Our History

The video is quick recap how Top 20 has grown and spread across the U.S.

Many people are responsible for the creation of this Top 20 program. Throughout our lives, countless people young and old have shared their experiences, wisdom and life lessons with us. Because of this our lives have been greatly enriched. The quality of our relationships, education, and work have all been enhanced by what many people have shared with us. They have enabled us to have a great ride through life.

Besides trying to live the concepts presented in this Top 20 program ourselves, we have taught this material to thousands of students and parents at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, in a course called Thinking, Learning and Communicating. The course has come to be known as TLC. The enthusiastic response of our students to this material encouraged us to “spread the word.”

The development of the Top 20 program and the TLC course has involved the professional and personal journeys of five people.

Michael Cole’s work with Emotional Intelligence began two decades ago. After a less-than-stellar academic career, Michael found himself floundering in the hair-styling business. His life changed dramatically when he met Joe Francis, who mentored Michael in the Emotional Intelligence field. He and his wife Mary developed some of these ideas through their highly successful business, Salon Development Corporation.

The Coles first met Tom Cody when their two children attended Cretin-Derham Hall High School. In 1996, the Coles approached the school administrators with hopes that their Emotional Intelligence ideas could be implemented at the high school level. At that time, Tom, a math teacher at CDH since 1980, was developing Jump Start, a pilot summer program for orienting incoming freshmen. The Coles’ material was a perfect fit with Cody’s practical study skills course. When the course outgrew the two-week summer program, it was introduced into the mainstream curriculum at CDH in 2000-2001 as a 12-week class called Thinking, Learning and Communicating.

Meanwhile, Tom and Paul Bernabei had previously crossed paths as girls’ basketball coaches. Paul had been developing related concepts in his work as an educator and consultant. His work blended perfectly with that of the Coles and Tom. He joined the TLC team during its inaugural year.

In 2001, Willow Sweeney, a CDH social studies teacher, joined the team. She and Tom taught the classes on a daily basis while developing and testing the Top 20 Training curriculum. Bernabei and the Coles served as guest lecturers and program developers.

Top 20 Training was founded by Paul Bernabei, Tom Cody, Mary Cole, Michael Cole, and Willow Sweeney in 2001. They co-authored three books: Top 20 Teens: The Best-kept Thinking, Learning and Communicating Secrets of Successful Teenagers; Top 20 Parents: Raising Happy, Responsible and Emotionally Healthy Children; and Top 20 Teachers: The Revolution in American Education. Paul, Tom and Willow have trained over 350,000 teachers, parents, coaches, professionals, and students.

The Top 20 curriculum is currently being used in hundreds of schools, corporations and organizations across the nation.

Timeline: Key events in the history of Top 20 Training

1997: Michael Cole is introduced to Tom Cody at Cretin-Derham Hall High School.

1998: Jump Start summer program is introduced at Cretin-Derham Hall.

2000 – 2002: Thinking, Learning and Communicating (TLC) class begins with 108 students and grows to 260 in 3rd year. Mary Cole and Tom Cody co-teach first class; Paul Bernabei and Michael serve as guest lecturers; Willow Sweeney joins the 2nd year.

2001: First Teacher Training and Parents Training.

2002: Publication of Top 20 Teens: The Best-kept Thinking, Learning and Communicating Secrets of Successful Teenagers.

2003: Teacher Manual for grades 7-12 is released; first national appearance at National Catholic Education Association conference in Boston.

2004: Over 1,000 teachers trained from Idaho to Boston.

2005: Second publication of Top 20 Teens; Grade 3-6 teacher manual published.

: Publication of Top 20 Parents: Raising Happy, Responsible and Emotionally Healthy Children Co-authored by Sharon Kaniess and Elaine Rilley (January)

2005: Publication of Top 20 Teachers: The Revolution in American Education (August)

2005: Presentation at first international education conference in Madrid, Spain

2006: Top 20 Promotional video is produced.

2007: First Coaches Training.

2008: Third publication of Top 20 Teens.

2008-Present: Trainings have occurred in the following states across America.

Alabama · Arizona · California · Colorado · Florida · Georgia · Hawaii · Idaho · Illinois · Indiana · Iowa · Kansas · Kentucky · Louisiana · Massachusetts · Minnesota · Missouri · Nebraska · Nevada · New Hampshire · New York · North Carolina · North Dakota · Ohio · Oregon · Pennsylvania · South Carolina · South Dakota · Tennessee · Texas · Utah · Virginia · Washington · Wisconsin · Wyoming · Vermont

2009: Over 30,000 teachers trained.

2010: Top 20 Training joins in partnership with the Minnesota State High School League. Many of the Top 20 Training concepts are used in the production of MSHSL’s training for coaches across the state of Minnesota.

2011: Kevin Brennan joins the Top 20 Team of Trainers.

2013: Partnership developed with The Master Teacher.

2013: Top 20 Training begins a relationship with SAMs organization (National School Administration Manager Innovation Project). Top Trainers present at its National Convention 2013-2015

2014: Develop training materials with The Master Teacher: PDXpert and PDNow (online training for teachers and parents).

2014: www.livingtop20training.com is born. The Living Top 20 website is launched as a membership online community, where those who have experienced Top 20 and want to have the concepts be a part of their daily lives can go for the resources to do so.

2014: Seminars presented across Canada.

2014: K-6 Smart Board Curriculum is created through partnership with St. Bonifice teachers in Cold Spring, MN.

2014: Paul Bernabei releases his new book (co-authored by Kevin Brennan), Why Students Disengage in American Schools and What We Can Do About It.

2015: Over 500,000 people have experienced a Top 20 Training seminar.

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.

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