After The Fall

Happy Wednesday; today I feel grateful that our friends
at Character.org used this selfie shot to advertise

I totally remember that this was a magical moment in time;
just look at the joy in our smiles.
Will you be going in October?
It'll mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Forum experience.
Two and a half decades of celebrating character.
A quarter of a century of showcasing promising practices.

A huge part of that journey down Character Road for me has been
learning that character building is so much more than just
naming and claiming your school's core values.
If it were, then it'd be one and done,
something our district did back in 1987, 
a product rather than a process.
Oh, that's a big piece, for sure, but it's more about how we
weave those values into the very DNA of our school's fabric 
and use them as a roadmap to help us get where we're going.
It's about reducing peer cruelty so children feel safe.
It's about creating a web (where everyone belongs!) of love
where everybody knows they matter,
where they're given a voice and choices,
where they are championed as learners and leaders.
Not just the kids; faculty, staff and stakeholders, too.
A place where shared leadership is a given,
where kindness matters isn't just a slogan on the wall,
where data helps drive decisions. 
It's about using mistakes and failure as opportunities for growth,
it's about picking one another up and when we fall,
it's about stepping in to each other's stories
and listening to really understand rather than just to respond.

It's about getting honest and addressing the elephants in the room.
It's about telling our truth,
lavishly giving grace,
apologizing to right wrongs,
and forgiving to heal when hurts happen.
Schools of character are a rare gift
that don't just happen by chance.
They happen as a result of intentional hard (and heart) work.
Every magical moment 
of every single day.
One of my greatest career joys was leading Westwood Elementary
to a State and then National School of Character distinction.
That's why I'm honored to be in that photograph
as an Ambassador for this year's Forum.

Today I'm also excited about our picture book pick of the week
 that beautifully encapsulates the school of character ideal. 

It tells the story of Humpty Dumpty's return from his famous fall, how he persevered through his fear of heights, worked to reinvent himself, found out the hard way that life begins again only after you get back up, and emerged a better version of himself than he ever imagined possible.

After reading this treasure aloud, have fun making paper airplanes.
Encourage your students to write their YET goals on them.
You could even host a contest, to see which flies the farthest.
Then click {here} for more intriguing integration ideas.

Our chapter book pick for this week also showcases
how a using a growth mindset can pay huge dividends.

This colorful and comprehensive guidebook is chunk full of epic examples of women who have fought against fear and other overwhelming odds to achieve amazing things in the competitive world of athletics. These 101 women changed the face of their games and have put performance values like perseverance, resilience and grit in the spotlight center stage.

Know someone who needs a booster shot of inspiration? Share this awesome Sports Illustrated Kids newcomer with your children, encourage them to find an athlete they admire, and write down the character traits that make their story stand out. Invite them to use these hard-working women as a role model next time they're tempted to quit running the race because an obstacle gets in their way.

Click image for source.

Now that's a character ideal that'll 
get back up
 and score a goal toward success 
every time.


One Shepherd, One Fold

Happy Father's Day weekend.
Today I'm excited because soon I'll be taking this beautiful print
to the frame shop so that it can hang in our home.
It was a gift from the painter's daughter,
whose children go to the school I recently retired from.

One Fold, One Shepherd by Larry Dyke
When she presented it to me with her daughter Grace,
she said it reminded her of the role of a school counselor
as a shepherd for their sheep.
She thanked me for my service to our fold, and added that
they also hoped that the Fall foliage her father had painted
would remind me of Wisconsin and comfort me
on days when I was feeling homesick.
Isn't that the most thoughtful, heartfelt present?

As I reflect on retiring, I'm working with intention
to focus on the goodto help the hurts heal more quickly.

Hurts like bidding my sheep farewell.
Like saying so long to my school family.
Like turning in my laptop and my keys.
Like my Principal's hard truth that people are replaceable 
and then meeting my young replacement at school yesterday.
Like closing that door and driving away for the last time.

And since appreciations have been known to melt resentments away, I've been fervently filling up my Proverbs journal this past week with the kind thoughts, feelings, affirmations and gratitude that stakeholders have shared with me.

It'll be a keepsake for my Smile File
that's sure to make my own children smile one day
as they remember who I was and what mattered to me.

As my days in FISD came to a close, 
I received this retirement plaque Tuesdayafternoon; 
isn't it engraved so elegantly?

It was handed to me thinly wrapped in cold styrofoam
at the district office when I went to turn in my TRS Form 7,
by a lady I didn't recognize,
with the words: Here's your plaque.
Wait, what?
As I sat alone, by myself, and pulled it from its wrapper,
I couldn't help but muse that I would have done this differently.
A whole lot differently.
I would have tried to make it something really special
to match the special years I spent here.

But I'm so grateful for a 25-year-long opportunity 
to grow alongside of and serve my sheep in FISD 
that I'm choosing not to let my plaque-receiving expectations
cloud the beauty of the gift it represents,
a quarter of a century of them trusting me to be the shepherd, 
to guide, nurture, and love their precious flock.

At the end of the day, what truly matters is that 
I was blessed to be the one 
to so many, for so long.
Now that's a present that will keep on giving.


Cool To Be Kind

Happy Sunday; is it really June 10th already?
Yesterday I gave a podcast interview;

what fun to share my story with The Cutting Edge Counselor.
Click the image or the link above to listen in.
I'm so grateful to counselors like Alaina
who are always looking for and finding creative ways
to reach out, connect and grow.

The last Monday of school, my last guidance lesson
brought this special group of learners to Leadership Central.
We sang and laughed and played together.

Then we read Crunch, The Shy Dinosaur by Cirocco Dunlap.

This engaging, interactive newcomer
utilizes a clever and hilarious narrator to
weave in emotions, mindfulness, music,
and even a little movement
for a total physical response (TPR) experience.
If you don't know this book yet, 
do yourself a favor and check it out.
I found my copy at our local Barnes & Noble.
It's my summertime picture book pick of the week.

My chapter book pick is It's Cool To Be Kind by Linnea McFadden.

Linnea sent two copies of this gem to us, one for me and one for Jax, right after hurricane Harvey hit and, believe it or not, I never got around to reading it until just now. Jax and Miley, who checked out the book from my office, both loved it, so I knew I would, too. Its message is simply powerful: It's cool to be kind

I especially love that the author spotlights how a trusted adult, like a school counselor, can help mediate a problem by intentionally elevating empathy to mobilize compassion and kindness. We can overcome so many hurdles by opening up the lines of communication in a safe space to share our thoughts and feelings. Add this one to your chapter-book collection and join the Cool To Be Kind movement today! 

After reading Linnea's book, I decided to share this
banner from my office with a cyberspace collaborator.

I had it made last summer by Sketchnote artist Julie Woodard
and it hung in our learning space until I didn't need it anymore.
Now it's making its home in Keller, TX where Mrs. Chandler
will put it in her fifth-grade classroom at her new school.

Doesn't she have the most beautiful smile ever?

Not only is it cool to be kind, 
but it feels incredibly AmAzInG, too.

How will you stay cool with kindness this summer?


On A Farewell Tour

And like that, thirty four years as a public-school educator have come and gone. So much has happened since 1984; believe me, I've been feeling like this 4th grader,

mostly in response to all of the stuff I'd hoarded collected saved.
{Don't judge me, but I even had some floppy disks in there.}

One small office, one large learning lab,
and four practice rooms from when it was a band hall,
all filled to the brim with my treasures,
all needing to be sorted, boxed, and moved.
It was an incredible chore, which would have been easier
and given me a lot more time
had I not called an audible at the last hour.
I'm happy to say that I got it all cleaned out,
with some last-minute help from my friend Carol.

That was Thursday, after an epic week on my farewell tour.

Tuesday morning started off with breakfast
with my FISD counseling colleagues and forever friends.

Their biggest gift is their loving kindness, but I was also pretty excited about the tangibles, the shirt with one of the things they've heard me say, 
Be Where Your Feet Are
a spa day, gift cards for coffee and books, a towel that says
Kindness Matters
and a succulent plant to put by my pool.
That afternoon, the HS counselors joined us for our last meeting;
that's where we played the Elephant Exchange game.
I wrapped up some really good stuff from my office,
one valuable thing (that they can possibly use),
a reminder that counselors always address the elephant in the room,
and one funny thing (that they may or may not want),
to remember that laughter is an amazing antidote to what ails ya.

On Wednesday, our neighboring district hosted a one-day character conference and invited me to present a learning session. I chose mindset, one of my favorite topics, and my session filled up fast.
The hour flew by, and before we knew it, it was time for the breakout after mine, on mindful minutes.
As the clock ticked by and there didn't appear to be a presenter,
I thought how brilliant that might be, that maybe
the presenter on mindfulness was sitting in the audience,
taking a mindful minute by practicing mindful breathing.
But no, actually the presenter had gotten sick
and wasn't able to make it.
Thankfully I had my computer with me, so I stepped in 
and offered to share what I knew about mindfulness.

And then I repeated the mindset session. 
What a blast, to plant these self-care seeds. 

 That afternoon we were inspired to be relational in a keynote by Houston Kraft from Character Strongwhom we'd hosted at our B & B the night before. for the win, time to hang out with and learn from that passionate leader.

On Thursday I was treated to lunch with our APs,
Wendy and Lee. We didn't get a picture,
but it is indelibly imprinted on my heart.
With their servant leadership at our schools,
those families are in incredibly strong and loving hands.

Friday found me preparing for our third-annual Poolside PD.

Twelve counselors strong, we sat in a circle and shared growth mindset ideas that are guaranteed to make last year jealous.
We laughed and we cried.
And when our precious time had ticked away,

they went shopping for new-to-them books from my collection.

It gives me great joy, to pass these titles along
to superhero counselors like these beautiful women.
My CCISD counseling friends brought me this angel for my collection; her name is courage.
I wonder how they knew which one I didn't have yet.

They also all signed a copy of I Wish You More and gave it to me along with a kindness journal and a bath bomb.
They are a blessing to me.
I am grateful.
And I want them to have it all.

So that's how my Farewell Tour has gone,
except to mention that I am now scheduled to
give ukulele lessons,
do some life coaching,
mentor a young counselor,
plan my FJH workshop,
and prepare for a day in Deer Park
lifting up their paraprofessionals
in a self-care, mindfulness learning session.

Talk about having it all ... 

did someone say retirement? 


Sitting On The Sill & Saying So Long

Today I'm excited, because I did it.
I cried a million tears without floating away.
I made it through my last day of school.
I finally graduated for real.

The day started like this, all sunshine and smiles.

Since I'm leaving my dream job to pursue my dream, that every school in the world would be character schools like Westwood and Bales, I knew it'd tug mightily at my heartstrings and end with sniffles and sadness.

For the last three years, my days have started like this,
sitting on the sill, strumming and singing with students,
greeting them and getting an emotional barometer.

Sometimes the littles from Westwood whom I've missed so desperately since my departure from there three years ago, sit and sing for a spell. The first grader on my left actually taught me this song. We changed the words a little, just for fun.

It was emotionally loaded, saying goodbye to my little learners. 
Midweek, I went classroom by classroom to tell them
that I was retiring my FISD jersey and moving into coaching,
to move from a dream school to another big dream.
I told them that sometimes pursuing your dreams hurts, and
encouraged them, through my tears, to honor their feelings,
to dream big,
to work hard,
and to be kind.

When you are kind, I told them, all of the True Colors
will fall into place.
They must have been listening,
because they wrote me these beautiful notes of gratitude.

I wish you could see all of their incredible notes.
Guess what they valued and are going to miss the most?

My laughter and smile.
My kindness and joy.
My puppets, the ukulele, and our learning space.
{All pretty simple stuff; no degree required!}

Then we hugged it out.

Some of them sobbed in my arms.
And that was hard to take.
But since it meant we were so very deeply connected,
I'll take it, any every day of the year.
Some of them brought me gifts.

And some of them came to help me clean.
When one girl asked what my favorite treasure in this room is,
my answer was (and will always be), you!

I've been busily giving away 34 years worth of stuff.
I put most of it on a Free Table outside of our learning space,
the kind of table that Gerry Brooks makes fun of, but
it made my heart happy to leave some joy behind at Bales.
{Don't worry, Gerry, I threw the half-empty glue bottles away.}

I kept a few special things back, some of my favorites,
thinking I might keep them, just in case.
But last night I decided to wrap them up as gifts
for the other counselors in my district.
Can't wait for my treasured colleagues to open them up
when we officially bid farewell on Tuesday.

On Friday, my birthday, my wedding anniversary,
and my district retirement luncheon,
THIS magic happened.
These moms brought these superheroes by with a birthday bouquet,
some homemade chocolate chip cookies, 
and a gift card to Gringos.
After serenading me with the birthday song,
they came to my learning space,
sat in a circle with me,
and listened to my story.
It was better than any retirement party anyone could have thrown.

It's hard to tell in this joyful picture,
but we cried and cried.
These mamas and their children mean the world to me.
Alex (L) has already left me and soared through sixth at FJH.
Jet Stream Jax in the middle is still at Bales, headed to crush 4th grade.
The sweet girl on the right, Adam's little sister, isn't even there yet,
so I'm not really sure I even know her name.
But I know her face 
and I know her heart.
And it makes me super sad that 
I won't get a chance to learn, grow, and play puppets with her.

But it'll be okay.
In fact, it'll be incredible.
We have prepared these students well.
And they're ready to soar without me.
I will always love them
and I will forever uplift them in prayer.
It'll be October before we know it,
and you better believe I'm going back for Nana Puddin' Day.

After a few long, emotional days,
we launched them into summer
and I waved goodbye one last time.
And like that, they were gone.

When I got back to my office, I got an inquiry for an August training; next week I'll be meeting with my first potential client in my encore career. 

In a serendipitous twist, it's with our friends 
at Friendswood Junior High.
Where I did my counseling internship 25 years ago. 
Where we send our fifth graders.

An incredible gift, that my influence might continue
{even as I take that leap of faith and head out into the world}
right here in my own land.

Happy summertime.


I Get It, Gruene

It's Memorial Day here in the United States, 
a time set aside to remember those who've served
and given the ultimate sacrifice, their lives.
Here's what I saw at Hobby Airport today,
a White Table set so we won't ever forget.

I'd gone home to celebrate my baby brother,
who turned 50 last week.

And before flying home Thursday night,
I decided that it was time for me to retire from my comfort zone
and start my encore career.

I've been talking about and planning my retirement for some time now, especially in the last five years since my life was detoured by a drunk driver and I was forced down a road to recovery riddled with panic and pain. But at the end of each of those years, I always found the strength and energy to do one more. This year again, I thought I might do one more. But so many signs in the last ten days left me more certain than ever that I didn't have one more year left in me.

Tonight, my journal entry, written on my way home this afternoon:

As I fly 10,000 feet above ground on a plane trip home from celebrating Mark's 50th with family, thoughts quickly turn back to Wednesday night last week, when I told John I can't do it any more, that I've run out of steam for that full-time job. When his words gave me permission to turn in my retirement letter, I got up out of bed awash with relief to open the computer and start typing. A weight lifted as I thought about all of the stuff I won't have to do anymore, 
the heartbreak I won't have to feel as I listen and empathize, 
the conflicts I won't have to mediate and help resolve, 
the paperwork I won't have to organize and complete.

And as I read these words, negative self-talk rears its ugly head and tells me I'm sounding pretty lazy, selfish even. But self-care isn't selfish, so I must choose not to believe it. I've run the race with fidelity and determination, and now it's time to let someone else carry the baton and run the next leg of the marathon.

I really was determined to work full-time one more year, to help the new students who are making a zone transfer acclimate and enjoy a smooth transition to our school family, to get our students through the one-year anniversary of hurricane Harvey's trauma, to reunite with my preK kiddos from four years ago, but it just wasn't meant to be.

Two weeks ago, the Principal told me it was possible that we'd lose our leadership learning space if our enrollment went any higher. I was with Wendy, our AP, negotiating for which office we'd each end up in and we were goofing around; to add levity and decrease stress when I said, "You're going to miss us when we leave you after next year." That's when he said, "Everybody is replaceable." Wait, what? After I got over the initial sting of that statement, it gave me pause {Was I staying for all the wrong reasons? For the principal, for my husband, for the new kids, for my staff, for a paycheck rather than for passion, connection and joy?} before giving me permission and peace to go.

It was as if after that moment signs started to tug at my heart, things I could no longer remember, mistakes I'd not made before, problems I couldn't (and kind of didn't care to) solve. An awkwardly painful interaction with a former administrator.  Tears. Frustration. Hurt. 
Physical pains that were probably psychosomatic. 
Lots of events that should have been joyful,  
zone transfer tours, 
second grade tours, 
Open House for new families,
DARE graduation,
Awards Day,
 all leaving me overwhelmed instead of invigorated.
Arthritis settling in my left fingers making playing the ukulele painful.
That nagging feeling that it's time. 

Goodbye parties for our retirees mixed with jealous thoughts of wishing I could join them next week to bid farewell at our district retirement luncheon. An anxious startling Monday night at a car I'd swear was moving in my direction that Joshua assured me was not, a sign that my anxiety was threatening to come back with a vengeance. Walking on eggshells, worrying about everything, unable to do much of anything. Questioning myself and my competence, unable to get clarity. Wanting to be willing to stay but needing so desperately to 
admit my limitations, 
to be okay with leaving,
to ask to be excused.

It has taken a raw vulnerability (my #oneword2018) to be able to say "I just can't anymore." But when it's just not there to give away, that's how it has to be. So I made an appointment to go to HR by 9 am on Thursday morning, to find out it's not too late for a May 31st retirement date, called Austin for a summertime appointment, then went in to my Principal's office to deliver the news. Wendy already knew because I'd called her in tears the night before. This time, she didn't say, "Denied!" like she'd done in jest every time retirement came up in our two years together. 

This time she just said, "I get it, Gruene." 

Four little words, one huge impactful gift. 
The gift of empathy. 
Because she noticed. 
She knew because she'd seen her mom go through it. 
She added, "I don't like it, but I get it, Gruene." 
More tears. 
A big ugly cry. 
Because she gets it. 

She went on to say she was trying to help me keep our learning space and I thanked her with assurance that it's not so much about the space as it is about it being time for me to move on. I'd still advocate for the new counselor to keep that space, no question, but I don't want my decision to be about a space stand-off. I want it to be a celebration for the lives I've been able to touch, the hearts I've been able to comfort, the minds I've challenged. The problems I've helped solve, the calm I've brought to my school family, the joy they've given back to me. The mistakes I've grown through, 
the apologies I've tried to model albeit not always very successfully, 
the forgiveness that has challenged and strengthened me,
the gratitude I feel. 
Forever grateful to thousands of littles
and their families, our stakeholders,
and to my colleagues and friends.

I cried off and on all day Thursday, then came home to take a nap. Around 6 pm, I knew it was time to share my news with my staff. I hated to do it by email, but I was taking the 8:20 pm flight to WI so I opened up my laptop and started typing. When I got to the airport, I posted a Facebook announcement letting people know I'd taken this leap of faith.

Thank you, people said.
Noooooooooooo, people wrote.
What are your plans?, people asked.
How will Bales work without you? they wondered.
You have BIG shoes to fill, they added.

Tonight, there's a lot that I don't know.
What I do know is that I'm taking my shoes.
Probably taking my puppets, too.
Can't figure out what I'll do with 18 years worth of stuff yet, 
but it'll work out as it should.
It always does.

For now I'm pretty sad, but I'm also psyched at the  possibilities, no, probabilities (and pausabilities) that lie ahead. What a great retirement present, to have a world full of opportunities laying in wait for me.  

And the greatest gift in all of this, people like Wendy
 who hold my hand and my heart simply by saying,
 I get it, Gruene.      

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