The Map

This morning as we were sitting on the window sill before school, one of my new students surprises me with this affirmation: 
Mrs. Gruener, you're like my map. 
I'd never really thought about being a map before,
so I asked him what he meant.
He said he'd follow me anywhere.
He said that I can help him get where he's going.
He said he doesn't feel so lost when he's with me.

And I almost started crying. 

October is kind of crazy for a counselor and this week has been really challenging. I've been assigned a few new jobs and I've been learning some new things, many out of my comfort zone, and all way outside of my skill set. And I'm trying to do some extra stuff, like write a grant for a new program that we want to try. So I've been seriously considering retirement, thinking someone younger could do a better job than I feel like I'm doing. Even my principal has noticed that I've been a little stressed.

And then this Bucket Filler reminds me why I love doing what I do.
I get to be his map even though I'm sometimes as lost as he is.
Maybe more lost. 
But blessed beyond measure.

Our high school PALs also serve as a map; check out these new capes 
on our super PALs Wall of Fame.

Their superpowers include



and kindness.

Isn't their artwork strikingly engaging?

They took their tour of our campus this week and they start their visits with their PALees on Monday. We can't wait.

Grandparents can serve as a map, too. 
As can mentors.
And teachers.
And friends.

Who's your map?


That Interview

It was January 21, 2013, the day Jacob had that interview with the Craig and Galen Brown Foundation. I remember it well because parents were invited, too, but, having just been hit head on, I wasn't able to go. So John took Jacob across town to meet with the Aggie alum who had summoned Jacob by email regarding a scholarship opportunity. 

It seemed like forever before they returned from that recruitment interview that MLK holiday. When they got back, Jacob said he thought it had gone well and that, if he understood correctly, Craig Brown was offering him a significant scholarship to attend Texas A & M. Jacob decided shortly after that interview that he would accept Mr. Brown's generous offer and become an Aggie like he was.  

Craig Brown has adopted 108 young college kids this year alone; he supports them not only financially, but physically, emotionally, and spiritually as well. He and his Administrative Assistant, Pam Matthews, know them all personally and treat them like their own. Words cannot adequately express the gratitude and admiration that we feel for the Brown Foundation's scholarship and support.

Last night, we were honored and grateful to join the Brown Foundation in celebrating Jacob along with the other 24 Brown Scholars at their senior banquet. It was delightful to watch this philanthropist move about the banquet hall and visit with his guests, beaming with pride over the young men and women whom he has adopted, each one clearly his favorite.

Good Incredible things are happening because of his shining example! 

Each senior scholar was given two minutes to talk. 
Here's what Jacob had to say:

Craig Brown's generosity is contagious.
Because of his generosity, I now live life more generously.
Because of his mentorship, I choose to mentor more.
Because of his kindness, I am kinder.

That follows for Jacob as well.

We are so incredibly blessed that Mr. Brown stepped into our son's story, invited him to that interview, and enriched our lives by ultimately investing in him so deeply and wholeheartedly. 

May Craig Brown's closing words echo in the hearts of his scholars forever: 
"It's not what you take with you, but what you leave behind that counts."


Rocking Responsibility

Today I'm excited because my guest post on the core value of responsibility went live at Free Spirit Press. Click the graphic below to check it out.

What's your favorite way to help your learners rock responsibility?

One thing that helps us nurture the virtue of responsibility is our Peer Assistance and Leadership (PAL) mentoring. Specially-trained high school students come to us every year to support and mentor a younger student. This morning, one of them came back for a visit while on Fall break from college classes and sent the heart of her young PALee (and mine!) soaring.  

I was so blessed to get to see, hear, feel and experience their 
happy reunion.

For the last fifteen years, I would singlehandedly read all of the bios of the teen mentors and them pair them with my students. This year, we decided to try something new: A PAL draft. So instead of me doing the pairing, I asked my students to fill out a "What do I want my PAL to know?" draft card. Then, today, I spent an hour with our new batch of PALs, sharing the cards and letting them choose the child whom they will mentor this year. 
Empowerment in action. 

As you might imagine, we ran out of time, so Round 2 of our draft continues tomorrow and I can't wait. Do I have the best job or what?


The Thumb Team

Today I'm feeling grateful to one of my third-grade girls, who surprised me this morning with this beautiful, one-of-a-kind necklace. What a terrific way to start my day, with the words, "Mrs. Gruener, I made this for you."

Shortly afterward and still basking in the glow of the warmth of her kindness, my friend and former Assistant Principal Mr. Whitlock stopped by with a surprise from The Thumb Team. A few weeks ago, he told me that he was leading a group of specials teachers during their Professional Learning Community (PLC) time that he fondly referred to as The Thumb Team. They're called that, he explained, because they sometimes feel a little different, like the thumb on a hand. But, he was quick to add, that they are as every bit as important to a school family as a thumb is to a hand. Isn't that a great analogy? So I offered to give them each a copy of my book if he'd like to lead a book study. He accepted, that study started on Tuesday, and he was bringing me a stack of bucket-filling thank-you notes. How much happiness can one heart take? I thought I might burst from the joy.

After school, I spent an hour with these superheroes.
then painted these character rocks
to plant around school and spread sunshine!

Before they left, because it's a Making Magic Community Education class, we learned how to put a second bottom into a bag and make it look like there's nothing in the bag because it is hidden between the two bottoms.
Have you ever tried that trick?

Yesterday, I had a Change Theory chat with the counselors in the district;

Slide adapted from CharacterCounts! 5.0 training.
here's a link with a link to 

Finally, in case you missed our #CharacterEdChat tonight,
 click the graphic below for the archive.

Happy weekend!


Positively Incentivizing

Today I'm thinking about effectively incentivizing positive choices.
Click the graphic below to read my guest post for Free Spirit.

In the post, I suggest giving students the option to earn Brag Tags, Badges, and Experiences. Shortly after that post went live, I saw this creative idea on Facebook.

It was put in the yard of an unsuspecting student of one of the teachers, Christina Hogue, at our sister schoolIsn't that a fun way to incentivize good character? Would it work in your district? If not, how would you tweak it? What could you do for a child in an apartment or condo, who might not have a yard? How might you change it if your school's parents didn't want you to share quite as much info?

And just yesterday, I read this post about rethinking those Clip Chart systems. I've always thought that if we were going to use a clip system, maybe it could be more of a Character Clip, using a visual like this. 

Here's how it could work.
Let's all start on caring in our community of caring. Then, throughout the day, as students are caught showing good character, we could say, "Bailey, thank you for making such good choices. What spot on the wheel do you think you could move your clip to?" Think about how empowering it would be for this child to go and move her clip to the pillar whose power she was positively sharing. Students could also be on the lookout for positivity they see one another giving: "I just saw Jimmy taking turns and sharing. Maybe he could move his clip to fairness?" 

 If there's a misstep, it could be handled privately
and the student could set a goal for how he or she will turn
that behavior around to get back on track and self-regulating
as they travel down the Character Road.

Energy flows where attention goes, that's for sure.
What are some of the creative ways in which you incentivize 
to shape those desired positive behaviors?


How Long Will It Matter?

It has been about a year or so since one of my former students reached out to me in a private message on Facebook. Now working at a neighboring school with a friend of mine, she'd seen my name pop up and wondered if that could be the Miss Natzke who worked at Friendswood High School all of those years ago. She was fourteen when we first met, a freshman in high school, and I'd just turned twenty five, a third-year teacher and brand-new coach, fresh out of coaching clinic trying to make a go of it on the volleyball court. 

It made my heart happy to hear from her. I remembered her well, not so much because I stepped into her story but because her mom stepped into mine. I credit her mom with helping me reconnect spiritually during a time in my life when I wasn't being spiritually fed. As I reflect, it was bold, out-of-the-box thinking to invite your daughter's young teacher and coach to church.

Then, a month or so ago, an inquiry: Would I have some time on September 30th for a visit? Without hesitation, I said, "Absolutely!" I thought it'd be super fun to see her again, to show her around her old stomping ground as she'd attended Westwood during her formative years, and to meet the amazing adult, teacher, mom that she has become. 

What a treasured gift it was to see her again; 
does it sound weird to say I wanted to keep her?

It has been thirty years.
Let that soak in.
Thirty years.
In a way, it feels just like yesterday.
But truly, it was a lifetime ago.

Here's the coolest part.
She doesn't remember me for the awesome handouts she completed in Spanish class. She doesn't necessarily remember the engaging games we played as we conjugated verbs and acquired vocabulary. She doesn't even remember our win-loss record on the court {though I do remember her hustle as a setter!}. 

She shared that what she remembers is that 
"you had a dynamic, caring personality with a love of life."

And she told me that it was refreshing to be in my presence.
That is music to my soul ... 
and it makes me want to care more.
To connect more.
To love more.
To reach out more.

It makes me hope that I've created those caring connections
more often than not.
Because I know that not all of my students
have these joyful memories of our interactions.
It makes me cognizant of what really matters.
And it makes me want to ripple that out
as far and wide as I possibly can.
Until I can't anymore.

So today, a wish for a Happy October, and a challenge:

What will you do today, this week, this month
 that really matters?
How will you know it really matters?
And for how long will it really matter?

Oh, and do a former teacher or mentor a favor;
reconnect with them, to let them know
that who they are
and what they did for you
really matters.

Thank you, Kelly, for finding joy in the journey
and bringing it back to share it with me all those years later.
Your visit really mattered to me.

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