Ignite the Passions of Those We Lead: #NPC Reflections

Dear Education Colleagues:

As I write this on the plane back home to MinnesOta from Boston, I reflect on my time spent at the National Principal’s Conference. It was my first time attending this conference and while it is sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), there were many Middle School and Elementary principals in attendance as well. To say the least, this conference was phenomenal!!

The conference’s main message – to ignite the passions of those we lead – was loud and clear at the #NPC19 conference. Teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members, all education colleagues…WE are called to ignite! We are called to dare to lead! (Yes indeed, I also read the book Dare to Lead by Brené Brown while in Boston and on the flights). We are called to lead with love, empathy, passion, kindness, and we hold the key to unlock the potential of those we serve! Think of the HUGE impact we have on education.

I had the pleasure of meeting many PIRATES while there…those who have authored a book through Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. These folks are about as real as you can get. Sincere, honest, transparent, kind, witty, and LOVE what they do! I’ll admit I was a little intimidated by them at first because of how famous they are 😉, but then I remembered what Brené Brown was told while she nervously waited to give her first TED talk about vulnerability… “remember they are just people. People, people, people!” Yes, indeed, and you folks are MY kind of people. Thank you for all you do!!

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Leaders (and we are all leaders), we are called to be courageous, brave, kind, empathetic, honest, authentic, passionate, and real…we are called to believe we ARE champions for those we lead.

#NPC19 was full of treasures! Below are a few of my golden nuggets from my trip to Boston and the National Principal Conference:

Arrived in Boston at the same time as Middle School Principal, Jessica Cabeen, from Austin, MN and author of Balance Like a PIRATE: Going Beyond Work-Life Balance to Ignite Passion and Thrive as an Educator. She even footed the bill for our Lyft ride to the hotel. THANK YOU, Jessica!!

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Jessica, along with Jay Billy, author of Lead with Culture: What Really Matters in our Schools; Nili Bartley, author of Lead Beyond Your Title: Creating Change in School From Any Role; and Beth Houf, author of Lead Like a PIRATE: Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff, shared with us about the importance of a Professional Learning Network (PLN). In addition, Jessica and Beth along with Sanée Bell, author of Be Excellent on Purpose: Intentional Strategies for Impactful Leadership, shared their stories about being middle school principals and the extras it takes to manage those tweens.

Phenomenal sessions with Jimmy Casas, author of Culturize: Every Student. Every Day. Whatever it takes. He reminded us to reflect on our practice every single day, to never forget our why, model best practices, and to live our excellence. Jimmy and Jeff Zoul shared what NOT to do in our schools. Read their book, Stop. Right. Now.: 39 Stops to Making Schools Better to discover the rest of those not so good practices!

Blog Jimmy Casas

George Couros was our first keynote speaker. Top notch!! He received a standing ovation!! Mr. Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, had us laughing and crying and we could all relate to his message. He challenged us to embrace the awesomeness of people, technology, and to make a difference!

Jay Billy and I then had the honor and pleasure of presenting our session, NURTURE Others to Be Their Best, on Saturday, the last day of the conference at 8:00 a.m. We weren’t sure if we’d have anyone show up because of the time it was being offered. Oh my stars…it was a packed house and we had a great time. 😍 Thank you to all who attended and blessed us with your presence.

The last session I attended was presented by Jessica Cabeen and co-author of Balance Like a Pirate, Sarah Johnson. These two young ladies shared how to find joy and balance in our crazy lives. The TED talk below by Shawn Achor was one of my favorite resources from their advice. Give it twelve minutes of your time and you will laugh out loud and feel better. 🙂

Thank you, #NPC19. This conference was exactly the medicine I needed!! I am reignited and on fire for this upcoming school year. The perfect prescription for all of us. If your fire is almost snuffed out, go to a conference! It’ll be the perfect antidote to your “burn out!”

God bless ALL.OF.YOU! Thanks again. 🙌🏼

Stay Calm & Ignite your Passion!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.





An Empty Chair

It’s been four years since we saw Carter’s smile in person… We can still see it vividly in our minds and pictures. We are thankful each day for the memories we hold dear until we can hold dear Carter again and see that smile.  As we remember Carter on this fourth anniversary, Carter’s mom, Susan, shares with us about Carter’s chair – Carter’s story. 

Anyone who has ever lost a loved one likely knows how it feels to quietly stare at an empty chair and to envision that he or she is still sitting in it. Maybe it was their favorite spot on the sofa; maybe it was the recliner that made them feel most comfortable when they were ill; maybe it’s their chair at the dinner table; or maybe, just maybe, it’s the passenger seat of the car.

Carter on rocks

Almost daily, I see my beautiful son Carter sitting in all of those wonderful chairs.  I daydream about him sitting in those spots and imagine what great conversations we would be having today.  It’s almost certain that we would be discussing the college he’d be playing basketball for, or reminiscing about him getting into trouble at school when he made his classmates laugh while the teacher was trying to instruct.  Maybe he would once again be telling me how he’s a better driver than his sister, Katie (sorry Katie, you know it would be true LOL); maybe we’d be talking about his fight with cancer, or our plans to go to the lake for the weekend.  I miss him more than words can describe. I miss talking to him and hearing his voice; I miss his beautiful smile; I miss making scrambled eggs for him; I miss his absolute one of a kind sense of humor.  I know I’m not the only one who misses him. He was loved by many and admired for his strength, even by those who had never even met him.

Carter in recliner

Two thousand nineteen would have been Carter’s senior year at MHS. His class is an amazing group of compassionate young adults. They demonstrated that time and time again as they included Carter in so many of their activities… from the class picture, the class t-shirts, basketball games, to graduation, and more. They miss him too and it was so heartfelt how they included him as if he was never gone. Commencement speaker and fellow classmate, Erica Jones, said “Carter will always be remembered as a funny kid who knew how to bring a smile to everyone’s face, and radiated positivity. His passing left a void in the hearts of those who knew him and even the members of our class who did not. All of us will always be Carter Strong through his impact on us.”

Carter's grad practice

GRADUATION… that is the moment that made me really think about empty chairs. They had a chair for Carter at his MHS graduation and it was in alphabetical order—the way he would have received his diploma. As I sat during graduation, I could see my son sitting in that chair. He would’ve had that enormous grin on his face and twinkles in his brown eyes.  I could see him crossing the stage to get his diploma and holding it up so proudly as he walked down the stairs to take his seat.  I could see it all so vividly except it wasn’t Carter who stood on that stage that night.  Instead, his family so courageously took the stage; it was his family that received a special plaque that has been at MHS for four years while his classmates went to school.  It was his family who sat proudly and watched his fellow students speak, sing, and claim their diplomas on that stage. I know in my heart that Carter was watching it too.

Of all of the empty chairs I’ve thought about, it was that cold, metal, folding chair with his name on it at graduation that broadsided me.  It literally took my breath away.  Not because I was sad, but because THIS CHAIR… this cold, metal, folding chair was a sign. It was a beacon of light.  It was a sign that my son Carter had been alive!  It was a powerful indication that Carter made a huge impact in this world and on so many people in such a short time just like Erica Jones stated in her commencement address.  He has never been forgotten and most importantly, he lives on through the lives that he impacted so strongly just like he impacted mine in ways I can never describe with words.

Carter's Case at MHS

Happy 4th Angelversary to you, my son.  My amazing son Carter.  I know in my heart that we will meet again. Until then, please keep smilin’ and don’t be afraid to shake things up in heaven as I’m certain you already have.  Heaven hasn’t been the same since you got there.  I love you Carter… today and always, we remain CARTERSTRONG.
~Susan Geske

Beyond the Empty Chair

Look beyond the empty chair
To know a life well spent
Look beyond the solitude
To days of true content
Cherish in your broken heart
Each moment gladly shared
And feel the touch of memory
Beyond the empty chair.

by Catherine Turner

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Profs Dr. C.& Dr. V.

Book Talk: Against All Odds by Luke Nelson

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The other day, on a pleasant sunny morning, I walked out my front door at the same time someone in a red pick-up truck pulled up to our Little Free Library. When the driver emerged from the pick-up, I saw it was an acquaintance of mine. She told me she was bringing books to place in the Little Library.

Perfect!! Thank you, Susie!!

As she was putting in her last book, she flashed me the cover and recommended I read it. Okay, I thought. Then she added the cliffhanger… “It’s about a boy who had a stroke when he was in his mother’s womb. I think he’s from around here.”

What?? Well, that certainly grabbed my attention. As she drove away, I grabbed the book out of the Little Library and took it with me to the campground for the weekend. That was on Friday. Today is Sunday. I’m done reading it. It was that good.

Blog Against all odds book

The author’s name is Luke Nelson and he states on page 33 of his book, “…I likely had a stroke as an unborn baby, causing a blood clot that resulted in the loss of one-third of my cerebellum.”

Oh my goodness. 😳 With this type of diagnosis, Luke’s doctors suggested he would never be like other kids — able to run, or ride a bike, or go to high school. And yet, here he is, writing his story. Hallelujah, praise Jesus!!! 🙏❤

The setting of this book takes place in Southwest Minnesota. On page 17, Luke tells about his mom suspecting something was different about her pregnancy. So she heads to the hospital to have an ultra sound…in Slayton, Minnesota. He certainly is from around here because Slayton is just down the road a bit.

Blog Against all odds pg 17

I truly enjoyed the testimonies shared throughout the book by those who have been pivotal in Luke’s life. Stories from Luke’s mom, dad, sister, doctor, teacher, friend. When Luke introduces us to a very special lady who he believes God placed in his life to get him through high school, my mouth dropped open. I know her.

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If you are an educator like me, we know how mean some kids can be. Do you think Luke breezed through school without any ridicule or mocking or teasing or heart wrenching moments? Bullying happens in ALL schools. And, sadly, it happened to Luke…

Blog Against all odds pg 83 Mocked

Want to know another unbelievable thing about Luke, in addition to him being born with one-third of his brain gone? He almost died. Not just once but three times. THREE!! How you wonder?

Read the book.

Want to discover how he managed to graduate high school?

Read the book.

Want to find out how he overcame bullying?


While Against All Odds by Luke Nelson is for everyone, I want to encourage our teacher candidates to read it. A “Luke” just might be in your classroom someday!!

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Stay Calm & Never Give Up!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

Kids & Parents Pullin’ for Kids & Parents

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Last fall, Hill Elementary School students and parents accepted a challenge to save pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC). Those 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade kids learned a few facts about the Ronald McDonald House Charities Pop Tab program. Did YOU know:

  • It takes approximately 1,128 pop tabs to make 1 pound.
  • The RMHC receives approximately 50 cents per 1 pound of pop tabs.
  • It takes approximately 93 pounds for one night’s stay at the RMH.

Here we are, at the end of May already, and look at how many 5-gallon pails are plumb full of tabs. WOW!!! The kids and their families went above and beyond what was expected. The tabs were weighed at the SD Ronald McDonald House in Sioux Falls today and, drum roll please…..Hill Elementary collected a whopping 144 pounds of tabs. 💪👍👊 Kudos to the students and families of Hill Elementary School! 👏👏👏

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To Hill Elementary School students, parents, administration, faculty, and staff…thank you from our family to yours! My son shares his thanks in the video below. ❤

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Stay Calm & Keep Pullin’!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

Carter’s Court

It takes a village. That is for certain. As the wise Prince has shared, “Dearly beloved…we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” Together. None of us will actually make it out of here alive – so let’s make this life a better “thing” and a better place to be, to live, to love.

As many of our readers know, my nephew, Carter Boerboom, passed away on June 30, 2015. We usually dedicate an annual blog in his honor and memory. This one comes a little earlier than usual because we need your help. Yes – you… your help. We are hoping to win a little friendly competition hosted by the Minnesota Timberwolves. They are going to remodel a court in southern MN, and Marshall has been selected to be one of the possible sites.  We are asking you to please vote daily to help us bring “Carter’s Court” to Marshall. This is possible with the help of those who proposed the idea and have worked to make the dream almost real. Voting ends on Friday, May 24th– so don’t delay. With your help and votes, this dream can become a reality.

Our Courts. Our Future. – Timberwolves 

Carter loved life, and he loved basketball. Help us pass this love for life and love for the game to many more to come in Marshall, Minnesota and surrounding communities. 

Stay Calm & Vote Today!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V. 

Is Cussing and Swearing Freedom of Speech?

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As a Professor of Education, I have the privilege of visiting many schools in my area, usually while supervising student teachers. The most recent high school I visited caused me some heartache! Granted, I realize it is almost the end of the year so that may be why, but wow…what I witnessed in the hallway between classes was discouraging.

Let me share this story. While I was visiting with a teacher, the bell rang. This young teacher stood up and headed to the hallway.  I joined in by standing outside the door with the teacher. Looking up and down the hall, I did not see any other teachers outside their doors. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there, I just didn’t see any. I asked this teacher if all teachers were expected to stand out in the hallway during this 3-4 minutes passing time. The answer I expected…YES!

When two boys came around a corner, I saw one of them punch the other in the stomach. The hit wasn’t just a friendly little tap. Nope, it was a solid punch! The one who was socked in the gut turned around to go after the kid who punched him. I automatically went into teacher mode and yelled “HEY…STOP” while the boy who did the punching is yelling “I’m f’ing pissed now” as he was backing away.

Those weren’t the only nasty words flying around in the hallway. Other comments made by these high schoolers were:

“They are so pissed.”

“She f’ing makes me so mad…she’s a b****.”

“You are so f’ing stupid.”

When the teacher I was standing with asked the students to change the way they phrased things, one response from a student was “It’s called freedom of speech…”

Seriously? Is it really? Is swearing and cussing and profanity considered freedom of speech?

I asked Alexa that question. Alexa’s response…“Hmmm…I’m not sure about that?”


Next, I texted my lawyer son the same question. His text back…

Blog freedom of speech

Okay, Google…what do you have to say about this complicated issue?

According to Hudson (2011), “profanity isn’t always protected speech. Certain categories of speech are not entitled to First Amendment protection, including fighting words and true threats. If a person engages in profane fighting words or utters a true threat with profanity, those words may not be protected speech” (para. 5) (emphasis mine).

So…would “Now I’m f’ing pissed” fall under that category since the kid punched another kid then said the words??? Would his words be considered fighting words?

In another article by Hudson Jr. (2017), he stated that “profanity can be regulated, however, under certain circumstances consistent with the First Amendment. Profane rants that cross the line into direct face-to-face personal insults or fighting words are not protected by the First Amendment” (para. 4).

My lawyer son was right. Case by case. Good grief. No wonder teachers don’t want to say much to those students who spew foul language. Do not be dismayed…

There is some hope for public schools when dealing with this issue. Freedom Forum Institute (n.d.) offered these words of reassurance, “Though public school students do possess First Amendment freedoms, the courts allow school officials to regulate certain types of student expression. For example, school officials may prohibit speech that substantially disrupts the school environment or that invades the rights of others. Many courts have held that school officials can restrict student speech that is lewd” (para. 3).

When I taught fifth graders, I didn’t even allow the word “sucks.” I asked my students to please not use that word as it was offensive to me. It means “to inhale vigorously.” One year while at a basketball game, one of my former fifth graders came to sit by me on the bleachers. Josh was then a junior in high school (he’s in his 30’s now). He was sharing a story with me and ended with “Doesn’t that just inhale vigorously, Ms. Schoolmeester?” I laughed and laughed. He remembered. And he honored my wishes that many years later.

I’m not a fan of swearing. In the same breath, I will never stop caring for kids because of their foul mouths. Parents…please teach your children that swearing is ugly. Take advice from Will Smith’s grandma…

Smith said, “She found my rap book and she never said anything to me but she wrote in the back of it ‘Dear Willard, truly intelligent people do not have to use words like this to express themselves. Please show the world that you’re as smart as we think you are. Love Gigi.’”

God bless grandmas!!! Their gray hair is a sign of wisdom. ❤❤

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Stay Calm & Please Don’t Cuss!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

SMSU 2019 Joyful Graduates

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Graduation…it’s a joyful day. A day long awaited for. From the day you all stepped on campus as freshmen to this day when you had the privilege of walking across the stage with a heart full of joy as you received your diploma. 👨🏼‍🎓👩🏼‍🎓🎓

While I was driving to campus this morning to celebrate with you, I heard a song on the radio by Jonny Diaz called Joy. It is a song that gives you happy feet so if you would like to do a little dancing on your graduation day, check it out: 🎶

While I listened to Jonny sing the words, I realized how much they apply to your graduation today, and how much the words apply to when you begin your journey into the wonderful world of teaching this fall:

Have joy down in your soul

Take it with you wherever you go!

Don’t worry about what you don’t know

You’ll be alright as long as you’ve got joy!


Joy in your heart, waving like a torch

In the jet black night, you’ll see the stars.


Let joy be your strength

Let it be your truth, and see you through!

Let it be your hope, be your shield

Let it lift you up, no matter how you feel.

You’ll be alright as long as you’ve got joy. ~ Jonny Diaz

Some days will be hard during your first year of teaching…really, really hard. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. KNOW you are champions for children. Be joyful with those children. They deserve it! Keep choosing joy every single day.

To our ‘former’ students and now our teaching colleagues…congratulations, SMSU School of Education graduates! 🙌 (Sorry about all the pics of me… 😉🤷‍♀️. Email me some and I’ll add to the slideshow! 👍).

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Stay Calm & Be Joyful Graduates!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

Thank You, Teachers: There IS Power in your Moments!

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Thank you, teachers!! We celebrate you this week during Teacher Appreciation Week! We celebrate you every day as you enter your classroom with our children and our grandchildren.

There is power in your moments with our kids. These powerful moments can positively change your students’ lives, or these powerful moments can drive a wedge between you and them.  I know in my heart you want to grant love, gentleness, kindness, patience, goodness, and joy to your students.

The powerful moments shared with your students are priceless. A smile, a wave, a ‘good morning’, a handshake, a high five, a listening ear, an empathetic response, a gentle nudge, a laugh, a cry, a safe environment, a calm demeanor, a ___________. Fill in the blank! You offer our kids these powerful moments each and every day. And why?

Because you LOVE kids, you LOVE what you do, you want to make a difference! You want to inspire and encourage your students and you want to role-model this because you might just be their only hope! Thank you!!!

Thank you for never giving up on our kids, for offering endless patience, for loving them unconditionally. Thank you for letting kindness and love thrive in your classrooms and your schools!

For all of these powerful moments, we say THANK YOU! 💪👏😍

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Stay Calm & Thank you, Teachers!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

Born to Imagine and Play

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This past Saturday proved to be a fun, fabulous day full of creative play and imagination with the grandchildren. There was a scavenger hunt that got a little competitive by the oldest grandson (oh, and me too). For a time, I was royalty. My granddaughter was the queen and I was the princess. We sat in our royal thrones on the deck with our blanket regal robes wrapped around our shoulders.  Swinging and sliding took place at the “home” playground, forts were built out of blankets and pillows, basketball games took place in the driveway, pictures were colored, and marching bands were serenading us from the basement play room. Play…it is vital to a child’s development.

Play is not a four letter word,” writes Rae Pica (2015) in her book What If Everybody Understood Child Development? Children are creatures born to use their imaginations and creativity during play, which all of us adults were once these creative creatures.

What do you see in the picture above? When I asked several adults this question, I got the same answer…a bookmark. That is not what my 4 year old granddaughter saw. One day while she was playing with her 3-year old cousin, she asked me if I had seen her superpower phone. Imagine yourself asking others if they had seen YOUR phone. Yes, that is the ‘panic’ she had in her voice. “Grandma…have you seen my superpower phone?” I hadn’t because I had no idea what she was talking about.

A few minutes later, she shouted out, “found it, Grandma.” I went to see what her ‘superpower phone’ was. Check out the picture below. Love it! ❤😃 Play…creative, imaginative, innovative.

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Pica (2015) strongly believes “true play is open-ended and intrinsically motivated. True play is not directed by adults. It has nothing to do with product (home runs, goals, points, and wins) and everything to do with process (fun)” (p. 61).

If children don’t learn to play when they are young, then the likelihood of discovering the value of play as an adult is stifled. What a dreadful, dreary life it would be without the presence of a playful attitude (Pica, 2015).  

In the 19th Century, Freidrich Froebel created what we now know as Kindergarten. He understood the importance of play. According to the podcast 99% Invisible (2019):

The word Kindergarten cleverly encompassed two different ideas: kids would play in and learn from nature, but they would also themselves be nurtured and nourished “like plants in a garden.” There were literal gardens and outdoor activities, but the real key to it all was a set of deceptively simple-looking toys that became known as Froebelgaben or in English, Froebel’s Gifts (Para. 7).

Dr. Peter Gray (2014) informs his TEDxNavesink audience that he believes play has declined over the years because of the speculation that children learn best from adults, and that self-directed play is a waste of time. He also believes play has declined because of fear. Parents have fear something bad may happen to their children if the children aren’t supervised at all times.

Dr. Gray (2014) proposes these solutions to the unfortunate decline of play. He advises we: 1) examine our own priorities; 2) get to know our neighbors and develop neighborhood networks; 3) establish places for children to play; and, 4) stand up against more schooling.

Teachers…please understand the value of play!  Allow your students to participate in self-regulated play. Get creative and incorporate play into your curriculum, no matter what grade level you teach. Never take away recess, especially from the ones who need it the most!  And most importantly, play along WITH your students. (My fifth graders called me the Dodge Ball Queen 😃).

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Stay Calm & Just Keep Playing!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

Taking Action to Meet the Needs of Children

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In the classroom, whose responsibility is it to take care of the children? The teacher’s, that’s who!!! Those who see children’s needs and respond to those needs are considered my heroes. My heroes…classroom teachers!

Teachers see the needs of students, research for the best ways to help those students, and then respond to those needs by taking action. This action teachers take is called action research. Our SMSU teacher candidates…our heroes…carry out an action research study during their Junior Methods year at SMSU.

The culminating event for the hard work these future teachers have put into their Action Research study throughout the year is presenting their findings at the Undergraduate Action Research Conference held in the spring.

The teacher candidates have a practice day the day before the conference. This practice day brings back fond memories of when I taught elementary students. Back then, we would have music program practices, and I would always fear the program would be a disaster because of how the practice went. Then the night of the program, my little cherubs would rock it.

Same story with my college students. Practice always seems to be a disaster, and then…their conference and presentations are PHENOMENAL.

And they were, teacher candidates!!! Your presentations were PHENOMENAL!!  You ROCKED it!

From your freshman year in Intro to ED to now in your Action Research class…you’ve grown exponentially both personally and professionally, and we applaud you!!

Be THAT teacher who sees the needs of your students and responds to those needs by finding ways to help your students succeed! Take action and be their heroes.

Thank you to the moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, sisters, brothers, and friends who showed up to offer support. Thank you to our tech guy who was there all morning for our every yelp for help. Thank you to the EMSP Club for the delicious yogurt bar breakfast. Thank you to the evaluators for giving constructive feedback. Thank you to Dean Easton-Brooks from the University of South Dakota for keynoting the conference, and thank you to Dr. Rhonda for being our Plan D. 🙂

Blog AR 2019

Stay Calm & Respond with Action!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

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