From Crayons To College

My daughter and I worked together to create these ABCs for a bulletin board that ultimately became a guidance lesson to focus kids on skills they need to sharpen as they journey from Crayons to College. I'm thinking a lot about Kaitlyn today because she started her college classes this week; it seems like only yesterday that we were taking her to Cline with her kindergarten crayons.  Here's our list:
A is for Attitude.  Be a bucket-filler and hang out with positive 
people who will lift you up. 
B is for Behavior. Staying in control of what you think and feel 
will help you decide what to do. 
C is for Cooperation. Getting along and working together 
increase your chances for success.
D is for Determination. Set goals and see them through from start 
to finish with enthusiasm and drive.
E is for Effort. Give 100% in everything you do; don’t stress about 
being the best, just do your best.
F is for Family. Trust family and friends to be your safety net; let them 
laugh and cry with you.
G is for Good Grades. Do your best to achieve academically 
to open doors and opportunities.
H is for Honor. Show dignity and respect. Be honest, fair and 
courageous. Express appreciation and gratitude.
 I is for Initiative. Respond quickly to jumpstart your work; you know 
what they say about the early bird.
J is for Judgment. Think things through to make wise decisions 
and cut down on mistakes.
K is for Knowledge. Be a lifelong learner. The more you know,
the stronger you'll grow.
L is for LeadershipLead by example; make footsteps worth following.
Be friendly and kind to people. 
M is for Morals. Be in the right place at the right time 
doing the right thing. 
N is for Nutrition. Eat well, drink a lot of water, exercise, 
relax and get plenty of sleep.
O is for Organization. Find a system that works 
to help you get it together.
P is for PerseverancePersist with your purpose even when there are 
problems.  Keep on keeping on.
Q is for QualityStamp a quality assurance guarantee on 
everything you do.  Go for the gold.
 R is for Responsibility. Show up on time, make decisions carefully, 
and do what you’re supposed to do. 
S is for Study Skills. Sharpen those important tools to get through life 
by learning how to learn.
T is for Time Management. Be a good steward of your time; 
manage it well by watching your watch
U is for Understanding. Work to understand what people are 
telling you; listen with an opened heart.
V is for VolunteerismLend a helping hand and stand willing to serve.
Make the world better by showing up.
W is for Work Ethic. Spend extra time and energy working hard 
to earn what you want and need.
X is for eXcellence. Make excellence a habit; it will set you apart.
Y is for YearningLong to learn something new every day.
Dream it, desire it, do it.
Z is for Zeal. Race toward your future 
with everything you’ve got. Enthusiasm ignites GREATNESS!

If you were to adopt the ABCs of college readiness, 
which of these would you keep?  Change?  Why?

For a free download of these ABCs in book format courtesy of Jen, visit Runde's Room or click {here}. 

2016 update!


Worth Repeating

I am really enjoying the inspiration I've found posted at Pinterest. It's like having a virtual bulletin board with the most amazing sayings; What a fun way to collect and display words of wisdom. Above is a mini-poster that I created from the quote at the bottom of Joshua's English teacher's email to me last week. I showed it to him and he asked, "What does that mean?" Which led into a great discussion about how if Ms. Ferro treats him like a responsible student and expects that from him, then he's more likely to take and show responsibility in her presence and in her class.

Using maxims such as this for writing prompts or as a springboard for discussion has so much enrichment potential because it challenges our students to think critically about what the author meant as well as about how it applies to their lives today.  You can also use quotes to research who Goethe was and why it is we find his adage worth repeating. Take it a step further and illustrate what he said. What do you think Goethe was referring to when he wrote or uttered these words so many years ago?  How might you use this or the other things I've pinned with your students (or your families) today? 


Treasuring Their Personality

One of the most important things you can do with kids is to connect with them, help connect them to one another, and help them learn to make connections into the world around them. A way that I found to help me do that is encouraging them get to know themselves and each other better. Enter The Treasure Tree by John Trent and Gary Smalley, a jewel that finds four friends - a lion, a beaver, a golden retriever, and an otter - on a treasure hunt. How they each approach the task is the amazing part of this masterpiece because it sheds light on the differences in each of us and the role that our personality plays in how we operate from day to day at work and at play. Take the little personality inventory and figure out which animal each student is, then use personality type to group them throughout the year.  What happens when you group all of the lions together?  All otters?  Is there a type that does work best with its own kind? See how well golden retrievers and otters get along or what it takes for a lion and a beaver to really end up creating quality work, provided that's even possible. Happy hunting! 


Got Dirt?

One of our students' favorite places at Westwood is our Nature Center because it's such a serene spot to study and grow. And it's not just for science classes, either. I've witnessed art, writing, even math going on in the teaching theater. The Green Team helps take care of the pond, Book Buddies pair up and read together, and I use this perfectly peaceful and private setting for counseling visits. There's even a few picnic tables tucked into the corner (an Eagle Scout project a few years back!) so that families can enjoy the fresh air of the great outdoors while eating lunch together out there.
     If you don't have the luxury of a Nature Center, why not bring the nature inside? Our friends from the UW Extension near my family farm in Brown County, Wisconsin, have this awesome page online with tips for incorporating your garden into the classroom. Maybe you've been contemplating growing a giving garden for a service learning project? Sign up here for other ideas on their blog and to learn about newly-available resources. 


Priority Mail

Santas For Our Soldiers is far and away my favorite project every year!  It brings our military men and women SO much joy to get priority mail from home; to watch them open our care packages over SKYPE brings that joy full circle!  But as you'll find out, it's not so much the stuff as it is the sentiments from the kids that make the biggest difference. 



I just LOVE working with kids!  The little tykes have a knack for pulling at my heartstrings all day long and, at the end of the day, I'm emotionally exhilarated. Let’s just say that a counselor’s job is really heart work. Take today for example. I arrived at school and reported to my favorite duty, the car-rider line. I enjoy that spot so much because I get to be the first smile that students see when they step onto the sidewalk in front of their school. What an awesome responsibility and opportunity. It's impossible to be in a bad mood at that duty post. Well, I was kind of grumpy once, but then a little leader popped out of that back seat and exclaimed enthusiastically, “Mrs. Gruener, you look beautiful today!” which totally overflowed my emotional reserves and changed my morning momentum.  
     Once we got all of the kids into school, I helped with morning announcements, then I got to model a Morning Meeting with a first-grade class. We learned a little introduce-yourself chant, shared good news with one another, and moved to the Fliegerlied. It was the biggest booster shot for me to see those sweet sprouts make a soul train as they danced back to their seats. More heartwarming tugs! I’m exhausted but energized, good thing because it’s only 8:25 at this point. 
    I have five minutes to get to our Code of Conduct meetings. The little girl who responded "hey, cool Science tip!" to the part where we encouraged them to conserve water and energy made my heart laugh. I monitored lunch, which starts at 10:30 for us, then spent the afternoon strolling in and out of classes to meet our new students, greet the returning ones, and make even more cardiac connections. Then I got to help de-escalate an anxious kindergartener.  I knew he needed reassurance when he asked me, “Do you think my mom's going to remember to come back to get me at the end?” Poor little fella, so overwhelmed, so worried. Feeling the fear underneath that one question, another tug, no wait - pull! - at my heart, which has momentarily gone into overdrive. I seriously almost started crying with him. It's heart work, I tell ya.
   As I drive home, I'm happily satisfied and I know that I have the BEST job in the whole wide world, which prompts today's question:  What work of heart do you get to do that makes it worth going back tomorrow?


Dying For Just One More Day

“Raise your hand if you’re dying” is what I thought I heard the speaker say.  A shocking way to start a Good Grief seminar, but isn't death the natural end to the life cycle?  Inevitably it is going to happen to all of us.  But somehow we think that if we don't admit it, accept it, talk about it, plan for it even, that we can keep death at bay. Remember Professor Randy Pausch?  He traveled through his final days very publicly after discussing his fate during his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon. Have you ever wondered how your eulogy will read?  We actually had to write one for ourselves my senior year in a high school English class. While it might seem like something we'd rather not talk about - the elephant in the room! - shouldn't we all be living as if we're dying?  Because we are.  We just don't know when.
   This issue comes crashing my way every time I'm faced with the opportunity to counsel families through the grief process. One family in particular remains on my mind even though it's been more than 10 years.  Back up for a moment to the year 2000.  A new millennium with lots of anticipation, hoopla, and celebration.  What were you doing in February?  Anything special?  Can you even remember February?  It was February of 2000 when this family of five got the scary news:  Dad. Has. Cancer.  Life had thrown him a few curveballs before, but this was going to be a tough opponent. Cancer. The all-American family about to be torn apart by this devastating diagnosis.  
     I had the good fortune of meeting and working with this special family because dad's company relocated them with one of the nation's finest cancer treatment centers, M.D. Anderson, in mind.  If he was going to fight, he deserved the best ammunition.  Houston was where they needed to be to begin the battle.  The moment he got the news, this 40-year-old dad made up his mind that he was going to live. He didn't know for how long, but he would do whatever it took, and that included, among other things, living each day as if tomorrow were his last.  He sat at his desk and started to strategize. 
     He chose to meet this challenge by celebrating life rather than focusing on the incredibly frightening alternative. The couple did fun stuff like picking up the children from school in a stretch limousine out of the blue one day, like scheduling impromptu vacations to places like New Orleans, like checking into hotels on a whim to order room service, go swimming, and just be pampered. They rented a beach house in Galveston one weekend so that they could enjoy the sound of the waves, collect pretty shells, and watch the sun rise and set on the water. They had great talks about life and laughter and love. And they took a field trip to the University of Houston, where he helped them with college and career exploration. They picked up registration materials and walked through admission requirements together. He quizzed them on the particulars of the application process, and when they passed the test, he rewarded them with a U of H t-shirt. Together they planned the futures that he suspected he might not get to share with them. They crammed 10 lifetimes into just a few months. All the while, he was being treated for the cancer that was mercilessly eating him alive.
    As an integral part of his game plan, this dad was writing his family a letter to address concerns like setting priorities and living life to its fullest. Things that matter. Things that he might not get to tell them in person as they aged. He started by saying that life is too short to sit around feeling sad. He encouraged them to make the right choices and enjoy life along the way.  He advised them to choose their friends wisely, to stay in school and get a good education, and to meet life’s challenges head on. He told them to be brave and face the world with pride and determination. And while his words carried a lot of weight, it was his ability to do so that is such a tribute to his life in death. 
     He passed away the day after Thanksgiving, on a Friday at 5:00. His wife told me that he used to love to kick off of work at 5:00 on Fridays, quitting for another week so that he could relish the beauty of the family life that he so enjoyed.  His death so closely paralleled his life; he experienced so much peace as he prepared himself and his family for his death that he could rest assured that they would survive without him.  They miss him so much.  
     I struggled to know what to say to these children. I found myself thinking that in a way they were lucky, because they had some warning and were able to say what needed to be said so that there were no regrets.  But there's nothing lucky about losing your father.  And there's certainly nothing lucky about having to suffer through cancer with him.  I don't know if it was helpful to just hold their hands, give them a hug, or cry with them, but that's what I  did as we visited in my office. I wanted to tell them that everything's going to be ok, but I couldn't get the words out from behind my tears. What a beautiful legacy he left for his family in the wake of his tragically-quick passing. From his story, I’m reminded that as we go through life, we need to live as if we're dying. Michael Josephson advises that we think about what you want people to say at your funeral and live life backward.  Because the end is as certain as life is unpredictable, and we never know when we would die to have just one more day. What will you do with your tomorrow?


Pass It On!

One of my very favorite free resources for character educators comes from the Foundation for a Better Life.  Perhaps you've seen their television spots. I just love the one called Reach where the two guys see a beverage truck go by their jeep and, when they notice that the door has opened, they speed up to . . . no, not help themselves to one of the bottles, but rather help out by pulling it shut. Only about 30 seconds in length, these PSAs are short but they stay with me a long time. 
   The Foundation will send out free posters of their billboards to your school upon request. There's also a place for you (or your students!) to design your own billboards at their site. This ad for sportsmanship is a tribute to the two college softball players who carried an injured opponent around the bases so she could legally keep the only home run she would ever hit. 
   Here's the link to that sensational sports story - Touching Them All.  But be warned, you'll need plenty of Kleenex to make it all the way through this touching character clip. Good goes - pass it on!


WAIT Training

True confessions time:  I am prone to impatience and I interrupt too much.  I don't set out to be inpatient or interrupt, and I certainly don't mean to be rude, but when someone says something and my brain makes a connection, boom, I often hear myself cutting them off to finish their thought or start sharing my perspective and blah. blah. blah.  I've known this about myself for some time and it's an irritating quality (though that sounds like a weird oxymoron!) of mine.
   So in an attempt to get this issue under control, I'm in WAIT Training.  It's an adaptation from a suggestion made by a Counselor of the Year up in Missouri that goes something like this:  Whenever someone's talking, I imagine that they have the word WAIT stamped on their forehead.  As I'm listening, I'm practicing WAIT - What Am I Thinking? - Training.  It's a great way to buy time, filter, and check my thoughts as my dendrites are firing. Here's phase two, the tricky part.  If I find myself impatiently wanting to interrupt so that my thoughts can come out, then I have to switch my focus to WAIT - Why Am I Talking?  It's a little like the concept of the wait time that teachers use when they've asked a student a question and they're waiting for him or her to answer.  It's likely to take a concerted, intentional, conscious effort to overcome my impetuousness, so send positive thoughts my way. I think I can, I think know I can.  Any one else out there practicing patience?  If so, what strategies do you use in your WAIT Training?


Building Boys

"We must motivate ourselves to do our very best, and by our example lead others to do their best as well." Meet S. Truett Cathy, author of It's Better To Build Boys Than Mend Men and that opening quote. Is that name familiar to you?  It wasn't to me until last October, when he was honored with a character award at CEP's National Forum out in San Francisco. Now there's a man of character, and what an inspiration!  He asked us to guess what percentage of today's children could benefit from a mentor. The answer? All of them! He encouraged us to be that mentor. And his words weren't just empty advice, they were backed by years of fostering, mentoring, guiding, encouraging, supporting, disciplining, modeling for, and loving children. Click here for his seven reminders for building children. His story is remarkable! And so is his company. His employees are taught to respond with "My pleasure" when they're thanked. Their kids' meal toys are always educational with a character-development focus. And members of his restaurant family don't have to work on Sundays, because that's the Lord's day. Have you guessed it?  Yep, Mr. Cathy is founder and chairman - the man behind the scenes if you will - at Chick-fil-A. Check out this book for his deliciously wise and faithful recipe for parenting with purpose.



I've gone back and forth on sharing my favorite short film out there because there are two instances of word phrases that I think could have been just as effective said another way; why they couldn't have used "What the heck?" and "That picture stinks!" I'm not sure.  But in the end, I think that the power of the message trumps the two word-choice issues I have:  
It sure does feel good to be validated! 


The Strength of Synergy

When Zero, the circular number with absolutely no value at all, looks at herself, she feels totally “empty inside.” Try as she may to measure up by altering her shape and size, in the end she’s still a Zero.  She wants to count like the other numbers, but how? Journey with Zero (by Kathryn Otoshi) as she makes friends with the other numbers and ultimately figures out what she's really worth.
  This book reminds me of the two-horse rule that Mr. Whitlock used to launch us from our Monday Merger day.  The question was: if one horse can pull 700 pounds and another horse pulls 800 pounds, what will they pull when they're yoked? Surprisingly, the two-horse team will pull their own weight plus the weight of their interaction for a total of 3000 pounds.  
   Your little mathematicians will be empowered and grow with this book when they understand how much more "weight" Zero can carry yoked to the other numbers.  Use it to talk with them not only about the value of numbers and counting by tens, but also about the synergistic momentum that supporting one another and working together as a team generates.  Partner and small group your students often this year and get ready to feel the synergy.

Mission Possible!

Happy School Year!  We hosted a Meet and Greet this Thursday afternoon and on Monday morning our little sprouts will be back on campus to fill our school with their childlike eagerness and energy, innocence and imagination, laughter and love! We're ready - are you?  What's your mission? I adopted this list years ago and, while I didn't officially start the document, I've owned it by revising it and making it fit who I am and where I am on my journey.  (A lot of it is Covey wisdom; if you know the original source of this, I'd LOVE to credit the author!)

     I used it with some character educators in a training this week by asking them to buddy buzz the list with a partner and discuss whether they are glowing or still growing (from another idea swap online!) in each particular skill set. Then I had them set a goal by asking them to highlight the one or two statements that they could work on this year. The Thought Cards that they completed indicated that they enjoyed this share-and-compare activity!

So here's today's challenge:  Make this your own working document.  What, if anything, would you take off of this list?  What would you add?  Which are your favorites?  Which could you get better at?  Be intentional. Think about your little learners.  Imagine your upcoming year.  Reflect on your last school year, last May, last week.


It's In The Cards

My friends over at I Can Teach My Child have graciously posted my first parenting blog - Parenting:  It's In The Cards - so here's the link in case you want to read it.  While I am by no means a parenting expert, I simply share tips that have worked for us as we grow up with the Gruener gang.  If I were to add one more ingredient to the mix, I'd have to stir in a recipe card.  
   Put an apron on your little chefs and invite them into the kitchen where you can teach them to cook and bake right alongside of you. When Jacob was in fourth grade and he wanted a job, I put him in charge of planning the meals for the week, of making a grocery list, of helping me shop, and of assisting with the preparation of our nightly meals for dinnertime around the table. That one strategy did more to enrich his development and grow his confidence than anything else we tried. So dust off your favorite recipes and encourage your kids to join you in the kitchen.  Bon Appétit!


One Last Shot

We did it!  We took our first-born to college and left her there. We came home in an empty van without her and, even though John knows that she's not here, I think I caught him peeking down the hall toward her room and looking for the light underneath her door. To call it a "difficult day” seems somehow quite inadequate. The first tears came when Joshua got into the van after his hug instead of heading back to bed.  (I think that unexpected move even got to Kaitlyn a little!) Watching her hug Jacob good-bye wasn't easy, either. Then my brother texted this sweet note: I’m suddenly nervous, excited, and sad for you. You’ve raised an exemplary child; now let her go illuminate another venue for a while. More tears. My friend Carol chimed in that she was sending hugs and I got choked up again. And again when Michelle sent her message, once more when Nancy's nice note came through, but thankfully never a floodgate, probably ‘cause I’ve been crying off and on since May, right?
   So we dropped her off for her band picnic and clinic and she was met with opened arms by a high-school friend who's also going there.  Who doesn't LOVE that for their girl?  We went to buy her books for her, to eat lunch at her favorite place, and to shop for a few fun items for her first care package, something I’d planned to leave with a note under her pillow.  We even managed to find a Culver’s Frozen Custard and grab some comfort food; there's NOTHING like a turtle sundae to cheer you up!
   We grabbed a curbside parking spot after we checked her in and picked up her key, around 5:00 pm like the dorm scheduler told us to.  There, we were met by some seriously cool kids, boys in the KKY,a Band Service Fraternity. They swarmed our van and her stuff was unloaded and in her big corner room before we knew it. We helped her unpack just a couple of things, then her roommate’s mom took our picture before our last hugs for a while.  Here’s our last shot.

   On the way home, I thought about how to blog today’s events without getting overly sentimental, dramatic, or emotional. I decided that I’d share what I wrote in her care package card, since it was pretty much my last shot at parenting her for a while.  Here’s sort of what I said:

Dear Kaitlyn –

It’s so fitting that we’re eating lunch at your favorite café while we write you this note.  There’s so much left to say, but we’ve almost run out of time, for now. Here's my hope for you:  Be faithful. Be honest. Spread cheer. Work hard. Play even harder. Stay in the moment, but keep your eye on the future. Seek out challenges. Accept failures and celebrate successes; they’ll both serve you well in life. Serve others. Give back. Live. Laugh. Love. EnJOY and have fun! We are so proud of you and we’re rejoicing with you as you live your dreams at UT.  I love you so much.  Mom
   John wrote on the note card, too, then we put a Kerby Lane Café gift card in there, and we sealed it up. As we drove home, we talked about how proud of her we are and we wondered if she was sad, too. Interestingly, we felt empathy for the pain our parents went through when we left them; when we got back to the house, we hugged our boys just a little bit tighter to make sure they were okay and to draw from their strength. John and I agreed that this was the hardest thing we’ve had to do on our parenting journey so far (we can talk about the tears that fell when we pulled her FHS band sign out of the yard some other time).  For now, suffice it to say that we're officially survivors!   


The 93 Dollar Club

This is SUCH a heartwarmingly simple story with Pay-It-Forward power.  
What would you do with an extra $93.00?


A Wave Of Love

It started with a little ripple when a wide-eyed first grader named Michael stopped by my office, like he often did, for a quick hello.  The raspy quality of his voice still echoes in my mind as I replay the urgency of his earnest request.  “Mrs. Gruener, you know those poor people who were hurt by that killer wave?” Picturing the devastation I’d seen on the news following that terrible tsunami, I knowingly nod, never expecting what came next. “We’re going to help them, aren’t we?” he confidently added. 
     Many thoughts started swimming through my head as I struggled to find the words to gently tell Michael that no, since we just sent School Supply Kits to Iraqi children and since we are about to launch our quarters collection for the fully-integrated playground project and since lots of people worldwide were already helping the tsunami victims, we probably wouldn’t be taking on another service project right now.  But instead of any of that, I felt myself smile and heard myself tell Michael, “That’s a great idea!” 
     And so began our first student-initiated collection.  We would ask our students to find a way to earn a dollar this week.  Maybe there’s a chore that they could do for their parents or family friends; maybe there’s a need that they could fill to earn that cash.  They would bring their dollar on Friday for the one-day collection we’ll call 100 Cents for Tsunami Survivors.  As a visible reminder of this precious opportunity to create a wave of love in this way, an empty five-gallon water jug would hold their donations.  If everyone participates, our $800 donation would surely make a difference to the UNICEF relief efforts.
     From a splash came the wave of heartwarming tales.  Students lined up with coin purses, wallets, and piggy banks, pennies, quarters and dollar bills, ready to show their support by filling the jug.  There was a third-grade boy who gave most of the allowance money in his wallet.  There was a first-grade girl who donated all of the money she’d earned for her report card.  There was a second-grade boy who emptied his piggy bank to donate his entire savings.  A kindergarten boy and his third-grade sister baked cookies with their mom and sold them to bring in a sizable donation.  Another second-grade boy helped his friends raise money by selling lemonade on the corner.  And a first-grade boy wrote a poem about how we’re ready to help the tsunami children, ending it with “ready or not, here I come!”.  Such generosity almost doubled our initial goal and the Westwood family sent just over $1500 to UNICEF.  I’m amazed at the natural power generated by kids helping kids and blessed by Michael's stop by my office that created this incredible wave of love.    


Goal Setting 101

Cystic Fibrosis?  Not gonna stand in Claire's way!  
Check out this amazing teen's positively positive outlook 
despite her difficult diagnosis.


Power Line

Power Line is a terrific teaching tool to explore thoughts and feelings with your students as you help them get to know and appreciate one another. I've also used it quite successfully in trainings with adults! The brain boost participants enjoy as you infuse movement into their day is a bonus. Play this interactive survey game from Vicki Hannah Lein to help students accept one another's differences as well as to learn to be content and comfortable with their own opinions. You will need a space where all students can make a straight line from one end of the room to the other. Students will be asked to get up and find their spot in the Power Line after you explain the directions. 

   Designate one end of the room to represent "I love it!" and the other side to stand for "I loathe it!" Any area in-between is that degree of like or dislike toward the survey item. Start with some easy things like: broccoli, rollerblading, thunder storms. With each new survey prompt, kids respond by moving up and down the Power Line. As they move toward the side which best describes how they feel about that item, they talk with the people around them to find out if that's exactly where they fit. For example, someone who loves broccoli might move to the other end of the room when thunderstorms come up. Then they chat with the people around them to see which of them dislikes thunderstorms more so they can see if they should stand to their right or their left. Since you want the students on a continuum from love to loathe, a student whose opinions aren't as strong might stay close to the middle for all of the initial things surveyed.

   After each survey, ask one student toward the "love it" part of the line to explain why they love that thing. The whole class should listen to what that person says.  Before going on to the next survey, choose someone who is standing in the "loathe it" spot and find out what their story is.  Students start to realize that they all have different background experiences that form their opinions. They will also see that they are indeed different from one another and no one stays in any one spot for very long - not even best friends! Next, move the survey items up a notch. Try items like: willing to sing a cappella right now, would give his lunch money to someone who forgot theirs, would run for student council.
   These survey questions can be modified to fit the needs of your curriculum.  If you're studying the Civil War, for example, you might say, "If you see yourself siding with the north go to the right and if you are more likely to have sided with the south go to the other end." Then discuss, making sure that no judgments are put on the students' opinions. After you taken enough surveys for this session, settle students back into their seats and steer them through a reflective discussion about what they learned while participating in the Power Line. Help students come to the conclusion that one's spot in the line changes depending on the prompt. Remind students that just because someone doesn't agree with them doesn't mean that they are wrong. Everyone has a story that drives what they feel. This gives them a right to their opinions, not good or bad, just different! 

Footsteps Worth Following

After reading Jeffrey Wilhelm's book on engaging readers and writers with Inquiry, I’ve decided to use questions rather than statements as the text on my bulletin boards this year.  When I made this one, my husband asked me if I was going to put pictures of heroes on it.  What?  That hadn’t even occurred to me.  So upon further exploration with him, he said that this question totally lends itself to a discussion about role models in our lives who’ve made footsteps worth following.  So thanks, John, for today’s intriguing idea.  Use a bulletin board like this as a writing prompt or a morning meeting discussion starter with follow-up questions that ask:  Whom do you know personally (or know about) that has made footsteps worth following?  Would you consider that person your hero?  Why? What qualities or values make that person special?  How are you like him/her?  How could you grow to be more like him/her?  Then, write a note of appreciation to that person (if they're no longer with us, write it as a tribute to their memory!) to let him/her know how they've positively influenced you.


Life Goes On

This flash mob is the most touching one I've seen.  After thirty years of service, this school's principal is retiring and her "gorgeous teachers" and other stakeholders - even her community's 
fire fighters! - surprise her with this flashy fire drill dance!  
Can you feel the love and joy through her tears?

The Happiness Factor

If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.
~Chinese Proverb
This would make a GREAT getting-to-know-you activity.  Before you unveil the real proverb, delete everything after the commas and see what your students are thinking about what might bring happiness into their world.  Then ask them to share and compare with a buddy.  Finally, show them the original.  Find out what they think of the proverb and ask them how they could apply the "help somebody" part to their own lives.


The Importance of Being Ernestine

Think you know what it means to be over-scheduled?  Think again. My Flash Light Press preview copy of The Busy Life Of Ernestine Buckmeister by author Linda Ravin Lodding came in today's mail and I cannot wait until October, when Ernestine makes her debut on the children's literature stage, and you get to meet the queen of the extracurricular. 

The scene is all-too familiar; this precious prodigy can't ever play with her friend over the fence because she's rushing off to the next event on her calendar, kindly kept by Nanny O'Dear. Her parents, who've advised "live life to the fullest" and "make every moment count," have her scheduled solid with something extra every day of the week - sculpting and swimming, taking musical arts and martial arts, yodeling and yoga, knitting and no free time.  She is one busy beaver!

And guess what?  Just like a beaver, she'd rather be playing around outside. So Ern concocts the perfect plan to ditch her personal PDA and, when she doesn't show up on schedule one day, her parents get to walk in her shoes for a spell, crossing the bridge she built between what the child-in-her needs and what her parents want for their little girl.  Not only do they get a healthy dose of empathy, but they ultimately learn a very valuable lesson about the importance of being Ernestine.  

The eye-catching illustrations by Suzanne Beaky totally pop off of the pages, adding a marvelous magic to this terrific text.  Put this one on your wish list; it'll undoubtedly serve an important reminder (that you'll want to revisit time and time again!) about allowing encouraging your busy beavers 
to engage in purposeful play.


OK, so last night we played our last game of Boggle as a family for a while.  Kaitlyn, our college girl, took off early this morning for her freshman retreat.  Oh sure, she'll be back on Sunday night so that she can pack her things, which means that technically she's not gone for good. Yet. But that moment is just. around. the. corner.  Yikes!  John's mom took us to lunch on Tuesday; just look at how beautiful they are as they toast to UT with their flavored iced tea. We've noticed that Ruby's been sporting the color orange on every outing since we told her that Kaitlyn was accepted to Longhorn Land and would be going to Austin this fall. That's funny to me.
     What wasn't quite so funny is how I got all choked up when Kaitlyn's grandmother handed her a ruler with a list of famous Architects on the back. It wouldn't have been SO bad to watch my girl open up a random ruler, really, but it was when Ruby added, "Someday Kaitlyn's name will be on that list, too!" that I totally lost it. My heart swelled with pride, and then I felt it shattering to pieces. Oh, I was trying very hard keep it together, to be brave, strong and courageous.  For myself.  For Grandmother.  For my college kid.  But it. was. TOUGH!  It just boggles me how emotionally-challenging this whole leaving-high-school-going-to-college thing has been. I'm trying not to be a wimp.  I'm not typically this weepy and weak.  This totally feels weird and it kind of leaves me at a loss for words, which might account for why I lost at Boggle last night.  So Tuesday is her official launch. Any prayers as we navigate through our new normal will be much appreciated!


'PAWS' And Think

Shannon over at Sweet Blessings is SO creative that I simply had to find a way to incorporate some of her stuff!  Here's a bulletin board based on a saying she shared on her site. Thanks, Shannon, for your inspiration!

And Tammy at Klinger Cafe shared some glyphs so I went with a What's Cookin' In Your Character Kitchen? creation in our cafeteria.  I am totally digging our cyberspace collaboration;  here's to a 'TRRFCC' year!

It's For The Birds

My back yard is a playground for the birds.  I don't know if it's because it's my last morning to sit at my laptop that's strategically placed on the breakfast table with a bay window facing out back or what, but the birds seem to be in rare form today!  Crazy cardinals visiting the garden in search of tomato remnants, a random Hummingbird flitting to and fro the one flowering rose bush that survived the summer sizzle, tiny Pine Warblers darting in and out of the lattice atop my porch.  What is going on?  Have they all come by to bid me adieu?
   Summer 2011 has been a magnificently memorable one on many fronts but especially in the back.  Since I'm a Lark myself, I've thoroughly enjoyed spending the dawn hours watching the sun rise and the birds awaken.  The sightings - and songs - of summer have relaxed and refreshed me.  My favorite birding moment was probably when this Painted Bunting on my friend Mary's ranch caught my eye.  Colorfully-breathtaking, it's the male, of course.  Just like its friends the Blue Jay and the Cardinal, the male sports a brighter hue to attract its mate and to distract their prey away from her, two appropriate jobs for the king of the nest, wouldn't you say?  In any event, I was tickled to see an Oriole and a Goldfinch in Wisconsin and spot a Crested Caracara out in La Grange.  I'm also enjoying the Red-headed and Pileated Woodpeckers as well as the Black-capped Vireo (or maybe it's actually a Carolina Chickadee?) at our feeder and in our forest.  Oh, and I can't forget the Owls that call to me every night as if to say, "Lights out, lark; sweet dreams.  See you in the morning!"  Such a treat to watch these fanciful feathered friends stop for some seed as they fly by on their way through life.  


The Fabric of America

Are you looking for an engaging way to celebrate culture and citizenship while weaving it into the fabric of your classroom? 
Allow me to introduce my newest patriotic find, Indie Excellence Award-Winner Red, White and Blue by Debbie Clement. Yay! 
Watch this colorful treasure leap off of the pages as the author teaches a group of educators to sing (and to sign!) the words.  
That's right, sign as in sign language, 
a bonus your little songbirds will undoubtedly consider really cool 
as they sing this love song to America.
Originally written shortly after the 9/11 tragedy, this musical gem just begs its readers to move along as they sing the simple, repetitive text.  From flags to fireworks, the pages are quilted with symbolism; Debbie's inspirational illustrations serve a tribute to our multi-cultural country. Not only does the hardcover come with a CD of the music, it also includes the musical score, nine sign-language words, 
and a Did-You-Know? glossary of facts and terms. 
It concludes with a page to share the story of this "epic project." 

While it's truly a timely book now as we approach the ten-year observance of 9/11 and remember the heroes along with all of those whose lives sustained significant change by the events of that day, I could also see our first graders performing it during their annual presentation of patriotic songs to honor those who serve when their branches-of-the-military unit culminates 
with a Veterans' Day celebration. 

Do yourself a favor and check out this book! Debbie's hosting a Linky Party at her blog Rainbows Within Reach so hop on over for a chance to win your copy today. 

A Cut Above

     OK, here's the deal. I'm not very good at waiting in line and I hugely dislike it when someone cuts in line. It probably has something to do with the PDD (patience deficit disorder) diagnosis that my husband has given me. That's why I was glad when I found out that we can call ahead at the Texas Roadhouse and let them know that we'll be there in 20 minutes. Cuts down on the wait time there in their noisy - and VERY messy because it's littered with peanut shells - waiting area. We just did that Friday night. We called ahead and only had to wait about 8 minutes out on the patio before we were seated. The best part? Nobody even tries to cut in line, something we're NUTS about.
   On Saturday morning when Joshua and I went for haircuts, we timed it so that we arrived at the Supercuts just as it opened so we wouldn't have to wait in line. Sure enough, we were the first two customers there and were both at the hair-wash basins by about 9:01. Somehow that just started my day off on the right foot. Anyway, at about 9:20, a third customer comes into the shop. I could tell that he's a regular because he heads to the reception desk and puts his own name on a little ticket so he can be next in line without interrupting the two hair stylists as they finish with us. At 9:23 or so, another man enters the store. Joshua is about to be done, so his stylist Rosalie asks the customer to have a seat and says she'll be with him momentarily.
   When she says, "next," both men stand up. Uh, oh. She points to the second in line and indicates that since he phoned ahead through their new SuperCall system, she'll take him first. "That's what I would have done," says the first man to arrive, "but I forgot the phone number." Now what? I wonder. The two men look at one another and then start this back-and-forth thing where the one says, "ok, then you go ahead," and the other politely replies, "no, that's fine, you can go." They end up resolving it like this: The man who called ahead tells the man who's been waiting longer - by only about three minutes, mind you - to go ahead and go first, that he doesn't mind waiting. He gives us his spot. Actually lets the other guy cut in line. The first guy to arrive says, "thanks!" and sits down in Rosalie's chair and the second sits back down on the benches to wait for my stylist to ring us up. That was so cool! What makes it even better? Joshua was watching the whole thing. Such great modeling for my impressionable boy.
   I asked Joshua in the van if he'd seen any good character in the shop, and we talked about it all the way home. He understood that letting someone have your appointment could have consequences, like putting you a bit behind on your morning's plans or not really allowing you to get the hairstylist you want. But he also understood that it was a caring gesture with more important, real-life significance and consequences that just might be, a cut above.


Kids In The Kitchen

The cutest culinary-in-the-classroom site ever - Klinger Cafe - is hosting a recipe party, and we're all invited! YUM!  What's your recipe for a great year?  A tasty treat that I like to leave in the lounge as a snack for our staff is zucchini bread.  This recipe makes two loaves (plus a little one to share if you have an mini-tin!) of the BEST quick bread.  And it's our kids' favorite anytime snack to help me make AND to eat!
Zucchini Bread
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable or Canola oil
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
2 cups grated zucchini
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
3 tsp. cinnamon (or try cinnamon chips!)
3 tsp. vanilla
A splash of buttermilk (optional)
Directions:  Beat the eggs, mix with oil and sugar.  Add dry ingredients and vanilla.  Stir in grated zucchini (and nuts if you're using them.) Add a splash of buttermilk if the batter seems dry (or as a flashback to your childhood days in the kitchen at Grandma's side). Divide mixture evenly between two bread tins sprayed with Pam. Lightly sprinkle sugar (granulated OR brown sugar!) on top of batter for a bakery-style crust.  Bake at 350 for 1 hour.  Enjoy!
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