Reflecting Upon My Experience as Montana’s 2017 Teacher of the Year

To represent the professional educators of our state as the 2017 Montana Teacher of the Year; an overwhelming charge. I was humbled to try to do so. I think I gave it my best. Representing all involved with Montana’s teaching, from the earliest elementary level teachers all the way through the middle and high school grades – is daunting; all the more so trying to represent the vast majority of teachers in Montana who are in very rural districts. I taught almost a decade in Class A Lewistown at Fergus High before moving to the middle school level when I came to Helena. I have visited friends who teach in very rural schools; schools like Highwood, Hayes-Lodgepole, and Opheim. Both my grandmother and my mother taught in one room school houses (grandma in Ismay, and mom in Grizzly Bluff (CA)), but there are 68 such facilities remaining in our state. We are so rural. To represent all of these professional educators as one person – that is monumental undertaking.

The bottom line, though, is that we educators in Montana are trusted with the young people’s development, academic and social, in communities throughout this state. We give our all to help ensure that the next generation will be capable of contributing as productive members of our society. We try new ideas. We reflect upon what goes well and what needs adjusting. We strive to educate ALL of our students. Sometimes we do something in the classroom and it fails. We then come back the next day with the same enthusiasm we had the first time around and try something else.

We are passionate and we have power as teacher-leaders in our state.

On October 19, 2017, I had the opportunity to share my experience and reflect upon this past year as the 2017 Montana Teacher of the Year. I thought my Keynote at the statewide assessment conference last January was the hardest speech I’d ever had to write. But then, I spent hours on a speech for as a Keynote at a regional MEA-MFT union training in Great Falls. That was the hardest speech I ever wrote. And then came the honor of doing a Keynote at the Pinning Ceremony for the education graduates at Salish Kootenai Tribal College last spring. That was a daunting challenge. All of these were eclipsed by this one though – my Keynote at the 2018 Teacher of the Year Celebration for Melissa Romano.

I may add more to this reflection in the coming days, but for now, I wanted to share my speech and the accompanying slideshow with those who may be interested but were unable to attend.

Thank you for checking it out – the speech is 25 minutes long.

Motion in the video is blurry; it was an f-stop issue… not to fear, the slides from the slideshow look just fine!

#CCSSO – The Council of Chief State School Officers
#NTOY18 #NTOY17 #keldermt17 #MTtoy2017 #MTteachersInAction
#GlobalTravelAlliance #Eftours


Our Final Evening in Costa Rica – Reflections….


This is it… the final posting in our blog for Costa Rica 2013. It seems weeks ago we left Montana, not just last Saturday. We have done more in the past week than many thought possible, and the group has had a lot of fun doing it!

Tonight we ate at a very nice restaurant overlooking the central valley – the valley that includes San Jose and many of the nation’s people. It was a beautiful night – we chose from entrees of steak, sea bass, spaghetti, or chicken. We had spectacular views of the urban center sprawling below, and the students really enjoyed their final meal in this Central American Country.

We depart the hotel at 3:30 in the morning, so it is now 9 pm and everyone has turned in for the night. My next post will either be from Denver during our seven hour layover, or maybe not until I am back in Helena. But first:


Earlier today, we discussed our experiences on the trip. 10 years from now, what will you remember about this trip to Costa Rica… and here are those final reflections…

Jason Welnel – Everything went very well; it was smooth and everything went great – Daniel did an excellent job.

Shannon Welnel – First night at the beach baiting Howler Monkeys… and my husband used an escape plan to get into the safety of our room ASAP.

Marcus Welnel – To be determined….

Trevor Welnel – Getting to see all the different wildlife and comparing it to Montana. Squirrel Monkies, the mini-deer (agouti), Iguanas, and animals like that.

Daniel GTA Guide – When Trevor jumped off the catamaran and ‘splatted’ onto the water with his shoulder. And then, later in the trip, he came up from changing, patted himself down, and proclaimed, “Oh my God, I forgot my underwear!” This was especially cool for Daniel because a family member had once done the exact same thing and had an identical reaction!

Miss Pancich – Daniel’s ability to spot everything, know everything, and sound like everything.

Gererdo – The bus driver liked the children’s behavior (and after 25 years of driving, he has had many student groups, Daniel said) and he liked talking with Jason – who was his co-pilot for the whole week. “He talks mucho,” said Gererdo.

Mr. Elder – Trying to get both good photos of our travel party and of the land and animals of Costa Rica. My favorite part was as we all – as one big family – swam in the pools below the waterfall near the Arenal Volcano.

Caelan Cummings – The zip-lining was fun and exciting. I thought it was going to be scary, but it was fast and really a lot of fun.

Christine Trefzger – The night hike and how the pouring rain just unleashed upon us… and all the spiders, snakes, and animals… and the Red-eyed Tree Frog. I also loved watching Jake, Jack and the girls pass the snake from one person to the next… the sharing of the snake!

Jack Trefzger – Early in the week at the family farm when we saw the “Penguin Rooster” – the rooster that waddled instead of walking like you would expect. Daniel said the rooster was about to die, and so the lady at the farm got gasoline and rubbed it on him. And, somehow, the rooster lived… but now walks a little differently!

Bill Ballinger – The rainforest hike at night and how the guides and Costa Ricans didn’t use rain jackets… and so neither did we.

Jake Ballinger – The humidity – lot’s of it, especially at the beach!

Travis Elder – My wife’s astonishment at discovering how to tell the sex of the monkeys. Also amazing was my son’s independence – we never had to check up on him. He was always prepared and where he needed to be. Did you brush your teeth on this trip son? Kellan replied yes!

Kelly Elder – All of the creatures – reptiles and otherwise – that come out at night. The crabs that were everywhere, moving sideways. There was a big toad right outside our door all night, and lizards were everywhere. Shannon got attacked by that huge flying bug (we named it the flying hermit crab). And then there were the two raccoons that came to visit us in the restaurant!

Kellan Elder – The monkeys were funny and how small the roads are.

Jennifer Brundsen – Playing cards in the rainforest at the dining hall… the lady there was packing up, and we wanted to know if we had to leave. The gestures, the communication without our knowing Spanish or her knowing English – well, you can get a lot done with gestures! It was really amazing. Also, ‘wipe out’ is the same in Spanish and in English.

Bridget Powers – I liked visiting the family farm at the beginning, especially when we all ate the termites.

Fiona Powers – During the night hike, when I saw Mr. Elder doing that funny dance behind the group and I didn’t know why (but I do now – Mr. E had to go to the bathroom really bad)!

Thanks again to the crew at Global Travel Alliance (especially Paul in Montana and Daniel here in Costa Rica) for providing a most excellent adventure for our middle-schoolers!

Mr. Elder and Miss Pancich, Tour Leaders – CRA Middle School – Helena, MT USA