Lessons Learned from Serving on the School Board


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Tonight was my last evening to serve as the School Board Chair. While it was my decision not to rerun, it is still bitter sweet!  I was first appointed and then elected to a 4 year term. In my quick 5 ¼ years on the school board, I was voted in as the chair each year for my last 3 years. An experience that I gained incredible insight from. Thank you to my esteemed board teammates for believing I could handle it. 🙂

This is my 32nd year as an educator…teaching elementary students in grades 3 and 5, then serving as an elementary principal, and now teaching teacher candidates at SMSU how to be powerful teachers. Serving as a school board member provided me the opportunity to view education through a brand new lens. An educational understanding you can only acquire by serving on the board.

Here are a few essential lessons I learned while serving the students of my home district as a school board member and chair:

Run for school board WITHOUT an agenda!

Read and understand the School Board Code of Ethics!

You can’t please everyone so always do what’s right for the kids!

Make your decisions for kids then move on!

Make INFORMED decisions!

Pray about every decision you make (this should be THE number one priority)!

Communicate with your state School Board Association for advice (THANK YOU to Sandy, Gary, Katie, and Cathy at MN School Board Association for ALL your help)!

Attend the yearly School Board Conference. Excellent leadership professional development!

Assume positive intent when you are questioned on your decisions!

Know that people will make speculations and assumptions (especially when they are not at the meetings and only get their information from the local newspaper).

Social media (especially Facebook) will attack you! It can get downright nasty…oh well!

Do NOT engage in social media rage!

You are ONE voice! Do not speak for the rest of the board!

Be professional!

Prep prior to the meeting!

Respect those who are speaking…no side bar conversations!

Listen to ALL points of view!

There are two sides to every story!

Bring ALL concerns to the superintendent!

Use face-to-face or a phone call to communicate with the superintendent!

Ask questions, then follow up on those questions!

Offer your perspective!

Respect the opinions of others!

Keep an open mind and heart!

Support the board after a final decision has been made!

NEVER tell the public “you will take care of it.”

Know your role!

You are NOT the superintendent!

You are NOT to micromanage!

You will finally know what you are doing by about year four!

And please, follow the chain of command!

Those are just a handful of lessons learned from my time serving. There are many more I could share, but I’ll save them for a possible book someday. 😮

A gratitude-filled shout out to my hometown, Pipestone, MN. Thank you for having faith in my abilities. Did I make mistakes? Of course I did! I’m human, and none of us are perfect. I strive for “continuous growth.” 🙂 However, I know my servant leadership had a positive impact and made an uplifting difference for this district while serving. And that is what life is all about…serving others. It’s been an honor and a pleasure! God bless!

Board Chair (Kyle Kuphal)

Photo Credit: Kyle Kuphal, Pipestone Co. Star

Stay Calm and Respect Your School Board,

Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.


Giving Thanks for the SMSU 2-Day, Theme Based Elementary Clinical 2018

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That’s a wrap, folks, for this year’s production of the 2018 SMSU 2-Day Elementary Clinical. It was a BIG hit!!! Each year, the SMSU teacher candidates have the opportunity to team teach for two full days and be in complete charge of a classroom. The classroom mentor teacher is close by, however, our teacher candidates do ALL the teaching. Everything from reading to math to social studies to gym and music. They get a lunch break and that is about it. They do have each other, however, which settles down some nerves.

This 2-day, theme based clinical is an experience of a life time. And it is one they will never forget. It is a lot of work for them, but, let’s face it, teaching is a lot of work.

One teacher candidate was overheard saying his feet were killing him. Another teacher candidate was overheard saying she hadn’t been to the bathroom all day. One teacher candidate said directly to me that she was exhausted…and it wasn’t the end of the first day yet. Yes indeed, teacher candidates, these are all realities of teaching.

I asked if a few teacher candidates would describe their clinical experience using the format of the children’s book called The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. Each thing this author describes in her book follows a pattern. It begins with “The important thing about __________ is __________.” Two or three more description sentences are added and then is ended with “But, the important thing about __________ is ___________.” The same exact sentence as the first.

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Below are a few of my teacher candidate’s thoughts on “The important thing about clinical was______________.” Enjoy. 🙂

Alexis Streich, Elementary Education Major with a minor in SPED shared the following:

“The important thing about clinical was realizing that students inspire teachers just as much as teachers inspire their students.

Clinical was time consuming, challenging, thought-provoking, tiring, and inspiring. It was full of trial and error, can you help me tie my shoes, muffled giggles of students who should be working quietly, and too many cups of coffee to count.

But, the important thing about clinical was realizing that students inspire teachers just as much as teachers inspire their students.”

Maizie Schacherer, Early Childhood Education Major, shared the following:

“The important thing about clinical was having the opportunity to experience two full days in the life of a teacher.

It is a rewarding experience, it provides new learning for both the students and teacher candidates, it provides an opportunity for growth, it builds a foundation for teaching, and it provided us with the opportunity to better ourselves as future educators.

But, the important thing about clinical was having the opportunity to experience two full days in the life of a teacher.”

Emily Augustin, Early Childhood/Elementary Education Major; Megan Hacker, Early Childhood Education Major; Amber Tietz, Early Childhood Education Major shared the following:

“The important thing about clinical was this gave us the opportunity to truly be the teachers and prepare for our future classroom.

Clinical was the most overwhelming, stressful, and nerve-racking experience we have ever been a part of. However, it was also the most enlightening, informative, and educational process a future educator can go through. It gave us the tools and resources needed for a classroom and the chaotic times which come with it. On our first day, we had to have gym in our classroom which we were not prepared for at all, but teaching is all about rolling with the punches and dealing with anything that might come a teacher’s way. Even though clinical was easily the most stressful part of our educational career at SMSU, it was, without trouble, the most rewarding adventure.

But, the important thing about clinic was this gave us the opportunity to truly be the teachers and prepare for our future classroom.”

Congrats to all of you, teacher candidates. We are proud of the outstanding educators you are becoming. We give thanks for you…and we give thanks for this clinical experience! 🙂 Enjoy your much deserved break!!

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Stay calm and Rest…

Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

Make Your Little Corner of the World a Better Place for the People You Serve

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“Something I tell my teacher candidates all the time is that we all get the same 24 hours in a day and days in a year, so I encourage you to use your time the best you can and hopefully to make your little corner of the world a better place for the people you serve around you.” ~Dr. Rhonda Bonnstetter

My colleague/friend and I just returned from the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) Conference that was held at Cragun’s Resort near Brainerd, MN. I serve on the board for MREA representing Higher Education. In addition to Higher Education, others who attend this conference are teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members, curriculum coordinators, counselors, and many others. It is a fabulous conference with much learning. If you live in MN and your school is a member of MREA, we highly recommend this conference to you!

MREA includes an Awards Banquet during this yearly conference. Schools are nominated for the Profile of Excellence Award. These schools are selected based on programs that are innovative, benefit students, have collaboration efforts, and are adaptable for other schools to replicate.

Teachers are nominated for the Educators of Excellence Award. The criteria for these teachers are those who have a positive impact on students and student achievement, are a leader in their school and district and community, have an innovative and creative teaching practice that impacts all students, and who collaborate with colleagues, parents, families, and the community.

One last award that MREA offers is the Distinguished Service Award.  MREA asks that these leaders demonstrate one or more of the criteria listed on their website. While I was reading through these criteria, the first person who popped into my head was my colleague and friend, Dr. Rhonda Bonnstetter because she doesn’t meet just one criterion, she meets them all. So of course, I nominated her.

Rhonda was chosen to receive this award. ❤

Being an MREA board member, I was offered the privilege of introducing her at the awards banquet. Of course I said yes. I was a nervous wreck getting up in front of 300 plus people, but I survived it. Below is an excerpt from my introduction to give you just a glimpse of who Dr. Rhonda Bonnstetter is:

Rhonda is a person who I have come to trust and appreciate and love. She has many diverse experiences and has achieved so much in her life. I’d like to share just a glimpse of who Dr. Rhonda Bonnstetter is and how she got to where she is today.
Rhonda is the mom of 4 children…three daughters and one son. Her son happens to be here tonight with us. Thank you Josh for being here to support your mom.  
In addition to her 4 children, Rhonda and her late husband Jeff were foster parents to numerous children. She shared with me that she lost count after 40. 😀
Rhonda began her career as a paraprofessional as a young mom.
With encouragement from two teachers, Dr. Bonnstetter decided to attend college to become a math teacher.
**She taught high school math at Murray County Central for nine years.
**Rhonda continued on by earning her Master’s Degree in Math Education and then her Educational Doctorate degree in Curriculum and Instruction.
**She then joined us at SMSU as a faculty member in the School of Education in 2005. Four short years later Rhonda was voted in as our Department Chair and held this position from 2009 until 2014.
Among her recent accomplishments was her visioning to create and gain legislative approval for a para-to-SPED teacher program as a non-traditional pathway for mid-career individuals to join the profession.
Rhonda has held a variety of local and state leadership positions to advocate on behalf of Minnesota teachers. She served on the MREA board for 8 years and also served as president. Rhonda is the president elect for MACTE and she has worked closely with PELSB.  
Rhonda began phased retirement this school year however…I know she’s not done yet.
How do I know this? Well…because Rhonda is an “and then some” kind of girl. She does what is required, and then some. She has written a textbook for her Technology class. She has co-authored a textbook with myself and other SMSU professors. She teaches math at Marshall High School during the summer. She plans and presents math workshops through the SW/WC Coop.  She watches her 12 grandchildren to help out her adult children. She has done all of this ‘and then some.’  As Fred Nolan has said about Rhonda, “She is like the Energizer Bunny. She just keeps going and going.”
I’m grateful for Rhonda and her commitment to the teaching profession. She is truly making a difference in the lives of every student she works with…

Readers, if you’d like to watch the awards presentation check it out on YouTube. The video is the whole banquet so skip ahead to 1 hour and 47 minutes to watch Rhonda’s award. Thank you to MREA for Live Streaming it. (Click on the MREA pic below to watch).

Blog Rhonda Awards BanquetOne funny story from the day after the awards banquet. A gentleman approached Rhonda to shake her hand and congratulate her. He smiled and said to Rhonda, “After all those experiences that were mentioned in your introduction, I thought for sure an old lady would walk on the stage. And then I saw you…you are young.” 😀

Rhonda, if you are reading this, we just want to say congratulations again! You are so deserving. As your Granddaughter Abriel Bonnstetter has been known to say… “Grandma, you’re kind of a big deal.” We couldn’t agree with her more. 🙂

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Stay Calm and Make Your World a Better Place,

Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

He Displayed the True Grit of a Survivor

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He was jolted by 7200 volts of electricity at the Holland substation after a snow storm. He had given his safety gloves to someone else because he didn’t think he’d have to climb. They needed him so he stepped up and when he did, he slipped on the ice. As he was falling, he ever so slightly brushed the hot wire with his left middle finger. 

That was all it took. The 72 hundred volts of electricity traveled through his body… miraculously in between heart beats… searching for the nearest exit. Had it traveled when his heart was beating, his heart would have exploded.

That vicious current exited his body blowing out his right forearm, his right fingers, his right leg close to his knee, and the arch of his right foot causing devastating destruction.  

He had a bizarre thought as he fell – “I forgot to shave.” It was the morning of New Year’s Eve 1974, and he had planned to take his lovely wife out for dinner that evening.  Always thinking of others first.  

He perished when he hit the ground. Dan, his friend and coworker, frantically worked strenuously, keeping him alive as he went in and out of consciousness. He was flown by medical airplane to the St. Paul Ramsey Hospital Burn Center where he endured violent excruciating pain as the medical team tweezed away at the burned skin where the electricity had charred his body.

They meticulously plucked and pulled piece by piece of that black scorched skin until they reached the flesh that had life. This procedure was performed behind sound proof doors so the screams couldn’t be heard by others. 

He went through many painful skin grating surgeries. They needed healthy skin to replace what had been burned away. 

He coded while on the operating table during one of those skin grafting operations. Doctors frantically worked hard to bring him back. He was revived! The surgeons never again used that anesthesia on him. 

After three torturous months in the burn unit, he was discharged and allowed to go home. The healing process required just as much resilience and fight as what was needed while in the hospital. 

The doctors wanted to sew his hand into his belly to help his burned off, skin grafted fingers heal. He said no and promised to soak those stubs several times a day in peroxide. He also promised to make sure his stubbed fingers would not grow together. So he gently pulled them apart several times a day regardless of the agony it caused. All this while tending to his skin grafted right forearm, leg, and foot. 

Before he was discharged, those doctors body slammed him with devastating news…they told him that he’d be lucky to live five more years because of all the unknown effects of that electrocution. They told him he would have very little use of that right arm once it was healed.

He displayed the true grit of a survivor. He lived for 40 more years beyond that tragic accident, and he had 85% use of that arm. He proved those doctors wrong! 

He was courageous and brave and strong and tenacious and determined and tough. Most importantly, he was so very loving and kind and generous and patient and honorable and a true gentleman. 

He was my dad! ❤

So when I start to have a pity party because I think life is tough and unfair, I just think of my dad and say a silent prayer of thanks.

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Stay Calm & Display Grit!

Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

I Choose Love, Kindness, Empathy, & Forgiveness

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“Wendy is nothing but a failed administrator.”

OUCH!! Those were some abusive, harsh, nasty words. Sometimes people say hurtful things when they aren’t happy with current personal circumstances. If an unpleasant situation is going down, then sometimes we come out swinging and punch back in a revengeful way with painful words.

If your contract is not being renewed…painful. If you are being reprimanded by your boss…painful. If you are being yelled at by a loved one…painful. If you are being ostracized because of a decision you made…painful. If your child tells you he/she hates you…painful. If you receive an angry email…painful. If the world seems to be shouting “you’re not good enough”…painful.

That’s why those cruel words were said about me. I had to make a difficult decision concerning the future career of someone, and that decision was not well received. Understandable.

I had two choices…let those abrasive words make me angry allowing bitterness to suffocate my heart like weeds that strangle, crush, and destroy everything in their presence; OR, I could fill up my heart with love, kindness, empathy, and forgiveness. Then move on.

God’s opinion of me is all that matters to me so I chose love, kindness, empathy, and forgiveness.

I encourage you to do the same because at one point in time we have all been insulted by another person’s painful, cruel, venomous, spiteful words. I understand how degrading it can be.

Forgive!! Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what they said is okay. It means you are free of the offense and won’t have to use any poisonous pesticides to rid the weeds of bitterness that could possibly take root in your heart.

I choose to show love. I choose to be kind. I choose to be empathetic. I choose to forgive.  Join me?

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Stay calm and forgive!

Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

Pick A (Health) Lane and Stay In It

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“Pick a lane and stay in it!” Those were my husband’s words to me last night right before heading to bed. No, I wasn’t driving. But I was swerving all over the place with my thoughts (I’m the spaghetti brain, he is the waffle brain. Read the book to find out what I mean 🙂 ).

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Last year I started Weight Watchers® just to lose a few pounds so I could get back into my clothes that were too tight. I had great success with it. Yay me!! #humblebrag

Recently, I read the inspirational book written by Dr. Dale Bredesen called The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline. It is a dynamic book that I highly recommend you all read. Because my dad had Alzheimer’s and my mom had Dementia, I have a 50% greater chance of having the Alzheimer’s marker. This book gives me humongous hope.

In the book, Dr. Bredesen teaches us his protocol to help prevent and reverse Alzheimer’s. It’s all about nutrition, friends!! He strongly recommends to follow the KETO/FLEX 12/3 wellness plan. KETO is the Keto diet which is all-a-craze right now…high fat and low carbs. The FLEX is Flexitarian…similar to vegetarian with more flexibility to eat meat, mostly fish and poultry. The 12 is intermittent fasting for 12 hours at least, but he suggests trying for up to 16 hours between your last meal in the evening to your first meal the next day. Lastly, the 3 means nothing to eat three hours prior to going to bed.

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I share all of that because I’ve been trying to maintain my weight with Weight Watchers while at the same time trying to incorporate the Keto/Flex wellness plan. I use the Weight Watchers app to keep track of the freestyle points, plus I have also been using My Fitness Pal app to keep track of carbs…uffdah.

Last night when I said “SHOOT” out loud, my husband asked what was up. When I explained to him that a food was okay on Weight Watchers but not so good for the Keto plan, that is when he smiled at me and passionately said (with added gestures, mind you), “Pick a lane and stay in it!”

Okay. Yes, dear. Great advice and compliance, dear hubby. I’ll be sticking with Weight Watchers for now. (I like fruit too much and fruit has high carbs). So a BIG thank you to my man for giving me the nudge to pick my lane. (But, please read Dr. Bredesen’s book! It’s really, really good!!!).

On a side note…Happy October. It’s my favorite color. It’s also a time to think about the upcoming holidays and all those delicious meals that can sabotage our well-being if we aren’t careful.  Rachel Hollis, author of Girl, Wash Your Face, has created the #Last90Days challenge that just started today. Rachel is using these last three months of the year to get healthier.

Yup…I’m joining in on the fun with that one too. It allows me to stay in my Weight Watchers lane without swerving and causing an accident. Even if all I do is obey Rachel’s “5 to Thrive” list, I’ll be good to go. I’ve put Rachel’s 5 to Thrive list as my phone wallpaper so I am reminded of them daily! Check it out for yourself and join the #Last90Days challenge with me (click on that link).

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Never hurts to want to be a healthier me (or you). I’ll soon celebrate my birthday which will also be my last year of my 50’s. 😮 I want to be a spunky 85 year old woman, so a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do. 🙂 We girls need to look out for each other, right? Let’s try our hardest to stay healthy, friends. Blessings to you always…

Stay Calm & Let’s Get Healthy Together!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

Just Keep Driving Your Boat to a New Horizon


I love sunrises! I can remember when our kids were little and we made them get up before dawn one morning, grabbed some hot chocolate, and went to sit on a rock while we waited patiently for the majestic sunrise over Lake Superior. I thought it was breathtaking. They were groggy and just wanted to go back to bed.

My husband understands my love of sunrises, so just this morning we headed out to the marina on a sunrise date while the sky was changing into dawn. We idled out to the lake to not wake the boathouse sleepers. Once on the wide open water, we raced over to the other side to get out of the wind and to sit quietly, drink our coffee, and wait.

As God’s golden splendor peeked over the horizon, I said my daily prayer, This is the day that you have made, Lord, let me rejoice and be glad in it. The sun was a tad bit over the horizon and my hubby starts up the pontoon and begins driving away from my little piece of heaven.

“WHAT are you doing??”

“Driving to the next sunrise,” he smiles.


There are some cliffs that border this lake so he moved the boat a little to the south so I could watch the sun rise once again only this time above the small bluffs.

Is he not the sweetest guy ever? ❤ 🙂

After the sun winked over these bluffs, he drove off one more time so we could catch the sun rising a third time. This time it waved hello from over the cliffs that stood tall and proud.

THREE sunrises in one morning. Just keep driving your boat to a new horizon, and you can experience three sunrises in one morning. Spectacular!

Teacher candidates…think about that for a second. In your future teaching career, or in your prep program now, it’s all about perspective and driving your boat to a new horizon.

You will have students/classmates who are struggling…drive to a new horizon so YOU can understand their why.

You will have colleagues/friends who drive you crazy…drive to a new horizon so YOU can role model unconditional regard.

You will have a boat load of work/assignments to do…drive to a new horizon so YOU can give your best.

You will have an administrator/professor who intimidates you…drive to a new horizon so YOU can find courage.

You will look for new opportunities/teaching ideas…drive to a new horizon so YOU can become creative.

This is one time we can sincerely say…it IS all about YOU, teacher candidates. Having a positive perspective in teaching and in life is vital to YOU and your successes.

YOU are in control of your efforts.

YOU are in charge of your attitude.

YOU are in charge of finding the good in life.

YOU are accountable for the morale around you.

YOU have to find the beauty in your day.

Teacher candidates…whatever you’ve got going on in your teacher prep program right now, just remember…YOU are at the helm…YOU have to drive your boat to a new horizon.

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Stay Calm & Take the Wheel,
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

Active Learning

Read, Set, … Learn!  It’s that time of year.  That fall feeling is in the air.  For some of us that means football; for all of us that means school!  Our minds are ready for more – to learn more – to do more.

Recently, I attended a Football for Moms session with our high school football team.  Coaches decided that we needed to learn the plays.  We listened to Coach Bahlmann draw up plays on the board, and we decoded numbers and names for players and plays.  Once we had an introduction, then we needed to give it a try and put the play into action.  I would say that we did fairly well against our high school sons as opponents. 😉  We were able to learn about the play and try it out – to engage in our learning and actively participate.

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Photo credit: Coach Tony Ortmann

Part of learning more IS doing more. The lecture-style-only classroom is a thing of the past.  There is so much more to teaching and learning than lecturing.  Now, don’t get all upset if you are a lecturer; we mean no disrespect here.  It takes all of us to make the world-go-around.  We simply mean there is more to it than the historically dominate “sit and get” learning in life.  I tell teacher candidates that “you will get out of it what you put into it.” I can tell them how valuable something is and why, but until they assimilate it, digest it, believe it, work with it, and do something with it (in whatever order or preference), then it is just information. They need to actively engage in the task at hand, and make it worth their time to comprehend it and make their learning their own.

I recently had an opportunity to participate in an active learning classroom workshop on campus at Southwest Minnesota State University.  It was more than listening to how it works, it was doing more, and making it work.  We know that one of the highest levels of learning is teaching and creating.  That is just what we did under the fine guidance of Kate Borowske, Instructional Design Librarian at SMSU.

There were lots of take aways to try out in our own teaching and get our students engaged in their own active learning.  Some highlights came from Professor Robin Wright from the University of Minnesota; she shared resources to get us on the road to active teaching and learning.  Key ideas and resources to share with some of my own twist:

Mentor – develop relationships.  Professors may know the content/discipline more in depth, but students have better questions.

Teach so hard.  We need to think about the balance between teaching and learning. We are all teaching and learning alongside each other.

“Students have an amazing capacity to learn…amazing capacity for creativity.  They will give you hope for the future.”

“Thrill of seeing through new eyes…”  Allowing ourselves to see something thru another’s perspective, we allow ourselves a chance to change, a chance to get better, a chance to understand.

TED Talk by Ramsay Musallem – 3 rules to spark learning

Teaching effectively in active learning spaces:

Team teach. Model/learn scholarly discourse. It will make learning transformative.

Enlist help.  Undergraduate learning assistants or interns or volunteers can help support active learning. Engage others are we aim to integrate active learning into everyday teaching.

Use time-saving strategies (grading rubrics, mail merge for student communications, and more) to save on teacher sanity.

Encourage metacognition.  Learners need to think about what they are learning and how they are learning and what it all means.

Create a community of learners.  We are not in this alone.  Put your minds together and collaborate on how this can become how we learn.

What we process, we learn. Sure, we can memorize something. But there is so much more that we can do with information and knowledge.

Connect emotion to learning.  When a reader connects to text, he or she comprehends the text more easily.  When we connect to what we are learning, we retain it, which means we have a better chance of using the information in the future and integrating it into our lives.

Steps on How to Teach in an Active Learning Classroom – Steelcase Education

Teaching Methods for Inspiring the Students of the Future – Joe Ruhl

Teach Like a Champion: Getting everyone’s attention in class – Doug Lemov


ablconnect – Harvard University

Without further ado, it’s time to learn more – do more. Get your active learn on.

A special thanks to all who helped offer and make the Active Learning Classroom a success, especially:
Kate Borowske
Dan Baun
Shawn Hedman
Ben Nwachukwu

Stay Calm & Get Active~
Profs Dr. C. & Dr. V.

Felony 101: A New Course for Future Educators

This is a guest blog post by an SMSU alumna who has asked to remain anonymous. She was a student of Wendy’s and is now Wendy’s dear friend. This guest blogger is a dynamic educator and has visited Wendy’s classes, sharing her innovative and creative teaching ideas for Early Childhood Education. Wendy was supposed to meet this person for lunch on that fateful day the police showed up at her apartment and arrested her. This is a story of an educator’s fight against viciousness, and her hope is that her message will help all of us. 

It’s an understatement to say that teachers don’t get paid enough for the work they do. We do the most important work in the world. Things that are THAT important are usually not easy.  Like other high stress jobs, educators need to vent and find healthy ways to channel their stresses.  Rather than lecture college students about the proper and safe ways to vent, I’ve been asked to share my story with you.  My story is not about safe venting or healthy ways to channel stress. It’s about how I messed up, and how I was never offered a college course on avoiding felony charges and jail time when I got my education degree. I had to figure all of that out on my own.

I graduated from SMSU with an education degree, tons of passion, major drive, and new confidence. When people asked me what I wanted to do with my degree, my typical response was “change the world!”  I got a job in early childhood education and quickly started climbing the ladder to management and beyond.  I was never content staying put for too long and was always seeking ways to grow and be a part of more change. 

I worked for the same company for five years, and after trying out a management role, I decided it was time for the next step.  I began grad school, and to balance my workload I left my management job and took a part time position at a new location within the same company.  Change doesn’t always go smoothly, and this was one of those occasions.  Even though I’d been with the company for five years, I struggled to get along with my new boss. This was to be expected.  Coming from a full-time management position and taking on the part-time employee role again was difficult.  I quickly encountered many things about her management style that just rubbed me the wrong way.  I had been trained by the best, and then sent to work for someone who felt mediocre was good enough.  You can imagine that my “PASSION” wasn’t always appreciated when it contradicted the boss and her leadership. 

We worked together with minor tension for over a year. After a more serious issue occurred, I spoke up to someone at the corporate office. My boss felt challenged and belittled. I knew I was doing the right thing, but she was very upset with me. I decided to transfer to another center until I finished my grad school classes. I really thought that diffusing the situation was best.

Leaving was the right choice, but not the end of the conflict. My old boss started talking about me within the company and saying things that were untrue. I felt like my new position was being sabotaged by someone for whom I no longer worked and thought I had escaped. I loved my new position, and my new boss was amazing. I was having a blast with a group of school agers that inspired me daily!  I was so frustrated to still be dealing with the past when my drive for the future was at its peak. In less than a year I was set to graduate with my Masters degree, and then I would be off to CHANGE THE WORLD!  Why did she feel the need to hurt me?

Sparing you the details (Someday I’ll write the whole story down!) I tried hard to focus on the positive.  This included what I thought was healthy venting with trusted friends. My co-teacher was great at assuring me that I was a wonderful educator with fabulous vision. She was great at telling me that what was happening to me was unfair and immature. She invited me over to her place one night to talk more. My frustration faded after some healthy venting around a campfire. I felt better and we began laughing and joking.  I sent a text message to a former coworker, expressing how frustrating the whole situation was.  I made a bad joke, meant to make her laugh and respond with some friendly wisdom. But it was late and she didn’t respond that night. I thought that was it. 

I can now safely tell you that venting in written form is NOT a good idea.  You see, that simple joke somehow got back to my old boss.  Understandably, she was upset.  I guess she also felt vengeful.  I had pushed her buttons the wrong way, and now I had given her all the material she needed to hurt me.

Two days later I was fired from the company that I had given my all to for almost seven years. Fired for sending a text message that sounded threatening. Fired for venting to someone I thought shared my frustrations.  I felt like I was being fired for speaking up about things that I didn’t feel were ok. I felt like my passion and my big mouth had turned against me. I was devastated and felt broken and betrayed.  Sadly, this was just the beginning.

The next morning, I was trying to regroup and focus on the next step. I was updating my resume when there was a knock on my door.  I was quickly arrested and taken to jail. I was charged with a felony offense of “terroristic threats.”  If you google that specific charge, you can start to see how one joking comment in writing can be twisted into a threat if you use any triggering words or if the person on the other side simply says that they feel threatened. 

For the next seven months I was in and out of court rooms as the police searched my car, my apartment, my laptop, my phone, and my whole life for evidence that I was a violent criminal, threatening the life of my former boss. I had to defend my character, my motivations, and my passions to people who didn’t know me. I was told that a simple “LOL” or laughing face at the end of my text would have identified it as a joke, but without it could be construed as a threat. I was arrested for not using the correct emoji to convey my intent.

Completely unsuccessful in their search to defame me, the charges were eventually dropped, and the arrest was taken off my record. It was essentially as if nothing had ever happened.  Except that it all DID happen, and I still live with that truth. I thought my life was ruined and feared I would never work with kids again.  I felt as if my hard work and drive to change the world had been wasted. My spirit was crushed and my passion seemed to be gone. It took me a long time to rebuild any confidence. 

Telling this story is tricky. As you can imagine, I’m constantly dealing with fears of saying too much, saying the wrong thing, or speaking up at the right times. I tell my story not to scare anyone, but to inspire real discussion about how stressful things can be. As educators, our advocacy on behalf of the children SHOULD be something we take seriously and speak about with passion. As teachers, you WILL encounter frustrating people and sometimes maddening issues.  These issues deserve your focus and attention because the work we do is so very important. We should be talking more about how to deal with that stress in constructive and safe ways. There isn’t a college course to keep you out of jail, but maybe there should be more of a focus on how to tactfully address important issues. How do we stand up for kids when it means standing up to huge risks or positions of power?

In many careers, but especially in education, teamwork and communication are key.  Being able to process important issues and emotions is imperative, and there are certainly times when venting to coworkers is the best way to get real, applicable feedback. However, when our emotions are overloaded and we need to process on a more personal level, it’s important to find support networks that are disconnected from the direct conflict.  There is great value in the perspective of a third party that cannot be reached through teacher’s lounge venting or jokes between coworkers. Sometimes blowing off a bit of steam helps a lot.  Other times, more professional action should be taken.  In my case, I wasn’t being treated well, and I chose to vent when I should have voiced my valid concerns with the appropriate people. And I regret that. Every day.

I can’t tell anyone what sorts of discussions to have after reading this, but I’d be more than open to hearing feedback to some of the questions I’ve asked myself. What are some constructive ways to vent when you’re frustrated? How can we support each other in a field that calls for passion and strong advocates? How can we overcome obstacles big and small in our careers?  What sort of protections do we need to take to keep doing passionate work?  How can sharing our struggles help others?

My story has a happy ending, because I refused to accept that chapter of my life would be the defining one. Years later I’m still changing the world every day with and for children. I’m more motivated than ever before to make change in education. So, this isn’t a lecture on safe venting.  This is a simple message to current and future educators.  Use your passion. Support each other. Speak up as an advocate for children. Never stop learning. While you’re doing all that, be careful with your words, actions, and influence.  You are doing the most important work in the world.

Please give our guest blogger some feedback to her questions in the comments below. She’d be grateful.

Stay Calm & Vent Wisely!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.

My Ron Clark Academy Experience

This is a guest blog post by friend and SMSU alumna, Kelsey Stanek Brust, who is currently a 4th/5th Grade Multiage Teacher at RTR Elementary School in Ruthton, Minnesota. Kelsey just completed her first year of teaching and is excited about making her classroom a place where students want to be. You can reach her at kelsey.brust@rtrschools.org or on Twitter @KelseyStanek

Blog KelseyRon

When I was a junior at SMSU, I learned about Ron Clark in Dr. Wendy’s ED 423 Classroom Management class.  We watched the movie, The Ron Clark Story, and learned various strategies that he used in his classroom that we could apply to our own management philosophy.  From then, I have thought it would be absolutely amazing to have the chance to visit the Ron Clark Academy (RCA) located in Atlanta, GA.

Fast forward three years, I finally had my very own classroom and I was the TEACHER. 🙂  I found huge value in social media for professional development and networking reasons and came across so many educators throughout the nation who have shared their classroom transformations and just being “RCA Inspired.”  And then BAM!  I was like I NEED to go there!  I read so many blogs about teachers who have experienced the RCA training and I read more about the training itself and all its details.  The RCA training isn’t very cheap so I debated whether I should go now or wait a few years.  The more I thought about it, I just knew that I needed to go now.  I took the plunge and registered for the summer conference.  TALK ABOUT BUTTERFLIES!

Blog Kelsey RCA Excited

Let’s fast forward again.  It’s finally the first day of the training.  I was unbelievably nervous because I went to RCA alone…just me, myself, and I.  A small town girl who is used to seeing five people on main street and now I am here with over 650 educators whom I have never met!  Deep breath…smile and wave people, smile and wave. 🙂  The staff was finally opening up the gates for us to plow in and start this phenomenal experience.  There was music blasting, kids dancing and cheering, and then there was Ron Clark!!!  He was greeting us as we came in with a hugely infectious smile and then he came up and shook my hand and said, “Welcome!”  Yes, Ron Clark shook my hand!!  Is it socially acceptable to never wash my hand again?!? 🙂

The energy of this place is outstanding.  We are all heading into the gym and on our way in we pass by Kim Bearden.  Ya’ll…she is the most kind-hearted, down to earth soul you will meet.  While we were waiting in the gym, the students came up to us and started up conversations with us.  The conversational skills that these middle schoolers demonstrated was astounding!!!  Once everyone is settled in the gym, Ron skips out on stage and speaks to us about the revolution they want to make in education.

He says that education should be young, fun, sexy, and hot!  It shouldn’t be worksheets and frowns by bored teachers.  What kid is going to want to be a teacher when they grow up if all they see is their teacher passing out lame worksheets and not having fun at all?

From there, we were split into groups and went to various workshops throughout the day.  We were also able to see classrooms in action with the students.  We finally were able to go to Ron’s room and watch him teach.  It was AMAZING!  There was music and no one was talking. Ron was just using a whole bunch of signs and sign language for what the students were supposed to do.  Pretty soon he was on the tables dancing and waiting for the students to complete their math problem correctly.

Following the Q & A, we were going to be slide certified!  Ya’ll…I’ve been on my share of slides, but this slide was the fastest one I have ever been on!  Again, there was music and kids dancing and singing.  When I shot out of the slide and landed on the floor, there were teachers helping you up and a then a student handed you a slide certified sticker.  This was like a rite of passage!

Following the certification, we transitioned into Kim Bearden’s book release party for her new book, Talk to Me.  I had one goal for going to RCA and that was to get a picture with Ron Clark.  I found him with a line of seven people behind him so I bee-lined it over there and got in line.  Finally it was my turn.  BUTTERFLIES!  BUTTERFLIES!  BUTTERFLIES!  We got our picture together and then he asked where I was from and couldn’t believe I was there alone.  He then proceeded to take my phone and take a selfie of us.  Not trying to toot my own horn at all, but he didn’t take a selfie with anyone else in line when I was there so we’re pretty much BFFs. 🙂  And just like that day one was complete.

The next day I woke up so energized and pumped to get back to RCA.  We started out the day with a house competition.  If you are not familiar with the house system that RCA has implemented, stay tuned.  RCA (staff and students) is divided into four houses: Amistad, Reveur, Altruismo, and Isibindi.  Each house means something different.  On this day, we were supposed to wear the shirt for the house of our choice.  I chose Reveur which is the house of dreamers, the go getters.  The energy in the gym during this house competition was unbelievable!  Everyone was having so much fun and our passion was showing through.

Blog Kelsey Housechoice

Following this, we went to more valuable workshops and classroom observations.  Ya’ll…the entire school is so intricately decorated and it all totally fits the Harry Potter theme.  The day went so fast and pretty soon Ron was doing his closing speech along with Kim.  I wanted to cry when it was over because it was amazing and I didn’t want it to end.

Blog Kelsey Houses.jpg

I learned so many valuable things, but I believe that the most important thing I learned is if you want a change to happen or you have a vision for your classroom or school, YOU need to be the change because it starts with you.  There was a quote that sat above the main door at RCA that really resonates with me: “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Blog Kelsey Ralphwaldo

Do something different with me and join the revolution to make education “young, fun, sexy, and hot.” 🙂  ~Kelsey

Stay Calm & Love Teaching!
Profs Dr. Wendy. & Dr. V.