What Teachers See

One of the perks of blogging inspirational stuff is that readers often send inspirational stuff my way. So this morning I woke up to an email from my friend Jo up in Wisconsin because she wanted to me to experience this video clip 
and get pumped up for school.

At first I thought the man was throwing starfish back into the sea,
 and it reminded me of The Starfish Slinger

Click on this graphic for its source and a cool jewelry pendant.
And he kind of is ... in a secondary ed sort of way. 

I just love this metaphor and have a poster almost like this hangs on the back of my office door as a reminder that students are like starfish.

Anyway, this music video is from Union Grove High School in Wisconsin. If you're like me, you're wishing that your high schooler had these men in black at the helm. Or maybe you're just in awe of their passion, enthusiasm, and love for the teens under their mentorship and our future. You might even want to support their efforts and/or do something similar with your school family. 
However you connect, sit back and enjoy Brachmann & Hein in 

Happy Labor Day Weekend.


A Big Find For Small Groups

One of my favorite days this summer was when Heather, who was in second grade when I started working at Westwood-Bales, came to see me after her first year of college. This little girl always had a special place in my heart because when she was in third grade, she wrote me a note asking to see me, just because. 
She didn't have a problem to discuss, or some unresolved feelings to process; 
she just wanted to spend some time with me. 

We had such a nice visit that day (and a couple times after that!); it was refreshing to talk with someone who didn't really have any pressing issues to work out. Not that year, anyway. The following spring break, she lost her mom in a boating accident. I kept track of her over the years and always wondered what it was like to walk in her shoes and recover from such a devastating loss. I've admired her resilience from afar and it warmed my heart to see the beautiful young lady she's become as we chatted over lunch.

I've been thinking about Heather all day since I watched this
 Children and Grief Professor Child product, 
the perfect complement for my small group counseling classes!

I am just jazzed about these films 
and their free downloadable workbook companions
What a valuable resource. 
But you don't have to take my word for it; check out this You Tube trailer 
and listen for yourselves to these amazing survivors:

There is absolutely nothing that can replace first-hand experience; that's why I see so much connection potential with these real children sharing their real stories. Each DVD includes about ten chapters, perfect for a semester-long small group, or for showing a chapter at a time as your students are ready. Follow-up with the engaging enrichment ideas in the workbook. There are reflection writing activities, role-plays, and drawing exercises. The one that caught my eye in the Grief workbook was a Dear-Abby-type writing exercise that puts the child in the role of the expert, writing the answers for his/her advice column. What a clever way to get kids to express themselves and share the wisdom from their journey.

So often when someone dies, it becomes the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. These films, which also include one for Children of Divorce, for Children of Military families, and for Siblings And Autism, can change all of that. They will give students a voice and feelings an outlet. They will validate and normalize behaviors. And they will undoubtedly help countless children heal.

Now I can't wait for my small groups to start!


A Tale-Wagging Reunification

Today I'm excited because I'm guest posting for my friends at Character Counts!; 
click {here} to read about the B2S books in our school's character case.

I also got my counseling brochure finished.
Click each page if you'd like to download a copy. I'll print it front and back.

Finally I'm still a bit perplexed by yesterday afternoon's events. I was awakened from a power nap by John's voice saying, "Gruene, we have a situation." 
Well, that can't be any good. So I snap out of my hour in la-la land to find that there's a little dog, an aging chihuahua, with one floppy ear, in our back yard.

John had already phoned the animal shelter, but they were closed and the Police Department, who said they wouldn't remove it unless it had bitten someone. 
Does this little fella look like he's interested in biting anyone?

Anyway, John knew that the dog's name was Diego and exactly where he lived, which was like thirty-five miles down the road. John even knew his phone number, thanks to the dog tag Diego was wearing. What he needed from me was to call the dog's family and ask them to come get him. 
So I made a phone call while they made friends. 

Diego's family arrived about an hour and a half later and that happy little pooch just licked and licked his owner's face. 
He'd been gone for a week and was overjoyed 
to be reunited with his lost family. 
Diego woofed down four weiners like a shark on a feeding frenzy. 
It was AdOrAbLe! 
As they were expressing their gratitude, they said, 
"We'd give you some money if we had some."
We're still puzzled by how Diego found his way into our back yard,  especially given the fact that it's totally fenced-off, but it was worth more to reunite him with his best friends than any possible monetary reward could ever be.

What's happened in your Corner so far this week? 


Our Promise To Each Other

Just for fun, I entered our DREAMS display in a B2S bulletin board contest on what just happens to be the anniversary of MLK Jr's I have a dream speech. 

I just love Wednesdays because it's our mid-week chance to gather as a community before school and launch into the day together. Staff members unite by wearing their character Ts and jeans. We recite the pledges to the flags as well as our character pledge:

Graphic template from recitethis.com

We share our moment of silence, then publicly celebrate birthdays.
We get a weather report and listen to the lunch menu.
 Sometimes we enjoy a special performance or presentation.
Before we leave, we sing the School Song together.

This is what I'll be wearing today.

It's actually the shirt I got for speaking at North Pointe Elementary last week so I won't match anyone else, but I'll wear it with pride, that's for sure. On the back, it says National School of Character. We have that in common with them!

And during these first two weeks, 
there ought to be a lot of social contracts posted.
A social contract is our promise to one another. 

They come in all shapes and sizes. 
Here are two examples; 
the first one will be complete when 
the students all put their thumbprint on it.

These contracts are meant to be a working document so that if someone has signed the promise but has somehow gotten off track from the terms of the agreement, students and teachers can refer back to the contract and revisit it by asking:
How did we say we would treat one another?
 Periodically it might need to be updated or something might need to be added. It's good to take a look at the contract at the end of each week to reflect on how you've done as a class. It's also important to share it with any new student who joins your class family and let him/her sign it.
It's fun to see how these contracts evolve.

Make it a wonder-filled Wednesday! 


Parenting Our Future

Our middle child, Jacob, starts his college career today just as Joshua begins his high school days. Where does the time go?

It was sometime this summer, just before he took off for college, when I found this post on Jacob's Facebook page:

If your child said he wanted to be a serial killer, would you tell him no and *gasp* crush a child's dream, make him feel bad about himself and pave the way for lasting, life-long depression? Children don't always know what's best for themselves. That's why they have parents: to tell them no when appropriate and teach them how life works. Not to give them everything, always make them feel "comfortable," and just be observers of their underdeveloped, immature decisions. Many parents don't know this, it seems ...

At first I wondered what we'd missed with our youngest {Had Jacob caught him watching something inappropriate on television after we'd gone to bed?}, because Jacob sometimes suggested that we were too easy on his little brother. But when I inquired about it, Jacob said it wasn't a commentary about us, but something he'd seen in the news. I love that he cared so deeply about his future.

Parenting isn't an easy job by any stretch and I am certainly not an expert. So when I need help, I turn to those professionals who are, like Bill Corbett. I recently read an engagingly authentic coaching manual by the founder of Cooperative Kids, called Love, Limits & Lessons

In this book about raising kids that cooperate (who wouldn't want that!), Mr. Corbett lays out situations and issues chapter by chapter for quick reference as needs arise. Some of his helpful hints include:

*Teaching Boundaries
*Those Annoying (But Normal) Behaviors
*Living Out Loud: Teaching by Example
*Guidelines on Chores
*Teaching Children Gratitude
*Eight Tips for Raising Tweens & Teens
*Adult Emotional Chaos In Your Home
*Ten Things Children Want from Their Parents

Mr. Corbett shares his experience as a Dad himself and a parenting coach to give his readers the benefit of concrete, pragmatic strategies that will endure the test of time. From toddlers to teens, these techniques works. Give them a shot and see how easily you'll influence change in your family dynamics.

If you're parenting the future, 
I recommend you check out this book. 
It'll be a critical tool in your parenting arsenal.


Her Stamp Of Approval

Her name was Miss R and she was my teacher from 1969-1973 during some very formative years. You might be asking how that's even possible, to have had the same teacher for four grades and I often wondered that, too. In that small Lutheran grade school, there were eleven kids in my class (eight boys, three girls) until sixth grade, when Debbie W moved in. As you know, eleven isn't a very big class, but eleven plus eleven is, so each teacher taught two grades. Side by side.

You've undoubtedly heard me tell that I got to spend grades one and two with my Great Aunt Norma. She saw something special in me and brought out the best in me. When a student was struggling to understand a concept, or if she'd been out sick and missed it all together, Aunt Norma would send me to the little library at the entrance of her room and let me teach her and/or get him caught up. She championed my gifts and made me feel like her favorite.

It wasn't exactly like that with Miss R. I'm not sure she saw the potential that Aunt Norma did. I am sure that she did not want me teaching her class. I was kind of scared of Miss R and a little frustrated that she did not see my gift of gab as a gift at all. When she'd call me out into the hall to fuss and holler at me, her jaw would clench and her cheeks would redden as they shook until I'd cry. Then she'd tell me to go splash cold water on my face and try to be quiet when I came back into the room. That's why I was really excited when, after grades three and four with her, I heard that she was moving.

But I started dancing prematurely, y'all. Miss R was moving all right. But not moving away. Moving up. To fifth and sixth. With my class. With me. So we had her for third, fourth, fifth, and sixth. That's a long time to walk on egg shells. 
And to be quiet.

Thing is, my memories of Miss R aren't all bad. In fact, I learned that hard work pays off - figuratively and literally - on her watch. For every A I earned, I got a stamp. It would come paper-clipped onto my papers in a clear little envelope like this:

I still get all goose-bumpy when I think about having earned this magnificent stamp. And Miss R's stamp of approval obviously meant something to me; it's been almost 45 years and look what I found when I was cleaning this weekend:

They were big and small from all over the world. They were square and rectangular, triangular and diamond-shaped. I had two books that I could tape them into. I remember searching fervently through the pages to match up the stamp I'd earned with its picture in the book. One thing's for sure; 
I worked hard to make As in Miss R's class!

I saw Miss R about a dozen years back, when I went to a breakfast Bible Study with my Grandma Natzke. We talked about how much those stamps meant to me and how I had a daughter in third grade who had taken an interest in my now-browned stamp collection. It was nice to see her again.

A few weeks later, Kaitlyn got a letter in the mail from Wisconsin,
 in handwriting that was only familiar to me. 
Inside there was a heartwarming letter from Miss R.
And ... you guessed it ... a few stamps. 


The Big Reveal

For many of us, it's our last weekend before we launch into another school year; savor your little smidgen of summertime. 
For others, congratulations because you're already up and running!
If you're still on break, enjoy every last morsel of R & R.

And now, it's time for The Big Reveal. 

Did you pick a second-grade me off of this blogger collage that Michelle made?

Click this graphic for all of the others and to see who won.

If you thought I was number 13, you were close because she kind of looks like my sister. If you picked number 23, you're spot on! 
Everyone who played along and guessed correctly 
will be receiving a digital copy of the template for my 
Character Cards prompts. 
But wait, there's more. 
If you didn't play but you'd still like those prompts, 
just email me (or leave your email in the comments) 
and they're yours.

It's an editable document so you can add and delete to make them yours; change the fonts to cutesify them if you'd like. Print them out on an Avery 5160 address label (1" x 2 5/8") and trim them slightly to fit your standard-sized deck of playing cards. Don't feel like trimming them? 
Affix them to colorful 3x5 index cards and use them for 
morning meeting discussion starters or writing prompts.


I've thoroughly enjoyed being on the grid a lot less this month. Once I resume a regular school routine, I'll likely be blogging a bit more, though probably not daily like in the past. Thanks for checking back in the few times I've posted this month. It's been a much-needed chance to unplug and recharge my battery.


Write Your Own Story

Happy Friday!

Besides making it through my first week back, today I'm excited about 
these three things.

1. These fun little pick-me-ups that I put in each teacher's box. I was going to type them out in a fun font but it turns out our printers are still on summer break, so I wrote them all out in my own handwriting font. 

I'd love to say this was totally my idea, but I actually piggybacked off of something I saw on another counselor's blog. Since I read so many, I can't recall exactly where I found it, so please do let me know if it was your idea so that I can give you credit.

2. I'm happy that Laura Candler of Corkboard Connections has asked me to collaborate on her Caring Classrooms Pinterest Board. Maybe it's just the counselor in me, but I firmly believe that we can never have enough 
warm fuzzies and cardiac connectors in our toolbox. 
Click {here} for innovative ideas to enrich the culture and climate in your 
character building.

Our district gave us these cool flashlight pens!

3. I'm tickled about my new purple pen.

And it got me to thinking. As we head in to another year, 
how might your story be different if you ask yourself this before you even start:

How will I spend The Dash between the years 2013-2014?
What do I want less of?
What do I want more of?

Start at the end; what do you want those Teacher Appreciation Week notes to say about you and your class? Decide, then celebrate, because you get to write your own story while you co-star in a whole lot of other stories, those of your immediate family, those of your school family, stories in your community. 
Every. single. day! 
You're the author, so don't forget to intentionally focus on what you want more of and to write positivity, kindness, and empathy into your script. 
Every day. 
Then watch it come back. A hundred fold. 
Trust me; it will!

Happy new year.


Happy Happy Happy

My heart is so happy, happy, happy to be back at work and preparing the place for a new school year. Here's a peek at the books that I've put in the character case at our school's main entrance:

They are, from left to right:

The Way I Act by Steven Metzger
Stand In My Shoes by Dr. Bob Sornson
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst 
Polka Dot Fixes Kindergarten by Catherine Urdahl
Bad Apple by Edward Hemmingway
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

What back-to-school books would you put in there?  
What will you focus on this year? 
What will be different from last year? 
What will be better? 

I've been a busy bulletin board beaver this week.  
First I made this Peace, Love & Character board.
Do my peacemakers know what Walk The Talk means?

Maybe not, but they will!

Then I made this DREAMS board:

I got excited about this one because it kind of goes 
with our district theme {Take It To The Limit} this year. 
The border is I Know I Can! Little Engine That Could trim.
And I've always liked that cloud paper!

Finally, I put this Character Dynasty board together today.

My friend Laurel said that they were doing Character Dynasty Ts and I thought channeling Duck Dynasty would make a cute visual display. I wasn't sure if my students would "get it," so I checked it out with a few of them and they thought it was a cool idea. I couldn't find camo border, but the colorful values trim works.

Don't forget about the Who's That Blogger? contest going on through Friday. Check back Saturday morning to see who won and if you were right about which number is a second-grade me.

What is making you happy about the upcoming school year?


Let's Play Who's That Blogger?

Just for fun, I'm trying something different at the Corner today - a cool collaboration with lots of other teacher bloggers. Thanks to the talented Michelle (The 3 am Teacher!) for coordinating this great guessing game.

I wonder if you can pick a 2nd-grade me out of the line-up. 
Feel free to leave me your guess in the comments section or on my FB page, even if you don't play along.

Welcome Everyone!!

         Are you ready to have some fun?
                                              ....Play a game?
                                                              .....Win  prizes and cash?

I have teamed up with 65 AmAzInG blogging buddies to put together the ultimate Back to School Linky/Giveaway!

Each one of my blogger buddies submitted a cute childhood photo & generously donated something special from their online TpT shops for this occasion! We have included a fun game for you to play for a chance to win over $300.00 in prizes and a BONUS  CASH-PRIZE raffle you can enter at the end of this post!! 


The game is easy to play....

Your job will be to try and match each blogger with his/her childhood photo. With over 60 childhood photos and bloggers to match up, this might get tricky! As I mentioned above, each blogger has generously donated one awesome prize from their TpT store. Successfully match a blogger and childhood photo, and you win the prize offered from that blogger. The more matches you make, the more prizes you win. 

Check out some of the prizes:

But wait....
that's not all....

ONE lucky follower will win a $125 Amazon Gift Card! Scroll to the bottom & follow the directions in the Rafflecopter for a chance to win $$$.

The link below will open a form that will allow you to submit your answers for the match up. 

Use the blogger links and numbered images to help you along the way! Each childhood photo has been assigned a specific number. 

Once you open the form, use the drop-down menu beneath each blog button and select a number that corresponds to a childhood photo. 

Results from the form will be collected throughout the week. At the end of the week, each submission will be "graded" and you will receive a prize for each blogger and photo you successfully matched.

The game closes on Friday, August 23rd at midnight (Arizona Mountain Time). Answers will be announced on Saturday, August 24th. Winners will be notified through email throughout the week. 

Use the blog links below the photos to search for clues. 

Awwww!!! PuFfy HeArT SWEETNESS!!!

Follow the directions in the Rafflecopter for a chance to win a $125 Amazon gift card!! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you so much for participating! Good Luck!

If you would like to post about this linky/giveaway, grab the special image below to display in your post and link up below! Make sure to use the link to the actual post.


Two Trainings & A Bulletin Board

So I'm going back and forth between recapping my day while I veg on the couch and crawling under the covers for a one-hour power nap ... obviously the couch spud post is winning this volley. I'm happy to report that I survived my official first-day back. It was great fun, actually, because I got my office somewhat organized, conducted two trainings and made a bulletin board. First things first:

As you may know, Texas is not a Common Core state, but it shocks me nonetheless to read that there's isn't a bit of character education woven into those standards anywhere, so I covertly put the Common Core in this interactive bulletin board because, in the end, Character is our Core!

The two one-hour trainings were a blast for me. One was at North Pointe Elementary, a 2013 National School of Character. It's my third visit there, and I worry that they might one day sort of groan when they see me coming. But this staff is so warm and welcoming that I always feel right at home and they're so respectful and attentive while we're working together. It's part of my NSOC outreach to do some pro bono sharing but I came away with a red
Keep Calm & Show Good Character shirt.

The second training was a short introduction to our character education framework for our newest Friendswood ISD employees. I enjoyed a light lunch with them, then walked them through our Six Pillar framework and Capturing Kids' Hearts classroom management system. We had fun connecting and collaborating.

For both groups, I posed the question: Who was/is your character role model? After a pair 'n share, a few volunteers told the whole group aloud whom they'd chosen and why. Once they talked about their special person, I asked them to ball up those model character traits into an imaginary ball and toss them into the empty lunch bag that I was holding. I would pretend to catch them and together we were filling the bag with virtual values and virtues. It's an engaging activity that also gives participants a reflection piece and would springboard nicely into a discussion about character and reputation. 

When I got back to the office, I made this video clip so that you can see what I'm talking about and give it a try if you'd like.

It'd also be fun to use with questions like this: 
What ingredients do you want/need for a friendship?
Or in another curricular area:
What safety items do we need in a Science lab? 


Just Poppin' In

Today I'm popping in because I've got a fresh, new bulletin board design to share that was totally a collaborative effort.

Thanks to Carol for going to a garage sale at church and picking up the little popcorn tins, thanks to Melanie for the cool coordinating border, and thanks to Jacob for coming up to school and donating his time to help me put it all together.

It was so much fun to work side by side with my college kid, who at one point said, "You and your 3-D bulletin board ideas!" And yet it was his idea to make it look like there's actually a snack inside.

Popcorn Graphic found at Living the DReam Blog

My friend Jennifer stopped by to ask if we were going to have
 Popcorn and Root Beer after school on Opening Day.
Now there's a tasty idea. 
I predict that this year's gonna be hot!


Dear Me

For as far back as I can remember, I have always had a Pen Pal. My earliest memory is probably writing letters to my Aunt Eileen when she went away to college and left me behind. I even recall writing a few of them {all of them?} as a first-person narrative in the voice of her calf, whom she also left behind. 
I guess I ought to examine how I really felt about her going away.

Anyway, over the years, I also wrote faithfully to Sally, my cousin LuAnn, Daryl, Linda, Marcia, Cathy, Lori, my Godmother, cousin Jim, Jo, Monte, cousin Ann, Aunt Norma, Julie, Becky, Grandma Natzke, and family back home once I moved to Texas. Any time I made a friend, I'd suggest we become Pen Pals. 
And often, we did. It was my connection to the world. 

So, as you might imagine, I've got boxes and boxes filled with 
old letters:

These are a quarter of a century old, when postage was a quarter per letter, 
way, way, waaaaaaaaay before email was even a far-fetched but innovative idea. 

Why I keep them, I'm not entirely sure, though I suppose that some day it'll be fun to go back and read through them. When one of my Pen Pals passed away a few years ago, I did gather up her seven years' worth of letters to me and send them to her sons. I didn't really want to let them go, but it felt AmAzInG to share them because I figured they might discover something new about their mom that they didn't already know from those hand-written treasures.

Oh how I wish that letter-writing weren't a dying art form.
There's just nothing like finding a personal note in my mailbox.

As I launch into my thirtieth year of teaching and meet retirement eligibility requirements, today I'm scripting a letter to that me who received those letters during my early years of teaching. In fact, let's go back to 1984 as I'm about to start my first teaching job, at Tri-County High in Plainfield, WI.

Here's what I would say to my rookie self:

Dear Barb,

Congratulations on your graduation from the University and on landing your first job. Oh what fun it'll be to start a Spanish Department and teach freshman English. Since you were called to be a teacher at such a young age, it will be your dream come true to finally have a classroom of your own. What an honor, to be able to inspire the future.

I've been praying for you and want to share a few things to ponder as you start this chapter of your life. Think about what you want former students to say about you at your retirement party and spend your career doing exactly that. Make those things part of your daily lesson plans. Be intentional; maybe it'll be something simple like "She always smiled at us!" In the end, it's all about connections and relationships.

Remember that parents are sending you their very best. Always see your students through their parents' eyes. Look for ways to make each one your favorite. Sometimes that'll be easy; other times you won't think there's anything that could possibly make that kid your favorite. Keep looking. Mine for it if you have to, 'cause it'll be worth it. Sometimes they're diamonds in the rough. You'll see. 

Start every day with gratitude for another chance to positively influence someone. Celebrate your students and plan engaging activities. Give them ownership in their learning by turning some stuff over to them. Ask yourself: What can I let go of? How can I foster voice and choice? Are my lessons kid-friendly? Remember that you're not just teaching English and Spanish; you're teaching kids. Individualize and differentiate. Every day.

Get to know your colleagues and be a team player. There's strength in numbers. Share, collaborate, and cooperate. Confront situations, but carefront people. Be brave and have courageous conversations when necessary. Sometimes you'll have to agree to disagree. 

Reach out to parents and community stakeholders. Invite them to be a part of your classroom family. Let them volunteer or partner with you to make your classroom experience the best it can be. Make sure that they know that you care about them.

Affirm people, appreciate them, and apologize to right wrongs.

Forgive yourself and others . . . over and over again. 

Be passionate and make things fun. Laughter truly is "the best medicine." But never laugh at kids, only with them. I know that, especially working with teens, you'll be tempted to use sarcasm. They might even set themselves up. Look that word up in the dictionary and resist the urge.

Show respect, understanding, and kindness to your kids. They're works in progress and will need you to walk in their shoes every now and again. Sometimes that'll be a really sad journey to take, over incredibly rocky terrain, in some smelly, nasty shoes, but it'll be important that you do it. Really important.

You don't need to be in a hurry and you don't have to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. You're going to get about sixteen hours a day and it's up to you to use that time wisely. Eat healthy foods, get a good night's sleep, and exercise routinely so that you're always in good shape and have the physical and emotional stamina to go the distance. Dream big, but be willing to take baby steps to get there. Be patient; it'll pay off.

You don't have to be the best; just do your best. Show up on time and be ready to go. Be fair and compassionate in all of your dealings. Remember that fair doesn't always mean equal. Do what you can to level the playing field whenever possible. Work hard and weave integrity into your DNA because doing the right thing must be a non-negotiable. When you don't know what that is, ask. Surround yourself with people of good character and they'll always help you when you get stuck.

And always give back. Volunteer, serve, donate. You'll end up bountifully blessed in ways you can't even imagine right now.

I'm sure there's more, but I'll close for now. Savor every minute of this first-year of many more to come.  Take good care of yourself so that you can enjoy the journey. Above all, your students will remember how they felt when they were in your presence. Make sure that's a gift that will bring them joy long after they're no longer yours.

Con cariño,


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