Batty About Differences

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
Simple Synopsis: In this delightful tale about a baby fruit bat that is separated from her mother and finds her way into a nest of birds, little Stellaluna learns many lessons about the customs and rituals of birds as she adapts to her new family. From the frustration of having eat give up fruit for bugs to the embarrassment of learning to land gracefully on a branch, our book's hero learns to respect the bird behavior, rituals, traditions and culture. Flitter, Stellaluna's adopted bird brother, beautifully summarizes the book's theme when he asks, "How can we be so different and feel so much alike?"

Read aloud being sure to share the brilliant illustrations. Use the following or similar questions to discuss after sharing the story:
1. In what ways did Stellaluna's mother act responsibly to care for her baby?
2. How is Stellaluna forced to be open-minded?
3. In what ways could Mama Bird be more open-minded?
4. What does perseverance mean? Tell how Stellaluna showed perseverance.
5. Why did Stellaluna have to promise to abide by the rules?
6. Give an example of loyalty in this story.
7. How do you think it felt when Stellaluna realized that she was hanging upside down? Does it ever seem like her whole world has turned upside down?
8. Do you think it's important to respect the ways of others even if they're different from yours? Why?
9. Despite many differences, Stellaluna came to really care about her bird family. What can we learn from her about acceptance and respect?
10. What do you think it means to "agree to disagree?"
11. Do you have friends that are different from you in some way? Have your differences ever caused problems? How did you resolve such problems?
12. Are there some people that you don't know well but that you assume you could never be friends with? Why?
13. Have there been times when you've done something just because everyone else was doing it? Does going with the crowd and blending in make life easier?
14. Have there been times when you felt you had to go against the crowd and do things your own way? What happened?
15. Stellaluna learns a great deal about being a bird through this sweet little tale. Encourage students to write a reflective point-of-view essay with a prompt that goes something like this:  Imagine that you are Stellaluna. What must it really have been like? From the loss of your mother to your abrupt introduction into the world of your fine feathered friends, you had a lot of adjusting to do. Detail your experiences crossing cultures and describe your reactions to and feelings about your journey.

Click here for the C.U.T.E.S.T. song - My Whole World Turned Upside Down - sung by Stellaluna herself in an animated movie version of this treasure.


Savor The Surplus

My son brought me this note the other night.  He tried to talk to me about it, but he could see that I was too busy, so he just left it by my side until I had time to check it out.

I'm learning to never be too busy!

You see, it's a note that he gave to his 7th grade Algebra I teacher.  A while back, actually.  All on his own.  And he wanted to share it with me.

I called him back in to tell me all about it.  He said, "well, we always have a surplus, right? So I just thought I'd offer some to Mrs. Bateman, cause she's so nice."

He's right, we've got a surplus and are abundantly blessed. 
What surplus are you savoring today?


Friendship Is A Treasure

As I talked with our PeaceMakers during Character Week, one message came through consistently - a true friendship is a real treasure. Ask your students this question: If you were to head out on a treasure hunt looking for items that represent your friendships, what would you bring back? Challenge students to buddy buzz a list of things that represent the trademarks of friendship that works. Then, compare and contrast their list to another group's findings. Finally, have them come up with some reasonable connections between a healthy friendship and the items on my list. Explain what the following "treasures" have to do with friendship:
1. A mirror
2. A ruler
3. A puppy
4. Glue
5. Headphones
6. A candle
7. Keys
8. A stick of gum
9. A river rock
10. A fishing pole
11. Coffee beans
12. A goldfish net
13. A packet of seeds
14. Toothpaste
15. A postage stamp


Three Cheers For Character

Do you know about Dr. Jean? If you don't, then do yourself a favor and check out her blog! Every time I speak, I share with the participants how much kids L.O.V.E. to be cheered for and cheer for one another. Look at my keynote address audience in Hamilton Township School District enJOYing the roller coaster cheer. Get yourself an empty Cheer box, print off these cards, appoint a daily cheerleader, and see what happens to your classroom climate!


True-Love Thursday

It was 72 years ago on May 26th that Gordon and Norma promised, 'til death do us part. Seven decades, four children, and a lifetime of happy memories later, the couple passed away within an hour of each other last week. At age 94 and 90 respectively, Gordon and Norma died holding hands. Click here to watch KCCI news coverage about this incredible Iowa love story.


What's Your Calling?

A special thanks to Jennifer over at Rowdy In First Grade for adding me to her Blog On Fire list. Hop on over and visit this fellow Texas educator; I love her account of how blogging has made her better.

Next, meet the author of Kisses From Katie. I cannot wait to get this book and experience this young lady's inspirational story 
of hope and love. Follow Katie's blog here.


What In The World Is The UN?

On the heels of our weeklong Westwood celebration of being PeaceMakers, yesterday was United Nations Day, marking the anniversary of the Charter of the UN. How much do you and your students know about the United Nations? 
     For an engaging and enlightening video clip, visit Brain Pop and learn more about how the UN came about, how nations can join, and what its job is today.


A 'TRRFCC' Totem

Cline Elementary, our FISD sister school, celebrated Character Counts! Week 2011 in Style with the raising of a Character Totem in their Character Garden. Members of the six teaching teams on campus each fashioned their pillar totem out of recycled materials. 
     As explained on their website, the first totems were carved from mature cedar trees and used in ceremonies of families or clans of the Pacific Northeast. Much like a family crest, they were used to represent the emblem of the family as a reminder of its history, then placed at the front entrance of the family log house to honor its ancestors and the clan’s standing, rights and accomplishments. A totem pole is a symbol of the qualities and experiences of the clan. As in the tradition of the Native Americans, Cline students will connect what the totem pole represents to the character traits that they’re living out in the real world.


The Dance of Happiness

This adorable character clip doesn't really need 
words except to say:  Happy Dancing!


Struggling To Smile

I woke up Thursday morning feeling more tired than I went to bed - if that's even possible - and, though I wasn't sure why, I woke up feeling melancholy as well. Just exhausted, emotionally and physically. Maybe it's because it was the first year in ten years that I haven't been able to attend the Character Education Partnership Forum which was kicking off that day, maybe because I miss my college girl, maybe because our "new normal" is a bit overwhelming right now. The last thing I wanted to do was to rush off to school. I decided to treat myself to a venti Cinnamon Dolce at Starbucks to help soothe my sadness. Yummy, right? I wasn't too sure about the wisdom of THAT decision when I turned the corner out of the parking lot a little tight and that cup of costly coffee poured itself into my lap. Really?  Wearing my java on my jeans, I had to go back home to change my clothes and it took everything. I. had. to get back into that car and drive myself to work.
     All of that happened before 7:30 a.m. I don't mind telling you that I wasn't in the best of moods when I headed out to the front for car-line duty, but in good-Ron-Clark fashion, I was determined to fake it until I felt it. Fortunately car-rider duty is my favorite, so I put on that signature smile and started opening car doors like I meant it. That's when Zachary's car pulled up. He's in kindergarten this year, so I don't know this little PeaceMaker very well, but my morning instantly turned around when I saw his sweet face smiling an outrageously B.I.G. smile at me. He handed me a box to hold while I helped him get down from the back seat of a car that seemed to swallow him up. When I attempted to return the box, he smiled bigger than before - if that's even possible - and said, "Nope, that's for you!"  And then, I. LOST. it.  
     Sure, I was teary-eyed earlier, but now I was totally crying. (Please don't let him see me cry, please don't let him see me cry!) Tears of joy this time. From his little hand and big heart came a box of homemade chocolate chip cookies with a note that read:  Thank you for your smile every morning!  It means a lot!  Love, Zachary C. There could have been a toad in this box and it wouldn't have mattered . . . that message meant the world to me. What started out as a not-too-many-reasons-to-rejoice kind of morning instantly turned into an I-can-do-this sort of day, thanks to one random act of kindness from a boy and his mom to comfort a counselor on the curb who was struggling to smile.


Positively Peaceful

We have been talking ALL week about being a PeaceMaker and it has reminded me of an activity that my students really enjoy. Click here to download the PeaceMaker template. Pose the question: What does a PeaceMaker look like, sound like, feel like? Let students respond with words and drawings inside their little PeaceMaker outline. Expect symbols of positivity like rainbows and yin yangs, peace signs and smiley faces, fireworks and affirmations. Have them share with a partner or the class before moving on to the next step.
     After everyone's had a chance to share, ask them to draw or write on the outside of the being about PeaceBreakers, the things that keep them from being at peace on the inside. Expect pictures of (or words about) bullies, weapons, drugs, mean things, rude behavior, symbols of sadness and negativity. Let students talk about these things and the strategies they use to deal with them. Then ask how it would be if they could just "cut it out!" Discuss what it takes to stay positively peaceful on the inside with all those negative influences on the outside. With their scissors, students then cut away the bad stuff and discard it, just keeping the positivity on the inside. 
     Post these PeaceMakers in a prominent place around the classroom or have students tape them inside their pencil boxes for a visual reminder of things that bring them inner peace. For a fun twist, make life-sized PeaceMakers by tracing around a few student volunteers and complete the activity in small groups.


Coffee Chat

I tried something new this past February during School Counselors' Week and hosted a Coffee Chat with the Counselor. We had so much FUN that I decided to do it again! This year we've merged with the school next door, so Stephanie and I held a Coffee Chat with the Counselors (notice the plural!) to celebrate Character Counts! week. We brewed a pot of coffee, got some fancy flavored creamers, baked some pumpkin bread and picked up a few cookies in preparation for our guests. Our topic - How to Bully-Proof Our Students and Our Schools - piqued the interest of twenty Westwood-Bales parents and we enjoyed a wonderful two hours of camaraderie, communication, and collaboration. 


Skype U

My son Joshua came home from school the other day just SO excited because his 7th grade Advisory teacher announced that, as part of their College Readiness focus, they were going to be visiting with a college student by Skype. He promptly volunteered his sister, a college freshman studying architecture at the University of Texas. He called Kaitlyn and asked if she'd be available next Thursday at 12:40 because they'd like to ask her some questions about her life in Austin.  
     The day of the call, he got pulled a bit early from lunch so that he could help his teacher, who hadn't used Skype in the classroom before, set up for the call (thank goodness for digital natives!). When Kaitlyn called in, the class answered and she came up on the screen from right there on the UT campus. They gathered around the computer and asked questions that they'd prepared about things they'd want for a college kid to answer, questions like:  What kind of degree are you getting? What is the highest level of math you've had? What college are you at and how did you choose it?  Was it hard to get in? What do you do there? Are you into the spirit of college football? Where do you live? Do you have enough closet space for all of your clothes? 
     One student asked about where she was and she was able to explain that she was outside leaning against the granite-looking building where she takes one of her classes. Toward the end of their 20-minute visit as the bell was about to ring, the D.A.R.E. Officer entered the room and he asked her asked if she had been offered any drugs in college. Kaitlyn said that no, she hadn't seen any drugs since she got there in August, and added that drugs would certainly get in the way of her being the best she can be at a competitive place like UT. 
     Joshua says that next week they'll be Skyping Caleb's sister up in Kansas. What an engaging way for today's 21st century learners to connect with their role models, learn more about their post-secondary options, and help plan for their futures.


Peace APP

PEACE - We Have An App For That!  
is a bulletin board idea that I adapted from North Pointe Elementary where my friend Jenn is the counselor. When students came to guidance this month, they told me what they think it means to be a PeaceMaker and I scripted what they said onto this adorable iPhone template that my husband created for me. After this lesson, guess what happened? PEACE shirts, signs and slogans started poppin' up all over the place - PRECIOUS! Click here to download your copy; we created it as a Power Point slide so you could personalize it and make it your own.

One Band, One Sound

It's coming up on THAT time again, a chance that comes around every other year and for which we wait almost as longingly as we do a holiday or a birthday:  UIL 4A State Marching Band Contest.  This afternoon, our high school band will march in the regional competition. The bands who score a 1 get to advance to Area on Saturday. The top two bands from the Area earn the chance to play in San Antonio's Alamo Dome in the State competition. The last time were at the State Contest was two years ago with a show called Convergence. It was a phenomenal performance, and our band brought home the silver medal. Imagine the dedication and commitment it takes to earn second place in a huge state like Texas which has about 250 high schools our size vying for about 25 spots at State before it's narrowed down to the top ten finalists and the top three medalists. Click here to see a trailer for this year's show. 
    So we spent all day on Saturday at the Lonestar Preview in Conroe, TX, in preparation for the upcoming week. Talk about your protective risk factor! The band managed an extra practice Friday night since we had a Thursday night football game this week, then left first thing Saturday to rehearse before marching their prelims show at 3:45. They came out of prelims in 9th place to make the finals. Their finals performance, so beautifully lyrical with such pageantry and elegance, brought me to tears and the crowd to its feet. We ended up earning 4th place. The kids gave it their all and were physically and emotionally exhausted! On Sunday morning I woke up to this note posted on Jacob's door:
   Evidently Jacob got in around 1:30 a.m. My favorite part of this sticky note from my teenager is that he started writing a D for Do Not Disturb, but he scratched it out so he could start with the word PLEASE. Whether these kids come away with the gold or not, they're winners when they show up on time, work hard, hold one another accountable, give their best effort, cooperate, and remember their manners. YAY for Band; this proud mama sends congratulations on your pursuit of excellence and best wishes for a successful season.


The Gift Of Life

It's been fourteen years that must feel like forever for this Friendswood family. After a tragic car accident took their teenaged daughter Steffani from them, they donated her organs; her healthy heart subsequently saved the life of Hazel Campbell. After the transplant, Hazel dedicated her life to tirelessly campaign for organ donation. She participated in the annual scholarship fund marathon walk in Stef's memory and became an active speaker for the Gift of Life Donor Program. 
     Because of the selfless gift that Steffani's family gave in their grief, this transplant recipient enjoyed 14 extra years on earth. Hazel passed away this week on what would have been Steffani's 30th birthday. It was undoubtedly the most heavenly birthday present ever as these two angels, who shared one heart, met for the first time in the presence of their Maker. Please keep Hazel's family and friends in your thoughts and prayers as they celebrate her life and say their good-byes, then help pass along the gift of life by becoming an organ donor today.


Planting A Promise

Happy Worldwide Character Counts! week. The Friendswood community gathered yesterday morning for our annual Wrap the Town Red ceremony to officially kick off our Red Ribbon & Character Counts! Week celebration. I know, we're technically a week ahead of the National Red Ribbon campaign this year, but it's a tradition in our town to combine RR week with CC! week for one critical character cause: Helping our children make healthy choices! 
     Our Junior High Girls' Choir sang the National Anthem, two eighth-grade Cheer Squads led a few cheers and danced, and our Superintendent of Schools and our Mayor Pro Tem rallied the crowd with words of inspiration before our Westwood third-grade Treble Makers choir pledged to be Forever Free, launching us out into the district with hundreds of these two-sided red signs to be posted on all of our campuses. It's a simple Saturday ritual with a powerful purpose; click here to see how we planted the promise for our future.


Assessing Our Actions

Years back, Teaching K-8 ran an article entitled Kids With Character by Tamsen Boyd that gave quite a few excellent character-building ideas for elementary-aged students. I really like this Self-Assessment Chart, a tool for measuring growth in students' behavior. It's basically students giving themselves a character report card. This chart can be used to goal-set with your child(ren) both at school and at home with a few slight changes, like "I raised my hand" could become "I waited my turn to talk." Here's how you might use this assessment:

At the end of each week, hold a meeting during which students can talk about the successes and difficulties they experience with each character trait they're working on. Use the Self-Assessment Chart to count their smiley faces and have students plot their progress. See if the smiley faces outweigh the sad faces. The children can discuss change, can take pride in improvements, and reflect on backslides. Make sure to always find a positive and focus on the progress children are making, even if the steps they're taking seem like baby steps. If five areas seem overwhelming, break the chart down into smaller pieces and maybe take it one trait at a time, week by week. Or maybe you want to add a sixth area that students can personalize to fit their individual growth goals. 


Comfort Zone

I designed this sign after hearing Hal Urban mention having something similar; it's posted in my office. It makes for a great discussion starter as kids frequently inquire as to why I have a No-Parking sign on my wall. People see counselors for comfort and support, but they cannot stay there for long. Once empowered with their new-found skills, clients must head out into the world, spread their wings, and give flight another try. They shouldn't ever need to park for very long. It's a bit abstract and kind of metaphorical, I know, but I like the mystery and intrigue of a No-Parking Comfort Zone. 


School Productivity

Discovery Education Clip Art
We recently had an inservice so we could learn about thinking webs. That got me to thinking about a blog I wrote this spring for Inside the School called School Productivity: Happiness Matters. The idea for this post came from an article I saw in the Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine in August of 2010 about a study in which cows with names gave more milk than their un-named sisters. That made this former farmer's daughter wonder: If milk production could really be significantly increased simply by calling a cow by name, there ought to be measures teachers could take to yield the same results with students in the classroom. How do you increase productivity in your pasture and keep your herd happily engaged?


Actions and Words

When Jacob was in fifth grade, I was after him for a few weeks to write an essay for a Foundations For Life contest. As the due date approached, I asked him one last time to get going, to which he responded, "I already wrote it!" Pleasantly surprised by his answer and curious to know which quote he used, I asked, "On what?" and he innocently replied, "On notebook paper."  

Guest Post by Jacob Gruener

Actions speak louder than words.  American proverb

The saying “actions speak louder than words” means a lot to me because actions really do speak louder. It is better to do something than to just say you will. For instance, if someone said that they were going to do community service, just saying it wouldn’t be as helpful as actually doing it. I’ve seen a lot of posters around my school that say that character is about how you ACT.  In fact, the word act is actually embedded in the word character. That quote shows a lot of character.

An example of this is when I helped increase my friend’s chance to win a ping-pong table in a raffle.  He only had one ticket that the teacher passed out, and, since my mom donated to our fundraiser, I’d gotten one hundred and twenty tickets. I heard him say that he would really like the ping-pong table and that he was going to put his one ticket into that bucket. When I heard this, I decided to help him by putting in a couple of my tickets with his name on them. I never told him, but it felt good to help a friend. I was very excited when I heard over the announcements that he had won the pingpong table.

Another good example of this quote in action is when my mom told me that she would help me find a job so I could earn some money.  Her promise didn’t help me as much until she actually found me a job.  She gave me the responsibility of planning our family meals, clipping coupons for the ingredients we need, and helping her shop for these items. She helped me find a way to make money, not by her words, but by her actions. And now I have enough money to buy my whole family birthday presents.

I hope that the adage “actions speak louder than words” not only means much in my life but in yours, too. It is a great thing to keep in mind next time you’re tempted to just say something instead of doing something. If you use the Six Pillars of Character, they will give you the courage to take action instead of just watching or talking about it on the sidelines. My actions helped my friend and my mom’s actions helped me. If everybody were to do something for someone else, the world would be a better place.


Piece By Peace

Next week we'll combine National Character Counts! Week with our annual drug-free Red Ribbon campaign. I've been getting ready since school started. Last week I got this sign made and posted it to pique interest. When I was called to cover a class on Friday, I asked the first-grade students what they think it means to be a PeaceMaker. Micah raised his hand and confidently responded, "It means we get to sign the poster out there!"  Oh, to be a firstie again! He's right; we'll be signing this Peace Pledge in guidance classes starting today, after we discuss what it takes to be a PeaceMaker. You can read all about what else we'll be doing to celebrate character in my guest post at The Teachers' Lounge.


I'm His Son!

We experienced a real-life Candid Camera moment on Friday when Technical Sergeant Stan Hill returned from his tour of duty in Kuwait early to surprise his children and visit with their classes. Click here to see the tearful homecoming clip between this Air Force reservist and his two children; listen as second-grade Lance squeals with excitement to see his Dad for the first time since his deployment in May and proudly proclaims, "I'm his son!" We thank the Hill family for their service and sacrifice on our behalf!


To Serve And Protect

Just so you know, I do NOT like to go to the movies. Though I usually end up glad that I went, it's SO expensive and I find it very difficult to sit still for that amount of time. True confessions: two-minute film clips are much more my style. Since I typically don't go to the movies, it's weird to actually recommend one. But, happy movie-goer or not, you will NOT want to miss Courageous. Trust me. We clapped when it was over. Grab your husband or significant other, twenty bucks, and some tissues and get ready to be moved to walk with integrity.


Friendly Rivals

Photo courtesy of rickdphotography.com

When I first moved to TX, there was a popular bumper sticker that read: Make a Texan happy, Put A Yankee On The Bus.  I didn’t really get what they had against the New York Yankees, but after I’d been here a while, I figured out that I was the Yankee because I came from north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Years back, I might have been the rival, but this was the mid-eighties. Were we still fighting? 
     Now, being a peace-loving soul, I’m not much into feuds, but there exists another rivalry by tradition down in Texas, The University of TX v. The University of OK, and they’re playing their traditional Red River Rivalry football game today in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl stadium. Coolest thing is, my daughter marches for UT and her cherished friend Chelsea marches at OU. 
   The girls started playing clarinet together in sixth grade and they worked hard to become All-State musicians by their junior year. That same year, they became clarinet section leaders for the marching band, and their concert band earned the prestigious Texas Honors Band award. These two then led the marching band their senior year as drum majors (Chelsea left, Kaitlyn right) for the Mighty Mustangs and just before they graduated, they played together in the Pit Band Orchestra for the Music Man. Kaitlyn and Chelsea are true-blue friends with a treasured past, but now, as college freshmen, they're marching apart. 
     It's an exciting morning for these two musicians; I just got a text with a picture of them uniformed in their college colors - Kaitlyn in burnt orange wearing a Stetson, Chelsea in red holding her plumed hat - as they prep for the big game. I can FEEL Kaitlyn's excitement to be reunited with her childhood cohort, now all grown up. Reporter Diane Jennings from the Dallas News interviewed the girls this week and wrote a really nice feature article on their friendly rivalry for yesterday’s Metropolitan section. What a thrill to read what the girls had to say about their college choices, their new allegiances, and their predictions about the outcome of today's game. In the end, though, they agreed that nothing, not even the Red River, could ever sever their friendship ties.


A Trick-Or-Treat Twist

Several years ago, first-grade teacher Carolyn Lowe had a sweet idea that turned into a service-learning project and allowed us to share our surplus Halloween stash with our community helpers. For a detailed article about this fabulous lesson, visit the Character Educator.

Another way to honor those who serve is to send your surplus candy overseas to our military personnel on active duty, and Operation Gratitude will do just that.  
Here's the address so you can send a sweet surprise:
Operation Gratitude/California Army National Guard
                                     17330 Victory Boulevard
Van Nuys, CA 91406

Click here to read all about our sweet success with this candy drive!


A Wall of Trust

Students are hard at work, building their Wall of Trust (also known as their reputation) every day. Here's an activity using cardboard bricks that can visually show students how important that construction work is. Don’t have these cute little bricks?  No worries; you can use the Kleenex boxes that you get from each student at the beginning of the year!
     Before giving each student a brick, ask something like this: "Why do people like you?" or "What makes you a good friend?" or "In what ways are you trustworthy?" Their answers will vary from "I'm nice" to "I keep my promises," from "You can count on me," to "I tell the truth." Insist on an inward quality as opposed to “I’m pretty” or “I have a lot of cool stuff.” As they give you their answer, hand them a brick to represent that quality and ask them to lay the bricks on a table, alternating them so they're not stacked directly on top of on another, to make a pyramid-style wall.
     When the wall is built, talk with students about this wall representing their solid friendships. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with someone whose Wall of Trust is this sturdy and strong? Then, give students a dilemma like the following: What happens to your wall if you promise to pick me up for our best friend's birthday party and you forget and don't come? Let them answer before you strategically knock a block out of the middle of the wall. Doing so slowly will ensure that the wall stays up but just one block is missing. Talk with students about how "when you mess up, you gotta fess up," and ask them what you'd have to do to fix that hole in their Wall of Trust.
     Suppose with them that this time you need a ride to skate night. Do you trust that same friend who forgot you last time to give you a ride? If so, what happens if/when he forgets again? This time, knock down the top half of the wall (but leave the base!) to show what happens to our Wall of Trust when we've dropped the ball one too many times. Talk with students about how difficult it is to trust someone whose Wall is broken down in this way and what we'd have to do if that were our Wall to repair it and make it strong again.
     Adapt this demonstration to show responsibility rather than reputation by letting each brick represent a job, task, or chore that a child has to do. What happens when someone doesn’t feed the dog or put it in at night? It’s the perfect visual for how stakeholders are affected by our choices.

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