A New Friend

The Spunky Monkey
Hi, my name is Pierre. Sounds cool, in a French sort of way, don't ya think? My friends say that it totally fits my spunky personality. AdOrAbLe, oui? Here I am in my new little rocking chair watching sunburst fairies fly by. See that one over my right shoulder? Part of my allure and charm is that I'm always smiling. I'm serious, ALWAYS smiling, positively filled with JOY! At this point, you might be wondering, "What is Pierre so happy about?" and I'd want to know, too, if I were you.

You see, Kim over at Finding Joy In 6th Grade brought me to Texas last week, to the Corner on Character, for her friend Barbara. At first, it was touch and go, actually, because she lined all of us up - there must have been two dozen of us on that store shelf - like we were part of a Star Search or something and I wasn't sure I'd make the cut. She looked us over and inspected us good. It may have been my rainbow stripes, though I'm not exactly sure what she was looking for. What I do know is that it felt like warm sunshine when she put everyone back, and picked me. You'd be smiling a big ol' Texas-smile, too!

We took a VERY long road trip, stopping at some fun historical markers along the way before arriving in Friendswood. While there, we got to visit this really awesome elementary school (where I was secretly hoping I could stay), eat dinner around a dinner table (that husband sure grills a mean bratwurst!), play Clue and Boggle with a fun family (that little boy has a LOT of energy!), and spend the night at a comfy Bed & Breakfast. We even got to Skype chat with Reagan at Tunstall's Teaching Tidbits over our Starbucks candybars-in-a-cup Friday morning, making it an official blogging meet up. Have you met that teacher? Another reason to smile! Did I luck out or what?

So Kim (who, in case you're wondering, is even kinder and more encouraging, supportive and joyful in real life than she is in cyberspace) left me at the Corner and here I am, waiting in my rocker to go back to that cool school and meet my new friends. (I'm pretty sure I saw a special someone named JOY while I was there!) I'm told Barbara goes back to work on Monday, and I'm beyond excited!

So that's the story behind my smile. It was SO much fun to be there, at the Corner, when Kim met Barbara. They just talked and talked. Even the young teenaged boy, who's kind of a non-stop talker himself, asked them,"What can you two possibly still be talking about?" It was like they'd known each other forever, proof positive that you're never too old to get gleefully giddy about a new friend.



Getting-To-Know-You Connections Chant

I once heard Stephen Covey say in an interview that 
"Being understood does for the heart 
what water does for the body."  
His words resonated with me and got me thinking -- can we say the same about connections? If we want to create a caring climate in our classrooms, we have to facilitate class-family connections!

photo of Connections bumper sticker design

In the video clip below, you'll find a getting-to-know-you connection activity that I adapted from an idea from my friend Angie in Alabama. Students LOVE this chant because they get to circle up, look at one another, hear their names, and share a little bit about themselves while they learn cool stuff about their classmates (and me!) and ultimately 
make cardiac connections. 

Wanna share your promising practices for creating a caring classroom? Click the graphic below and link up with the fabulous Laura Candler at Corkboard Connections:

I've accepted a kind invitation to be a monthly contributor over at Making It In Middle School {and smiling about it at the end of the day!} on the last Sunday of each month, so click {here} to go there for three more suggestions for connecting with your students those first few days, weeks and months back. For even more engaging, team-building activities, 
visit A - Z Teacher Stuff {here}, The Teachers' Lounge {here
or Fun In First {here}.
EnJOY the emotional hydration!


Forever Nine

Today I'm reflecting on how quickly time passes as I take my youngest, now a teenager, to have braces put on his teeth. When the friendly receptionist at the doctor's office asked how old Joshua is, I answered, "Thirteen. We meant to do this sooner, but time just got away from us. Besides, he still seems so small." She responded, "Yeah, that's how I feel about my seventeen year old; 
I wish he could be forever nine."  

I love connecting like that with someone who gets it. It somehow validates what I'm going through. Anyway, that short interaction got me to thinking about our lives, our daughter about to head back to college, our middle child turning eighteen this month, and Joshua about to get his braces. Were they ever really small? And was I the best mom that I could be for them? And then . . . what do the years ahead hold for us? And do I really wish they could be forever nine? 

photo of little table with scrabble letters - forever young
Our kids don't fit on these little chairs anymore . . . 
I'm going to have to say NO to that, because I truly am looking forward to what these kids will be like as adults. That's got to be the proverbial pot of gold at the end of our rainbow. But whatever the future holds, what I do know today is that we are abundantly blessed and I am incredibly grateful.

And now, today's inquiry: At what age (if any) would you want to freeze time for your children or yourself?


Saturday Songs 8

It's that time again, and it only happens once every four years. 

The summer Olympics - in London!
What a happy time. Did you watch the opening ceremonies?

Today's Saturday Song is actually from the 1988 Calgary games. This official theme song, composed by David Foster, inspires me because of the phenomenal work ethic, remarkable determination, and unparalleled drive of the athletes it honors. I hope that you'll take some time over the next seventeen days to watch their hard work pay off as they represent their countries with pride and passion in pursuit of the gold.   

Let the games begin!


Empathy In A (Shoe) Box Guest Post

Today I'm happy to welcome Tanya Kirschman, a counseling colleague and reader from Montana who has just recently been checking in at the Corner and always has a kind word to leave behind. Tanya is the school counselor at Highland Elementary in Billings, Montana. She has a B.S. in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree with certification in School Counseling from Montana State University - Billings. She has over 15 years experience as a primary teacher and school counselor. Born and raised in Montana, Tanya is happily married to her pilot husband and feels blessed to be “mom” to her two handsome sons and beautiful daughter. I feel doubly blessed, once because Tanya agreed to share a lesson with us and twice because . . . it's a lesson on empathy!

Empathy in a (Shoe) Box by Tanya Kirschman

With four pairs of shoes, you can make a lasting impression on students about empathy. I hide the shoes in mismatched boxes to build the mystery and excitement about what is inside. What is inside? One holds a pair of women’s fuzzy slippers, one a heavy pair of adult snow boots. Another box has a pair of dirty football cleats, and the last (tiny) box holds a pair of toddler sneakers. I purchased all of these shoes at the local thrift store - inexpensive, and you can be really creative with the selection of shoes you’ll find there!

To begin my lesson, I announce that we are going to learn about empathy, and I define empathy as “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes," or thinking about how they (as an individual) would feel if they were in the same situation as the person they are watching or interacting with. I randomly select a student to come to the front of the class and choose a shoebox. The chosen student must take off his or her own shoes and put on the shoes from the box (except for the toddler shoes which are held their hands).

A written scenario is glued to the inside top of the box and read out loud by me or the student. For example, the situation presented with the boots is, “The person wearing these boots is running outside to play in the snow with her friends. When she gets to them, they tell her she can’t play. How do you think she feels? If you saw this happen, what could you do or say to make her feel better?” The chosen student answers the questions and a class dialogue about empathy begins. Topics discussed include understanding others'’ feelings by reading facial and body expressions and thinking about how we, ourselves, might feel in a situation.

Many times a student will put on the shoes, listen to the scenario, and say, "But I am a girl and these are boy shoes. I don't know how a boy would feel." Or, "But I'm a third grader and these are baby shoes; I don't know how a baby would feel."  Students are taught they they may never fully understand how another person is feeling because we all have differences from one another, but that they should always try to understand.  

The second step of showing empathy is acknowledging the person's feelings.  By simply stating, "You must feel _________," the person will feel heard and understood or have a chance to clarify how they are, in fact, feeling.

The third and final step is: Do something to help. Offer help or friendship to the person who may be feeling left out, upset, frustrated or sad. Appropriate responses about that person‘s needs based on how we would want to be treated are explored at this time. Continue until each pair of shoes has been worn and discussed. Students remember what empathy means in later lessons because they’ve literally 
put themselves in someone else’s shoes!

Other resources I use with this activity are:

Arnie and the New Kid by Nancy Carlson (book)
A Sunburst video entitled Put Yourself In Someone Else's Shoes: Building Character
Scenarios for which students have to write how they would respond to the person’s comment. For example, “I lost the watch my uncle gave me.” and a response might be, “You must feel upset. Would you like me to help you look for it?


Thanks again, Tanya! Your post reminded me of the book One Thousand Tracings by Lita Judge that would beautifully extend your lesson! Hop on over to Teaching Blog Addict to read all about it, then click the image to go to the author's page for activity suggestions. 

UPDATE:  Need a few more scenarios? 
Click {here} to read how this lesson went with my kiddos.


Make Each One Your Favorite

Today I'm sleeping in just a bit 'cause yesterday I came to the exhausting realization that my days are numbered. Ok, I'll give you that all of our days are numbered, but educators, our summer days. ARE. NUMBERED! Anyway, I've traveled west to post at Learning With Mrs. Parker. Sylvia and I found that we have a Wisconsin connection in addition to the fact that hers was one of the first blogs I ever visited and subsequently followed. And when she noticed that I didn't have a blog button, she offered to make one for me. I was SO touched by her generosity and kindness 
(you can read all about it here) that I just knew we'd become friends. 

So click {here} to go to her blog, follow if you don't already, surf for a spell, then read my musings about why it's more than a promising practice to focus on the positives and find something that makes each and every student (blueberry or bear!) your favorite.


The Golden Plunger Award

Maybe this is exclusively a problem at my school, but a few semesters back, we had a huge issue with the cleanliness (or lack thereof) in our bathrooms. They were just awful! Toilet paper on the floor, toilets not flushed, water running, garbage on the ground. So we decided that if we wanted kids to take ownership, then we'd have to give them ownership. Brilliant, right? A Team First CAREacter Crew rep volunteered her first graders to be the inaugural members of The Bathroom Brigade. They would be trained as scouts and sent into the bathrooms at random times to assess the four trouble spots and see if the water faucets were off, toilets were flushed, toilet paper was in its proper place, and paper towels were disposed of in the trash. 

Click {here} to see and/or download our score sheet.
We made a bulletin board as a visual reminder.

We decided to challenge our students to a friendly competition. Who could keep their bathrooms cleaner each week, the boys or the girls? And the prize? The Golden Plunger Award would be given to the gender whose facilities got the better weekly score. So by now you might be laughing, but wait, there's more. After the announcement was made at our weekly school-wide gathering, a few representatives from the group that earned the Golden Plunger (yep, it was an old-fashioned plunger, spray painted in GOLD!) that week would lift the Golden Plunger high into the air like a torch and take it on a victory lap around the gym while the theme song of Chariots of Fire blared in the background. And while you might still be snickering, listen to this; our veteran coach told us that the bathrooms that semester were, indeed, the cleanest she'd seen them in all of her
 31 years at our school.  (Don't you love data?)

I'm told that custodians really appreciate this and the Golden Dustpan Award (up for grabs to the classroom that's the cleanest each afternoon), both equally effective in engaging students to take ownership of and show respect for school property.

What clever programs have you started to stop an issue? 


Meet A Book Loving Buccaneer

Ahoy Mateys . . . there's a new kid in town thanks to our friends at Flash Light Press that I think you'll want to meet! Like most of us, she's a "Book Loving Buccaneer," but she's stuck in a precarious position aboard a pirate ship in a pirate family with not an ounce of pirate-ness in her being or bones. Through author Carrie Clickard's clever discourse, the reader travels the stormy seas that are Victricia Malicia's life and yearns with this young spitfire for something more suitable. Just wait until you see what happens when the tides turn and the waves of life crest Vic into the chapter where she could capture her daring dry-land dreams

Here's the You Tube trailer to whet your appetite for this high-seas treasure:

Click {here} to sail away with some 
author-scribed activity pages.


Handprints & Heartprints Made It!

So every Monday this summer, I wish I were craftier and could make something, well, crafty, for Monday Made It at 4th Grade Frolics. And every Monday I come up short. I'm good at making peace, but that's so intangible. Then the other day when I went to my office to put up a bulletin board . . .

Adorable punch-out letters and matching border from Mardel!
. . . I glanced over at my rocking chair, which seemed to be calling my name.
Wait a minute, I said to myself, I helped make that quilt!
I helped my friend Nigs create both of these treasures using our students' little handprints and some fabric paint. The one to the left with butterflies, bumble bees, fish and flowers hangs just inside of our school's Nature Center door in honor of one of its very dedicated volunteers; the other is in my office as a visual reminder of the heartprints that each and every student leaves behind.

For parents looking for a unique way to hold on to their little one's hands just a little longer, a quilted wall hanging or throw would make the perfect item for them to bid on in your school's annual FUNdraiser. Or just have students leave their prints on a piece of card stock that can serve as a book cover or artwork that's suitable for framing.  

You could use the butterfly handprint as a follow-up to 
Charlie the Caterpillar by Dom DeLuise.  
Make the bumble bee handprint after reading The Very Greedy Bee by Steve Smallman. Even their little faces match!

The handprint flowers would perfectly complement your reading of 
Max's Magic Seeds by Geraldine Elschner.

We used Joshua's little third grade hands to make this fish; I'd give anything to have the original framed and hanging in my bathroom. Wouldn't this be an adorable follow-up to reading Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister?

YaY, Tara, I made it! 
If you're crafty, head there now and show us what you've made.


What's Cookin'?

Susan over at T.G.I.F. is having her first link-up and it involves recipes, so of course I'm in! Snag my recipe, then click her adorable graphic to be transported to her blog for more deliciousness.

I have two Chicken Salad recipes, my old standby and Aunt Mary's Gourmet Chicken Salad. This week I chose the latter for a luscious light summertime lunch. Just look at how pretty it is (in my favorite Pampered Chef bowl),
 right before I added the dressing.

So if at this point you're wondering what makes this Chicken Salad so special, you're in luck because I've got Aunt Mary's permission to share the secrets!  

First ingredient is a no brainer - shredded chicken. You could boil your chicken but the meat from a baked bird is a bit juicier. It's your call. I bake mine atop a few strips of bacon to add a little flavor. Next three ingredients in equal proportions: celery, walnuts, and dried cranberries. I know, YUM, right? Cut those colorful fillers into bite-sized pieces and toss with the chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and add just the right amount of mayo to moisten it. Serve on a butter croissant, on a bed of lettuce or inside a large tomato with a side of fresh fruit for the BEST lunch you've had in a while. 
Bon appétit!


Saturday Songs 7

Contrary to last week's Saturday Song, which was a silly Sesame Street spoof about sharing, this week's inspiration has lyrics that leave me feeling conflicted and kind of 
sad. And lonely. And longing. For peace. Inspiration can do that, too.
Consider the elephant in the room
it's there, so we might as well talk about it.  
Without giving anything more away, here's today's Saturday Song: 
Pinwheels 4 Peace by Deerheart and featuring Maura Kennedy.

I can't wait to hear what you think about this song. 
Celebrate International Peace Day this September with
 Pinwheels For Peace.


Conscious Discipline Guest Post

Happy Friday! Today I'm excited because Barbara from Grade ONEderful was kind enough to accept an invitation to do a guest post for me. I've been following Barb's blog for a year now and I thoroughly enjoy her insight, enthusiasm, and passion for learning. It doesn't hurt that she's from Victoria, B.C., either, since I consider that part of the world God's Country. She's been a teacher for 22 years and when she's not in the classroom, you can find Barb out running, playing with her pups and creating super cute blog designs

I was super jazzed when she mentioned writing about Conscious Discipline, because guess what's on my night stand? I just finished the first chapter. Thanks, Barbara, for being here and sharing your 
reflections and connections with us.

Thanks for inviting me to share some ideas on your blog, Barbara!  Reading your daily posts has become a fixture in my morning routine:)

In case you don't already know ... I am hooked on Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey. I bought the book last May and I'm halfway through it. There's a lot to digest!

Becky Bailey teaches you (parent or teacher) how to use the daily conflicts we inevitably encounter to teach character development, social skills, self-control and conflict resolution.

But what's really different about her approach, is her philosophy that real change won't happen until you look inward and begin the change there.  This isn't a new idea for many people, but the way Bailey describes how to do this step-by-step (as in chapter-by-chapter) makes it extremely clear and easy to follow.

As I make my way through this book, one of the biggies that has popped out for me is the realization that I'm generally operating (in the classroom) on a mostly (not always) passive level.  People who do this (me included) tend to quickly switch to aggression when they're frustrated, and then feel huge guilt. Does that sound familiar? 

There are so many areas/thoughts/quotes I could comment on, but I'm going to tell you what she recommends for assertively giving commands to the class as a whole. 

Bailey suggests teaching both an auditory and visual signal. I've always done an echo-pattern clap to a 4/4 beat which has worked really well. But I might switch over to a tambourine this year. The idea is that when the children hear the signal they are to stop, breathe deeply, look at you, and wait for directions. The children are to practice "stop, breathe, look and listen" over and over and over again (we all know how much practice and modelling is needed) until it's second nature.

A beautiful children's book that complements this thinking is:

This peaceful book focuses on
mindful breathing to help children
 experience calmness with their
friends and families.

Of course, not everyone hears the signal (you know how some kids are so deeply immersed in their play or work), so you also teach the class to raise their hand after the signal. This is explained as a way to help your classmates.

Bailey recommends practicing this new behaviour for 21 days in order to teach a new habit. It's also super important to frame the experience in a positive light. Eg., the children who heard the signal are helping their friends be successful by now raising their hands as an additional reminder.

For the teacher, it's important not to judge or manipulate the kids' behaviour. So all you do is describe what's been accomplished. Eg., "You stopped what you were doing, you took a deep breath and you looked at me."

As a reminder to stop, take a breath and relax, here's a STAR poster you can grab. Enjoy!

Have a great day, everyone, and thanks again, Barbara, for inviting me to stop and linger for a while at the Corner :)



Sesame Street As A Springboard

The wonderful Barbara over at Grade ONEderful is having her first linky party and we're all invited! How do you use drama in your classroom? We act things out in guidance classes all. the. time! We call it role playing and the kids LOVE it! Our biggest problem is that sometimes they don't all get a turn, just cause we run out of time, a good problem to have, I guess. Anyway, we act out all sorts of situations. Say we wanted to practice an apology? We'd act it out. Say we wanted to know what to do if we found a bottle of medicine on the ground (gasp!), we'd act it out. Say we didn't think our neighbor was taking good care of his dog, we'd act it out! We'd practice exactly what to say and do. Once you set role play and drama as a standard, watch out. Your little actors and actresses will want to do it all. the. time!

Want to teach them how to interview someone?
 Act it out. 

It's no secret that I love Sesame Street and guess what? Kids do, too. Even my third graders, who often act too cool for the clips until I show them and then emphatically plead request, "Let's watch it again!"  Here's a clip that you can use to help teach students to ask relevant questions and to really listen for the answers. In it, Elmo is interviewing soccer phenom David Beckham. 

Find out from students if they think that Elmo's doing a good job and why. What would they ask if they could interview this soccer superstar? After they write some relevant questions, let your roving reporters practice by interviewing a friend, a teacher, the counselor or the principal. Or assign it as homework and let them interview a family member or neighbor. After the interview, let students share what they found out with the class so that their classmates can . . . yep, ask even more relevant questions. And when they're not sure of something, let them practice it two or three ways.  
Lights, camera . . . ACTion! 


Notebook Babies

Do you know about Notebook Babies? Prepare to be WoWed! Created by fifth-grade-teacher Tony Dusko, these animated shorts are designed to teach while they entertain. They are like social stories on the screen. Students love them . . . and guess what?  
He's got an empathy clip in the works - YaY!


Must. Have. Picture. Books.

The Teacher WifeLindsey over at The Teacher Wife aspires to build a neighborhood library, so I'm helping by linking up to her site with my top must-have picture books. The more, the merrier, so write a post like this one with pictures of your must-reads, a link to more info about them, and a link to where you can get a copy for yourself, then click her cute button to the right to go there and add your faves to her list, too!

My very first pick HAS to be this oldie but goodie, the one that I used to win storytelling competition at the State Forensics Meet as a senior in high school. Harry and the Terrible Whatzit by Dick Gackenbach has such GREAT voice and is SO much fun to bring to life. It's about a boy who is forced to face his fear of the basement. The last page is simply. the. BEST! Click {here} to hear it read aloud on You Tube and {here} to purchase a copy of your own.

My next very favorite read-aloud is Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose. I got myself one, too, when my son's first-grade teacher put it on her Scholastic Book Fair Wish List and I used it in my very first guidance lesson after leaving high school and going to a middle school. Check it out for a great point of view and Golden Rule lesson. Click {here} for more extension and enrichment activities than you'll know what to do with and {here} to buy it now.

Another book that I thoroughly enJOY reading aloud is One by Kathryn Otoshi. In this colorful tale, red is a hot head and that makes blue feel, well, a little blue! Their story will serve as an excellent springboard for a discussion about bullying behaviors, bystanders and upstanders. Click {here} to hear the author read while some students from Trace Elementary interpret the book and {here} to pick up One for yourself.

If you want a book that totally lends itself to meaningful movement with a follow-up Chicken Dance, check out The Band-Aid Chicken by counselor Becky Rengal Henton. In this black-and-white treasure, a brand new chicken enters the barnyard eager to make new friends, only to find that there's a pecking order. Ouch! I use this one to talk with my students about how it feels to be the new kid and to get "pecked" on (LOVE the play on words!). Then we reflect on the courage it took for the Band-Aid Chicken to stand up and say "NO!" when it was her turn to do the pecking. I got some Band-Aids donated so that each child could go home with a visual reminder to never pick on others. Click {here} to learn more and {here} to peck up your copy.

OK, my list of favorites is CRAZY long, so I'll pick one more, but not before I send you {here} to see my entire Books That Teach list. I love picture books and am of the belief that you can NOT have enough of them, so here's my final recommendation, for now. Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie by Laura Rankin is a blast to read! You see, this precious young fox adores teeny tiny things so when she finds a teeny tiny camera on the playground, it's only natural that she'd want finders keepers, losers weepers to be right, right? Well, I wish you could hear my students gasp when Ruthie claims it's hers! Students LOVE listening to what unfolds when the real owner of that teeny tiny treasure, her friend Martin, tries to take it back. You can find out more {here} and buy your own teeny tiny copy {here}.

Happy Reading!

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