Emotional Moving Day For My Dad

Blog Alzheimers 3


November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. 💜 If this disease has affected you and your family in any way, shape, or form, I offer you my deepest empathy! My dad had Alzheimer’s disease and my mom had dementia. I get it!

If you are in the midst of dealing with Alzheimer’s, may I recommend journaling? Writing down your thoughts and feelings just might provide some sense of calm in the eye of your emotional storm.  It could help you sort through your fear, anger, confusion, hope, embarrassment, sadness, and yes, even peace and joy on those days your loved one is ‘with it.’

I stumbled upon a journal entry I had written when my dad was moved into the Good Samaritan Society because my mom was no longer able to take care of him.

As I read this journal entry from 2008, I shed a few tears. However, in an unusual kind of way, my penned words provided me with some peace. It reminded me that our family did the best we could with the situation we were given.

Below is my journal entry from October 23, 2008. I hope and pray you find a tiny golden nugget somewhere in these words.

10/23/08  Moving Day

Today was the day we moved my dad out to Good Sam. We all went out for lunch and then returned to our homes.  I waited for my mom to call when it was time. Around 1:00 p.m., we headed out to Good Sam with dad. About 3 hours later, I was on my way back home…sobbing. There was a lot of activity, lots of papers for mom to sign. When we met back at Dad’s room, he was sitting in his chair, just like he did at home. Before I left, he looked a bit forlorn, like a sad, frightened child who has just gone off to camp and doesn’t want to stay. Dad asked, “Will I ever get to go home?” Oh, how that tugs on my heart strings and opens up the flood gates of tears. I think, ‘No, Dad, you’ll probably be here until the day you go home to heaven.’

Freedom comes with a price tag. That’s what we say about our country. I can say that for my mom too! She has been a prisoner in her own home for about 5 – 7 years, wanting to take care of my dad because of his Alzheimer’s and blindness. Now that he is out at Good Sam, she’ll have freedom to come and go as she pleases. Her price…a broken heart. A heart that is filled with heaviness and sadness because her best friend, her soul mate for the past 53 years, is now living somewhere else.

Loneliness can be heavy on your heart. I’ll need to make sure I call her often! Go see my dad often! And…pray often!

Wow, this has been a tough day. Friends like Lisa Hubers become a great ‘pain reliever.’ She sent flowers just to let me know she’s thinking about me today on moving day. She sent some to my mom too! What a beautiful friend. Thank you, Jesus, for friends like that.

My dad’s stay at Good Sam was just short of 5 years. He died in 2013. My mom ended up living there too because of dementia. She passed away only 10 short months after my dad. Now they’ve been renewed and dance together once again in heaven. 💃

Alzheimer’s…it is a frightening, cruel, remorseless, horrid disease. For those going through it with a loved one, I shed tears with you. I say prayers for you. I grieve your loss with you. I send love to you.  For those of you who know others who are coping with this struggle…maybe send them some flowers just to let them know you are thinking about them.

Blog Dad Mom '09

Stay Calm and Know Alzheimer’s Sucks!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

Education MN Aspiring Educators (EMAE) Get an Early Morning “Lyft” to MN Educator Academy

This is a guest blog post written by McKenzie Deprez who is the SMSU EMAE President. McKenzie along with other EMAE officers and members attended MEA held on Thursday, October 17, 2019 in St. Paul, MN…
Hello all…my name is McKenzie Deprez I am from Westbrook, MN, and I am currently a Senior at Southwest Minnesota State University. I am pursuing a Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education with Minors in Special Education and Teaching English as a Second Language. I plan on walking at graduation in the Spring of 2020, and will student teach in the Fall of 2020. Along with these academic goals, I am also active in Education Minnesota. I am currently the Education Minnesota Aspiring Educators (formerly Education Minnesota Student Program) President on the SMSU campus and the Secretary at the state level. I am excited to see where the road takes me after SMSU.
Broken Bus and Lyft Arrival

The morning of October 17th was crisp, cool and dark when the early birds woke up to be on a charter bus at 4:15 in the morning. There was excitement built in all eight Aspiring Educators to see how this year’s Minnesota Educator Academy Conference would go. The crew made it all the way up to Exit 10A in the cities.

            Yep, you read that right … Exit 10A, on the side of Highway 212. I decided to all of a sudden wake up at the crack of dawn, 6:58 AM, and popped my head up just in time to see our mini-charter bus smoking from the engine. Our driver swiftly climbed out of the bus and opened the hood. The smell rapidly filled the bus and woke the rest of the Aspiring Educators.

We anxiously waited with our donuts and juice to hear the verdict of our transportation situation. We were told in order to be on time to the conference we should call an Uber. Being the Aspiring Educators we are, we decided that Lyft would be the better option. When requesting for the Lyft, Jacey Hanssen stated … “Bus broke down on the side of the road.”  Our rides quickly arrived to our rescue on the side of Highway 212, and proceeded to take us to the St. Paul RiverCentre.  Even before getting to the conference, we all learned that it is important to be flexible and to have a back-up plan in place for all situations.

Luckily, this year was a small group, so only two Lyft vehicles were needed. It’s almost like it was meant to be!

Besides the early morning bus lesson, we were all able to take away many things from the sessions which we attended…

  • Free things are always a good thing!
  • Coffee is important to ensure alertness during professional development sessions.
  • There’s always a session that isn’t very engaging; learn from that session!
  • Take away and use the tools provided throughout the conference!

Individually, our take-aways consisted of…

“There are simple ways to add yoga to the classroom throughout the day to help everyone have grounding.” ~ Mariah Schuler

“It was a great professional development opportunity.” ~Nicole Evers

“The MEA conference was the perfect opportunity to add tools to my teacher tool belt!” ~Kayla Harwick

“Take responsibility for your own actions.”  ~Danielle Olson

Blog EMAE Members

L to R: Danielle Olson, Nicole Evers, Kayla Harwick, Mariah Schuler

“What I learned from a session was ‘They are all great kids, some just don’t know it yet.’” ~Erin Stevens

“MEA is such a wonderful thing our state offers because it helps educators so much. There are free resources, tools, and support around every corner to help make life just a little easier.” ~Emily Amundson

“The most important thing I learned and took away from a breakout session was… ‘A good question can create a great conversation, as long as you talk about the elephant in the room and be real with your class.’” ~Jacey Hanssen

“When attending my last session, Where People Live: Using Culturally Relevant Pedagogy with Primary Resources, it gave me a basic understanding of how important it is to utilize other cultures, and have the students do their own exploration before providing them with answers. This gives the students the opportunity to be in the driver seat and the teacher to be the passenger. Learning is an exploration, and this was a direct strategy to give students that opportunity learn about the past and other cultures” ~McKenzie Deprez

Blog EMAE Officers

L to R: Emily Amundson, Erin Stevens, McKenzie Deprez, Jacey Hanssen (Photo credit Education MN Facebook)

MEA consisted of a general session with a keynote speaker, and five other professional development sessions throughout the entire day. While this was going on, there were also vendor booths and Education Minnesota booths which provided information, resources, and other free items. Each individual who attended was able to select their own sessions in order to tailor to their own specific needs.

At the end of the day, we were able to successfully leave with many tools and ideas to implement not only into our future classrooms, but our own lives too. We were also treated very well with a new charter bus to bring us all the way back to Marshall. Overall, MEA was a great professional development opportunity for all Aspiring Educators, Educators, Education Support Professionals, and Retirees in the state of Minnesota.

Blog quote EMAE

Thank you to our dedicated SMSU EMAE officers and members for taking the opportunity to learn and grow professionally at the MN Educator’s Academy! We are proud of you!

Stay Calm and Keep on Learning!
Profs Dr. Wendy  Dr. V.

Then God Gave Me a Farmer

This is a special guest blog post by Dr. Wendy’s niece, Haylee. Harvest time will soon be here and Haylee has some insightful thoughts to share with those who are married to a farmer (or any of us who are married). Haylee Spronk is a daughter of the King, created by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and renewed by the Holy Spirit. She currently lives on a farm in rural Minnesota with her farmer, 2 sons, a daughter, pigs, and a couple cats. Haylee grew up in a “loosely” defined family with 2 brothers, 3 sisters, and lots of foster siblings. Her foster siblings inspired her to pursue her bachelor’s in social work and eventually a degree in clinical social work from St. Thomas/St. Catherine’s University. She has worked with the elderly population in nursing homes and hospice and loves the stories of the geriatric population. She has also spent time working with those who struggle with mental illness and trauma. She enjoys baking family recipes, being average at triathlons, a good cup of coffee, weird foods, and spending time in deep conversations with those she loves.

Blog Harvest Tractor Eccl.


“You know I’m going to be gone a lot.”

I nod my head emphatically as I gaze into his perfect blue eyes and admire his flawless smile. In my lovesick state I think, “I’d do anything for you!” I mean c’mon, spring planting and harvest can’t be that bad, right? I can ride with my farmer in the combine into the wee hours of twilight. I’ll bring him hot meals just so I can see his cute butt climb up the steps to the tractor. It will just be sublime and somewhat romantic! Seriously though, I have always been a very independent woman…

Fast forward 5 years and now we are married, have 2 kids, and I am holding a full-time job. Harvest is fast approaching, and I am already having anxiety about the the next couple months. It means lonely evenings, fights over the phone, parenting by myself, planning lunches for my farmer (bologna sandwiches anyone?), and trying to emotionally hold it together whenever someone asks me how I am doing.  It is hard to make choices by myself such as “Do I take the baby in to the doctor?”, “How do I balance a checkbook?”, and “What bills are due again?” I start to become very angry and bitter in my heart for him “leaving” me for months on end (Yes, a bit dramatic since he was home every Sunday).  Something had to give soon…I just can not imagine doing this for the next 50 years.

We’ve now been married 11 years, have 3 beautiful children, and I no longer hold a full-time job. I still do not look forward to spring planting or fall harvest but God has worked a miracle in our marriage to help us become stronger in Him.  So if you are where I was a short 6 years ago here are a few lessons God has taught me from 11 harvests and 10 spring plantings.

  1. Check your expectations at the door. Unchecked and unrealistic expectations can damage a marriage no matter how long you have been married. The media, our friends, and our family of origin create certain images and portrayals of what a husband and father look like. For example, my dad worked very regular hours with some on-call hours. I felt as though I had commandments in my head for my farmer such as, “Thou shalt not work longer than 6 pm and thou shalt have every holiday and weekend off.” And “Thou shalt take out the trash and be really handy in the house.” Even though my farmer had attempted to warn me about the long hours, I still pictured him home at 6pm fixing up our house all cute! I had to realize God has called husbands to different occupations with unique talents which require varying work hours. I could not find my commandments anywhere in the Bible!

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Col. 3:17

  1. Understand each other’s love language. Reading The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman was a game changer in our marriage. It helped us understand how to make our spouse feel “loved.” When we were time-crunched, we could meet each other’s love language in a very specific way. For example, my farmer was willing to engage in deliberate time and conversation with me, and I could give him a back rub or even just a back scratch instead of wasting time on things that did not make our spouse feel loved. It takes sacrifice, at times, to be willing to meet your spouse’s needs above your own for the sake of your marriage. I will tell you it is well worth it though!

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” Rom. 12:10

  1. Assume the good about your spouse. Of all the things on this list, this is still the most challenging concept for me. It means a deliberate choice to assume the best in my farmer’s intentions instead of the worst. For example, I would assume my farmer was really enjoying the time away from us. I would assume my farmer was angry or upset with me during short conversations we would have. I never really asked him if my assumptions were correct. What would happen if instead I would assume he really really missed our family? What if I would assume he was having a bad day during our conversation instead of thinking he is angry at me? For example, “It feels like to me your upset, but I am wondering if that is correct?” It would be and is a game changer for my attitude.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Cor. 13:7

  1. Talk about expectations and frustrations as they come. Early in our marriage, I wanted to keep the peace even at the expense of bitterness growing in my heart. It was helpful for me to tell my farmer about the struggles I was having at home. The tricky part of sharing was doing it in a calm and non-confrontational way (This takes practice and I have not yet perfected it). It also means allowing space for him to share how much he missed us and missed being a part of the family. It was equally hard for him to not be there for the kids’ programs, good conversations, and homework. It also means asking clarifying questions and really listening to the answer. So often I would guess at the meaning of things he said instead of asking what he meant. When we both practiced non-judgmental listening, experiences could be shared, and we could walk away both feeling heard (even for a 5 minute conversation).

 “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,” Ephesians 4:26

“Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” Ps. 141:2

  1. Find a spring planting/harvest support system. During harvest, I lose two very important pieces of my support system…my farmer and my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law is a very calm and grounding presence in my life. My farmer creates the fun and light heartedness in the house. I miss them both dearly during harvest! God has provided a different support system during harvest. I have a girlfriend whose husband works crazy hours and we can call each other at night to talk about how we are surviving. I join a Bible study during fall which happens while my kids are at school (daycare provided). It also may include paying for daycare a day a week so sanity can be maintained. I try to be very aware of what my needs are and keep a regular routine during harvest. Do not be afraid to seek out people who are willing to share your burden.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal. 6:2

  1. Find the joy and lesson in this season. One of the greatest gifts God has given me through harvest is an appreciation of my farmer’s presence in our family. When he is gone, some of the joy is missing in our household. It makes that joy much sweeter when you have missed your farmer. I’ve learned to do things I would not have otherwise learned to do such as run the lawnmower, do the farm books, pay bills, rely on others for support, allow myself to be vulnerable with other people, and learn to rely more fully on God’s presence. I have also learned the importance of having regular time with God in the mornings so the rest of the day flows from my relationship with Him.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zeph 3:17

Even though these 10 plantings and 11 harvests have been difficult to navigate, I would not change my farmer’s occupation! Ultimately, God has changed my heart through these seasons of trials. I really think Paul says it best:

Hebrews 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Blog Harvest Haylee Farmer

Haylee and her farmer ❤🚜

Stay Calm and Have a Safe Harvest!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.


Talk like a Pirate Day

Blog Pirate Bitmoji

Ahoy thar, mateys. Happy National Talk like a Pirate Day. Shiver me timbers…me educator hearties be enjoyin’ this holiday.

You might be wondering why in the world anyone would want to be using pirate lingo. Especially educators! Well, to tweak a few words found on the first pages of the children’s book How I Became a Pirate written by Melinda Long and David Shannon…

“I know about pirates, because one day, when I was minding my own business and cruising through social media, Twitter friend, Matey Mel, sailed into my life.” 😊

This Twitter friend turned out to be a neighbor who lived only a few blocks from me. We met for coffee, she introduced me to the book Teach like a PIRATE written by Dave Burgess, and on that day, I became an EDU pirate. 🏴‍☠️

Why educators are talking like pirates is because of Dave’s teaching/leading/insert your profession pirate message. In the introduction of his book, Captain Burgess tells us WHY we want to be EDU Pirate Rock Stars:

So why a pirate? After all, we don’t want teachers who attack and rob ships at sea. Teaching like a pirate has nothing to do with the dictionary definition and everything to do with the spirit. Pirates are daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into uncharted territories with no guarantee of success. They reject the status quo, and refuse to conform to any society that stifles creativity and independence. They are entrepreneurs who take risks and are willing to travel to the ends of the earth for that which they value. Although fiercely independent, they travel with and embrace a diverse crew. If you’re willing to live by the code, commit to the voyage, and pull your share of the load, then you’re free to set sail. Pirates don’t much care about public perception; they proudly fly their flags in defiance (Loc. 95, Kindle).

Since my visit years ago with that friend and educator, Matey Mel, I have had the pleasure of seeing Dave present 5 times at different locations.  I can honestly say each time I gained new knowledge and new ideas. Most importantly, each time I came away with a renewed spirit. And that, folks, is why we educator pirates are enjoying Talk Like a Pirate Day today.

Blog Talk Like a Pirate Day w Dave

Shiver me timbers, Mateys, dig up yer treasure by sailin’ over to Amazon and git yer copy of Teach like a PIRATE: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life. Aye, yer lads and lasses will be thankin’ ya.

Stay Calm, Mateys and Be Teachin’ Like a PIRATE!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.


You Are Welcome Here

Blog welcome here case

Pencils sharpened in their case.

Bells are ringing, let’s make haste.

School’s beginning, dreams to chase.

All are welcome here.

To SMSU’s novice and veteran teacher candidates…we welcome you to campus.

Your pencils are sharpened and they accompany your textbooks and computers and everything else in your case (or better known around here as your backpack).

Bells may not be ringing in the university hallways but they are ringing on your phone alarms because you are now in charge of getting yourself up in the morning and to class on time.  So, wake up, drink some coffee (or a diet dew and/or diet coke or better yet, water), and hustle to class. Don’t forget to grab a Pop Tart® on your way out of your dorm or apartment. 😉

School officially begins today. Show up for class, be on time, use your planner, work hard at your studies, give your all, reflect then change if needed, stay ahead of the game, and chase your dream of becoming an outstanding teacher. More importantly, please know… all are welcome here!

Blog welcome here diverse

We’re part of a community.

Our strength is our diversity.

A shelter from adversity.

All are welcome here.

Welcome to the School of Education’s Community of Learners where we are a community of professors and teacher candidates immersed in excellence together through active learning, researching, teaching, reflecting, and leading.

Blog School of Ed

There is strength in SMSU’s diverseness. All professors have their own style of instructing just as all of you have your own style of learning. We all have our differences, and yet we are all on the same team. #teameducator

Yes, together everyone achieves more.

It will be the same across campus. EVERY professor will instruct differently. Respect this diverseness. Never hesitate to ask questions if you are struggling. All professors are here to help you through difficulties and hardships. Trust us when we say…we have all struggled. It’s human nature. So, PLEASE, ask for help if needed because all are welcome here!

You have a place here.

You have a space here.

You are welcome here.

Welcome everyone. You are welcome here at SMSU!! Have a marvelous 2019 – 2020 school year. 🙂

Blog Welcome Gold Rush

Stay Calm & Welcome!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

(We highly recommend you read the charming children’s book titled All are Welcome written by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman, 2018).

blog welcome here


Life’s Lessons Handed Down

We walked into the quiet, dimly lit room where he lay peacefully with his eyes closed and his hands folded, resting on his chest. He looked as though he was “not afraid and his sleep was sweet.” ~Proverbs 3:24

We pulled up chairs as near to him as possible. I gently laid my head on his shoulder, placed my hand upon his hand, and while my tears flowed, I softly sang into his ear…

God be with you till we meet again,
By His counsels guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you,
God be with you till we meet again.

Blog dads hands

That was 6 years ago when I said my final goodbye to my dad. He went home to Heaven as humbly as he lived his life on Earth. My dad was such a positive role model for me. He certainly showed me how to live my life humbly and honestly and lovingly. He handed down so many life lessons, and I am forever grateful to him for that.

At a concert a few nights ago, my husband and I heard Christian song writer and story teller, Mark Schultz, sing his song called Handed Down.

This song brought back fond memories of my dad. So naturally after the concert, my hubby and I shared memories about all those things that have been handed down to us. Things such as his grandpa’s old clock, my dad’s Coca Cola doll, my great-grandma’s oil lamp, and my mom’s gorgeous diamond wedding ring.

As Mark sings in his song

All through these years I guess I’ve learned a thing or two
You can’t put a price on things that mean the most to you.

My husband and I also chatted about the greatest gifts handed down to us by those we love…our morals and our values. We were taught to…

  • Respect our elders
  • Treat others the way we want to be treated
  • Never forget where we came from
  • Show gratitude and grace
  • Always apologize when we’ve done wrong
  • Work hard at everything we do
  • Mind our manners
  • Grant patience
  • Be kind
  • Give and give some more
  • Love and support our family
  • Never judge anyone
  • Grip firmly when shaking a hand
  • Forgive
  • Give hugs
  • Say please and thank you
  • Love and serve others
  • Live graciously
  • Stick up for what we believe is right
  • Never do anything we would regret if Jesus were to show up while we were doing it
  • Smile
  • Fight hard against life’s battles
  • Be all in with arms open wide
  • Go to church
  • Put Jesus first in all we do

So you see…it is not the things we can buy that are the most important to us. With a little tweaking of Mark Schultz’s words in his song, this is what Dean and I believe matters most…

We finally woke up and we took a look around
Seeing the things that mean the most to us we’ve found
Are life’s lessons handed down.

Thank you for a great concert, Mark, and for nudging us to take a trip down memory lane. 😉

Blog Mark Schultz

Thank you, dad! I am who I am today because of all you’ve handed down to me. Fingers crossed that we, too, are handing down some amazing life lessons to our children and grandchildren. ❤


Eddie Wussow: July 3, 1929 – August 18, 2013

What life lessons have been handed down to you? What life lessons are you handing down to others?

Stay Calm & Hand Down Some Amazing Life Lessons!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.


Back to School Sparkle

“I’m losing my sparkle and the only way to get it back is to return to my star family.”

~Charlie’s Colorforms City

The boy was restless and a bit on the wild side. He chose to take his money and run. He left his family behind and went out into the world. He lived it up, spending his money foolishly. After some time, he found himself in trouble. His money was gone and a famine hit. He hired himself out to a citizen of where he was living. His job was to feed the pigs and so he did. However, he was given nothing. He was starving.

This young boy came to his senses and made the decision to return home. He knew his father’s workers back home were treated better than he was being treated. His plan was to ask for his family’s forgiveness, tell them he is unworthy of being called their son because of what he had done, and would beg to become one of his father’s workers. He underestimated the love of his family.

When his father saw the boy walking down the road toward home, he became filled with compassion for his son. The father ran to him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. The father cried out with thankfulness this son of mine was lost and is now found.

The boy in that story lost his sparkle. He realized the only way to get it back was to return to his family.

Teachers…you may have that boy (and girl) in your classroom this fall. Children who may be restless and a little on the wild side. Children who may choose to do some foolish things. Children who may begin to feel unworthy for unknown reasons. When those kids, your students, come to their senses (and they will eventually), how will you show compassion?

You and your classroom of children become a family over the nine months you are together. Most days, you spend more time with those kids than their parents are able to. If you have students who have lost their sparkle, how will you help them find it again? If you lose YOUR sparkle, how will you get it back?

As the new school year begins, our best advice for you is to build a positive relationship with all of your students. Smile, greet them at the door every morning, call them by name, eat lunch with them, listen to their stories, treat them with unconditional regard, give them a handshake, high five or hug when then leave at the end of the day, attend their activities outside of school, make your lessons so awesome that they can’t wait to return the next day to see what you will do this time. And remember…those restless, wild, foolish students are sometimes the hardest to love, but they are also the ones who need it the most.

How will you find balance between your professional life and your personal life so you do not lose your sparkle? Here are a few ways to take care of you: Exercise, eat right, drink lots of water, get some sleep, breathe deeply, play (volleyball, pickle ball, board games, whatever floats your boat 😊), visit with family and friends, take a social media sabbatical, journal, volunteer. Find what makes you sparkle.

We wish you the best school year ever!! Sparkle on!!

blog sparkle on

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

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!!

Blog Nili_Jay

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!!

Blog JessicaMe

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

carter psalm


Profs Dr. C.& Dr. V.

Book Talk: Against All Odds by Luke Nelson

Blog Against all odds little library

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.

Blog Against all odds pg 91 Julie

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!!

Blog against all odds philippians

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