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EIU 360

Own What You Do

Craig and Beth Lindvahl have devoted their lives to education and are working hard to bring change to our current education system.

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of ForeverEIU, a publication of the Eastern Illinois University Alumni Association.


Craig Lindvahl dreamed of playing and creating music, but instead, he stumbled into teaching — a stumble that transformed his life and the lives of countless students.

Craig graduated from EIU in 1979 after earning a degree in music education – at his father’s request. In fact, most of Craig’s family attended EIU, and Craig ended up in education, just like his brother.

While a student at Eastern, Craig met Beth (’82) at his hometown church in Taylorville, Ill. In that instant (Craig snaps his fingers for effect), Craig and Beth knew that they were meant for each other. Beth, too, planned to earn a degree in education and chose to attend EIU, as well.

But Beth was a full three years behind him and while he waited for her to graduate, fate knocked and Craig took a temporary job that changed the course of their lives.

“It (the job) was just temporary, and I didn’t figure on falling in love with the kids,” said Craig, grinning. “So, I never ‘escaped’ because of the kids.”

In fact, neither Craig nor Beth actually ever wanted to escape. Together, they dug in and began working toward a better way to educate countless students, each in different ways – Beth as a kindergarten teacher and Craig as a band director, and later as a film producer and guide to entrepreneurship.

As the Lindvahls began to dig into their careers, one thing is clear, life for them has always been about their ‘kids.’

The Small Town Band Director

Three years seemed a long time to put a career on hold. But, for Craig, it was worth it while he waited for Beth to graduate.

“I took a band-directing job in Teutopolis, (Ill.) even though I don’t particularly like band music,” he said. “I would much rather play than teach.”

But Craig never approaches anything halfheartedly, and by the mid 1980s, still in Teutopolis, he started expanding his teaching duties to video and television production.

And, he started challenging students in new and creative ways. Craig didn’t limit his focus on students in Teutopolis; he began to reach out to students in a much broader area.

One of his first projects was a collaboration with 150 students from 10 different high schools who wrote lyrics to a composition by Craig. The final product was a music video, which ended up being nationally televised.

That was just the beginning. A subsequent student video project, called “Together We Can,” emphasized that kids instinctively know how to get along, inferring that it is the adults in the world who need a little help with diplomacy.

They sent the video to every country in the world. Fifty countries responded, which earned Craig and his students an invitation to visit the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. During their visit, they met the ambassador of the Marshall Islands, who asked the students to create a video (on location) to inform others about his country.

The timing ended up being perfect. Craig had just been awarded the Milken Educator Award and he used the money to take himself, his parents, Beth and eight students to the Marshall Islands to shoot and produce the informational video. The Peace Corps distributed the final product.

Craig notes, however, the trip was not without its challenges. Prior to the Milken award, funding was a concern.

He and Beth were on the brink of borrowing the funds at an interest rate of 20 percent. Right before they left, their cameraman canceled and their video tapes were faulty. And once they were on location – with a new cameraman – the camera quit working completely.

Of course, for Craig, these challenges make for perfect teaching moments. Struggles and obstacles teach students the fundamentals of how to “own their work,” take responsibility for mistakes, think on their feet and, ultimately, fix the problem.

Craig’s enthusiasm for his students and their adventures is contagious. It is easy to understand how the past 30 years has evolved into something much larger than he ever could have imagined.

For him, “doing things that help make kids better people is like breathing.”

Unfortunately, Craig’s approach to education using trips, video projects and those key tools he uses to help students own what they do isn’t the norm for most educators today.

“I didn’t realize that band directors in little towns didn’t do stuff like this,” he said. “It seemed natural, and I thought there was something wrong with me.”

Throughout his years as director, the band grew from 45 to 160 students. The growth in numbers comes, undoubtedly, from a combination of his dedication, commitment and relationships with his students. Clearly, he was doing something right.

The Kindergarten Teacher

As Craig works to transform the system in secondary education, Beth Lindvahl devotes her life to her kindergarten class in Teutopolis, molding and shaping young minds at the elementary level.

In fact, many of the kids who end up in Craig’s classes began in Beth’s. While Craig is an extrovert, Beth is a listener, taking in each student’s needs and concerns. Her caring demeanor and othercentered personality makes her perfect for the kindergarten setting.

Beth initially started as a home economics teacher, but fell in love with elementary education when she worked as a kindergarten aide in Teutopolis.

Spending the bulk of her days with her kids, Beth believes “kindergarten is the best grade.”

She sees each student as a “little sponge,” and it is the job of the teacher to help them grow into the people they will become. “Hopefully, you give them at a good foundation so they can bloom and prosper,” Beth said.

It isn’t unusual for Beth to spend her days and nights preparing her classroom while Craig is traveling to speaking engagements, producing films or in the office himself.

“Beth has sacrificed every aspect of normal life,” Craig said. “The big deal is someone who simply loves their kids. It is easy to do what I am doing. Beth is with those kids every day. She loves them and is guiding them and doing the right things for them.”

With 33 years in education and 26 years in her kindergarten class, Beth teaches within the system and stands by her husband’s determination to change the system for their kids.

The Philosophy of “Owning It”

As Craig’s circle of influence grew, he expanded his career to teach the well-known CEO class, Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, in nearby Effingham, educating high school students in entrepreneurship. It is the perfect platform for Craig to impart his philosophy of having students “own their work.”

Today, Craig serves as the director of the Midland Entrepreneurship Institute. As director, he is expanding the reach of the CEO program across the country with 28 programs to date.

He spends his days on the road, sharing his unique approach to teaching, emphasizing how the program educates students to own both their triumphs and their mistakes.

“It is a whole different approach to learning,” he said.

Many students in the education system strive for the grade instead of learning for the sake of learning, he said, yet the problem in education isn’t with the students.

“It’s not the people in education, it is the system,” he said. “The system is all about mastering the subject, then we get out of school and mastering the subject is a little piece of success. It is not even the major piece.”

Craig’s teaching philosophy follows closely to advice a good friend shared with him once: “Every teacher teaches the same thing, but not the subject. It is the subject that brings them together.”

And he wants fellow educators to participate in his system of learning. “I want our students at every grade level to know the learning is theirs,” he said.

When students start to take ownership in their creative work, they start to build confidence on work they’ve done and mistakes they have made, he said. The confidence will give them strength and coping skills.

It isn’t surprising that for his efforts, in addition to the Milken Educator of the Year award, he serves on the Illinois State Board of Education.

The “Kids”

Truly, for both Craig and Beth, it is all about the kids. It is clear from listening to them speak about teaching that they see great potential in every face. And that is the driving force behind their philosophy on teaching.

There isn’t a day that goes by that Craig isn’t emailing, getting lunch or chatting with his current and former students. Beth feels the same. With no children of their own, the Lindvahls said their students are their “kids.”

“It isn’t unusual for our ‘children’ to come back,” Beth said. “It is so rewarding that they want to come back and share their lives.”

From film projects, to the Marshall Islands, to talking with ambassadors of other countries, the Lindvahls give their kids experiences beyond the small town, experiences that broaden their views of our world.

And, like many parents, they have made sacrifices in their own lives for the benefit of their kids.

On most days, Craig is out the door by 6 a.m. and back home around 10 p.m. Beth acclimated to his schedule by happily spending her days tweaking lesson plans and thinking about ways to improve her own traditional classroom setting.

Yet, both agree life has been a fantastic adventure filled with filmmaking presentations, trips across the country, the re-envisioning of education and, most importantly, remarkable students.

Beth smiled, “Our life together is odd. It always has been odd. It has never been normal.” Not that the Lindvahls would change it for a second.

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