World traveled speaker visits New England school

The faculty and staff of New England Public School were treated to a special speaker a day before students were ushered into the new school year.

Bob Upgren
Bob Upgren

Posted August 22, 2014

By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor |

The faculty and staff of New England Public School were treated to a special speaker a day before students were ushered into the new school year. Bob Upgren was contacted and booked back in June, shortly after Kelly Koppinger had taken over as Superintendent.

Upgren is an internationally-known speaker and co-founder and president of Cross Training Inc., a faith-based Sports and Leadership program. According to his ‘About’ page on, he’s worked previously with the NBA, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Sharp Electronics, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Verizon Wireless.

Upgren covered topics such as kids and technology today, working as a team and not as staff.

“Staff is an infection,” Upgren said, trying to show a point, and wanting the teachers and faculty to start thinking of themselves as one unit working together.

A big part of Upgren’s presentation focused on the environment in which the school employees make for the students. According to him, they need to “create conditions for the content you’re going to have.” He emphasized creating those conditions, and making them right for the students to succeed.

In order to accomplish this task, Upgren laid out a five step process, something he called the ‘Level 5 Educator.’

The moral of his presentation was to show how the teachers and faculty can give students the right environment to succeed in life. Upgren mentioned that school is sometimes the students’ most stable part of their lives, and they need to have a place that can yield to their strengths for success, and according to Upgren, “have a platform to do work that is significant.”

Making his home in Bismarck, Upgren travels the world and mentors audiences of all age groups, from children to large corporations, Upgren brings a message tailored to his viewers.

“I try and customize as much as I can, because, when you do customize something like that, that’s where it resonates more,” Upgren said.

Having seen Upgren speak before, Koppinger knew the value he [Upgren] can bring to the audience.

“I wanted to have something very upbeat, very positive and he was the first person that came to my mind as far as coming in and helping us out to get us going in the right direction,” Koppinger said. “He’s got a different message for the different venues he talks to.”

Adjusting his presentation is something Upgren said can separate himself from other speakers and consultants. He also said that it allows him to cut down on his travel time. Because he changes his presentation and message, he’s able to speak to the same group of people multiple times.

Starting out in education, he slowly migrated to speaking and consulting, mainly through word of mouth.

“I’m a story teller, so when I taught I would just tell stories, and I started some things in our community, and my name started to be brought up to work with other students,” Upgren said.

Though his speeches vary from audience to audience, Upgren said one thing is usually consistent.


No matter the audience, Upgren said he tries to infuse his content with a little light material because it’s engaging to the audience. Though humor is good, Upgren also said the most important thing is to leave his audience with something.

“Giving something beyond the humor, to me, is where it’s really at… like those five levels of leadership, if I don’t give that to them, and try and make it applicable to a teacher they’ll walk out of here and say ‘that’s kind of neat, that’s funny’, but they’re saying something different right now I believe, and that’s where I want to be,” Upgren said after his presentation. “That’s the sweet spot I want to sit on,”

Upgren capped off his presentation with a visual display of what he spoke about.

Dimming the lights, and shining a spotlight on a canvas made from a black bed sheet, he began to draw a picture with chalk, accompanied by uplifting and powerful music played in the background.

And what looked to be just a bunch of scribble across the sheet, turned into a brightly colored ‘walking off into the sunset’ scene, and unbeknownst to the audience, actually served as a backdrop for another video. It was Upgren’s literal ‘walk off into the sunset’ moment of the presentation.

“It depends on the audience, I’ve got five, six, seven drawings that I do, it’s just a matter of picking the one I feel, which one is going to resonate,” Upgren said.

Though he changes the picture from speech to speech, the end project turns into a colorful picturesque work of art.

Previous drawings by Upgren have been known to fetch thousands in an auction setting.

As for the fate of the picture drawn in New England, Koppinger said it will be on display and possibly roam around the school for sometime, and a final resting spot is unknown.

Upgren left a short period of time for questions, and after no one raised their hands he thanked the audience and began packing for his next speaking engagement.

He did leave the school a new program that he [Upgren] and his team recently implemented called Arena Assesment.

The tool will be used by teachers for the students.

The program is designed to find out what kinds of interest the students have, and then to guide them towards those interests into fulfilling their life goals.

The employees of the school, according to Koppinger, left the presentation with a positive feeling.

“It was very well received and they were very enthusiastic after his presentation, and I think it was a good way to start the year,” Koppinger said. “Very upbeat, very positive.”

At this point there are no plans to have him back to speak to the students directly, but conversations have taken place.

“We’ve talked about, we haven’t gotten anything set up yet,” Koppinger said.

Koppinger said he enjoyed a speaker of Upgren’s ability getting to the teachers early before school started.

“It was a very good start to our school year, and I’m looking for a lot of positive enthusiasm from everybody that we have hired here with the message that he sent,” Koppinger said.

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