. Just like that. We shared our part I of Virtual teaching SOS!  

Before going any further, take a breath and know that you can do this! Then, watch this Youtube video:  I Will Survive, Coronavirus version for teachers going online

 What to do now that you have taken a much needed deep breath? We want to share some incredible ideas with you as you charter these educational waters virtually. Tossing some lifesavers your way to help you and your learners navigate the virtual waters of learning. We asked our teacher educator colleagues from the SMSU School of Education and across campus to contribute resources to share out with you.  A quick shoutout to our talented SMSU colleagues for responding to our request: Drs. Rhonda Bonnstetter, Sarah Huseby, Kandy Noles Stevens, Frankie Albitz, Kris Cleveland, Debbie VanOverbeke … thank you for your efforts to support our teacher candidates and educators everywhere! 

Before checking out the list of resources, we want to share our support and thank all the healthcare and emergency workers on the front lines and all essential workers who cannot stay home with their families in order to care for the greater good. Thank you and our continued prayers go out for your safety!

What awesome ideas do you have to share? Please let us know! We need each other and our creative ideas now more than ever. Take care! 

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

Art Work:

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free online art lessons

Literacy & Teaching English as a Second Language:

This site is great for elementary teachers and reads books in English & 43 different languages!
This site, much like Rosetta Stone, teaches students new languages – set the language to English and our English learners can continue their language learning.
Great for a variety of subjects – and for our English learners with a primary language in Spanish, Kahn Academy in Spanish!
Great for a variety of subjects!  For English learners, use the English Language Arts tab.
A site that allows you to create quizzes – both for individual practice and for a game-like atmosphere. 

Variety of Ideas and Websites:

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Online Learning At Home

Image may contain: possible text that says 'HELP HAS ARRIVED'

Image may contain: people sitting and text

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Films and Videos:

Virtual Field Trips: 

National Parks

Movement and Phy Ed: 

Making Videos & Web Conferencing Tools: 

No photo description available.

Emotional Learning:


Additional links to even more resources… 

Universal Design for Learning:


UDL Strategies:

CAST UDL Resources: 


Tom Foley, SMSU Alumnus –

Kandy Noles Stevens, ABD – Online Resources.docx

Need more? Check out this amazing list of educational resources…

Need even more resources? Additional resources are available at the bottom of the MN Learning Commons page: as well as at Minnesota State:

Detailed Google doc, written by Jenae Cohn and Beth Seltzer:

Going Online in a Hurry: What to Do and Where to Start:

Please do a bad job of putting your courses online:

Project-Based Learning:

Differentiated Instruction:

Center on Online Learning and Students with disabilities:

AMTE Webinars

Virtual Teaching SOS!

Blog sos life saver

Virtual teaching SOS! What to do? Educators, are you wondering what to do in these unprecedented times? We are too so we want to share some ideas with you as you charter these educational waters virtually. Tossing some lifesavers your way to help you and your learners navigate. We asked our teacher educator colleagues to contribute some resources to share out with you. Stay tuned for these fabulous ideas that will be posted later this week! For now, here are a few ideas and our own stories of this experience to share with you.

Legos®…who doesn’t enjoy playing with Legos®? Wendy’s grandson was given these Lego® ideas from his teacher. Look at what he created. Future engineer. 👏🏼  He sent it to his teacher using SeeSaw and she commented on it. So awesome.  Alright Vierstraete boys…challenge is on. Can you create something bigger and better than what my 8-year-old grandson did??? 😃

Meanwhile on the shores of Chez Vierstraete, we are continuing to focus on social distancing and doing our part… and apparently the only and meanest parents on Earth doing this. Attempting to structure the day while we wait for virtual school to resume on March 30th. Day 1 – We are focusing on the small stuff. Be active, take care of Stella (the family St. Bernard), and read with hopes of taking a virtual field trip later today if we survive our time isolated together. We might work up to the Legos® challenge tomorrow? 😉

Blog Stella 1

In all seriousness, this is needed, and we do support and thank all the healthcare workers on the front lines and all workers who cannot stay home with their families in order to care for the greater good. Thank you and our prayers go out for you.

So…educators (which is really all of us)- what awesome ideas do you have to share? Please let us know in the comments! We need each other and our creative ideas now more than ever. Take care!

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

The Power of Feedback

Blog Feed back matters

As spring break rolls around, many of our methods teacher candidates will embark on their pre-student teaching experience – 10 days in a classroom writing lessons, teaching them, and assessing student learning, all under the lead of a classroom mentor teacher and a university supervisor. They will receive feedback on their performance in the classroom…and sometimes it can be hard to hear! Licensed teachers also have classroom observations completed by their administrators, and possibly their peers, and will receive feedback from them on ways to improve their teaching. No matter how long you’ve taught, we all have areas where we can improve! So how can we learn to take the ‘sting’ out of feedback and use it to grow as a reflective practitioner? Here are some ideas from Chapter 6 in Powerful Teaching:

Uh-oh, it’s time for ‘feedback’. Here’s how to listen to constructive criticism-and use it to your advantage.  The following ideas have been adapted from “Uh-Oh, Your Boss Has “Feedback” in Glamour magazine, March 2014, p. 240, by Anna Maltby.

Having ‘the talk’ with your mentor teacher may send shivers down your spine, but here’s a secret: Research shows that people who are open to feedback adapt faster to changing roles and have more job satisfaction. “Someone who asks what they could be doing better appears more self-assured and open”, says Sheila Horn. “They seem committed to doing good work, which is good for anyone’s reputation.”

Of course, sometimes the feedback isn’t what you want to hear. Here are tips for dealing with feedback in a positive way.

1.) Know what kind of feedback, you’re getting. There are three types:

  1. Appreciation ( I noticed what you do in the classroom and I value your work);
  2. Coaching (here’s what you could be doing better in your teaching);
  3. Evaluation (here’s where you stand).

Most day-to-day feedback falls in the coaching category, but many people interpret those comments as a bigger-picture evaluation (your mentor teacher says ‘this part of your lesson plan needs work’ and you think it means ‘I am never going to pass this lab’), leaving you with the feeling that one mistake will be a career ender. Note to self: It’s not!

2.) Press ‘pause’ on your reaction.  Negative feedback can sting, so your first instinct may be to look for ways that the feedback from your mentor teacher is wrong. Instead, take a deep breath and try to understand what your mentor is saying. One place to start – ask for clarification of generalizations. “You’re unprofessional” may be about how you are dressed or about how long you are taking for lunch. Rather than moving directly to panic-mode, get specifics.

3.) Make sure you understand the next step. To use feedback to your advantage, think to yourself, “Do I know what to do in order to follow my mentor’s advice?”  In other words, ask what you have been doing that hasn’t been working and what you should do differently in the future. Find out exactly what the mentor is looking for and if possible, whether there is an example of this that is done very well. You’ll want next steps with positive feedback as well, so if at your next review your mentor says you’ve been doing a great job, ask about additional responsibilities you could take on in the classroom that would help you grow.

4.) Don’t supersize it.  If someone says something negative about us, we take it to mean that they think everything about us is bad. The feedback you’re getting is probably about a specific action or a specific time, it doesn’t mean that your mentor thinks you’re a terrible teacher. Take a breath and listen carefully.

Maltby, A. (March 2014). Uh-oh, your boss has “feedback”. Glamour, 240.

Stay Calm and Know Feedback Matters!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

(This is an excerpt from Dr. Rhonda Bonnstetter’s POWERFUL F Chapter in our book POWERFUL Teaching co-authored by Dr. Wendy Schoolmeester, Dr. Sonya Vierstraete, Dr. Rhonda Bonnstetter, and Dr. Mary Risacher. The book is available at Kendall-Hunt Publishing:

Blog Powerful Teaching book

🚉 Railroad to Heaven 🚉

Blog Pic Railroad to Heaven

This is a true story taken from the 1894 edition of “Touching Incidents and Remarkable Answers to Prayer.” As you’ll see, this wonderful story seems to speak to adults as well as to children. It’s easy to see why Jesus urged the disciples to “Permit the little children to come to Me… (Luke 18:16)

The story has been altered in honor of Wendy’s cousin, Greg Sherve, Engineer for BNSF Railroad, who died unexpectedly a few days ago from a massive heart attack, massive stroke, and torn aorta at the young age of 60. 

This story will be given to Greg’s grandson, Marcus. The link to the full, unaltered story is below:

The train was going west, and it was evening. At a station, a little boy  who was young in age came aboard, carrying a little pillow under his arm. He came into the car and quickly took a seat. He then began to study each face, but all were strange to him. He appeared weary, and using his pillow, he laid down on the seat to try to get a little sleep.

Soon the conductor came along collecting tickets and fare. Observing him, the little boy asked if he could lie there. The gentle conductor replied that he could, and then kindly asked for his ticket. The little boy informed him that he didn’t have one, and the following conversation took place:

“Where are you going?” asked the conductor.

“I’m going to heaven,” the little boy answered.

“Who’s paying your fare?” the conductor questioned.

He said, “Mister, does this railroad lead to heaven, and does Jesus travel on it?”

“I don’t think so,” the conductor answered. “Why did you think that?”

“Why, sir, before my Grandpa died, he used to sing to me about a heavenly railroad, and you looked so nice and kind that I thought this was that railroad. My Grandpa used to sing about Jesus on the heavenly railroad, and that Jesus paid the fare for everybody, and that the train stopped at every station to take people on board. My Grandpa don’t sing to me anymore. Nobody sings to me now, and I thought I’d take the train and go see my Grandpa. Mister, do you sing to your little girl about the railroad that goes to heaven? You have a little girl, don’t you?”

With tears in his eyes, the conductor replied, “No, dear child, I have no little girl now. I had one once, but she died some time ago and went to heaven.”

“Did she get there on this railroad, and are you going to see her now?” the little boy inquired.

Addressing himself once more to the conductor, he asked him, “Do you love Jesus? I do, and if you love Him, He will let you ride to heaven on His railroad. I’m going there, and I wish you would go with me. I know Jesus will let me into heaven when I get there, and He will let you in too and everybody that will ride on His railroad – yes, all these people. Wouldn’t you like to see heaven, and Jesus, and your little girl?”

These words, so innocently uttered, brought a great gush of tears from all who were on that train, but most profusely from the eyes of the conductor.

The little boy now asked the conductor, “Mister, may I lie here until we get to heaven?”

“Yes, little one, yes,” he answered.

“Will you wake me up when we get there so that I can see my Grandpa, and your little girl, and Jesus?” he asked. “I so much want to see them all.”

The conductor’s answer came in broken phrases, but in words very tenderly spoken, “Yes, little angel, yes. God bless you.”

Turning his eyes once more upon the conductor, he questioned him again, “What should I tell your little girl when I see her? Should I tell her that I saw her daddy on Jesus’ railroad? Should I?”

This brought a fresh flood of tears from all present, and the conductor knelt by the little boy’s side and, embracing him, wept the reply he could not utter. At this point the brakeman called out the name of another station… (To read the ‘unaltered’ story Click here).

While so many hearts are sad because my cousin Greg is gone, I believe he was a brave engineer and took that Railroad to Heaven. Now that Greg is there…

🎶 he has met the superintendent, God the Father, God the Son. And with a hearty joyous greeting, Jesus said, weary pilgrim, welcome home. 🎶

Life is like a mountain railway with an engineer that’s brave. We must make the run successful from the cradle to the grave.

Watch for curves and hills and valleys. Never falter, never fail. Keep your hand upon the throttle and your eye upon the rail.

Stay Calm and Love Your Cousins!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.