Thursday, March 29, 2012


Miss Betty coordinates the Early Childhood building in Pillager, population 469...that's right, 469!  They have an amazing building expansion going on there that really speaks to Pillager's commitment to education. I was so happy for the folks who live there and the kids from infants to seniors in high school who learn in that building every day. Miss Betty was a fantastic tour guide and she treated me to a great lunch at the yummy!! 

I also had the opportunity to surprise Mrs. Norlin, a fellow Political Action Committee (PAC) board member and 5th grade teacher.  Her class had some great questions for me.  They asked me to extend an invitation to President Obama when I meet him next month to visit Pillager Elementary School anytime. I am sure Mr.Obama would agree with me, the 5th graders at Pillager are awesome!

Heading Home

Growing up, I spent summers on Gull Lake in Brainerd.  You don't need to twist my arm to have me head north.  It still feels like home after so many years.  They talk like me up there.  I take a good amount of heat here in my classroom in Winona for my "up north" accent and for some of the quirks in my vocabulary.  I took it from Brainerd, case in point......

Try as I might, I just can't stop saying "for Pete's sake" for Pete's sake! I was so happy to see it on the menu when I got to spend some quality time with my dear friend Sunnie Bunnie right there in Brainerd, don't cha know.

The staff at ECFE in Brainerd couldn't have been nicer. Miss Peggy (NOT pictured above) isn't fond of having her picture taken but was happy to let me teach her parent education class for her.  The facilities in Brainerd are amazing!  The whole place was a buzz with moms, dads, staff and kids spending quality time at school.  It has been so fun for me to see how different ECFE programs are all over the state.

It is also nice to see how much we have in common.  No matter where I go, ECFE is full of great teachers and coordinators. Mrs. Flowers (how cute is that?) coordintates the program in Brainerd.  It's a wonderful place for families.  Thanks so much for having me!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

AmeriCorps Retreat

Thursday was a beautiful day to drive to the Good Earth Village near Spring Valley to meet with 24 AmeriCorps members at their mid year retreat. This enthusiastic group of 21-71 year olds come from a variety of places and a wider variety of backgrounds.  All of them have devoted the year to AmeriCorps LEAP (Learning Early Achieves Potential) in hopes of bridging the achievement gap before it begins with reading. They work in early childhood programs to promote reading and engage parents in routine reading in the home. We had a fantastic afternoon together exploring the culture of childhood and the forces that compete with reading for a child's time and attention. Thanks so much for the invitation.  I hope our paths cross again and I wish you all the best of luck in AmeriCorps and beyond!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Search for My Successor

It all starts with a portfolio.  I had the pleasure of reading 34 portfolios yesterday at the Education Minnesota office.  The portfolios belong to the semi finalists for the 2012 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.  One of them will be my successor.  My mission was to find ten to move on to become the class of finalists. I poured over them and can say with confidence that Minnesota has amazing teachers from all across the state.  It was a privilege to read their teaching stories and a difficult task to find just ten!  Good Luck to all of them!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


This is what is happening in my classroom at this very minute!! I had to peek before they are finished.  One of the guys said "you know you have the coolest Smartboard in the district, don't you?".  You bet I do! I am so grateful for the folks at Smart Technologies and their commitment to the National Teacher of the Year program.  Each of the 53 national candidates were awarded a new Smartboard.  I feel like a kid on Christmas morning.  Oh the possibilities.......

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spring Break Highlights!!

Hanging out with the fabulous baker boys!

Catching up on some reading!

Chillin with some old friends!

Starting a recorder garage band! We rock!!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

You Know It's New Ulm When....

You are greeted by one of three daily Glockenspiel shows.  I was charmed to the core! And...

You order the German Sampler and the waitress brings this AND a salad AND German Chocolate Cake!  And....

You get to enjoy all of that with some really nice teachers from New Ulm, Mankato, St. Peter and other surrounding communities! It was a really great day to be on the road and watch spring come out of it's shell. It was also a great day to drive home alone....did you look at that meal?! Thanks for the invitation and the generous hospitality!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lobby, Rally, Repeat. Lobby, Rally, Repeat.

 I have spent the last few days in St. Paul at the Capitol. These are interesting times politically, indeed. It is really energizing to show up at the Capitol with thousands of fire fighters, nurses, construction workers and police officers in support of our unions. It was loud, intense and wild!  Rallies are one way to get a message heard LOUD and CLEAR.

The next day was a day for thoughtful conversations with our elected officials. We had great discussions with Representative Pelowski about schools and the importance of getting involved in the political discussion to shape the kind of Minnesota we want to live in.

It was great to meet with the new dad and  our Senator, Jeremy Miller as well.  The Senator has always been interested in having conversations with teachers in our district.  His son will start kindergarten in 2017 and will graduate with the class of 2030!  Quality teachers and excellent schools are what we all hope for little Mr. Miller and all children in Minnesota.

Thanks for a great day at the Capitol my teacher friends, Lizz, Karla and Linda. Lobbying isn't the first choice of spring break options for most teachers but we had a great few days together!

I am so lucky to work with some really great people at Education Minnesota.  Meet Paul Winkelaar. It is rare to find a person more suited for his job.  He is passionate about schools and teachers. He spends his days helping teachers get their voices heard at the Capitol and in their communities across the state. I appreciate his energy, his enthusiasm and his wicked sense of humor.

Thank You!!

Wow!  The baskets were creative and beautiful.  So much hard work and generosity went into each and every one of them.  My team here at Early Childhood worked so hard to pull it all together.  I am so grateful to everyone and so happy for the lucky winners!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Parents, teachers and administrators had a great conversation last night at Bluffview here in Winona.  We took on the topic of Simplicity Parenting inspired by the book by Kim John Payne, a favorite of mine! We spent a good amount of time talking about how much stuff kids have and the influence of media in their lives. I think the only way to save childhood is to have lots of community conversations about what is best for kids so the adults in their world can redefine what "right looks like". Pictured above is Stephanie, the new director of Bluffview and Stephanie, a classroom assistant and ECFE alumni. I am holding the flowers that Stephanie got for Stephanie for organizing the event and feel just awful this morning because I just walked right out of the building with those flowers! Nice move, Mrs. Smith! Thanks Bluffview!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Monte Way!

I loved my time in Montevideo! Meet Allison, the instigator, who asked me to come to Monte last fall at the Political Conference.  Allison is a childhood friend of my friend Karen (more on her later) and the link inspired me to take the road trip.  Next to me is Amy, the ECFE Coordinator and Kris, the parent facilitator and PTSA President.  Thanks to all of them, I was able to speak to the teaching staff, take a tour of the Early Childhood facilities and present to the community. If a great teaching staff is an indicator of a healthy community, Montevideo must be a great place to raise kids. Too bad it is so far away which brings me to my Monte Entourage.....

It just made sense to  invite my friend Karen to visit her home town and when you invite Karen, you invite an adventure! Meet a few of my gal pals who joined me on the road trip.  We loaded up the Malibu and headed west to see for ourselves this town we have heard so much about. I closely follow the girl gang code of "what happens in......stays in.....".  I will just tell you this, the Monte Way is about laughter, connecting and creating new memories.  Thank you Kathy, Karen and Nancy for taking the trip with me.