Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Office: Follow the Leader

Day 31 of the 31 for 21 Challenge

Marketing is all about the message. What are we communicating to people about our college?

In the early years of the college, we determined that there were three key elements we needed our messaging to say loudly and clearly:

1.       Shepherds College prepares students for Appropriate Independence.
2.       Shepherds College offers an individualized program with supports.
3.       Shepherds College is a physically and emotionally secure environment.

There are so many ways we can get these messages across – words we use, images we select, people representing our program, the layout of the campus, our curriculum, where we choose to advertise, colors in our logo… I could go on and on.

It is my heartfelt belief that one of our most effective messaging tools is the man who leads Shepherds College -Executive Director, Tracy Terrill.

Tracy is passionate about our philosophy of Appropriate Independence (Ai). He and his team have designed every facet of Shepherds College to promote the development of Ai, to help our students understand its principles, and to commit to a lifelong pursuit of this philosophy. He works to ensure that all staff wholeheartedly accept and endorse Ai and then provides them with opportunities to develop it in our students.

Just as Shepherds College looks at the individual strengths and abilities of the students, Tracy is aware of every staff member’s strengths and how to best utilize them to benefit the team and grow the college. Through his effective use of the StrengthFinders assessment test, Tracy is able to know his own strengths, discover his staff’s strengths and formulate a strategic plan of interaction. Each person is treated as an individual and managed in a way that he or she finds empowering – because Tracy taps into gifts and characteristics that are uniquely theirs. 

One of Tracy’s strengths, that of Maximizer, focuses on ways to stimulate personal and group excellence – transforming something already strong into something superb. He models and expects excellence from his staff, and they meet those expectations. 

Wow! With excellence as the benchmark for the staff, can you imagine how exceptional the college program must be?

Tracy sounds like he must be a heavy-hitter, doesn’t he? Powerful, strategic, successful…  He is all that, but what makes him such an effective leader is his humility. He is a team player that builds others up to be successful. He creates a physically and emotionally secure environment for his staff to learn and grow and teach. His management style isn’t about making himself look good, but about caring for, respecting and valuing the staff. It works.

“I respect how Tracy leads. He is always willing to listen and accept new ideas. He is willing to hash out the details of new ideas to see if they would work with our program.”  ~ Instructor

“Tracy has a calm, quiet leadership style that is effective and respected by students and staff.” ~ Para

“Tracy is a fantastic leader. He is kind and gentle, but firm. He is wise and creative. He listens. I love working for him. He is visionary and expects excellence. He is approachable and understanding. He goes above and beyond to support his staff.” ~ Instructor

“I am a better person and employee by watching this humble, gentle leader quietly and diligently pursue God’s will in his life. He is exactly what the college needs. He offers calmness and direction and wisdom. His manner of leading reminds me of the quote, ‘Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.’” ~ Staff

Tracy epitomizes the message of Shepherds College. He prepares, he treats people as individuals, he creates security for staff and students alike and, above all, he leads with Godly character - especially the humility of Christ. 

And we, in turn, gladly and gratefully follow him.

Shepherds College - Guiding Your Transition to Appropriate Independence. Please visit us at

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Teacher Tuesday: A Word to the Wise

Day 30 of the 31 for 21 Challenge

Shepherds College is unique.

There aren’t many post-secondary programs out there like us. 

We are designed exclusively for people with intellectual disabilities. 

We write our own curriculum.

We base our curriculum, our hiring practices, our policy, and our vision on Christian values. 

We have a philosophy of Appropriate Independence (Ai) – a level of self-sufficiency that is aligned with individual strengths and guided by Christian values. It is used as a measuring stick for all other aspects of our program – how does this material teach Ai? How does this activity support Ai? What does Ai look like for this particular student?

We have a residential campus which is an important element in fostering growth toward Appropriate Independence.

And we’re the first school of our kind to ever receive accreditation by NCA CASI and approval for Federal Student Aid.

So if this model of education hasn’t been done quite like this before, how do we know that what we’re doing is right?

When I first made a commitment to follow Christ, my father-in-law hugged me and gave me this important word of advice, “God wants to do big things with your life. Let Him.”

My pastor said to me, “Pray, watch where God is working, and join Him there.”

I’ve been trying to follow these wise words for the last twenty-four years. You can say that Shepherds College is also following this advice.

It was obvious - from the Board to the president to the hourly staff - that God had a new direction for Shepherds. He had big plans. We opened ourselves up to the idea of change, prayed, and watched as God revealed His will for the development of Shepherds College. Step by scary, exciting step we’ve joined Him in His work.  This plan is from God so we know that, by following Him, what we’re doing is right.

But what about all the day to day details of running this type of college? What about the finer aspects of teaching students with intellectual disabilities at the college level? There are not a lot of textbooks out there that cover these topics.

The same advice also applies in these situations - as Mrs. Kolkman says, “Pray daily!!!”

God is faithful to answer our prayers, not only in the grand plans, but also in the everyday struggles. He sends us knowledgeable people in the ministry, people who have been working with individuals with intellectual disabilities for decades. He puts us in the path of professionals with strong counsel in specific areas. He also draws staff to the college who are perfectly suited in skills and personality to work out all the unknowns in our new venture. 

We’ve received some great advice from all these people to help us along this unbeaten path.

The most helpful advice Mrs. Konopasek received was adapted from the words of Dr. Wood, the first president of Shepherds Ministries, “Never do for the students what they can learn to do for themselves.”  The type of assistance we offer should attempt to release the God-given potential within every student, not foster the impression that their disability makes them helpless.

“Set your expectations high. The students will rise to meet them. Demand the respect and responsibility from a student with intellectual disabilities that you would out of a ‘normal’ student.” Miss Luchterhand was blessed with parents who set high expectations and knows from first-hand experience that this advice works.

Mrs. Harvey works one-on-one with the students when needed. This advice helps her as she teaches hard to grasp concepts to a student, “Give directions in steps – short, clear steps with one action per step.”

Miss Spence was offered this advice that helps her develop deeper relationships with the students at Shepherds College, “See the students for who they are as individuals. Don’t just see them for their disabilities.”

As you can imagine, when our students come from different religions, cultures, and family backgrounds…  when they have varying IQ levels and reading abilities… when we’re dealing with over 90 different disabilities among the students, it’s important to be flexible in the classroom. Several teachers received, and took to heart, sound advice in this area.

 “’Be flexible and consistent.’ Seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? It’s important to always have the same routine but, depending on the day and the topic, you may need to change your approach.” Mrs. Kolkman


“There’s a possibility that nothing will ever work more than once.”  Miss Pollard

 “The best thing that I’ve heard is that everyone is different. People are always different. God didn’t use a cookie cutter to make us. It’s the same with students with intellectual disabilities – what works for one student may not work for another. So, be flexible and get to know each student and what works for them.”  Miss Van Oyen

Shepherds College may be blazing new trails through uncharted territory, but we’re doing it under the guidance of the wisest One of all. We’re definitely on the right path.

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.” Proverbs 19:20

Shepherds College - Guiding Your Transition to Appropriate Independence. Please visit us at

Monday, October 29, 2012

Made for Community

Day 29 of the 31 for 21 Challenge

Thank you to Kris Mickelson for writing today's blog.

What do Shepherds College students like about Horticulture?

“I love working outside!“I like the freedom!”  “I don't mind getting dirty.” “It's fun helping out other people. Besides, you get to get out of class!”

Those were the enthusiastic responses from Sean, Donovan, Daniela and Joe, second-year Horticulture students at Shepherds College. Surprisingly, they didn’t mention the fascinating discoveries they make completing tasks that some might consider mundane.

Maybe by the second year of studies, it comes naturally to spot black tar (a plant disease) on maple leaves, as Daniela called out while raking a long pathway. 

Or to step gingerly around floral beds, so you don’t compress soil and stifle airflow, as Joe did while cutting back overgrown perennials.

I’ve been gardening for decades and was delighted to listen and learn as the students shared their knowledge as they worked. But, I picked up a lot more than fascinating facts by accompanying the Shepherds College Horticulture team, led by lead instructor Mrs. Leslie Leith, on a “fall maintenance clean-up” project at the Holiday Home Camp.

I gained a deeper understanding of one of the four guiding principles of Shepherd’s College mission to help students achieve Appropriate Independence, “We are created as individuals for community”.

Working alongside volunteers (ages 10 to 60+), Shepherd’s College students were a part of the community God brought together to prepare Holiday Home Camp, a 125-year-old summer respite on the shores of Geneva Lake, for next seasons 600+ kids, most living in poverty-stricken urban areas. 

When the SC students stopped for a water break, Holiday Home Camp Office Manager, Stacy Usher, visited with us and explained the camp’s mission:
To provide educational and recreational programming that helps disadvantaged children (ages 7-14) develop the life skills necessary to become self-reliant, productive members of their families, schools and communities.

“Imagine never having the chance to go swimming. The kids come here and we’re 125 steps from one of the deepest and clearest fresh water lakes in Wisconsin,” Mrs. Usher said.

As Daniela and Joe asked a myriad of questions about the campers and programs, Donovan and Sean listened and nodded appreciatively.  Later, as the hard-working students broke out in a sweat under the bright sunshine, I overheard comments that truly warmed my heart.

“I bet they will really appreciate these clean flower beds in the spring,” Daniela commented.  “Wow, nobody would be able to get to the front door of this porch if we hadn’t cleared off all these leaves,” Donovan said. 

As we toured the historic main building, the students tried to imagine what the campers might do in each room.  A long screened and glassed-in porch facing the lake, furnished with white wicker chairs and tables, seemed to be set up for children to play board games. Another large area, with window-darkening curtains and a big-screen TV, was obviously a theater room.

A small room on the second floor was stacked floor to ceiling with gently used children’s clothing organized by size and category. Mrs. Usher explained that many campers arrive without bathing suits or enough clothes for the 8-day stay. “So we bring them here and they ‘go shopping’ for whatever they need. You should see their faces light up!” she said.

Afterward, the work completed, tools cleaned and stowed away, the tired students climbed into the van to rewarding news from Mrs. Leith. They had done such a good job they were invited back for spring planting. Plus, they would bring vegetables to share with the campers and plant flowers at a nursing home (both from the college greenhouse) on future community projects.

The students “yeahed” and high-fived each other appreciatively. I had to agree, hard work is fun when we do it to help others. God makes it that way, because He made us for community.

 “I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples… “ Gen. 48:4

Special thanks to Walworth Country Volunteer Organizer Colleen Lesniak, Walworth Master Gardener Paul Rausch, and Holiday Home Camp Office Manager and Registrar Stacy Usher for welcoming Shepherd’s College at their fall community project.

Shepherds College - Guiding Your Transition to Appropriate Independence. Please visit us at

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Setting Apart Sundays

Day 28 of the 31 for 21 Challenge

At Shepherds College, we encourage our students to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We provide many opportunities for spiritual growth, including weekly church attendance.

Church attendance is important for many reasons. 

~It is an act of obedience to God to keep the Sabbath Day holy.
~We are called to worship Him, to give Him thanks and praise in all things.
~It is necessary to be a part of a group of people who are trying to live out the Gospel just as we are as individuals. We support each other as Christians.
~It’s good to hear the Word of God from others, and not just depend on our own understanding.
~And, at Shepherds College, our students need to become a part of an accepting community that includes people of all abilities.

Starting at 8:00 AM every Sunday, our Residential Life staff loads up our vans and shuttle buses, and heads to four local churches.

These churches want and welcome our students into their congregations. They have an understanding that by including people with disabilities in their services, Sunday school classes, choirs and events, they will foster personal growth, deepen their worship experience and enrich their spiritual lives.

Daniela, Lindsay, and Israel with Pastor Jeff Talbert of Westosha Lakes Church
In the near future, I’ll be writing about each church and the student’s experiences in being a part of their congregations. Today, I’d just like to give you a list of the churches with a link to their websites. If you’re so inclined, as part of Pastor Appreciation Month, please send them each an email to thank them for playing an important role in the lives of our students.

Racine Bible Church, Racine, WI

Grace Church, Racine, WI

Westosha Lakes Church, Paddock Lake, WI

Shepherds College - Guiding Your Transition to Appropriate Independence. Please visit us at