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Science standards a lever to move education forward, says alumnus award winner

September 11th, 2017

by Melanie Zuercher

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Once upon a time, Matt Krehbiel was a Bethel College student passionate about science who then became passionate about teaching science.

That’s according to a professor who not only watched Krehbiel as he moved through his four years at Bethel but also saw him grow up – his uncle, longtime Bethel Professor of Psychology Dwight Krehbiel.

Dwight Krehbiel introduced Matt Krehbiel in an Aug. 28 convocation at Bethel that also honored Matt Krehbiel as Bethel’s 2015 Young Alumnus.

Krehbiel, Topeka, graduated from Bethel in 1999, spent a year with Mennonite Voluntary Service in Richmond, Virginia, and then taught high school biology, physical science, prairie ecology and other science courses for the next 10 years while also earning a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Kansas State University.

In 2010, Krehbiel applied for an opening at the Kansas State Department of Education, clicking “Send” minutes before the submission deadline, according to his uncle. He got the job, as the KSDE’s science program consultant.

Most of the news over the past several years about public education in Kansas has been, said Dwight Krehbiel, “abysmal.” He added, “We don’t think of Kansas as a hotbed of science innovation.”

Yet, he pointed out, under Matt Krehbiel’s leadership, Kansas was one of 26 states to take the lead in developing the Next Generation Science Standards, and one of the first three states in the country to implement them.

So Krehbiel’s passion for science, transferred to science teaching, now applies to science standards. However, “I guessed that maybe some of you were not as passionate about science standards as I am,” he told his convocation audience.

Instead, his presentation, titled “Shut your mouth … find your voice,” was “about systems change – how you take [a system] and move it forward when that seems impossible.

“The standards are great,” he said, “but they’re just a lever to move us forward.”

“Forward” is to have schools that produce “kids who can think for themselves, understand the world around them and apply what they know” – common themes coming from stakeholder groups around the state with whom Krehbiel has been talking for the past two years.

To change a system, he said, you first must germinate an idea and establish its roots. “To build roots, you have to build a coalition. Because if you’re actually going to change a system, it’s a lot of work and you can’t do it alone.”

Once you have a coalition, the next challenge is “to identify the right problem. Often what we think is the problem is actually a symptom of the problem. When you find the problem, then you become a ‘solutioneer.’”

Along the way, he continued, you “build and nurture relationships. You anticipate and embrace challenges – if there aren’t any obstacles, there probably wasn’t a problem to start with. This is the fun part.

“You avoid the pitfalls of ‘us vs. them’ [and] deficit model thinking. Instead of talking about how ‘those’ people aren’t doing their job, ask ‘How do I do my job better?’”

In the question-and-answer period at the end of convocation, one audience member asked Krehbiel why, given what seemed to be a constant assault by Kansas’ governor and legislature on public education, he didn’t “feel weighed down. I feel weighed down,” she said.

“Well, at least I’m not going to break [education] any more than it is,” Krehbiel said. “But also, there’s a balance of hope and despair that has to happen. The place of hope is within despair.

“I find hope in the teachers who are doing such fantastic things in this state. We have ridiculous number of fantastic educators in Kansas, but we don’t hear about them.

“The bottom line: If you want to change the world, be a teacher. It’s what we do every day. You might not change the [broader] world but you’ll change a student’s world.”

The reason people keep teaching, even with all the struggles, he said, is because “it’s the best job in the world.”

He added that when he was teaching high school, his goal was “planned obsolescence. My goal as a classroom teacher was for my students not to need me, by the end, for what I was trying to teach them.”

One reason for coalition-building is also planned obsolescence – to replace a bad system with a good one. In terms of his work on public education science standards (which he does at both the state and national level), “I’m not obsolete yet,” Krehbiel said.

“I’m holding some networks together. My work is to make it so that’s no longer necessary.”

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2015-16 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.