Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 15-12-2014

It is again Cowbell Game week and while preparing for the event I was thinking out the wonderful history of this great contest.  Let us put the history of this rivalry in perspective.

The UND / NDSU rivalry has been around since the late 1800’s with the actual Nickel being contested since 1938 (76 yrs).  The Little Brown Jug that has bounced between Michigan and the U of Minnesota dates back to 1892 (122 yrs). The Cowbell trophy was started in 1946 making it, 69 yrs old this season.  The NDSU/ SDSU Dakota Marker has only been around since 2004, so it is a pup in comparison to all of these.

In 1946 the first meeting of the United Nations took place in London.  The U.S. President was Mr. Harry S. Truman and first class stamp cost three cents.  The St. Louis Cardinals (picked this one on purpose) won the World Series and “It’s a Wonderful Life” came out in the movie theater.  Not listed on many of the common history web sites is the creation of the cowbell game.  But, it was an event of historical significance.  How many things do we do in our lives that have such lasting impact, aside from our children?  How many of us will ever create anything that is talked about and still treasured seventy years later, as is the cowbell?

Supt’s Quam and Ingvalson along with Coaches Cummings and Pickens must be applauded yet today for leading their men into such a long standing engagement as this.  I wonder what the captains thought so many years ago.  Do you image they were ready and eager to be part of this or did they think their leaders were kind off their rockers?  I wonder if Supt. Ingvalson was open to the idea back in 1946 or was he thinking this was just a crazy adventure?  No matter, because they all took to the idea and must have thought it was something that could stand the test of time.  If they wouldn’t have they would not have stated that the game would go on till “the world and its inhabitants have been reduced to dust”.

I want to thank all those then and now that make this contest something special.  It has changed over time from its early innocence, to the unbridled rivalry in the mid years, to now a respected tradition in both schools.  I want to wish both teams the best of luck this week.  May each of us take time to reflect upon the history of this great tradition and just soak it all in on Friday night.

Go Cards!
Mr. Jeff Fastnacht



Let me ask you to take this short quiz.

1.  If you were asked to identify the staring roles in “Gone with the Wind” how would you find them?

2. If you had a serious problem what would be the first thing you did?

3. There is a serial number that you need to remember, what do you do to remember it for later use?

( Answers to these questions are in the post marked with **)

Education is a human endeavor, and technology will never replace a good teacher.  In fact a good teacher is an absolutely necessary ingredient when schools use technology successfully.  Ellendale is in year two of a 1:1 initiative that has brought forth many changes to how we educate our students.  Some of the positive changes have been:
- We are asking students to take a leadership role in their learning since they can now easily access information inside and outside the walls of the school.
- Teachers that simply asked knowledge based questions are being out smarted by students with Google.  It is driving us to ask deeper questions, gaining deeper understanding.
-  Students are now given more opportunities to share their knowledge and creativity.  Students empowered with a camera, video camera, presentation tools, music, and broad resources can now compose their knowledge in dynamic ways.  Much better than simply asking for a poster or diorama.
- Accessing help on any topic is now quicker and easier.  A student is not left alone to simply dig in a text.  Now they can ask a broader group for help.  This group can be their classroom of students or it could be others from anywhere in the world.

Yet, while we are seeing some impressive changes I am still surprised to hear some comments stating, students should only be using a paper bound encyclopedia to access information.  Some have stated that having students work together to solve problems is just cheating for some in the group.  Then just recently I had someone share a concern about students taking pictures of notes… they indicated they should “write them out, just like we had to do”.  These comments surprise and amaze me.  If you were given the three tasks from the questions above, “What would you do”?

**For the questions above I am guessing most adults would answer these as follows: a. Google it   b. Text or email my friends to get their advice  and c. Take a picture of it with my phone.

THEN.. Why won’t we let our kids do it?  We are in a modern world that has given our students, and us, access to tools that not only make learning easier but also our daily lives.  In 1985 I may have been asked to memorize the lead roles in “Gone with the Wind”, but why would we do that today?  Why would we do this when they can be Googled in .60 seconds (actual time from my desk).  Google and having 1:1 for our students has made teachers better by getting them to focus less on the facts and more on the why and how.   Secondly, in our modern jobs we are asked to work extensively as teams.  We don’t ever consider this cheating.  It is the wise practice resulting in better products, better service, and more engaged employees.  Then why not at school?  The problem is that we often focus on the completely arbitrary and meaningless grade!  Yes I said it…meaningless grade.  What should matter most is what did the student learn.  Lastly, the last comment I think is pure jealousy as they only wished they could taken a picture of their teachers notes back in 1985.  I know it would have definitely saved me from having a sore wrist, if I would not have had to copy all of Mr. Fonder’s notes.  Seriously, though if you had to keep track of a special note or message, wouldn’t you just take a picture of it?

The world and education are changing.  Schools and education are still important.  Teachers are still critically important to the success of ones education.  Books will be around for centuries to come.  But, teaching and learning in the same ways we used to in 1985, some of these things do have to change.


Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 17-11-2014

As I take a few moments this “Teacher Appreciation Week” 2014 I am reflecting on the impact of my teachers.  I am thinking about what they perceive as their legacy to their profession and the children that have ventured through their doors.  What impact have they had?  As I thought about this more I thought about my own career.  One of the realizations I have come to understand more as I have accumulated gray hair is that I am wiser.  I am able to reflect upon issues now that were outside of my view when I was young.  I realize that I do see the world and education differently than I did when I was 22 years old.  ”If I knew then… ”

Edutopia and SoulPancake made this video about this very topic that I wish to share with you.  I give them credit for crafting this idea and putting these teachers thoughts into a thoughtful and inspirational story.  Please watch this..

YouTube Preview Image

Letter to Self —————————————–
Welcome to your first day of teaching.  You are full of spirit and ready to tackle the world and that is wonderful, hold onto that enthusiasm.  There will be trials that erode it. Hold onto it.  As you do, realize that the relationships you will be making with your students may be some of the most important relationships in your students lives.  You won’t see it now but some of your students will become leaders, some will excel in politics and business, but some will also fail.  Some of your students will end up in jail.  Some will not make it to their 25th birthday.  Give time to each and every student and use that boundless energy to truly connect with your students.  It may be a life changing relationship for them and you.
Young self, also realize that you don’t know it all.  As much as you want to try the latest and greatest ways to teach never lose focus on the fundamentals.  You will learn later that without the fundamentals advancing ones skills is nearly impossible.  Just as you do on the basketball court, focus on the fundamentals first.
Lastly, know that this career is the right one.  You will have times that try your patience.  The nights after getting beat down by athletes parents or others will fade.  You will make a difference and your work in education will be valued.

Your Older Self

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 08-11-2014

This weekend is a big weekend for ND. The deer hunting opener is always a busy weekend in every town. However, it is also a BIG day for the last 16 communities that are still alive in the football playoffs.

I want to just take a minute this morning to wish each of them the best of luck on this special day. I also want to tip my hat to each of the crews working this weekend. Enjoy the experience and I wish you the best of luck. This is a very special day!

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 05-11-2014

As a coach we often stress the importance of practice.  ”Practice makes perfect”, some will say.  I may contend that “Perfect practice makes perfect” as poor practice will only result in poor results.  An athlete can’t just flip the ball at the basket for hundreds of hours and just turn into a pure shooter.  To be a highly effective shooter from all parts of the court an athlete must concentrate on good form, vision, extension, hand placement, follow through, and balance.  Each of these must be done perfectly, or near perfectly, to ingrain that skill in the athletes body and mind.  Would you not agree?  This takes thousands of hours.

I do believe many adults do agree with the above characterization and let me tell you why.  I rarely see a parent complain about sport practice.  In fact most will go out of their way to ask about additional camps, out of season drills, weight lifting programs, and every means possible to get their child to perform better on the court, field, or mat.  They will make opportunities for their children to practice by buying them equipment and taking them out back to toss the ball around.  Many times this is in addition to the time the child has already spent at the practice at the club or school.  Practicing a sport is important and I would highly encourage it.  I know if you would ask any of my old athletes about my views they would tell you that Coach F always told us we have to practice shots more than just at the “official” practice at school.

But, let me turn the tables on something that is equally deserving of practice.  It is our children’s academic studies.  It does take time to become a good reader, speller, or mathematician.  It take practice!  There are hundreds of skills necessary to become a very good basketball player from shooting to playing defense.  But, there a hundreds of thousands of skills necessary to be a young person that is poised to be successful at work, college, or the military when they graduate from high school.  Each of these skills needs practice, they need to do the work, and sometimes that work needs to be done at home.  HOMEWORK – Yes I am really speaking about homework today.  Why is homework called work?  Work has such a negative connotation.  Homework should be called “Learning Practice”.

Let me preface my statements by stating a few fundamental beliefs I have about “Learning Practice”:
- All practice should be relevant & meaningful.
- All practice should be  designed to meet the needs of the individual athlete or learner.
- All practice should have a learning outcome in mind.  It is not just busy work.
- Practice can be tiresome at times.  Practice is not always fun.  That does not matter if it is shooting layups or doing math facts.
- Practice is not fair.  Not everyone will need the same amount or will it take the same amount of time or energy.
- Practice is necessary outside of the gym or classroom to become great.

I realize that family time is precious.  I have personally spent more time than I care to at the dining room table with my own children.  But, it was valuable time.  Their education is one of the most important gifts I can give to them.  Working with your child on homework is family time.  I know we all want more family time but, I do feel that some often just want more quiet TV time.  Refocus your children on the importance of practice.  I know some will work to push their children to the court to practice but then speak poorly about academic practice.  Which is more important?

Many years ago I had the privilege of  working at a school in Haiti for two weeks.  In Haiti only the students whose families can pay for tuition can attend school, so right way many are excluded.  But, I will never forget what I saw there.  Education was a treasured commodity.  Students worked during the day diligently on their studies in classrooms with 20-30-0r 40 students to one teacher.  They did not have fancy books or supplies.  They were attentive and eager to learn.  And, they had homework.  When speaking to the Principal at the school he indicated that students worked hard during and outside of school because they and their families knew education was their ticket out of poverty.  Have we lost that focus?  They knew that education was a valuable commodity that took sacrifice not only to afford the tuition, but in completing the course.

Lets begin to refocus our views of HOMEWORK within the same lens as we would PRACTICE for a sport.


Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 28-10-2014

I believe most of us would agree that there are many variables that determine if a child will be prepared to learn at any stage of their education.  These commonly include economics of the family, birth order, educational level of the mother, and others.  But, have you ever considered trauma as a factor?  Do you think a traumatic event can affect your personal life?  If you experienced substance abuse in your family right now would it hinder your abilities to work or provide for yourself or your family?  I know the answer is yes.  So how is trauma affecting our students, that is the key to my blog post today.

The affects of trauma have been witnessed by educators for many years.  This is not a new revelation, but its impacts are now becoming so prevalent that we are starting to address students with more and more traumatic experiences entering our classroom.  What does this mean?  This means that students are showing more aggression, mental health issues, inactivity-hyperactivity, and inabilities for students to make strong personal relationships with other.

Here is a list of events that are considered trauma:
Emotional, Physical, or Sexual Abuse
Emotional or Physical Neglect
or Mother treated violently, Household substance abuse,  Household mental illness, Household separation/divorce, and Incarceration of a parent.
(Prevalence of Individual Adverse Childhood Experiences, 2014,

The rise in students living through one of these events used to be rare.  Now it is not uncommon to see kids that have survived multiple events from this list.  In visiting with a colleague that works in the Bismarck School system he indicated that they consciously use this list to identify student needs and many of his students had suffered over four of these events.  Is that true in Ellendale?  I am afraid to say it but it is true.  We may not have 50% of our students experiencing 4 or more of these events but the number of students experiencing more than one is on the rise.  If this is our new reality how can we hope to get students to learn and reach their full potential?  Statistics -

The solutions are many and some will need to be further reviewed and implemented even in our little town of Ellendale.  I can tell you with 100% assurance that mental health needs of our students is growing.  Teachers see it every day.  Superintendents see it every week.  The needs of our students is growing and when students are facing these types of challenges we need to be prepared to help them.  Teachers and parents will need to be even more vigilant in identifying these needs and not hesitating to get our children the mental health help they need.

In the end many of us will say we NEVER experienced anything on this list and if that is so we should count ourselves as fortunate.  But, the reality today is not the same.


Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 24-10-2014

Every member of Ellendale and Ellendale Public School benefits from strong a community, good schools, and safe roads. We need balanced public policies and responsible government spending plans, not a constitutional amendment like Measure 5 that will tie our state’s hands and possibly even betray our state’s priorities.

5 Reasons to Vote NO on Measure 5

1 Measure 5 is driven by out-of-state special interests—A full 96% of Measure 5’s funding comes from out-of-state interest groups that don’t know or care about what’s best for North Dakota.

2 Measure 5 permanently diverts funding—This constitutional amendment puts conservation spending BEFORE education, roads, infrastructure, and programs for our senior citizens.

3 Measure 5 has no spending plan—Nothing in Measure 5 spells out how conservation dollars will be spent. Without a plan, special interest groups could use this money to buy land and close it to hunters, farmers, and energy development.

4 Measure 5 relies on an unaccountable, biased advisory board—Measure 5 will create a 13-person advisory board. Only one member will be a farmer or rancher and one member will be drawn from the energy industry, even though agriculture and energy are our state’s two largest economic drivers.

5 Measure 5 mandates government spending—This amendment constitutionally requires our state government to spend $4.8 billion on conservation over the next 25 years—on top of the $372 million already spent on conservation in North Dakota—even if our schools, roads, and senior citizens programs need the money more.



Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 24-10-2014

Election time is just around the bend and unless you have not turned your TV on in a few weeks you surely know it is coming.  Every voter is getting bombarded by advertisements about Measure 1-8 and elected positions continually.  I want to take my 60 seconds to inform you about Measure 8 – Post Labor Day Start.

Measure 8 will not destroy public education.  However, it will take one more bit of control away from your local school board.  Your local school board, right now, has the power to start school whenever they agree to do so.  Each year several calendar options are reviewed by teachers, administrator, and school board members between December and February, resulting in the selection of a final calendar for the upcoming year.  If you support the idea of a post Labor Day start you have no farther to go then to discuss your desires with one of your five local school board members.  A NO vote on Measure 8 will ensure you continue to have the opportunity to do just that.

I believe one of the most valuable educational services that will be affected by a YES on Measure 8 is student participation in dual credit.  Dual credit is the opportunity for students in grades 9-12 to take HS and University credit at the same time.  Each year EHS has many students that take advantage of programs we have had with partner universities such as TBC, NDSCS, or NDSU.  Students completing dual credit have the benefit of earning university credit at a greatly reduced price.  But also, students seeking to earn the ND Academic Scholarship ($6,000) must take 1 credit of AP or 1/2 credit of dual credit to be eligible.  So many students partake in dual credit options each year.  Dual credit courses are tied to the EPS calendar but also the University calendar as they are joint courses.  So a post Labor Day start will result in all our dual credit students, starting in the fall, to enroll and begin course work possibly as early as the third week in August.  The same time that ND colleges and universities start.  Will a required post Labor Day start cause fewer students to enroll in dual credit options?

I am urging you to consider these factors as you prepare to vote on Measure 8.

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 02-10-2014

I have now been working in the world of education for nearly a quarter century.  During that time, I have watched the court of public opinion and politicians wreck havoc on the education system.  What frustrates me most is that yesterdays solutions are now becoming the fuel for today’s problems.  I am frustrated, as I believe many in education are, that nothing will ever satisfy the insatiable appetites of some to tear down free public education. What do you want to do, return to 1960?

When I started teaching in 1991 the master and commander of any classroom was the teacher.  I set the learning direction, outcomes, and for many we decided on what materials to use to achieve those goals.  That sounds wonderful doesn’t it?  It was a wonderful time and I enjoyed teaching my 5th graders all that I thought that was important for them to know.  The problem was, “What I thought was important” is that what was really important.  This was before the inception of the first curriculum standards.  Many schools suffered from classrooms that lacked cohesion of instruction from grade to grade or section to section.  I remember a staff meeting when we realized that several of us, in different grades, were all teaching about the planets.  We were running our kids, unknowingly, through the same content just because it was each teacher’s pet unit.  We all liked planets and space.  In Reading I personally, loved to use novels at that time.  So I had my students read “Charlotte’s Web”.   This is a great book, but I know now I had no guide to insure I instructed on all the core reading and language skills necessary.  We just read the book and enjoyed it.  I was leaving big gaps in my students instruction.  Across the nation parents and communities noticed the problems of gaps in instruction as families became more mobile.  Students that moved had big gaps in instruction which would cause learning issues later in their educational careers.  So, we needed a solution…..

The solution was the development of state wide instructional standards.  To ensure, and prove to our patrons, what was being taught at each and every grade level we needed to create a list of skills.  My first experience with content standards was in Ellendale.  We then took the ND State Standards for grades 4th, 8th, and 10th and broke them down to build educational standards for each and every grade.  This way every teacher in our building would know exactly what was expected of them to teach.  This was a tough time for some teachers as they had to dump their pet projects and units.  Teachers and administrators however, now became more in tune to what they were expected to do and what a child was expected to know to move onto the next level.  Teachers began to use the standards to evaluate a student’s performance instead of a subjective grade alone.  As a profession we became more scientific and detailed in our processes, which was good.  However, at that time parents wanted more.  If their child was not performing up to the standard, then why?

Why, was the next shift to come to my profession.  No longer could we simply buffalo a parent with educationese and speak to them about what we believed was the problem.  We were asked to provide proof to a child’s learning needs.  To provide proof teachers had to become more clinical.  Just as doctors no longer said “I think you have a heart problem” they now used a test to prove it, so did education.  Teachers were asked to use scientifically based tools to evaluate students and scientifically based methods to instruct them.  The Mr. Fastnacht of old was out for good.  The new generation of classroom teachers could not just dabble in the profession they had to use strategies and tools that were proven to be effective.  The profession was becoming more uniform and it brought about the opportunities to teach students based on their individual needs.  The art of teaching was diminishing and the science of teaching was taking over.

– Now somewhere in here came NCLB and the world began to turn upside down —  I will not berate the goal that 100% of kids should be proficient in Reading and Math, however the accountability requirements and the notion of identifying failing schools, not so good.  But honestly where did that come from?  This came from politicians and the public who were demanding better from their schools.  Parents in failing schools wanted to know they were failing and be able to choose better schools for their children.  I can hardly blame them.  However, I think we can all look back on this legislation and see some repercussions that we are all still dealing with today.

Finally, since the end of the NCLB era, the present administration and political leaders have been unable to come to agreement on a new direction for the US education system.  In the absence of a new path the administration and Dept of Ed. have come up with their own program “Race to the Top”.  I will applaud my state for not taking part in this program.  I believe it was the right choice.  However, the news is dominated with stories from states that are all racing somewhere.  In Ellendale the era brought forth demands to make our students ready for a post-secondary education.  Governors, politicians, the business community, parents all wanted their children ready for the new generation of jobs.  This started with the idea of P-16.  P-16 outlined skills and an education format for students in PreK through grade 16.  To reach that goal the Common Core was brought forth as the new set of standards to follow.  Almost every school already had a set of standards, it was not a new concept, and it is necessary to ensure quality instruction.  So many teachers began to make the conversion.   I embraced some of the aspects of the core which asked students to think more critically and demonstrate they understood concepts.  A show-me attitude  versus one where the students were simply asked to fill in a bubble.  Asking students to demonstrate their knowledge was a good thing.

But something happened… recently the political climate has taken the concept of standards, technology, federal authority, and teacher/principal accountability and just mixed them all up into a soup of discontent.  I am not saying I agree/disagree with each of these items.  In fact I can assuredly find pros/cons to each and I tend to think that I am a man that can use good common sense to see what is best for my students.  I am not, will not, follow blindly any new initiative.  However, I am frustrated.  Their are those that want to eliminate standards, or maybe just the common core.  Either way, we have to have standards.. however we craft them.  We need them because going back to the era when every teachers does whatever they want cannot work.  The use of scientifically based diagnostics is not going to go away.   Time is way to precious of a commodity not to give teachers the very best tools to determine the individual learning needs of every child in their classroom.  By doing this we save time, and instruction is more fine tuned.  We can’t afford to just teach a lesson to everyone and hope they get it.  Lastly, using one test to determine if a child, teacher, or school is successful….. Well I agree that one must go.  However, that does not mean progress monitoring must go.  We will always need some suite of evaluations or diagnostics to prove to parents their child is learning.  How, if at all, this information is used to prove a teacher or school is successful, well that needs more debate.

I hope you get a sense of my frustration.  Many of the changes in education that we have today, in my opinion, were driven by the desires of the past.  Today’s problems were yesterdays solutions and for some reason we don’t like what we have.  Would anyone want to turn our classrooms back to the ones from 1960.  We may want to have 1960 back, but lets be honest, we don’t want to turn our education system back to that time.  Our kids are different, our society is different, the educational needs of our children are different, and our school are different.  In my opinion we may have an imperfect system, but it is much better than in 1960.


Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 23-09-2014


I had the pleasure of sitting down with a group of home school families recently as part of a joint venture to build a better relationship between home education families and the public school.  This meeting was the joint brainchild of a home education parent and I and was derived during a meeting we had over the summer.  Home Education and Public Education can appear to be at odds often by those inside and outside of education.  I believe often this is due to misunderstanding of what each is striving to accomplish along with being clouded by peoples own viewpoints of each.

At our first meeting which included parents from over a half dozen home education families we started by just getting to know each other.  It was a very informative time for me, personally, as it was good to hear specifically why each family choose to home educate.  As a person on the inside of the school I must admit it is difficult to understand each and every families desire to educate at home.  In fact, the reality, proven by the families own testimony was that each family had a unique reason.  It is not that each is a religious zealot, which some believe is the reason.  It is not that they hate the public school.  It is more often than not because the parents think this form of education meets the unique needs of their child.

Their reasons for choosing home education made me think about how public school strives to do the same thing, only to a much larger scale.  Realizing we have nearly 35 instructional faculty, not including all the support staff, you can easily see individualizing instruction down to each and every child is near impossible.  I freely admit that a teacher in a classroom of 20 students is challenged to meet the unique learning needs of each student.  However, instruction has improved greatly over the past decade to now use tiered instructional groups, high quality timely assessments to drive instruction, 1:1 technology to enable individualized instruction, and additional support to assist students that are struggling (ex Read180) to help teachers accomplish this task.  It is hard to argue that the home education way is wrong, and public education is right, or conversely, solely on this point.   Each will face challenges to meet the unique needs of their students.  In the end, I took away from this first meeting that we really do have the same goals.  We are both striving to provide our children with the best opportunities to learn and achieve greatness.  Neither is perfect, but neither is either wrong.

I do believe that public education has unique opportunities to offer children and when needed we will supply these tools and resources to any child or family.  I believe public education is an essential element in our community and in our country, as it allows for a fundamental education for all citizens.  I believe that public education is strong and not even close to as bad as some portray it to be.  I believe the education of our youth is vital.  I also believe that home education vs public education is not a South vs North fight.  Both, are striving to meet the unique needs of the children they have responsibility to educate and by working together maybe we can build bridges between both institutions to a point where neither feels contempt or alienation by the other.  By doing this, working together, we can educate our children for the future.  This really should be our focus.

We are planning a second meeting later in the year, and look forward to continuing to build these bridges of understanding and acceptance.