Really Good Stuff

As if I needed another addiction, I got hooked on Really Good Stuff about a year ago when I stumbled on a really good blog post at The Teachers' Lounge. The words made so. much. sense. and really resonated with me. So I started to navigate through their site, stumbled on a Really Good Giveaway (that I actually won!), and sent an idea for Earth Day their way. I read through the cute Classroom Capers and checked out their character education resources. So much to do on one site. Oh, and it didn't hurt that their stuff is so colorful, creative and fun!

In June as I was being bitten by the blogging bug, RGS ran a contest for the Best Classroom Blog. That's when I knew I wanted to be aligned with a Really Good Company like this. So I wrote an email offering that if they ever needed a guest post, I'd be happy to write for them and Brandi wrote back and asked if I'd like to be a monthly guest columnist. I felt SO blessed that day and have been writing for them since August. A couple of other TBA authors like Erin Klein from Kleinspiration and Cheryl Saoud from Primary Graffiti also write for them.

Today I'm excited because this afternoon at 4 pm (CST), I got to meet Brandi and hear her voice for the first time when we visited on Blog Talk Radio. Tune in to listen using the radio widget below or on the right; the radio is always on at the Corner.

Listen to internet radio with TeachingBlogAddict on Blog Talk Radio


Mirror Neurons

So we had an introductory taste of Conscious Discipline training on Presidents' Day and the concept of mirror neurons totally intrigued me. Do you know about these? Think of it like this: Someone smiles at you and you mirror it back (You've heard it said that someone has an infectious smile!) or someone nods his head and you find yourself nodding back. Your child cuts herself and YOU feel it, like the time I almost passed out when they were removing Kaitlyn's stitches it hurt so bad. It's sounding SO much like empathy that I wanted to know more, so I started to look more deeply into this so-called system in our brain.

Reflecting on our feelings and our charACTer.
Turns out it's kind of controversial because scientists still don't know enough about this mirror neuron, but what we do know fascinates me. The short You Tube video that our trainer showed us makes a compelling case for mirror neurons. This cool clip speaks volumes about the ability of someone SO young to mirror back a feelings face SO perfectly; equally impressive is that he's SO engaged in mirroring that he doesn't even care about his ice cream cone.

What are the implications of mirror neurons on our role as character educators?  Will we approach anything differently as we learn more?  What, if anything, would you need to adjust? I'm so eager to learn more and I promise keep you posted on my research.


A Slice Of Happiness

Life served up several slices of happiness this past Saturday and Sunday. Our college girl spent a few hours with us because her band came into town to march in the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show parade and play a gig at the UT Coop. Check out at how much fun these Longhorn Band musicians are having!

We got to celebrate Joshua’s birthday together and attend Jacob’s final Saturday night Pit Band performance for The Pajama Game, this year’s FHS Musical. We enjoyed a pancake breakfast before taking off for our three-hour tour to get her back to Austin. About 25 minutes into the trip, she inquires about her backpack. Turns out she mistook Joshua’s black backpack for hers and we had to make a U-turn to come back toward home to get it (Jacob agreed to meet us half way with it).  So this is a double-edged sword because we were understandably irritated by that extra hour this situation just tacked onto our Sunday drive, but we were equally elated that she remembered it when she did instead of three hours later as we were unloading her stuff in Austin. Can you imagine? Seriously!

Our frustration at her forgetfulness melted away in a flash when we lost the radio station frequency and had to pop in a CD. In an unpremeditated genius move, John had packed our Disney Collection, so for the last hour of the trip, we got to listen to our little girl belt out the most beautiful ballads (Think Jasime, Ariel, Simba, Pocahontas and Belle) and sing the silly songs from the Disney movies we'd watched with her during her formative years. Traveling back in time = A sweet slice of happiness.

On the way home, we drove through McDonald's to grab a bite to eat for dinner. Joshua was unpacking his Happy Meal when I heard this: I have to admit that this little container is pretty cute, but I would have liked more than 10 fries!   
Seriously, he counted them. There were ten.
Note the new skimpy-sized container next to 
my value-meal-sized holder below.   

   Seems the reason they've downsized the kid-portion fries is that they've added four "slices of happiness" (aka apples). A healthy addition is a promising practice, I suppose, but an unhappy change to a weary traveler after eight hours on the road. I shared some of my fries so that my happy teen didn't go hungry, and we enjoyed a rich slice of happiness (aka chocolate eclair torte) to celebrate his birthday one more time when we got home. 
Life is best served with a slice or two of happiness!


Salute To Heroes

The email came this week, a reminder from Michael about this year's Salute To Heroes celebration in honor and loving memory of his son, Specialist Ray Joseph Hutchinson. I bought this canvas entitled My Daddy at last year's event. His mom finds great comfort and release in painting these auction donations.

My Daddy by Deborah Hutchinson

A former student of mine, this soldier was a special young man. I told his story here on my fourth of July blog last year; I wrote this poem about Ray Joseph shortly after his life on earth was cut short in combat as he fought for our freedom.

Our Ray Of Light

His light shined brightly through his life,
Ray Joseph was his name.
Our earthly lives without him here
won't ever be the same.

There was a cause, he had to go
to try to make things right.
He said, "It's for the children 
that I have to go and fight."

Ray Joseph joined the Army
and soon he went off to war.
He knew Iraqi Freedom
was what he'd be fighting for.

He served his country proudly 
in the desert from the start.
In the end, 'cause of his courage
he received the Purple Heart.

Ray gave his all in everything; 
he sacrificed his life,
so that people he didn't even know
wouldn't have to live in strife.

Ray Joseph died a hero,
he gave freely out of love.
And now his light shines brightly
with the stars in heaven above.

Each year, his family and friends put on the Salute to Heroes banquet in his honor to raise funds so that students like Ray Joseph can earn a college scholarship to further his vision of making the world a better place. We salute soldiers everywhere on Ray Joseph's behalf. We will n.e.v.e.r. forget!


Celebrity Pizza Night

What fun to watch her open that door!
So I'm really tired today and I'm pretty sure it has something to do with that moonlighting I did Thursday night with Papa John's. You see, it was Celebrity Pizza Night so guess who spent four hours delivering pizzas after school and into the evening? Yep, yours truly along with 22 other staff members from Westwood-Bales. Volunteers from the PTO drive the cars and faculty from the school deliver the hot and fresh pizzas to our school families. To entertain our supporters, we might have a song, cheer, or poem. As an added bonus, our first graders made these AdOrAbLe thank-you cards that we attached to the top of the pizza boxes. And what's in it for us? Papa John's donates all of the tip money plus 20% of their sales during that block of time directly back to the school, so it's a nice little FUNdraiser for us. 
Wanna try this with your school?
Click the image to see how!
In fact, the first time we did this, we earned four thousand dollars. The second time around, the novelty had worn off a bit and the net wasn't quite that substantial, but it was significant enough to warrant giving it a third shot. So I'm not sure yet just how much money we made, but there were kids waiting at their window as if they were expecting Santa to show up with their pizza, so this I know for sure: we made a few special someones smile and that made my investment totally worth it!

This just in - our school earned $3082 and some odd cents from this FUNdraiser - yay!


Spring Into Seuss

As we get closer to March 2nd and the Read Across America Birthday bash, we remember and celebrate Dr. Seuss' unparalleled contribution to children's literature.  
Here's a Spring Into Seuss board I created using my sneetches:

The Seuss titles that I use most often in my counseling are What Was I Scared Of?, My Many Colored Days, Yertle The Turtle, and The Sneetches. There's nothing like a little star-bellied controversy to get kids thinking! Ask questions with emotive force: Are Stars a good thing? To whom? How could Stars be a bad thing? Find out from the your students what the equivalent of the Star Belly would be today. What are some of the issues that kids use to exclude others? Who are the fast-talking salesmen who want to capitalize on those differences? What issues unite or bring them back together?

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!


Fire Your Dendrites

These books on my night stand are the ones I'm working on right now.

The other day when I bumped into a friend, I was greeted with this inquiry: “What are you reading?”  As I was wondering how she knew I was reading anything, it occurred to me that a lifelong learner is always reading something. It just so happened that I was carrying around a novel that was recommended to me but just not doing anything for me, so we lodged into a spirited debate about whether or not I ought to feel compelled to finish a novel once I’ve started it. I learn by leaps and bounds when I engage people in discussions about dilemmas that don’t necessarily have a right or a wrong answer!  What else besides reading, discussing, and questioning can a lifelong learner do?  Here are a Dozen Do's from an article I originally wrote for Change Magazine:
  1. Enroll in a Continuing Education Course: If you’d like to sharpen a skill you already have or gain a new skill, why not look at your community education program. In a recent brochure that came in the mail, opportunities to learn about calligraphy or cooking, painting or photography, guitar or gardening abound. These enrichment courses open the door to your brain to stretch and grow while creative juices flow and produce cool stuff like, in some classes, produce.
  2. Join a Book Club or PLC: You’re likely to be really challenged if you’re spending time with people who like to think. Find five other readers and agree on what novel or self-help book you’ll read next. Get together to discuss, then enjoy the new perspective. Based on the work of Richard DuFour, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) allow for colleagues to collaborate and learn from one another while they build trust and put action plans in place to maximize their students’ learning. Thinkers sharing what they think with other thinkers generate palpable brainpower.
  3. Collect Stuff: My seventh-grade teacher charged us to “hoard words like a coin collector,” to learn new words, discover their origins, and to figure out their orthography. So why not enrich your vocabulary by collecting a new word every day. Or start a coin collection. Find out where the coins originated, where they were minted, and what they’re worth. Or collect stamps. Sorting and cataloguing them will keep you thinking.
  4. Seek out Teaching Opportunities: You don’t have to have a degree in education to teach. Learning is solidified as you teach skills to others. I became a better knitter, for example, as I taught people to knit. What skill would you like to share? Start in your church, at a community center, or in a school. Be a mentor and see what you learn!
  5. Blog: Reading and writing online through blogs can be a great way to stay up on the latest research in and observations specific topics of interest to you. Journal your thoughts and chew on the reflections of others.
  6. Take an Online Course: Consider getting an advanced degree, license, or certification through an online program like the University of Utah online that offers “one-evening get-aways, Friday evening date nights, and Sunday field trips.” The ever-popular University of Phoenix, a pioneer in online degrees “offers online and on-campus degree programs at the associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level — each is a balanced combination of academic theory and practical application.” If you don’t have the time or money for an entire course, sign up for a webinar that piques your interest.
  7. Puzzle Yourself: Lifelong learners don’t necessarily need textbooks. Research suggests that puzzles will also keep your brain waves rippling. Traditional table-top or 3D jigsaws provide hands-on, kinesthetic learning while Sudoku, crosswords, and word search puzzles offer a more abstract, academic task. Better yet, create a puzzle of your own for a family member or friend to solve.
  8. Travel: Traveling allows your brain to experience new territory as you cross over boundaries that normally keep you protected, safe and secure. Research places to visit, either foreign or domestic. Calculate the cost to get there and back. Explore learning opportunities while you’re there, like visiting the Art Museum or taking in a play at a local theater. Experience the culture by taking a back-roads tour and trying some traditional cuisine. Ask questions about the history and traditions. Can’t afford a real trip?  Planning a virtual trip is just a click away. Or host a foreign exchange student and bring the cultural experience into your home.
  9. Learn another Language: Think you’re too old to acquire another language? Think again. There are a myriad of ways to get exposure to a second language. Sign up for a conversational course first to see if you like it. You can use audio CDs to listen to and learn the language in your vehicle. Try acquiring vocabulary by watching television in another language. Find a teenager who’s also learning that course and become study buddies. Or use an online translator to make post-it notes for common areas like on the bathroom mirror or the refrigerator door. Not too interested in a spoken language? Give Latin or Sign Language a shot.
  10. Pursue Music Lessons: Playing a musical instrument or simply taking voice lessons might strike a chord with some of you. A University of California research team has shown in experiments with adults that music — either performing it or listening to it – has the power to enhance some kinds of higher brain function. Start small with a recorder or ukulele and watch your dendrites crescendo to new heights.
  11. Start a Dinner Club: Gather some friends to join you for a monthly gathering around the dinner table. But don’t settle for just the ordinary – make it extraordinary.  Agree to research ethnic dishes and try new recipes. Explore the traditions of the region to share with your guests. Dress in customary garb for more authenticity.  Serve the meal as they would in the country that you’re highlighting.
  12. Do Charitable Work: Never underestimate the power of giving back. Find a charity that sparks your interest. I love to knit for charity to help Save the Children; my daughter enjoys her volunteer work with her Longhorn Band Service Sorority at school. Research a cause and find out how you can help, then enJOY the power of the Pay It Forward experience.
What do you do to fire your dendrites?


Just One More

My baby is turning 13 this week; here's a poem I wrote that was inspired by his tuck-in-time stall tactics. Happy Birthday, Joshua!

Just One More

It’s bedtime soon for Joshua, time to start winding down.
“But Mommy, I’m not ready yet,” he tells her with a frown.

She warms his favorite p.j.s (he likes his Snoopy ones best!).
Then runs warm water in his bath and helps him get undressed.

He soaps up well and lathers every inch of his smooth skin,
Then he dries off, all ready for his tuck-in to begin.

“Let’s talk about my school day now, I'll tell you ‘bout my friends.
There’s Shelby, Claire, and Dillon. . .” It's a list that never ends.

“I need a sip,” Mom hears him say, “Just one more thing to do.”
They head off to the kitchen for a glass of milk for two.

He says “good night” again and then, off to his room they go.
“Can we please tell some knock knock jokes?” is what he wants to know.

So Mom gives in just one more time; his jokes are so much fun.
Another day has come and gone, but this tike's not quite done.

Before Mom knows it, he’s back up, and running for the door.
“I didn’t pick my cars up, they’re still on the living room floor.”

Her little boy is stalling; it’s so cute she can’t believe
he’s got so many clever tricks up his pajama sleeve.

He finds his special blankey before Jacob comes to read.
After they finish three whole books, “Just one more, bud?” he’ll plead.

So one more book, then off to brush those little pearly whites.
He’s almost ready to crawl in and turn off all the lights.

“I need to kiss my sister and my dad and mommy, too.
I need to say I love you. It’s the last thing that I’ll do.”

He goes with mom back to his room and hugs her, oh so tight.
“Do you have time to cuddle before I fall sleep tonight?”

She crawls beneath his covers and she snuggles him awhile.
And when he’s almost fast asleep, he sneaks just one more smile.


Heart and Sole

It's coming, the annual One Day Without Shoes to raise awareness for the millions of kids around the world who don't have shoes. Are you planning to join the movement April 10th? 

It sounds like such a good cause, sponsored by Toms. They're kind of pricey, those shoes, but for every pair sold, the company donates a pair to a child in need. One for One, so it's worth it, to me. Says owner Blake Mycoskie, "Giving is what fuels us. Giving is our future." 

Kind of reminds me of a book on my shelf by Maribeth Boelts called Those Shoes. It speaks to me because there's a well-intentioned counselor in the story who gives Jeremy, a little boy in need, some shoes. But unlike the ones he's got his eye on, they're actually pretty dorky, with a Bob-the-Builder type character on them. In a stroke-of-luck moment, however, Jeremy does find those shoes at a resale shop, but they aren't quite his size. What he does with them after he realizes that they aren't ever going to fit is what endears me to this book, that and the fact that it's got two important lessons woven in, one that addresses wants v. needs and the other that has to do with empathy, putting yourself in another's shoes. 

Use the latter as a springboard for a writing assignment:  When was the last time you put yourself in someone else's shoes? What happened? What was that experience like? What was easy about it? What was burdensome? How did it feel? If you'd like to follow it up with a service project, consider hosting a shoe drive in partnership with Soles 4 Souls. We sent gently-used shoes to Haiti and, with our help, this charitable organization has distributed over 16 million pairs of shoes
Giving nourishes us, heart and soul!


A Penny For Your Thoughts

Happy Presidents' Day! Today, in honor of our two presidents who both have prominent places on our currency, a priceless guest blog on fiscal responsibility. 

3 Simple Ways to Teach Financial Responsibility to Your Kids

Knowing how to maintain and monitor one's finances is an important life asset to have - after all, without a proper eye for the value of a dollar, one can easily get into debt and struggle making ends meet and providing for the family. You don't want this person to be your child. While you may be a penny-wise person yourself, that doesn't necessarily mean that your child will naturally inherit these traits via genetics. You need to make sure that you start teaching your child money management skills as early as possible so he or she can develop the skills that can help them progress later in life. That said, below are 3 simple ways to kick-start your mission.

1. Give a Set Allowance Early On
Even if your child is just a toddler, go ahead and give your child a "modest" allowance—maybe something has small as $5. Distribute it in singles and even some coins so your child can get familiar with the value and touch and feel of each. Whether you issue a monthly or weekly allowance is up to you, but allow your child to use this money to buy little odds and ends like pencils, erasers, and other small toys and candies. Whatever you do, just don't "give in" to all of your child's demands. If he or she wants something that isn't a "necessity," direct your child to what's left of his or her allowance. Take this time to also set up a piggy bank so that your child can learn the value of saving as well. Naturally, as your child gets older, the allowance amount can increase. And if your child wants more expensive things like extra cell phone minutes or iTunes, direct to the allowance.

2. Masque Money Management Lessons Through Games
One of the more inconspicuous ways to teach your child about money management is to simply let them have fun with various games like Pay Day and Monopoly.  By providing fake money and different worst-case money scenarios, these age-appropriate games require players to distinguish between wants and needs as well as the importance of paying bills and being employed in order to win the game.

3. Make Them Work For "Extras"
At some point, your child is going to have to learn that he or she is going to have to earn their income. If you already require your child to do chores in order to earn his or her allowance, great. But if your child complains that he or she needs more money (which will commonly occur in the teenage years), send them on their way to find a job. If they're too young to have an actual job, that doesn’t mean they can't turn into little entrepreneurs and make money other ways, such as babysitting, pet sitting, mowing lawns or hand-washing cars in the neighborhood. Learning how hard it is to make money will make them appreciate the money they earn as well as yours. 

This guest post is contributed by Katheryn Rivas, who writes for online universities blog. She welcomes your comments at her email: katherynrivas87@gmail.com. 


Be Present

Lately it's been so personal, so prevalent, so poignant, palpable even, the reminder to show up and to be present.  Maybe it's because it was such a painful time when our oldest was preparing to leave the nest. Did I have any regrets?  What would I like to do over?  What, if anything, would I do differently?  So every time I see a reminder to
Be PrEsEnT
I can't help but wonder if I am.  
PRESENT, that is. 
And not just showing up, either, but really being there, in the moment. Looking Joshua in the eyes when he talks to me so I can see the sparkle and feel his joy. Sitting down with Jacob as he tells me about his German competition, about this year's musical, or about the new girl who's stolen his heart. Laying next to John on the couch, watching our favorite show, and giggling with one another during the commercials about the weird stuff that's going on in our lives and at our jobs. And falling in love all over again. Giving 100% of what I've got left at the end of the day and on the weekends to be with the people I adore. 

This canvas that I found at Kohl's Department Store reminds of some other ways to be present, for myself and for others. It initially caught my eye because of the second one, create peace. I also believe that enjoying the little things, dreaming big, and showing gratitude will help me by replenishing whatever I give away. Embrace. Discover. Believe

What are some of the things that you do to live your life in the present, today, right now? Carpe Diem.


Got Conflict? Get Kelso!

 It was the spring of 2007 and we were moving in the right direction as a school.  Our discipline referrals had dropped slightly and our State test scores were once again high enough to earn us Exemplary status on our State assessment. But something was still missing.  Feedback from a National School of Character application challenged us to show how we prevent peer cruelty and solve conflict peacefully, so we started our search for such a strategy. And then it found us. A prospective kindergarten teacher came to an interview and there it was – Kelso’s Choice – in her portfolio. As she was explaining how she empowers her little leaders to become problem solvers and discern between small problems and big problems, we knew we’d found not only our new hire, but also the missing peace.

We have a Kelso's Choice bulletin board available to our kids in the cafeteria.
Partial to pink?  Kelso is still 'hoppy' to help!

I know, I know, it should be piece, but peace also works in our story.  We met for that summer retreat day at a local restaurant for brunch, after which we introduced Kelso’s Choices as part of our team-building workday.  We broke the faculty up into groups of six and asked each team to read one of the stories and share with the whole group what they’d learned.  There was so much excitement about Kelso and his friends on the lily pad in the pond and voila, Kelso was launched. Each teacher received a poster and was encouraged to make a Kelso’s Corner. We even added the cute Kelso puppet to our library collection so that our faculty and staff could make Kelso come alive in their classrooms. 

Let's let Kelso help us work it out.
At Family Character Night that year, we showcased Kelso so that the parents could become more familiar with the idea and use it at home. Our principals did some role-playing as themselves by acting out some familiar scenarios from the classroom, the playground, and even with siblings, after which we offered solutions based on the Kelso’s Choices Wheel. We sent the wheels home printed on a green handout so that parents could practice this concept with their children. We also keep extra copies available in our Parent Resource Center. We’re told over and over again that our students even use it in their neighborhoods to resolve conflict as they’re playing outside. This summer, a principal up in Wisconsin told me that he has the students wear the Kelso’s Choice wheel on their lanyards so that problem-solving solutions are always at their fingertips. Isn’t that a great idea! At school, we have Kelso’s Corners in all of the classrooms, in the gym as well as in the cafeteria so students always have the wheel as an option when conflict arises.

In my guidance lessons, Kelso’s Choice comes up as a possible solution to every small, annoying problem I throw their way. Time and time again, I hear students say that they could take care of that themselves with Kelso’s help. Now that’s empowerment! Kelso’s Choice Conflict Management system is a terrific tool that helps make for a peaceful place and a critical component in the success we’ve enjoyed in our character building.

Need help explaining Conflict? Check out this cool clip, brought to us by our friends 
at Sesame Street:


Compassion Fatigue

Do you know about these flowers? It's a kalanchoe plant and, when it's in full bloom, its beauty is unparalleled. Kalanchoes are hearty succulents that are incredibly easy to grow. Break one off and put it in soil. That's it. Fully-flowered kalanchoes make me very happy. And their blooms last for a very long time, whereby prolonging the joy that accompanies them for me!

Every once in awhile, I have to bring them in because they prefer warmer temps and cannot withstand a freeze, even a light one. Look at what happens when I forget:

They turn all brown, pitiful and limp. And there's n.o.t.h.i.n.g. joyful or happy about that, which brings me to today's post on 
compassion fatigue. Did you know that caring too much can actually hurt you? I went to a fantastic, albeit somewhat somber, breakout session at a recent conference on that very topic and learned that caregivers who don't take proper self-care are at risk for compassion fatigue. And guess what? 
As Dr. Merriman described the symptoms, I realized that I'd fallen prey to compassion fatigue several times without even knowing it. I thought it might be burnout, I assumed I was just exhausted. But I now know it was probably compassion fatigue. 

Now that I'm aware, I'm on a mission to take better care of myself so I don't shrivel up, weathered from the weight of what I'm giving away, like that little kalanchoe sprig. Sustainable stuff like setting boundaries 
(she said to keep reminding ourselves that 
NO. is a complete sentence!
and knowing when I'm at capacity. Unlike being queen of the kalanchoe, those two goals aren't going to be easy breezy. But if, like the kalanchoe, I want to be bountiful and beautiful and bring joy to others, I've got to be properly nourished and nurtured. That leads me to today's inquiry: How do you prevent compassion fatigue? And who (or what?) brings you in from the cold when you're limp and weakened from compassion fatigue?


Guest Post by Dr. Michelle Anthony

Today I am feeling overwhelmingly blessed that Dr. Michelle Anthony is in our Corner to share some nuggets of wisdom from her book. She and Dr. Reyna Lindert co-wrote this amazing guide to bully-proofing our girls (and children in general) last year that I strongly recommend. The whole time I was reading it, I kept wishing that I'd have had this book when Kaitlyn was in her formative years. I do keep on the shelves for check out in our parenting resource center. 
Thank you, Dr. Anthony, for the booster shot of inspiration!

Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-proof Girls in the Early Grades
By Michelle Anthony, MA, PhD

Almost 5 years ago, I found this notewritten by my then 6 ½ year old daughterstuffed between her mattress and the desk beside her bed. It sent instant alarms. That afternoon, when she got home from school, we sat together and I showed it to her. Her eyes welled up with tears and she turned away from me. I put my arm around her to let her know it was ok, and that we could talk about itwhatever “it” was.

The floodgates released and her story came pouring out: the months that she had felt confused and alone, but hid her feelings from us. The times she had turned to her teacher for help, but instead been told to “toughen up.” Her shoulders heaved as she told me story after story about her best friend, Sherrie, and the sometimes kind, sometime cruel things she had done. How scared my daughter was, and how confused. Who could she trust? What was real?

I sat there, stunned. Shocked. Who was this person my daughter was describing? Certainly not the polite, smart, thoughtful girl who came over to our house for play dates. Not the girl who had reached out and befriended my daughter at the beginning of the year, when she was “the new girl.” Not the sunny, smiling face that came to mind whenever I thought of her. Not this girl, who
even in first gradewould ask adults questions, say what a great time she had over, and offer to drop by homework when my daughter was sick.

The girl who I met and interacted with was clearly not the girl my child was describing...and yet she was.

That day was a turning point in my life, and in my relationship with my daughter. It was that day that girl meanness hit home, in a very real and tangible way. I had expected things like this, but not until adolescence
years away. My 6-year-old wasn’t ready to manage these experiences and emotions so young...and neither was I.

I sat there, holding my daughter as she cried, realizing how helpless and alone she felt, and that in part, it was because of me. No, not because I had forced a friendship on her
my daughter continued to ask for play dates right up and through when we started dealing with her conflicts with Sherrie. Not because I had ignored her complaintsshe never shared them. Not because I had told her that there are just some mean girls, and she needed to learn to more carefully choose her friendsthis was actually a very nice girl, who in fact had and continued to do many, many kind, thoughtful, “best friends” sorts of things for her.

No, it’s what I hadn’t done that had failed her. I hadn’t seen the subtle signs of her unhappiness, hadn’t noticed the level of her confusion, and hadn’t realized the importance of helping her learn how to manage her friendships, understand her rights (and role) within them, or feel that she had a listening, knowledgeable, supportive teammate to work things through with.

It’s what I learned that day that led, several years later, to our new book, Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-proof Girls in the Early Grades
, where we address the most common social struggles girls face in friendship pairs and groups.  In the book, we reach out to parents and other caring adultsto help them understand how and why meanness happens, and to give them the tools to help girls manage and mitigate the devastating effects of social cruelty and relational aggression. By following the Four Step plan described in the book, parents learn how to approach the issue of meanness, and support their daughters as they learn to navigate the rocky waters of growing up female.
What Parents Can Do
Because much of the “everyday” meanness happens between close friends, girls are often hesitant to talk to parents and teachers, in part because we often brush off social struggles, saying, “she’ll be nicer tomorrow,” or, “ignore her; play with someone else,” or “girls are just mean sometimes.”  Thus, in trying to help, we unwittingly isolate girls from the very support network they need and deserve. 

But, providing support is as simple as 1-2-3-4: Observe, Connect, Guide, and Support to Act.  The Steps are relevant whether your child is a target, is acting meanly, or is simply a bystander to “girl drama.”  

Step 1: Observe your child in new ways and with new eyes, seeking to understand who she is socially.  Is she passive?  Aggressive? A self-starter?  Recognize when things go awry: she suddenly stops wanting to do favorite activities, starts more fights with her siblings, complains of headaches, etc. 

Step 2: Connect with her, without taking over.  Ask questions; empathize.  Let her know you are on her side before switching into problem-solving mode or advising her to be kinder.  This is especially hard (and especially important!) if your child has been mean.

Step 3: Guide her, as a teammate.  Work together to try out possible solutions, whittling down the list to choices doable to you both (e.g., if she decides she wants more play dates, you need to support her follow through).

Step 4: Support Her to Act on one or two of the solutions.  Remember, she chooses her actions and follows through, not you.  Because you will not control how peers respond, follow up with the four Steps again, observing how things unfold, reconnecting over how she now feels, and working together as you guide her to new choices she can then act on. 

While not every social situation warrants all Four Steps, Observing and Connecting often will allow you to see patterns, or notice your child is unhappy.  In applying the Four Steps, caring parents, teachers, and counselors learn a variety of tools and strategies that give the girls they love a simple productive way to respond to the inevitable struggles every girl faces as she enters (and sometimes gets excluded by) the world of groups, clubs, and best friends.


Dream BIG

The new Scholastic book order came in last week and I scored some new titles. My favorite has to be this Kristi Yamaguchi (Olympic Medalist turned Author) book called Dream Big Little Pig! Just look at the cover and you'll fall in love with this persistent little pig in pursuit of her passion. But after several dreams melt away, will she find one that suits her?

It reminded me of an article I read last spring at Inside the School about not being afraid to fall fail, and it sparked a bulletin board idea to get kids thinking about their goals and dreams:

Finally, it's this time of year every year when I'm reminded of one of the greatest love stories on ice E.V.E.R. I will forever be in awe of the graceful elegance of Olympic gold-medalist Figure Skaters Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov and, though it's been 13 years since he passed away, I still cannot watch this beautiful duo without being sad for Katia and their daughter.


Experience Our Energy

Happy Valentines Day. How are you celebrating today? We had our class parties on Friday; we read stories about friendship and love, like Eileen Spinelli's Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, we exchanged Valentines, we did some fun activities, and we ate delicious goodies. 

If you don't already have this book, do yourself a favor and check it out; it is such a touching story about the difference a kind word or deed can make. Click the graphic to hear Hector Elizondo read it aloud.

We got together as a school family while our awesome volunteers prepared for the parties to move to the Cupid Shuffle and The Friday Dance (Glee Cast Version!), choreographed by our rockin' PE teachers. Click the video below to experience our pre-party energy. 
Oh, and feel free to turn it up and dance along!


Empathy And A Snowblower

So I'm in Galveston today (where it's, relatively speaking, freezing cold!), attending and speaking at our Texas Counseling Association conference. My session is called Elevating Empathy and Creating A Climate of CAREacter. This is a relatively new topic for me, one that I got interested in after hearing Michele Borba's From Compassion To Cruelty keynote last summer in Wisconsin; her Empathy Crisis blog post is an eye-opener. If you EVER get a chance to hear her speak, you simply MUST do it!  Her research suggests that it's critical that we nurture empathy so that our children aren't emotionally empty, because people with vacuous emotional reserves simply have nothing to give away. So I'm sharing some strategies to help character educators elevate empathy. I'm super excited about this opportunity (though lyrics to a bunny-hop ditty bounding in my head woke me up at 3 a.m.)!

Click here if you would like a copy of my Power Point presentation from the session on Google Docs. 

I have a brother who puts empathy into action, especially after a heavy snow hits Milwaukee.  You see, he's become the resident snow blower on his street. I'm not sure how he happened into that job, but I don't think he's always had it. I vaguely remember a time, actually, when he used a good old-fashioned shovel and it was all he could do to clear his own drive. Maybe it was when he got this monster machine that allows him to throw snow like it's sand. Or quite possibly it's because he himself cannot stand the thought of being snow-bound so he wants to help keep them from being snowed in as well. Regardless of his motivation, like a good neighbor, my brother's there. Around this time last year, they got twenty inches of the powdery white stuff, and he spent five hours behind his blower. One for his driveway, four on the neighboring sidewalks and drives. 

I'm guessing it's kind of fun, in a weird sort of way, or he wouldn't have braved the frozen tundra temps to give such a gift. He puts himself in their shoes boots and layers on his orange reflective hunting clothes, then he fires up his 30" Craftsman and blazes the trail to move the frozen flakes out of the way so that life can go on for his neighbors and friends. And with an interesting twist, it seems Mark benefits as much from providing this severe-weather service as the recipients of his kindness do. It's not likely that we'll EVER get that kind of snow in Texas, but if we do, I'd happily welcome a neighbor with empathy and a snowblower!


ALL Things!

I totally LOVE this picture. There's just something SO serene about it.  My brother took it a few years back at the parochial school where I spent my formative years, so that's probably part of it. I kind of miss winter now that I live in the south, that's another part. I've always loved softball, another draw. But the best part, to me, is the verse that's been weathered but is legible nonetheless.  I can do all things . . .  


How Are You Feeling?

I really enjoy helping children get in touch with their feelings by identifying them and learning to manage them. This Today I Feel magnet from my friend Audrey hangs on my filing cabinet in my office. After a visit from Mrs. Quigley's class on Thursday, one little sprout gladly changed it to HAPPY for me!

An M&M Magnet Manipulative

Here's a song I wrote to help us with feelings identification; it's set to the tune of Old MacDonald:

My feelings are unique to me,
That's just the way I feel.
They change from day to day, you see.
They're mine and that's the deal.
Sometimes I'm happy, sometimes sad;
Sometimes scared and sometimes mad!
My feelings are unique to me,
That's just the way I feel. 

I popped into a kinder class last week for an impromptu song session:

We use the feeling tiles that my daughter drew on my office ceiling to make connections to our experiences all. the. time!

Here are a few of our favorite books with a feelings focus:

How are YOU feeling today?

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