Nobody Gets Forgotten

Happy last day of October.
And Happy Halloween. 
And feliz día de los muertos.

I just love it when I arrive at school to this scenic welcome:

I got to experience that beauty, then I also got a new shirt yesterday, from my friend Melissa, who doubles as our PALs teacher. What a blessing she is.

 Isn't it awesome?
Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.
And not just family by blood, but by proximity.
What does that mean to you?
How could that sentiment make a difference?

Today we're treating the friends in our global family who are homeless to some warmth; do you know about the SOCKtober campaign?

Here's the Kid President's explanation in all of his adorableness, 
in case you missed it ...

How will you make sure that everybody's family today?


If It Matters To You

As many of you know, last week I flew to Washington D.C. to attend 
CEP's 20th annual National Forum on Character Education.
 These signs at Hobby Airport caught my eye.

You've gotta love a company that cares
I snapped these shots with with my character cam and when I arrived, they were quickly integrated into my power point presentation for my Character Is Our Super Power breakout session. Caring is a super power, you know.

On the way home, my flight crew actually waited for a young man who'd been in a minor car accident on his way to the airport. He took the seat next to me and we talked about how great it was that Southwest would hold a flight for him.

After a power nap, I picked up this month's copy of Spirit, their inflight magazine. It was in the CEO's letter to his readers that I read these specifics about 
Turns out, Gary Kelly wants three things from his 46,000 peeps:  

1. Work hard.
2. Have fun.
3. Treat everyone with respect.

Every day. Because if it matters to us, it matters to them.

Spirit in the sky.
Something special in the air.
A symbol of freedom.

Mr. Kelly goes on to explain that this isn't a program or a campaign, but rather a philosophy that's woven into the DNA of the Southwest culture. 
Southwest Airlines hires for character.
Here's what his employees all have in common:

1. A Warrior Spirit.
2. A Servant's Heart.
3. A Fun LUV-ing Attitude.

Who wouldn't want that in an airline? Or in a family member? 
What about in a friend? Or in the government?
How about in a school community? 
What if our school administrators all hired for character and schools had this philosophy woven into its very fabric? What if all of our leaders shared a warrior's spirit, a servant's heart, and a fun-loving attitude? 
Imagine how connected we'd feel.
Imagine how much support and encouragement we'd experience.
Imagine the affirmation and appreciation we'd share.

Imagine how optimistic our future would look.

So thank you, Southwest Airlines, for your vision.
For your service and your spirit.
For your attitude and your attention to details.
For your affordable fares ...  and your love.
'Cause it matters to me.


The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

Try as I did, I just couldn't come up with a post title that would do this book or this lesson justice, so I just used the book's title as my attention grabber. 
Not too original, but why mess with perfection?
Meet The Invisible Boy by the amazing Trudy Ludwig. 
Have you experienced new this gem yet?

Captivatingly illustrated by Patrice Barton, Brian's story is so powerful because it's so very real. Many kids go unnoticed day in and day out. Some seem to fade into the wallpaper they're so quiet. Or well-behaved. Or shy. Or compliantly easy.  

I started by focusing students on my puppet, Pillar, who left his dream of becoming a beautiful butterfly behind so that he could take his turn helping me with peace class. He explained that being who he is - a Bucket Pillar - is just as important to him right now as becoming a butterfly one day will be. 

First, we looked at our problem poster. What would make that friend (or as Wyatt described him, a non-friend) behave like that {he's mean, he's jealous, he didn't get to go on the field trip and he's sad, his bucket is empty} and who are the stakeholders {the critter, the kids whose pictures he's ruining, the parents, the teacher(s), the principal, the counselor, the Art teacher, anyone who sees him or his mess, students who don't get to enjoy the pictures he's defacingin his decision to be destructive?

Then we tried to find kindness (and a few other character words that connect to kindness!) in our word search. Students love this! In my first class of the morning, because I had moved a letter out of kindness to try to intersect it with empathy, it was spelled kiadness. No one could find it and I couldn't imagine why they were stumped 'til I realized it wasn't even up there. As I was fumbling around for my stapler and my extra letters to correct the mistake, one second-grade friend tried to let me off the hook with a lovingly-forgiving question: "Did you do that on purpose, Mrs. Gruener?How much did I love him at that moment?

We talked about what it would take to change, from naughty to nice for example, from a caterpillar to a butterfly, or from invisible to visible then I showed students The Invisible Boy book cover, front and back, and posed this question: What do you think makes the boy invisible? 

Student answers varied from "Maybe everybody hates him" to "Well, he's gray and no one can see him, kind of like air" from "Maybe he doesn't want to be noticed" to "Maybe nobody cares about him."

When we opened the book and I showed them the title page, my students got almost as excited as I am about the author's signature. First-grade Chase exclaimed, "It's dedicated to you!"

Yep, dressed as the Queen of Hearts, I met a new friend, Trudy Ludwig, in DC at the CEP Forum and she graciously signed a copy that her friends from Zaner-Bloser generously shared from their private stash. I'm blushing with gratitude!

Students are quick to notice that the invisible Brian is always pictured in B&W until a new student comes to his class and starts to add color, literally and figuratively, to his world. With kindness. With friendship. With character. 

It mesmerized my students to watch as Brian transformed but quickly changed back in reaction to how he was being treated. And they connected with it. One of my third graders said, "hey, that's just like me when I was in kindergarten!"

After a riveting discussion about what the B on Brian's Super Hero picture stands for (Brian, Buddy, Best, BFF, Bucket Filler, Be A Friend, Be Kind, Brave, Best Artist) and what Brian's Super Power is, we stopped for a spell to survey whether it'd be worse to be laughed at or feel invisible. Pretty evenly split, actually. A second-grade sweetie said that being invisible would actually be a pretty cool super power because then you wouldn't have to be laughed at.

When one second grader noticed aloud that Brian never stands up for himself or says anything, it was the perfect segue into using "I" Statements.

Tanya's I-Statement Bookmarks perfectly enrich this lesson; click here to download.

Students were instructed to switch places with Brian. 
What would The Invisible Boy say if he had a chance? 
Their answers included these thoughtful reflections:

 I feel sad when you leave me out and I want you to be my friend.  
I feel lonely when you ignore me and I want you to let me play.
I feel happy when you notice me and I want you to keep filling my bucket.

Students all got I-statement bookmarks to take with them, 
but not before we launched with my KINDness Song:

Here are the lyrics; watch our movements or make up your own.
We combined sign language words with other motions
to come up with what works for us.

Check out this book to see why it is hands-down my newest favorite. 
Thank you, Trudy (and Patrice), for this treasure and for sharing this 
Random House Book Discussion Guide with us.
Keep up the heart work!

Click graphic for a comprehensive guide to use with Trudy's books.

Want to know how to help Invisible Children?
Click {here} for some tips from Trudy.


Sixty By Sixty Guest Post

Today I'm excited to send my mom a Birthday Blessings wish. 
A retired registered nurse, Mom is the kind of person whose love language is service, so it's a great fit that today's guest post comes from my friend Deanna, who has kindly offered to share her Sixty by Sixty story with us.

Sixty By Sixty by Deanna E.

What do a You Tube video, a TV story, and a Bible study have in common? These were the three things that came together to inspire my decision to complete 60 RAK’s (random acts of kindness) in the year leading up to my 60th birthday. 

Last fall a friend of mine posted a You Tube video of a young man who spent his 22nd birthday doing 22 RAK’s in his community. Shortly after that I saw a story of a woman who was on the way to completing 50 acts during her first year in the 50’s. Then, during the Bible study on the book of James, we talked about our faith spurring us to action. It was then that I came to the decision of how I wanted to spend the year leading up to my 60th birthday. I committed to doing 60 RAK’s before I turned 60.

I knew that if I kept the decision to myself I’d give up and the mission would peter out, so I told the group of ladies in the study, asking them to hold me accountable. I then enlisted my friends on Facebook to do the same. In return, I posted on Facebook each RAK as I completed them. The first person to tell me that she was going to be my main cheerleader was Barbara, my friend and former co-worker. She was even the recipient of some of the RAK’s.

Click picture to see what Deanna's up to in this shot.

One thing I learned from this experience was that when I looked for the acts, they usually were nowhere to be found. But when I let the Spirit that lives within me direct me, I had no trouble seeing things that could be done. Another thing I learned is that is not always easy being kind. I made some sacrifices to complete some of them, but from those sacrifices came wonderful blessings. I learned that it is in giving that we receive, and, more times than not, I was the one blessed.

The most important thing I have taken away from this experience is that there are opportunities to be kind all around us, every day. It can be as simple as a smile or a kind word. We just have to take our eyes off of ourselves and put them on those around us.

Some of the things I will remember about this time: 

         --The look in the eyes of a grateful homeless man who was the recipient of some brownies I had in my car (the eyes of Jesus is what I saw in those beautiful eyes).
         --I helped serve Mission Galveston’s Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless of Galveston. What a pleasure it was visiting with some of the ones who attended.
         --I got to participate in a project that bought Christmas toys for disadvantaged children. We delivered the presents ourselves to the family. This family had a poinsettia for us as a thank you! Warmed my heart for sure!
         --I made up baskets of fruit and delivered them to people who moved into my neighborhood. What a joy it was to meet them, some even invited me in for a visit.

By the way, I completed 76 RAK’s, surpassing my goal, 
and I did it before my birthday! 

Author bio: Before retiring three years ago, Deanna was in public education for over 35 years. She taught in grades 3-6 plus a short stint as a Title 1 reading teacher. Since she was in 2nd grade, Deanna knew she wanted to be a teacher. What she misses the most is the interaction she had with her students and getting to build relationships with them as well as their parents. She loved seeing the “light bulb” go on when a student got it. She loved their smiles, hugs, notes, and other forms of affirmation. She now enjoys spending time with her husband, children, and four grandchildren. Deanna is grateful to her friend for letting her tell about her year of RAK’s.


My pleasure, Deanna. Congratulations! Having been a recipient of a few of those RAKs connects me to your post in such a personal way. Thank you for inspiring us with the joy from your incredible journey. 


Feeling The NSOC Magic

So I'm in the airport in DC waiting to board my flight so that I can make it back to watch marching magic when our band takes the field to vie for a spot at the State Marching Competition. But before I take off, I want to try to describe the NSOC magic that I'm leaving behind in the nation's capital.

I believe that this year marks the twelfth time I've attended one of these Forums; I know for sure I've spoken at ten of them. One year I got to go as Glinda the good witch when my team accepted the NSOC award.

This year my workshop theme
 - Character Is Our Super Power - 
lent itself to a costume of another kind. The Queen of Hearts. Here I am with a friend from Florida who's been on an NSOC journey with her school since ours was awarded the distinction in 2009. 

So, so proud of her for her leadership in their accomplishment.
My session went well; I got so excited during the Fliegerlied, in fact, that I pulled a Ron Clark and got up on the ballroom table to lead that fun German dance! 

After an energizing 75 minutes with my audience of sixty character educators, I was treated to lunch by my Godparents, Clay and Sue. Yumm-O!

I reunited with and met so many new friends {Lisa, Pam, Lindsay, Bonnie, Karen, Marian, Pam, Russ,Kim, just to name a few} in this 48-hour period that I may be coming off of this natural high for many days and weeks to come. This morning I was able to spend some time in session with the 2013 NSOC winners and talk with them about sustaining the momentum. Using a Wizard of Oz analogy, I challenged them to go deeper rather that wider as they head into their future down the Character Road and Be the Dorothy as they continue to gather friends and family together and continue to take their initiatives from Me to We in their enchanting schools.

Catching up, albeit briefly, with my friend Michele Borba was a day maker for sure. What an inspiration she is! So passionate and wise.
Then, the NSOC luncheon to celebrate with my friends from North Pointe Elementary across the highway in Clear Lake. Yay! 

I started to cry as I congratulated my friend's parents on her leadership and her school family's success. Jennifer and her administrative team came to our 2010 NSOC Open House, where she gathered many of our ideas, harvested them and made them her own. Together with her Character Cadre, she led the initiative that resulted in their amazing achievement and this year's SSOC and NSOC distinction! I am delighted for this UH-may-ZinG school family and can't wait to celebrate with them next Friday morning!

Time for me to head home. I feel like big things are about to happen down Character Road. Stay tuned as the story unfolds.


PPBF: Willow

Today I'm coming to you from Washington D.C. with a question:
 Can one little artist jumpstart the heart of a rigid, long-time Art teacher?
Meet Willow in today's PPBF and prepare to be inspired by the difference she makes in Miss Hawthorne's world.

Title: Willow
Author: Denise Brennan-Nelson and Rosemarie Brennan
Illustrator: Cyd Moore
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Date: May 1, 2008
Suitable for: K through third grade 
Themes: creativity, kindness, joy 
Brief synopsis:  Miss Hawthorn is pretty particular about her art room. In fact, she's so neat and orderly that not even a hair on her head is out of place. But will things change when a free spirit like Willow breezes in and wafts creativity and kindness her way?

Opening page: 

Even on the sunniest days, Miss Hawthorne's art room was cold and dark.

Everything was in its place.

There wasn't a single broken crayon in the bunch.

The students sat in their rows, silent and still, like eggs in a carton.

Except for Willow.


*Watch the book trailer on You Tube.

*Visit the author's website {here}.
*Read reviews at the illustrator's page {here}.
*Check out the book's comprehensive activity guide written by co-author Rosemary Brannan {here}.

Why I like this book:  My friend Lisa over at Growing Firsties recommended Willow, so I knew it'd be good. But I didn't know I'd fall for Willow like I did. There's a sequel - Willow and the Snow Day Dance - and I can't wait to read it, too. The playfully-soft, eye-catching illustrations really enhance Willow's tale. 

This story holds so much promise because of its message that little people can have a big influence. Remember Dr. Seuss' Grinch and how his heart grew as he changed after talking with little Cindy Lou Who? I think that he'd be an interesting comparison with what Willow does for Miss Hawthorn, whose heart seems to get bigger right before our eyes because of Willow's willingness to march to the beat of her own drum and positively influence others on her path. 

One little girl, one little act of kindness. 

Check out this book; I think you'll be wild about Willow!

Oh, and if you're looking for a creative kindness project, the kind Willow would probably eat up, check out this month's YEP (Yellow Envelope Project) and consider sending a note of encouragement, inspiration, or gratitude to this school secretary with a  of gold.


The Kindness Change

Happy Unity Day.
This morning I've got a little extra time as I put my final preparations on my trip to the CEP National Forum. My plane leaves about 11 and I'm ready to launch. 
But first, some thoughts about kindness.

This quote by revered author Og Mandino is a little blunt, 
I'll admit, but it hits the nail on the head for me. 
What are we waiting for, people? 
(See how I got around ending a sentence with a preposition)

Don't get me wrong; acts of kindness abound. Like this little girl, who noticed that her teacher was always misplacing her reading glasses and went home with a kind act in mind. She emptied the Crystal Light can and repurposed it into a glasses container. Her mom tells me that it took almost the whole school year. 
But it was worth it; just look at the JOY that this win-win created.

Then there's my friend Deanna. 
Earlier this year, she set a goal to complete 60 random acts of kindness 
by the time she turned 60.
 That milestone was yesterday and guess what?

She did it. One of her recent acts was coming to a kindergarten class to talk with them about her project. She wrote each one of those kindies a 
Bee Kind reminder on a note like this:

Another win-win because they'll remember that visit for a very long time as I imagine she will. And now they're all clamoring to take home the Kindness Journal to write about how they're working to put this virtue into action. I was also the recipient of a few of those acts after my collision when I wasn't able to drive.
Congrats, Deanna; I am so proud of you! We'd love a guest post if you want to share your story with us.

And this morning I read this heartwarming article about this daughter who is spending the week 

Yesterday we gave out these wristbands to our school family.
Glow in the dark.
Cool. To Be Kind.

But wearing it on our wrists is only a start.
Not only must we know kindness.
We must embrace it.
And then we must show it.
Every day.
All of the time.
To. every. one.
Family. Friend. Foe.
Then we'll experience the kindness change.

Such a beautiful Kindness Song {here}.

How will you be the change today?
If you're coming to the Forum, I'll see you in DC.


Hometown Heroes Have Our Hearts

This is better than Christmas!

That's what I heard as our students came through the 
Hometown Heroes' Victory Tunnel this morning.

And while it's really hard to beat Christmas in my world, I would have to agree that our annual Red Ribbon Character Pep Rally is, indeed, a special event.

They took our Character Pledge.

Friendswood High School teens woke up extra early to get to our gym; some of the basketball players were there when our doors opened. These role models signed autographs, posed for pictures, and gave out hugs, high fives, and red drug-free wristbands while we were waiting for school to start. 

Then the band started to play and the cheerleaders cheered, the Wranglerettes danced, and leaders shared their words of wisdom with us. Jordan, a football player who recently also played the Tin Man in the fall production of The Wizard of Oz, told the students that it was cool to be kind and then asked them why? He handed to mic over to his adoring fans - brilliant! - and got answers like, "Because it feels good inside!" and "Because it fills buckets."  Two additional students told him that "We should treat others the way we want to be treated." and "Because you don't want to be in trouble."  Yep, choices have consequences.

Click {here} for more pictures of the 13th annual Hometown Heroes event and you'll see why ...


Don't Let Drugs Tie You Down

Happy Tie Day. Today I'm excited because we wore ties to show that we are too sharp to let drugs tie us down ... or up!

When I went through Mr. Gruener's closet, it came down to the Tuba tie or the Tigger tie. In the end, I wore the Tigger Tie. Tigger from Winnie the Pooh is one of my all-time favorite storybook characters. He's so bouncy and fun and it's plum adorable when he bounces his friends. {Sorry, Rabbit!}

And though I've got a soft spot in my heart for Eeyore, too, I'd much rather go through life as a Tigger. I tend to also surround myself with Tiggers because they're just so joyful and uplifting.

Our character cam peeked in at lunch to find our Kinder friends
ready to enjoy their lunch with their ties tucked behind them.
So super smart!

This little friend explained to me that he wanted to wear a tie but his mom doesn't know how to tie a tie so she had him wear tie-dye instead. That gave me a good laugh, so I emailed her to ask for permission to post this picture of her sunshine son. Tie-dye on Tie Day ... sounds like something I'd do!

Can you see why this is my favorite week of the year?
Anyway, the character cam also caught a cute classroom project;
 check out this clever tie-in with our theme.

After talking about today's theme, this class wrote about and drew the people and things that lift them up

My bucket runneth over ...

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