About Top 20 Training

The team is led by four dynamic leaders revolutionizing schools and businesses by creating healthier cultures where individuals are more positive, engaged, and effective.

Through live trainings, curriculum and books, our teams works with students, parents, educators and other professionals to help people think, learn, and communicate more effectively.

Top 20 provides simple, yet powerful concepts, exercises and materials to rebalance thinking at the most basic level.

Tapping into the insights of social-emotional training, Top 20 helps bring out the best in individuals, families, teams and organizations, so that all can reach their highest potential and make a positive difference in the quality of their lives, relationships and experiences.

About Top 20 Training

It’s no secret that the power of thought plays an essential role in everything from personal success and happiness to global outcomes. But all too often, many of us experience a thinking problem. It’s a big reason why our schools are out of balance, our homes are out of balance, our personal relationships, even our communities and society as a whole.

Top 20 provides simple, yet powerful concepts, exercises and materials to rebalance thinking at the most basic level. Tapping into the insights of social-emotional training, Top 20 helps bring out the best in individuals, families, teams and organizations, so that all can reach their highest potential and make a positive difference in the quality of their lives, relationships and experiences.

Our Top 20 team has trained over one million educators and professionals and worked with thousands of students utilizing our teaching, counseling, coaching and administrative experience.

Our Mission

Top 20’s primary goal is to revolutionize education in America by helping students become more engaged in school and providing teachers with a new way of seeing themselves as relevant educators in the 21st century.

In addition, because it uses common language, easily understood concepts and practical tools for dealing with everyday situations and problems, Top 20 can have a profoundly positive effect on any organization, from business to government to healthcare, enhancing relationships and experiences for all.

Our History

The roots of Top 20 Training began in 2000 as an elective class for freshman at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minnesota. The class, called TLC or Thinking-Learning-Communicating, was initially taught by Tom Cody, a math teacher, with assistance from Paul Bernabei, a school counselor, and entrepreneurs Mary Cole and Michael Cole. Willow Sweeney, a social studies teacher at the high school, joined the team in 2001 and Kevin Brennan, an English teacher, in 2011.

The number of students taking the elective class grew each year. As the students experienced greater success by practicing Top 20 concepts and strategies in their relationships and experiences, they requested that the team share the same lessons with their parents. That was undertaken by inviting parents to attend evening sessions.

In an effort to ‘spread the word’, the first edition of Top 20 Teens: Discovering the Best-Kept Thinking, Learning & Communicating Secrets of Successful Teenagers was published in 2003 and the team began training teachers. Four teachers attended the first session. The team has now trained over one million educators throughout the United States. The team has also presented at national education conferences as well as conducting training for students, parents and other professionals throughout the country.

The Top 20 team has also authored:

  • Top 20 Parents: Raising Happy, Responsible and Emotionally Healthy Children (2009)
  • Top 20 Teacher: The Revolution in American Education (2010)
  • Why Students Disengage in American Schools and What We Can Do about It (2014)
  • Rebalanced Thinking, Rebalance Living: Developing Your Inner Life through Social-Emotional Learning (2017)

Top 20 curriculum for grades K-12 is now being used in hundreds of schools. Journals for teachers and parents (available in Spanish) are also available.

Top 20 has conducted trainings for medical professionals, churches, political groups, and people working in a variety of other businesses and organizations.


Who Is It For?


Students of all ages and grade levels can use Top 20 strategies and tools. The concepts help students get the most out of their experiences in the classroom, with friends and at home. The concepts can help with such challenges as:


  • Being aware of and controlling their emotions
  • Finding relevancy in classes that don’t seem appealing
  • Dealing with conflict
  • Procrastination and boredom
  • Staying focused
  • Building trust
  • Dealing with negativity

Top 20 principles and strategies have been designed by teachers for teachers. All Top 20 concepts enable teachers to develop social-emotional learning in their students and themselves. They address three major challenges in American schools:

  • Developing the inner life of students and educators
  • Creating an effective and healthy school culture
  • Keeping students engaged in learning

Top 20 Training offers parents with practical and easily applicable tools and strategies for helping them deal with parent and student challenges:

  • Communicating more effectively
  • Resolving conflict
  • Learning from mistakes and failure
  • Staying engaged in school
  • Supporting students when they are confused
  • Developing positive mental habits (curiosity, self-discipline, responsibility) and reducing negative mental habits (boredom, procrastination, blame)
  • Building trust
  • Dealing with social media and other peoples’ opinions

Besides being teachers, all Top 20 trainers have been coaches. Their experience has supported coaches to effectively connect with young athletes or performers and develop their potential as individuals and as a team. Top 20 concepts provide coaches with tools to help young athletes be more successful as well as develop sportsmanship, leadership and on and off the field decision-making skills. The strategies help individuals and teams develop:

  • Personal Power: Inside power that includes awareness of self, especially thinking and emotions
  • People Power: Outside power that includes what is communicated and goes out to others that forms strong relationships and teams

The last four chapters in the Top 20 Teachers book provide concepts and strategies for effective coaching.


Top 20 concepts are helpful to people of all ages and professions. Top 20 training has been conducted for social workers, carpenters, chefs, car dealers, secretaries, accountants, business managers, bus drivers, lawyers and a host of other professionals. Benefits for businesses and organizations include:

  • Reducing negativity from the workplace and creating a more positive culture
  • Building trust
  • Drawing out the talents of each team member
  • Enhancing communication, problem solving and conflict resolution skills
  • Clarifying and staying focused on purpose
  • Managing stress

Top 20 Training sessions have been conducted for numerous businesses and organizations. Some of those include:

  • 3M
  • Ameriprise
  • Behavioral Institute for Children and Adolescence
  • Bethel University
  • Cambridge College
  • Center for Diagnostic Imaging
  • Creating a Legacy in Stone
  • Dentons Law Firm
  • Ecolab
  • Hegg Health Center Avera
  • Herb Brooks Foundation
  • Hennepin County
  • Johnson Memorial Health Services
  • KPMG
  • Lifetouch
  • Minnesota Department of Human Services
  • Minnesota State High School League
  • National Citizens Review Panel
  • Northwestern Health Sciences University
  • Prudential
  • Ramsey County
  • RJF
  • Target
  • Thompson West
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of St. Thomas
  • Wells Fargo


How is it used?

Top 20 Concepts can be adopted in many different ways at school, home, in sports, or at the office. The most common questions we get surround how to implement at a school. Some examples that we recommend are listed below. In addition, watch the video below which features students talking about the benefits of the class and how it fit into their curriculum.

NOTE: in this example and this school, the Top 20 Training class is called TLC = Thinking, Learning, and Communicating.

As a stand-alone class or elective
Many schools, seeing the importance and value Top 20 adds to student development and school culture, have added Top 20 classes to their curriculum. Some of these classes meet every day for a quarter or semester. Some meet once weekly for the entire year. Teachers draw upon the lessons presented in the Top 20 teacher manuals for developing these courses.
As part of another class
Many teachers are incorporating Top 20 concepts into other content classes they are teaching. These include social studies, English, science, math, foreign language, art, physical education, religion and health. Teachers select concepts that have particular significance for their content area and make their subject matter more meaningful for their students.
Because some Top 20 concepts help students be more engaged in school, some teachers are incorporating selected Top 20 lessons at the beginning of the school year or semester. These teachers, choosing to present Top 20 concepts during the first week or two of their regular classes, sometimes cover more course content because the Top 20 concepts have prepared their students for learning. Covering concepts like Listening Levels, Nonverbal Communication, Stupid and Relevancy often removes barriers to learning.
Different grade levels
Certain topics can be taught at different grade levels. One school teaches all the thinking concepts to 6th grades, all the learning concepts to 7th graders and all the communicating concepts to 8th graders.
Multiple subject grouping
Teachers of various content subjects can work together to present several Top 20 concepts to their students. For example, a social studies teacher, an English teacher and a science teacher, all of whom teach the same grade level, can each select 3-4 different topics to be presented to the students. This allows the students to get 9-12 topics yet only requires each teacher to present 3-4.
During advisory or homeroom
Several schools are finding Top 20 content to be a valuable use of advisory time. Concepts can be broken into shorter time segments in order to fit into the advisory/homeroom time allotment.
After school or co-curricular activities
Teachers or volunteers of after school programs and coaches or moderators of co-curricular activities can incorporate Top 20 topics into those formats. An after school program might also provide the basis for creating a ‘study hall’ structure for time after school where Top 20 is taught and time is spent tutoring students who need extra help with specific subjects or study skills. Coaches can select specific topics (Above and Below the Line, Listening Levels, Mistakes) that would help students be more successful in sports or other activities. (The last four chapters of Top 20 Teachers: The Revolution in American Education focus on coaching sports teams or moderating other activities.)
Summer school
Top 20 as a summer school class has been offered for incoming high school freshman, especially those who may need a boost in order to succeed in high school. A summer orientation including Top 20 topics would benefit all students looking to maximize their potential for academic and social success in school.

Top 20 actually began as a summer school class to help students who were likely to struggle as they began high school. However, the principal quickly saw a universal application of the material and offered the class as an elective to all freshmen. Soon the majority of incoming freshmen signed up for the class.

Above and Beyond

This section is dedicated to highlighting SOME of the MANY things the Top 20 team is doing to spread the wisdom of Top 20 Training in ways that are ABOVE and BEYOND what you might expect. Much of us this is driven by people coming to Paul, Willow, Tom, and Kevin and saying things like, “could you train our whole town,” or “in addition to our all of teachers, the coaches would like to be trained” or “shouldn’t we just start our own Top 20 School?” Read below to learn more about how these ideas are now a reality.

Becoming a Top 20 School
A Top 20 school is intentionally implementing Top 20 principles and practices in order to fulfill the mission of a Top 20 School: to create a safe and healthy culture for all members of the school community where they develop their potential to think, learn and communicate more effectively in order to make a positive difference in their lives, relationships and experiences for others and themselves.
The mission of a Top 20 School is to help students, parents and staff become more aware of the power they possess within themselves to more often be the best version of themselves individually and as a community. All members of a Top 20 School know and are committed to achieving this mission. Although this mission may never be perfectly attained, it is always intentionally sought. Members of the school enjoy and celebrate growth towards this mission’s fulfillment and correct thoughts, beliefs and practices that are roadblocks to its achievement.

Let’s Train a Whole Community! – The Fairmont Project
Since 2012, Top 20 has partnered with the community of Fairmont in southwestern Minnesota. Led by Police Chief Greg Brolsma, the Chamber of Commerce, and business leaders, and school leaders, the Fairmont Project has resulted in several training sessions for students, parents, teachers, employees, senior citizens, religious leaders and coaches. Over 100 Fairmont residents, identified as Champions, continually promote Top 20 principles and practices throughout the community. Some of these efforts have included a Top 20 parent support group, regular newspaper articles, programs on local TV, and a Top 20 float in the annual summer festival parade. The Fairmont Project is being extended throughout Martin County in 2015.
Let’s Train the Coaches too! – Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL)
In an effort to support education-based co-curricular activities experienced by high school students, Top 20 has partnered with the MSHSL to provide training and materials for young athletes, coaches, parents and athletic directors. High School League executive director Jody Redman has teamed with Top 20’s Tom Cody to create and deliver curriculum aimed at identifying the real purpose behind high school athletics: the human development of young people. All Minnesota high school coaches are now required to participate in some training (live or on-line) that includes Top 20 principles and practices.

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