A Former Navy SEAL’s Advice: Facing the Challenges of the New School Year

Activating Your Mindset to Inspire and Ignite Learning edLeader Panel and recording link


Blog post by Robert Low based on this edLeader Panel

To help educators who now find themselves starting another fast-changing and potentially problematic school year, former U.S. Navy SEAL Officer and 6x Paralympic Medalist, Dan Cnossen, shared his approach to setting goals and dealing with difficult situations.

During a recent edLeader Panel hosted by Classroom Champions and sponsored by ClassLink, Cnossen, along with Anjoli Santiago, Manager of Educational Awesomeness for Classroom Champions, discussed strategies for persevering and maintaining a positive mindset.

Cnossen’s remarkable experiences, which include having both legs amputated above the knee but then going on to win a Paralympic gold medal in the biathlon, have given him a unique perspective on experiencing setbacks and overcoming challenges. And throughout the pandemic, he has been sharing the lessons he has learned with educators and students via online video calls.

Micro Goals and Mindsets

A key element of Cnossen’s approach developed during a part of the SEAL training known as “Hell Week,” when the team he was leading was losing a race in which they were required to carry a telephone pole on their shoulders. Close to quitting, Cnossen let go of the larger objectives and just focused on taking one more step, and then the step after that. By concentrating on these types of micro goals, Cnossen was able to complete the SEAL training and become the commander of a SEAL platoon, before stepping on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.

He then used a similar approach to recovering from his extensive injuries, setting goals such as being able to leave the hospital and learning to walk on prosthetic devices, rather than remain in a wheelchair. And like many educators striving to maintain a positive attitude as they face another year of pandemic-related challenges, he had to deal with the emotional and psychological impact of what had occurred to him and set new goals for himself after his career and lifestyle unexpectedly changed.

Surrounded by injured soldiers in a hospital, Cnossen saw that many of them were in even worse shape than he was—he realized he needed to focus on what he still had rather than what he was missing. This asset-based approach was combined with the realization that rather than waste time on what he couldn’t control, he needed to prioritize what he could control. Over time, that included how he could respond to his difficult situation and what type of attitude and mindset he would be able to maintain.

A related aspect of Cnossen’s approach is what he calls “the power of perspective.” This enabled him to switch from thinking about how unlucky he was, to seeing how fortunate he was to have supportive family members and friends, as well as successful surgeries and physical therapy. This all eventually enabled him to achieve new long-range goals such as proudly representing the U.S. and winning a gold medal at the 2018 Paralympics.

Applying this Approach in Today’s Schools

For educators facing the challenges of the new school year, Cnossen’s approach can be applied to their own lives and work and be shared with their students. While educators can’t control the pandemic and related rules and controversies, they can control how they respond to their difficult situations, including the continued setting of micro goals that help them provide the best possible care and support for their students and themselves.

Anjoli Santiago cited data about the impact of the pandemic on students’ mental health, as well as the impact on teachers. For many educators, the pandemic has increased job-related stress, and in some cases has led to thoughts about leaving the profession. Her personal recommendations include making time for mindful moments, breathing, finding calm, and developing new ways to continue personal growth.

She also provided recommendations from EdSurge, such as destigmatizing mental health challenges by integrating screening questions into daily routines, and strengthening assessment systems in order to address concerns before they become bigger issues.

Recognizing the importance of having a supportive network of colleagues, friends, and family members is also crucial. Santiago pointed out that many educators felt isolated during the past year for a combination of reasons, and Cnossen, citing his own experiences on a SEAL team and on the Paralympics team, encouraged educators to find ways to feel part of a team, because that can lift spirits and improve performance.

Cnossen also talked about the importance of mentorship, citing the positive impact of his parents, teachers, and coaches, as well as fellow SEAL team members and Paralympians, during different phases of his life. And he noted that positive experiences can also result from becoming a mentor, which is something educators can do for students and for younger colleagues.

This edWeb broadcast was hosted by Classroom Champions and sponsored by ClassLink.

Watch the Recording Listen to the Podcast

About the Presenters

Dan Cnossen was raised on a fifth-generation family farm in Kansas. After completing SEAL qualification training in 2003, he deployed numerous times in support of global special operations. As a SEAL platoon commander, he was severely injured in 2009 in Afghanistan, resulting in the amputation of both legs above the knees. Turning to sport for recovery, he began training for the U.S. Paralympic ski team in 2011 as a cross-country skier and biathlete. He has since competed for Team USA in the 2014 and 2018 Winter Games and is the first male athlete to win a gold medal for the U.S. in biathlon, a sport that combines cross-country skiing with precision shooting. Dan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in English from the U.S. Naval Academy, a master’s in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a master’s in theological studies from the Harvard Divinity School.

Anjoli Santiago comes with years of experience in the education world starting as a performing teaching artist in Philadelphia, a full-time teacher in the South Bronx, a program manager, and so much more. Proud to be a part of the Classroom Champions team, Anjoli supports rockstar teachers and excellent social and emotional programming across the nation. She is excited to share space with you today!

Join the Community

Inspire Learning & Engagement is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net where you’ll connect with educators who, like you, are searching for new ways to ignite and inspire learning and engagement.

Classroom ChampionsClassroom Champions is a non-profit and registered charity that connects volunteer Olympians, Paralympians, and Professional Athletes to classrooms through a K-8 social and emotional-based curriculum and mentorship experience.


ClassLink is a leading provider of cloud-based education products that connect educators and students with their classroom, curriculum, and each other in richer, more powerful ways. As leading advocates for open data standards, we offer instant access to apps and files with single sign-on, streamline class rostering, automate account provisioning, and provide actionable analytics. ClassLink empowers 14 million students and staff in over 1,800 school systems.

Robert Low has more than 30 years of educational publishing experience, ranging from editing and product management to online advertising and content development. He also works with edWeb.net to write articles on their professional learning edWebinars.

Share this: