Superheroes Of The Character Kind

Happy Friday. 
We did it. 
We survived thrived through our first week back!
What a blast it has been to reunite with our school family 
and talk with the kids about being superheroes.
Because they are, you know.
They have the power to change the world.
For good!
Can you feel it?
My friend Jamaica from Inked Designs created a graphic
so we could encourage others to follow suit.
To cape up.
To soar to new heights.
To be a superhero of the character kind.
Wouldn't it be an adorable T?

I'm headed home now to take in some Friday night lights, then I'll be unplugging until Tuesday. First I must share this adorable story about an encounter I had with my first-grade friend Harley, who routinely stops at my morning spot to check in. She told me sincerely and in no uncertain terms yesterday that everybody loves me. And her kind words warmed me to the core. I almost began to cry when she added, "You know why everybody loves you so much, Mrs. Gruener? Because you look so so cute every day!" I don't mind telling you that this veteran wasn't feeling very cute this week, but that little superhero has the power to change the world with her exquisite expressions. And because she says it's so, I believe it's true. And my heart filled to the brim with joy and soared to new heights.

What sends your heart soaring?
I'll be back on Tuesday with a fun mindset post.
Until then, happy weekend!


A Thursday Pick-Me-Up

Today I spent the day out in the gym helping the coaches train our littlest leaders on how to use our new Buddy Benches. We decided to ask the kids how they would envision using these colorful additions to our playground, then we role-played with them in starring roles how that would look, sound, and feel. Our superheroes saw them as a conflict-resolution spot, a place to rest if you're hurt and need someone to help get you to the nurse, a seat for someone who's sad or lonely and needs a friend, or simply a place to go to solve a problem. A second-grade girl encapsulated it perfectly when she summed it up like this: 
It's like of like a Buddy Pick-Me-Up place! 

And speaking of pick-me-ups, maybe you've seen this amazing clip about gymnast and acrobat Jennifer Bricker. If you haven't, you must watch the beauty of her story unfold. She was adopted as a newborn into a home in Illinois where the word can't simply wasn't allowed. As a result, Jennifer never saw the fact that she was born without legs as a limitation. At all.

Isn't her attitude positively contagious?

In other news, my blogging buddy Barb over at Grade ONEderful wrote this beautiful review of my book {here}. Talk about your pick-me-up! I appreciate her thoughtful insight and kind affirmations. 

Finally, a cyberspace counseling colleague over at The School Counseling Files shared a link about Social Superheroes; click the graphic to read about her work and grab a super freebie. Thank you, Laurie, for keeping us in the loop!

What was your Thursday Pick-Me-Up?


Building Empathy

Today I'm excited because I get to talk about one of my favorite topics: empathy!

If you've been a reader at the Corner for a while, then you know about the Becoming A Better You series by Marian Nelson and Kris Yankee. I'm so so delighted to share that I've had a sneak peek at book #3 and its meaningful message makes it well worth the wait. It's due out next week; click the graphic above for more info and/or to pre-order.

It's not so much a storybook as it is a guide for its reader. 
It's a litany of ideas and examples through which children can stretch their empathy
Simple, every-day ways. 
At home, in school, in their communities. 
Through acts of kindness and service. 
By working to understand one another's feelings.
It ends with reflections and tips to help evoke empathy
in our future leaders. We must teach empathy so students can cultivate compassion and practice kindness.

Here's a wonderful quick clip that will complement this text:

We build empathy by witnessing it and experiencing it.
What scenarios will you use to put this method to the test?
Visit these articles for more ideas:


B2S Books 'n Boards

Here's a first look at this year's Character Case.

I took the picture on bended knee to see it from the vantage point of a first grader. I always want to know which book they'd pick if they could only choose one. I asked our AP, and he said he's curious about What Do You Do With An Idea?  I also like to ask them what they think is going to happen in the book, just from their glance at the cover. Second-grade Emma had the whole story about the penguin in Flight School figured out, and it was great fun to listen to her prediction. I put one book that we talked about last year in peace class, The Invisible Boy, in there just to see what they remember about that kindness lesson. It always warms my heart that they carry nuggets away in theirs. One third-grade girl was curious about Maddi's Fridge because why would there be a story about a refrigerator? The Day I Lost My Superpowers fits nicely with our superheroes theme and my review of The Most Magnificent Thing will be coming next week.

The character cam also caught these visual displays:

Photo booth beauty, superheroes in PE,

And first grade is the place to bee.

I just love the creativity and craft of a great bulletin board!
Then I got this shot from a counselor in North Carolina
and it was the proverbial frosting on my cupcake:

Her name is Sara Crist of Crist Counseling, superhero by day as a school counselor at Olde Providence ES in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools-Charlotte, NC and by night at her part-time private practice. You can follow her on Twitter {@cristcounseling} for tweets about both.

What was terrific about your Tuesday?


How FAMILY Matters

Another school year started, another first day in the books.
Things went extremely well, with beautiful "I've missed you!" bear-hugs and heaps of hope and happiness. Hope for a successful new year and happiness to be reunited with our school family. Because in the end, for us, it's all about family.

So that I'm not misunderstood, let me say that achievement is important, too. We know that our students come to us to learn so that they can achieve success for a bright, opened-door future. But we also know that they don't learn from someone with whom they're not connected, so look what we feel like has to come first. Family. Family first.

F is for feelings. We have to allow our kids to feel. They're coming to use with a bundle of feelings: easy ones, hard ones, pleasant ones, uncomfortable ones, big ones, and small ones. Honor them, the children and their feelings, because if we don't allow our students to emote, the feelings will sneak out as behaviors down the road, some of which won't be desirable.

A is for appreciation. Affirm and appreciate your kiddos. Not with over-the-top, sticky-sweet praise, but with genuine affirmations of positivity and encouragement. It feels good to be appreciated and, more often than not, those who are appreciated will go above and beyond what you expect from them. After all, what we appreciate, appreciates. Teach them to follow up a kindness with a thank-you. Have them write compliment cards to one another. Role play what affirmations look like, sound like, and feel like.

M is for movement {and music}. We must carve out time for our bodies to move to spark important chemicals in the brain. Couple those brain breaks with music to elevate mood and you've got a recipe for success. Dr. John Medina suggests moving our students every ten minutes to maximize brain power, so you might have to get creative. But you'll buy that time back in spades if you move them enough; you'll see.

I is for integrity. Your students must know what your class values are. Maybe they're set by the school district, like the Six-Pillar framework which, for us, is Board-adopted. Maybe you're a PBS school and your values are wrapped up in your three expectations. Whatever it is, you can't expect students to adhere to standards that they don't know or embrace. We teach students how to count, so why not also teach them that their character counts. First and foremost, character traits are modeled, but we also have to actively teach and reinforce the desired behaviors which accompany the values. Don't forget that there's truth in the adage: If we don't stand for something, we'll fall for anything.

L is for love. Unconditional love. Children need to know that they belong. That they matter. That they are loved. Nicholas Ferroni says this: Children who are loved at home come to school to learn; those who are not come to school to be loved. I would add to that that they all come to school to be loved and I challenge each one of you, my kindhearted readers, to find a way to make each one of them your favorite.

Y is for yearning. We want out future leaders to thirst for knowledge so that they yearn to learn. How do you engage your littlest learners? How about those intermediate kiddos? And our tweens? Teens? The more voice and choice you can give them, the more empowering it'll be. Inquiry learning anyone? How about  digital portfolios? Project-Based Learning? Look for tasks in the classroom that you can give up. Pledge to be the guide by their side. Ask lots of questions without fixed answers and give them food for thought with dilemmas to chew on that'll strengthen them academically as well as socially and emotionally.

How will you connect with your school family
this year to make it the best that it can be?


Ready To Launch

We did it. We officially launched our college kids back to their senior year and sophomore year respectively. And we survived without too many tears. Now it's time for us here in Friendswood to launch into the 2014-2015 school year.

Covey wisdom, beginning with the end in mind, coupled with an idea from Autumn Bockart, a loving sixth-grade teacher at Friendswood Junior High. She adapted the inquiry from Linda Ellis' poignant poem The Dash between our birth and our death. We all get to write the story of our dash, every day. And when our students come to us seeking guidance with their dash, we get to help them find and unleash their powers to navigate learning and maximize flight. How awesome is that?

Kind of reminds me of the new Lita Judge book Flight School.

Some of your students will come to you looking like this, an awkward but eager little penguin, showing up to flight school, determined to take wing and fly. 
Just listen to this beautiful exchange from the opening page:

"But you, dear, are a penguin," Teacher replied.
"Undeniable," said Penguin, "but I have the soul of an eagle."

What will it take to change the fixed mindset that says once a penguin, always a penguinWhat do you need to do to empower those passionate penguins to take flight and soar? How do we reframe our look at flying if/when they don't get off the ground with quite as much ease or finesse as the eagles do? And maybe not at all? Discuss the maxim: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. What does that mean? When were those words meaningful to you personally? What was that experience like and what did you learn? Is it ever okay to recalculate your route? When? How? What if it means letting go of your dreams?

More brilliance from the book:

Penguin was right. He did have the soul of an eagle. He just needed a little help with the technical parts. 

As we head into this year's dash, don't our little birds deserve to see their potential as eagles, not their limitations as penguins? We must take our role as flight instructors to assist and support them with "the technical parts" seriously. How will you grow your mindset so that they have permission to grow theirs? What an amazing opportunity lies ahead as we launch into a new year. 


Don't Lose Your Marbles

It's been a weird sort of two weeks without a regular blog; 
here are the top five things what I've learned on the road:

5. I really delight in planting seeds. And my message
What you plant will grow! has been well-received.
4. I really enjoy collaborating with other character educators and seeing the good stuff that's already going on in their schools.
3. I really thrive on challenging educators to want more for themselves {and their kids} and to get better. Every day.
2. I really appreciate the people who are willing to provide transportation so I don't have to navigate their towns in a rental.
1. I really rely on the hotels to have a working blow dryer {don't ask!}.

Based on Carol Dweck's work, here's a popular Mindset slide I found at Mind, Body, Cheer that I've been challenging school family members to think about, for themselves first, then the students under their mentorship and care:

So now I'm home and eager to get back into the groove of things. What a rush to welcome our new families, then reconnect with our returning families back shortly thereafter Thursday evening. Talk about a healthy overdose of hugs and happiness!  
Such a blessing to get to start over again every August. 
To wipe the slate clean and start our stories anew. 
To sharpen our tools and perfect our craft.

Last night my husband took us out to dinner and then to a Games 'n Comics story. There, I found a bin of colorful marbles for ten cents each, and I hand-picked 85 of them, one for each faculty member. I'm making these to put in faculty boxes tomorrow:

It's adapted from an idea that a counseling colleague in cyberspace threw out there; I'm going to sign each of them to remind our faculty and staff that counselors are on campus for them, too.

Because, guess what? The newness of August will wear off. Even the strongest of staff members will start to weaken a bit. Just like magicians have to restock their bag of tricks, superheroes must recharge their energy source. So I want to make sure teachers and support staff alike know that I'm here and available to meet their needs, too.

Oh, and a box of books just arrived from Amazon,
so check back regularly for new reviews and ideas.

Here's to a terrific new year to flourish, thrive and grow.


B2S Bulletin Boards

We're meeting our new-to-district families in fifteen minutes, so all I have time for today is to share a few new visual displays.

Turns out I just thought that I'd done my last board.
This one used to be mine, but I gave it to our GT teacher last year and guess what? She moved. To another district. Down the road. So it's mine again. Today I threw this together, just to splash some character color on the wall.

Just down Trustworthiness Trail, you'll find Mrs. Niland's 
fishy new creation for her second grade swimmers.

Down Acceptance Avenue in our third grade, Mrs. Pendergrast put together her variation of Dr. Fuller's BE Board!

This one caught my eye in McKinney ISD at Bennett Elementary; is their music teacher ready for her superheroes or what?

Signing off to go soar with our superheroes.
Cape UP!


Unleash The Power Within

I know, I know, I'm supposed to be on a self-imposed, self-care blogging break, and this week without writing has been a much-needed respite. But this afternoon, I'm taking a break from my break just to share some super exciting stuff.

First, two superheroes bulletin boards. This is the one I put up for new students and had to take down because the room had been reassigned to the new first-grade teacher, rendering it no longer a board I would be in charge of managing. Jennifer Quigley kindly offered to take it and she created this slightly-modified version to go outside of her room, which is great because it's right across the hall from me and I get to look at it every time I leave my office. 

This one is on Helpful Highway in the just outside of our library.
It features a bunch of jobs that our superheroes have, like Watt Watcher, Cool Caboose, Honesty Hero, Wonder Worker, Loyal Leader, Colossal Cleaner, Book Buddy, Recycle Ranger, and so on. I purchased this editable set {here}. 

Need a few more bulletin board ideas?
Check out the Really Good Stuff post from earlier this week
by clicking on this graphic:

Next, an awesome superhero poster I came across this week
from our friends at Character Counts!:

I had so much fun co-training with Carrie in Somerset ISD.
Let me just say that their school leadership has it going on!

As I reflect about the many workshops I've led this summer, I've decided to share a crowd favorite. It's called Character Connections and it can be found {here}. Not only is it an excellent way to infuse a meaningful movement break into your day, it's also a great springboard for discussions about things like the importance of active listening and the conflict that results from peer pressure. Process the disconnect of standing when the person beside you is sitting and vice versa, or of trying to listen and keep up once you've gotten behind and think you're no longer on track to arrive at your desired destination. So many real-world applications, lessons beyond the lesson if you will.

If you try that one, please reflect in the comments below about how it went and what your students thought about it.

One of my favorite new object lessons has to be this one: 

Find the comprehensive Character Counts! lesson plan {here}.

Finally, I thought our newbie FISD employees did an outstanding job creating a bumper sticker to encapsulate character: 

There you have it, the reason I needed to check in and take a break from my break. Look for me to return from my break in another week or so. Until then, 
what will you do to unleash the power within?


Our Kindness Crusade

Today I'm grateful for my husband's help at school, where we just put up my final B2S board in honor of The Great Kindness Challenge Global Edition Day. We dedicate it to my new friend Jill, co-founder of 


Please join me in signing up for their 
Great Kindness Challenge School Edition, 
which will take place worldwide the last week of January 2015.

Jill's board is all but complete. The pockets will hold 3x5 conversation cards with suggestions for action to help our littles superheroes soar as they crusade with kindness through the year. That makes the board interactive, which is perfect because it's strategically-placed in the cafeteria to provide food for thought 
while students wait patiently in line for their trays. 

UDPATED board ... complete with conversation cards,
one for each school day in the month of September.

Don't you love new beginnings?

Tomorrow marks the nineteen-months mark from the day that I was hit head-on from a drunk driver and handed a new beginning in my personal journey. I was invited to share my reflections in an upcoming Mothers Against Drunk Drivers newsletter. Here's a sneak peek at a portion of that post.


When MADD Makes Sense

Next January, it’ll be two whole years since I was hit head-on at 3 o’clock in the afternoon by an intoxicated mother of two on her way to school to pick up her children, something that, at the time, didn’t make a bit of sense.

Nineteen months later, the healing process continues and I’ve finally weaned off of the anti-anxiety medicine that I needed for just over a year to combat the post-traumatic panic and stress. And still, it doesn’t make sense.

The state’s case against that driver and our civil suit to recover damages are both in the books and what’s left for me is an occasional visit to the chiropractor to try to restore complete, unrestricted movement in my neck and upper back as well as periodic check-ups with my trauma therapist. And still, I can’t make much sense of any of it.

Through all of it, the pain, the heartache, the trauma and anxiety, the court dates and the healing, my Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) representative was there, by my side, trying to help make sense of the incomprehensible: I could have lost my life that afternoon in that senseless collision.

It took about a month before I fully realized I would even want or need an advocate from MADD. The police officer who came by the morning after the collision to speak with me about my rights as a victim had given me a plethora of MADD resources available to me. “But I’m not a victim,” I remember thinking. I survived and I’ll be fine. Sure, it was horrific and I was in terrible pain, but I was going to be just fine. Or so I thought.

As the days turned into weeks, and I kept appointments to the treating doctor and orthopedist, to the physical therapist and to the trauma specialist, taxied to and fro by family and friends because with a broken wrist and broke ankle I wasn’t able to drive, feelings of devastation and despair began to overwhelm. That’s when I placed the call to MADD and sobbed through my story to the compassionate soul on the other end of the line.

Her name was Rosa, and within the week, I received a package filled with resources, my favorite of which ended up being a book called Crash Course. You might imagine that I didn’t feel like reading just then, so I tucked those things into my Hope Chest and didn’t think much about them for another month. When it came time to replace the vehicle and I started getting the run-around from the drunken driver’s insurance company, it occurred to use that we might need legal representation as well, and I found myself on the phone with Rosa again.

This time she offered to come to my office so that we could meet in person. We made an appointment and I eagerly awaited our visit. I think it was because I had the feeling that she got it. She understood my plight as she listened my feelings and concerns. She showed genuine empathy for me at a very dark and difficult time. When she arrived, she handed me a pile of resources, including a calendar and a Sesame Street book about grief and loss. At the top of the pile? You guessed it, another copy of Crash Course. At that point, I had a feeling that it was a text that I was supposed to read. And, sure enough, it couldn’t have arrived at a better time.


I will let you know when it's published so you can read {as Paul Harvey would say} the rest of the story. On that note, I'm going to be on a blogging break for a bit as I've got some traveling and training ahead of me before my launch into our official Back-to-School days. I will be back toward the end of the month to showcase more inspirational people and share additional character-ed stories and strategies.  

Happy new year!


Excellence A Hallmark

Excellence typically starts with a blank wall ... 

and an idea.

It needs a painter and some paint.

Sometimes it needs scaffolding and a ladder.

You can't rush excellence, 
so you'll also need some time. 

There will be highs and lows as you pursue it.

But the finished product always proves that

the benefit of excellence far outweighs the cost.

Can you tell that I'm tickled pink about our Character Cloud?
What a delight it was this week to watch 
excellence in progress.
And now, the writing's on the wall in our Character Court.
Hand-drawn and painted by Kathy Hammond, our local muralist.
Thank you, Kathy, for sharing your time and talent with us.

And if that mural didn't send me soaring out of this world, last night took me to new heights as we spent three hours watching the pageantry of excellence come to life on the big screen. Every single word on that wall personified by these wickedly-talented young musicians and put into practice until it becomes a habit as they compete in the 2014 Drum Corps International (DCI) Competition Prelims. 
It was, indeed, Big, Loud and Live!

Excellence is front-page news, friends; 
click the graphic to read all about the Cavaliers.

I'd like to be able to pick a favorite performance or Corps,
but, like the words on the wall, each show
has significance, elegance, grandeur and connection.
And though the Blue Devils continue to come out on top, I'm here to say that they are all winners in their pursuit of excellence.

Not only have these future leaders spent their summers learning music and rhythm, but they're taking away lessons in determination, diligence, and drive that will last them a lifetime.

So today I'm appreciating excellence and admiring
the DCI organization and all of those committed to entertain and inspire through the visual arts. 
Thank you for making excellence a hallmark.

Tomorrow our book study concludes over at
Curls and a Smile. Won't you join us?


S Is For Self-Discipline

We have almost reached the finish line!
Have you been reading along?
I'm so grateful to all of my blogging buddies
for their thoughtful reflections and fun activity ideas.
Today we head north to Canada to learn with Jennifer

This is the chapter that had the most revisions.
I guess that makes sense,
because my stamina was waning, but it's also
because I kept losing focus of my audience.
I found myself switching back to being a mom
instead of writing as an educator.
Because, in reality, I'm both.
So caregivers ... this chapter is for us.
Whether you're empowering and arming your superheroes with self-discipline at school or at home,
you're giving them a gift that'll keep on giving.

Think change: From Let It Go to Let It Grow.

Do you know the story of the Butterfly's Struggle?
Such a perfect illustration of why self-discipline is life-changing.

It's oh, so hard, to let them struggle.

Need real-life examples of self-control application?
Watch these kid take the Marshmallow Test {here}.
Then enjoy words of wisdom from Scary Mommy {here}.

But the lessons in self-control, self-discipline, and self-regulation
will ultimately help them soar to new heights. 
Isn't that what we want for our superbutterflies?

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