Destination Imagination

As March turns into April, one of our fifth-grade Destination Imagination Teams has a big State Competition coming up.

Imagine my surprise when I saw them gracing the front cover
of this local magazine as I was about to recycle it!
Just beautiful, especially since DI is designed
with kids in mind ... as the project masterminds.
It's all kids.
Their thoughts, their designs, their productions.
Oh, sure, there's a sponsor, but basically she's an adult
who is on site when they create just to keep them safe, encourage them, and cheer them on. That's it. I've seen it work. 
Talk about voice and choice!
The State-bound Survivor Diver's sponsor is our very own second-grade teacher Peggy Matejowsky, whose daughter happens to be on the five-member team. And did I mention that they also won the special Renaissance Award for their exceptional performance?
Innovative. Inspirational. Incredible.

Here's the magazine article to tell the story.

Congratulations, Survivor Divers. We're so very proud of you
and we wish you well at State and as you lead us into the future!


Child Abuse Prevention Month

the CDC statistics are staggering: 1 in 4 girls, 1 in 6 boys,
sexually abused before the age of 18. What?
And only 10% of the offenders are strangers to the child.

So while it doesn't seem like Child Abuse Prevention is something that ought to be set aside for just a month and that every day must be Child Abuse Prevention Day, in April we pause to focus more earnestly on ways to keep our children safe and free from life-changing mistreatment, neglect and abuse.

Just this weekend I came across this AmAzInG resource to help us with that sensitive subject of good touch/bad touch:

Click the graphic for purchasing information.

It's a sensitively-created product by teacher and mom Selena Smith that I believe has the potential to empower children and save lives. Based on her story Joey Wants To Know, Selena's activity packet contains 34 pages of ideas and activities to enrich the tale of a little kangaroo who learns about the difference between good touch and bad touch before something bad ever happens. 
That's actually the key here. 
Before the unthinkable ever happens. 
Giving our students the knowledge and that tools that they need so that they can keep themselves safe long enough to get to a trusted adult to report and process what might have happened.
To ultimately help them keep themselves safe from harm. 
Because too many times kids don't know what they don't know.  And it's up to us, the trusted adults in their lives, to have that courageous conversation with them and to let them know that no one, (not anyone, stranger or friend!) has the right to hurt them.
End of discussion.
And that includes touching them in private or personal places.
We must keep them safe.
It is our responsibility ... and their right.
They are our future; our lives will depend upon them one day.

Other helpful resources for child empowerment include:


Climate Changers 3

Today I'm excited because we got to pick the font for my book last night. OK, so yeah, maybe that seems kind of a little thing to get happy about, but it's big to me. One of the handful of people to whom I'm dedicating my book (due out in June!) is this week's Climate Changer, my Godmother Sue.

Unlike the font in my book and whom I get to dedicate it to, in life, there's a lot of stuff we don't get to choose. Who your Godparent will be is one of those decisions that we must rely on someone else to make for us. In my case, it was my mom who picked her best friend, Sue, for me. In fact, Sue picked my mom for her daughter just two months later, so it was a win-win for these two friends. And, as time would pass, and months would turn into years, and years into decades, mom choosing Sue for me would turn out to be an amazing gift that keeps on giving.

From my earliest memory, happiness and joy come along with Sue wherever she goes. If I get quiet enough, I can hear her contagious laughter. So from little on, I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to be like her. You may be thinking that I was lucky to have a second mom like that so close by, but here's the weird thing ... I was raised in Wisconsin and Sue lived miles and miles away, first in Massachusetts, then in Ohio, and finally in PA.

During my formative years, I knew Sue through her infrequent visits to WI, kind of, but primarily through letters. Then, at the end of my eighth grade year, she gave me an unbelievable Confirmation present, a visit to their home on the East coast. For a girl who'd not really left the small town of Wayside much at all, that was huge. They drove to Wisconsin for a visit, then I got to ride back to their home with them in their station wagon and spend a week away from my chores and responsibilities on the farm. I cannot begin to explain how homesick I was. What should have been a fun and carefree time was really hard and challenging, but Sue turned a tough situation into an opportunity for growth and, in hindsight, it was a chance for an awkward Midwest farmer's daughter, a girl Sue loved unconditionally and without reservation, to mature and become more independent.

Just look at her radiant smile!
The climate of a room changes for good when Sue enters. Loving kindness enshrouds her and I know exactly why mom picked her to be my second mom. But don't be misled; Sue will have a tough talk with me if need be. She didn't just promise to be there with me only through the good times. She has helped parent me through the dark times as well. And she's not afraid to tell me how the cow ate the cabbage, when she needs to, as delicately as she can, of course. Sue is a warm demander, compassionate and courageous, caring and forgiving.
And, in every interaction, Sue makes me laugh.

It has been 53 years since Sue promised her best friend to help raise me should the need ever arise and she has stuck to that verbal contract more times than I can count. Sue is always just a phone call or an email or text away,
supporting me,
comforting me,
cheering me on,
consoling me,
laughing with me,
praying for me.

I've been blessed to see Sue and her husband Clay just a handful of times in the last few years. Most recently, they came to take me to lunch in DC last October when I was there for the Character Education Partnership Forum. They also attended the Forum in the fall of '09 to be there when we accepted our National School of Character award. In '08, they attended my keynote in New Jersey and we spent a lovely weekend together. And I feel certain that they'll come to the Forum again this fall when I give the opening keynote address. And I can't wait to see them again! In case you missed the story from their Golden Anniversary celebrating 50 years of wedded bliss, go read the heartwarming account about That Doll next. 

Thank you, Sue (and Clay!), for being a second mom, 
a character role model,
and a Climate Changer in my life.


Happy Thoughts

Have you heard the song Everything Is Awesome from the Lego Movie? 
It's got an upbeat rhythm and positive lyrics that make me really happy. So does the fact that our Education Foundation came by this morning and funded $24,083 in educational grants. WoW! What a gift to our future, eh?

This test-taking parody also makes me smile.
Wouldn't you love to work with this staff? 

What's making you happy today?

An idea from the AmAzInG Laura Candler, an author who blogs over at Corkboard Connections is also making me feel like doing a happy dance. She's one of the most generous bloggers with whom I've had the pleasure to collaborate, and her Happy Thoughts Journaling Pages are the perfect way to get kids thinking, processing, and reflecting upon good thoughts.

Here's what happened when we tried them 
in small group feelings classes today:

Here are some suggested starters for them:

And it was after class when I decided that it might be good to have a Happy Thoughts Journal of my own in my office. But rather than it be filled with my happy thoughts, this one will have reflections from students who come by my office and want to help others by leaving their happy thoughts behind.

How awesome is that? 
Here's what the first two pages look like:

I can see this journal as an excellent resource for kids who come in and feel stuck from kids who've been there and have tried-and-trued suggestions to share.

Thank you, Laura, for your inspiration and impact.


Thursday Thoughts

Tonight, some randomness before I unplug. 
First of all, a second-grade friend brought this to me today:

It now proudly hangs on my office door.
Isn't it BEE-autiful?
It's true, you know, what she wrote, but
I've never heard it put quite that way ... 
Character is the fastest way to go!

Second, there was an article posted yesterday up in Milwaukee about my brother's daughter, Kristin, who's in her final months of service as Wisconsin's 2013 
Alice in Dairyland

Click {here} to read the update. We are understandably proud of Kristin and her hard work as the Agricultural Ambassador. Before she turns over her crown to the next Alice, she will have put on nearly 40,000 miles traveling the state and promoting the agricultural industry. She'll also make an amazing 400 school visits. Wouldn't it be fun to have an Alice in Dairyland visit?

Third, there's some March Madness action in the collegiate world that we're interested in watching; my Wisconsin Badgers are about to play our Texas Baylor Bears in the NCAA Men's Basketball Sweet Sixteen in a few minutes. Sic 'em, Badgers. Then, this weekend, we'll be watching the Women from Texas A & M because our son Jacob is in Nebraska with the team as an official member of the Hullabaloo Band, who went along to support and cheer on the team. How fun is that? These young athletes have worked hard to get this far into the post-season tournament and they serve as role models for drive, diligence and determination. 

How are you hoopin' it up in your corner of the world?


Feelings Tellers

Today I'm happy because another round of peace class has started and 
spending time coaching my peacemakers is just so much fun!

This time we're talking about managing our feelings.
And about which feelings are easy to manage ... 
and which ones are hard.

We start with the little kitten puppet, who isn't on my hand but hiding in the Puppet Sleep Jar. As I shake hands at the door, they're all as curious as a cat about where the puppet that we're using is. So cute! All they see in my chair when they enter is this cat's tail sticking out of the jar, perfect for setting the scene with these questions:  How is Mekah feeling today?
 Their answers included: shy, scared, afraid, frightened, sad, nervous, mad, embarrassed, tired, disappointed. 
 How can you tell?

After a discussion, we watch the sweet Sesame Street clip called Disappointed.

After we talk about an array of feelings, 
I show them this Feelings Teller:  

Click graphic for free download from source

I tell them that I'm disappointed because I wanted to make one for each of them but they didn't come back from Print Shop in time for me to get them all folded. I tell them I'm totally bummed out but there's nothing I can think of to do, that sometimes things just don't work out like you'd planned. Oh, well ... 

That's when my problem solvers jump into action and offer to fold them themselves. Well, I'm here to tell you that that's all well and good for second and third graders, but most of my firsties struggled big time. Some of them totally lost it. I'm talkin' tears, people. In peace class! And I never saw it coming. I heard shouts of "I can't" and "Can you help me?" as I attempted to teach them to fold on the diagonal and then on the line toward the inside and then away from the midline, yada, yada.

Are you seeing the beauty that unfolded from that chaos?
Yep, it turned into an opportunity to actually manage our feelings.
Feelings of frustration.
Feelings of insecurity.
Feelings of impatience.
Feelings of helplessness.
Feelings of sadness.

I couldn't have planned it any better.
Of course, we ran out of time to read our book, but, hey,
we had an authentic opportunity to get in touch with, experience and learn about our feelings.

Once we got them folded and ready to go,
a volunteer came up and helped me demonstrate.
This is how we used our Feelings Tellers:
I'd ask my volunteer:
How would you feel if your dog got sick?
Upset, sad, mad or worried?
The child picks worried, for example, and
we open and close the teller as we spell the word worried.
Then we see two word choices on the inside: SAD/WORRIED.
So I ask another question:
How would you feel if your friend said something mean?
The child picks sad, and we spell it out.
Then they select one last feeling word from the two choices mad and upset by answering another feelings question I made up
and we open it to reveal A, B, C, or D.
Each of these letters has a prompt, and the volunteer chooses D:
Tell about a time that your actions made someone sad.

Brilliant! The kids were super excited to get one of these,
and after class, I got busy folding the 150 that I'm going to need for
my kinder kids this week. 


Sharing Is Berry-licious

So today's post will be berry short and sweet ...
to plant a berry delicious idea.
On Sunday, we had a family outing to the strawberry patch down the road, where we picked two buckets of berries.
Straight from the field ... yummy!

And we came straight home to make pie.
But since Joshua's not a pie fan (what? what?) and there's
way too much deliciousness for just John and me,
we decided to share a slice with my house-bound neighbor.
Still too much pie, so we shared another slice 
with my piano lessons teacher.

And while they both enjoyed their sweet treat a lot,
I'm pretty sure we enjoyed sharing it even more.
Just a little time and talent, coupled with some
farm-fresh produce, added up to happiness all around.
Delicious happiness.
Ala mode, with a berry on top!

Click {here} for more ideas for helping the chronically ill.

What could you share today to sweeten someone's day?


Planting Our Future

So Friday morning I had the pleasure of an early-morning
conference call with some character educators at
Southside Elementary, a 2014 Texas State School of Character 
from down the road in Angleton. They came to our
National School of Character Open House four years ago
and have been on their journey down Character Road since. 
It was super exciting talking with them; 
I'm so proud of their work and was thankful for the chance to 
cheer them on,
calm them down,
and encourage them
for their NSOC Finalist site visit next Friday.

I was honored and humbled at the same time when they told me that we'd planted more than just a seed ...
that'd we'd planted a tree!

Here's the thing about that. 
Sure, someone has to do the planting.
Like these seedlings, for example.
We found them growing in our grass, planted either
by squirrels or by nature itself.
But it is also takes many hands to 
deep-root feed,
sometimes transport 
and cultivate those seeds.
And then you've got to give them time, lots of time,
before they're the trees whose shade you can sit under.
In fact, like the Greek Proverb says, it may not even be
in our lifetime that someone will enjoy the shade.
Sometimes we plant for someone else.

It's like that in education.
We're planting now for later.
For our future.
For our kids.
For the kids who are sitting next to our kids.
Who are working and playing with our kids.
Whom our kids will rely on and trust.
Whom our kids will care about and love.

So thank you, Southside Elementary, for caring so deeply for the trees that the Westwood Elementary family was able to help you plant. 
We're pleased with the heart work you're doing and we wish you well.


Climate Changers 2

Welcome back to my Saturday Series on 
Climate Changers at the Corner.

Today I'd like to introduce author and friend Jodi Moore.
You may know her from her treasure When A Dragon Moves In.
And while I haven't met her in real life yet, 
I have this feeling that we've known one another forever.
I had the pleasure of meeting her in a Blog Talk Radio interview
a few years back. Here's a link to that chat: 

Listen To Education Internet Radio Stations with TeachingBlogAddict on BlogTalkRadio

Doesn't she sound positively inspiring?

We were also treated to a Skype visit with her
to celebrate the release of her purrrrrfect gem called Good News Nelson last year. We were instantly engaged by her enthusiasm and so blessed by being able to listen to her read to us from her home up north over the big screen in our cafeteria.

So how is it that she's today's Climate Changer in my book?
Jodi Moore is the kind of person who naturally
walks the talk. This mother of two works hard
and, from what I can tell, plays even harder.
She's gregarious and generous,
understanding and uplifting.
innovative and inspiring ...
and she's not afraid to step out and dance. 
To Tigger dance.
For real!
I like that in a person.
She's a joy maker.
The real thing.
In fact, her joy is contagious.
Addictive, even.
Every encounter with her leaves me wanting more.
Who wouldn't want that in a friend.

What's next? A sizzling sequel to Dragon!
Click the picture to go to Jodi's blog at
for a sneak peek at her new baby.

So thank you, Jodi, for being a Climate Changer
and for your willingness to set the world on fire.



coincided with the first day of spring and #CharacterDay
And we officially spent the first three hours in the ER.
No worries; everybody's okay.
Better safe than sorry, right?
John and I left there after five hours feeling
a little stressed,
and a little lot silly.

You see, it turns out it was nothing.
Nothing serious, anyway.
Nothing life threatening.
And that's good news, right?
In the end, I'd so much rather leave an ER with nothing
than with a horrible diagnosis
and an overnight or extended stay.

My character was tested a little, 
having to stay up until 3 am and 
patiently wait our turn, 
then patiently wait for results.
I'm not a very patient patient myself and
I can be a really impatient spouse.
But John needed me.
And I was happy to be there to learn that it was nothing. 

To celebrate #CharacterDay, 
our friends at Let It Ripple spent the day
creating awareness about character development
with Tiffany Shlain's film clip, The Science of Character.

I love this clip because it totally validates everything that
I believe and am passionate about nurturing in
tomorrow's leaders.

It got me to wondering ...
What if every day were Character Day?

The world would undoubtedly be a better place.
Imagine saying so long to impatience, shame, blame, addiction, guilt, jealousy, negativity, dishonesty, gossip, rumors, rude and discourteous behavior.

Pie in the sky ... or possible?

Strengths as game-changers ... I like that.
And helping people understand character development
better with an engaging PSA like this ...
great idea, don't you think?

Character can be built, developed, grown even.
We're all works in progress.
That's just so hopeful. 
And filled with joyful possibilities.
For me.
For my children, family and friends.
For my colleagues and my community.
For my country and my world.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
I think I'll start working on that right now.
Intentionally sharpening a trait that's dulled.
Patience, maybe ...
or ... well, lot of possibilities!

What are your character strengths?
And which virtue(s) do you want to improve?
With every day as character day, 
today is a good a time as ever to get started.
Feel free to set a goal and let us know 
in the comments below if you want some support.
People who write down their goals
are more likely to intentionally work toward achieving them.
Find an accountability partner to help you in your quest.

Then enjoy the fruits of your labor, because
someone is undoubtedly watching and learning ...
from you. And lots of someones need
a character mentor like you.

Happy modeling.


Service & Sacrifice

As you may know, I have a soft spot in my heart for the military.
Every year, we support a group of men and women who are deployed and serving on active duty away from home through our Supplies for Our Soldiers project. A few times we've actually Skyped with the soldiers as they open our care packages and thank-you notes. Sometimes, the troops send pictures.
We love knowing that our gratitude will ease their burden ... 
if only for a bit.

Sometimes we get notes back, like this one from early January:

Greetings from Afghanistan!

I just got your package of goodies today. I'm glad we decided to check mail today (even though it usually only comes in on Thursdays). Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do that for me. It truly brought tears to my eyes to know that your whole class participated in putting together the package. The letters that they wrote remind me of my own daughter's writing (she's 8 and in 3rd grade).  

I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and blessed New Year! Again, thank you so much for your package of goodies.  I will be sure to share them with the rest of my team.

First, this soldier is a mom. On deployment. In Afghanistan. Can you imagine? Second, it's humbling that she's thanking us, for something so small, when her gift to us is ginormous! Then, we find out that she's got a daughter in the third grade. Quite common, I'm sure, but so hard for me to fathom. That's why I can't help but get jazzed when there's a new resource 
for Children of Military Families.

Because it's their service and sacrifice
that often goes unnoticed and unrecognized.

Here's what some of the children on the ProfessorChild DVD had to say as they expressed their thoughts back at home while their parent is away. 

Service and sacrifice never sounded so real ...
watch for yourself ... prepare to feel their stories.

Honestly and quite candidly, these precious children share their feelings, give advice to peers as well as to parents, tell us what they'd do if they had a magic wand, and describe themselves and their experience.
And it's a powerful 46 minutes! 
Share it with the military kids on your campus to validate their experience and with the others to elevate empathy.

There's even a free workbook download available {here}. 

Need a military-themed book or two to go with this DVD?

Sometimes We Were Brave by Pat Brisson
Hero Mom by Melinda Hardin
Night Catch by Brenda Ehrmantraut
The Year of the Jungle by Suzanne Collins
America's White Table by Margo Theis Raven

On a related note, congratulations to our friends at ProfessorChild for their award-winning Children & Grief DVD. Click {here} to see the American Library Association's prestigious list of 2014 Notable Children's Videos.


When Kids Take Over

Today I'm excited because I had a little help yesterday.
You see, I'd cleared the character case with every intention of selecting new books to display, but then one task led to another and it was recess time when I was approached by a kindergarten girl ... and future teacher for sure.

Kyleigh: I see that you're changing the books out today.
Me: Why yes, Kyleigh, I am. How observant of you.
Kyleigh: Well, how about you call me to your office when you're ready to get that done and I'll help pick out the new ones. I would love to see how you get them in there!

Talk about a brilliant idea. 
So that's what I did.
As her class passed by my office on their way back in from recess, I invited little Kyleigh and her friend Hailey into my office to help complete that little task. Funny thing is, as I visited with their teacher about why I needed them, Kyleigh came right in and made herself at home, in my office chair, with Hailey right beside her in the chair reserved for clients. It was the cutest thing!

I told them they could each pick three books and I'd pick one.
And here, in no particular order, with no particular rhyme or reason except that these titles caught their eye, are their picks.

What Are You So Grumpy About? by Tom Lichtenheld.
This was Kyleigh's pick because she thought the boy looked funny, in a mad sort of way. I like the bluebird of happiness.
I Love It When You Smile by Sam McBratney. A Hailey selection, because of the cute kangaroos.
Hurty Feelings by Helen Lester. Hailey picked this one, too, because of the hilarious hippo.
The Peanut-Free Cafe by Gloria Koster. Kyleigh tells me that they have two peanut allergy kids in her class, so that's why she wanted this one. Text-to-self connection?
The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill. Hailey was curious what this mean girl was so mad about. (They actually asked me if I could read this one to them before they went back to class ... and I did ... shhhhh, don't tell Mrs. Krail!)
Ben & Zip: Two Short Friends by Joanne Linden. This is my pick because it's brand new and a lot of fun. Look for my review next month.
The Secret Olivia Told by N. Joy. Kyleigh's first pick, actually, but she didn't tell me why. Maybe because of the red balloon in the background?

Anyway, there you have it, our character case for the next few weeks. And a new idea, to let students have that job. Those girls loved going through my library, finding the perfect books, taking their dust jackets off of them, carrying them down the hallway, and reaching in from behind to position the books just right. As they helped me, it flashed me back to first grade when I got to help Aunt Norma clean chalk dust off of the erasers.

Kids. If only grown-ups would just get out of their way.
Thank you, Kyleigh, for that gentle reminder.


Words On The Wall

The first day back after a week off can be a challenge, but we made it through without incident. I actually went the whole day without noticing 
that I hadn't moved my office clock forward. 
That was weird.

Anyway, I got these things hung up ... they're from Hobby Lobby and they cling on the wall ... so cool!

People can tell a lot about what you value from what surrounds you. What's written on your walls?

Also got this bulletin board up:

Turns out Dr. Seuss had a lot of stuff to say about character,
so I purchased the border and lettering at Michael's over break
and had fun making a 3-D visual display! The kids were curious about the word 'TRRFCC' as they passed by the board because what kind of a word doesn't have vowels? Made for an interesting conversation outside of my door.

Are you on spring break now or are you back to school?

As an aside, my cat seemed kind of disappointed 
that I wasn't there to nap with her yesterday ... meow.


Raising Happy, Healthy Children

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Today I'm excited because our friends at Happify have put together this amazing infographic about raising happy, healthy kids. 
Click the graphic to read the whole post:

Don't you love the part about happy toddlers?

This 365 Grateful clip from KarmaTube might inspire you, too. To combat the drudgery of her daily regime and routine that she was experiencing, Hailey Bartholomew decided to practice intentional gratitude for a year by taking pictures of one appreciation a day. Such a feel-good story about how she found herself and her family again once she sharpened the focus on her gratitude lens. So generosity and gratitude generate happiness.

Last week, a reader suggested writing notes of affirmation or inspirational quotes in lipstick on the bathroom mirror for your child(ren) to find. I know that would have tickled me as a kid! Think that's too messy? Try sticky notes. They come in so many assorted colors, shapes and sizes now that you could mix it up and make it fun.

Lunch boxes and sacks are also a great place to inspire.
I've seen messages written on bananas, napkins, water bottles.
These Window Cards from Compendium are perfect for that! 

If you're a teacher, attach them to your students' quality work or hand them out as you catch kids making good character choices. Better yet, encourage your students be secret agents looking for acts of kindness and generosity. Use each window card as a caring citation that your secret agents can give out to let a classmates know that his or her kindness did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

You could also teach this Cool To Be Kind ditty that I wrote:

Chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga, clap, clap, roll.
Chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga, clap, clap, roll.
It’s no surprise that it’s cool to be kind;
global warming of the heart, soul and mind.
When we’re respectful,
And we listen with care,
We do our best to live with empathy, y, y, y.
When we’re generous and thoughtful,
And we serve with our whole heart,
We’re the change that the world wants to see!

Switch up the rhythm some and encourage students to write another verse. 
Have fun as their momentum helps you
get rollin' on down the line ... enJOY the ride!

Children learn what they live ... at home and at school ...
what are your secrets to nurturing happy, healthy kids?

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