Living Our True Colors

Happy Sunday.
Today I'm reflecting on the 2016-2017 school year
as we get ready to send not only our seniors off to college 
but also our fifth graders off to junior high.
Check out their parting gift to our school:

What a treat it was to watch them 
collaborate and cooperate
to bring this True Colors masterpiece to life.

We're so proud of the Class of 2024 and so thankful to artist Diane Fifer and art teacher Nancy Schilhab for helping us revive a tradition that left the building with the sixth graders, who were relocated to junior high seven years ago. It was such a delight to watch each of these rising sixth graders paint their square and leave their mark on our walls. {I even got to paint a piece of the green mane on the respect horse.}

This teamwork project was the perfect complement to our True Colors theme that our Character Committee has worked diligently to integrate and infuse into our everyday habits and routines this year. Our staff now has colorful pillar Ts that we wear each Wednesday to align with the district's core values spotlight.

Every month we recognize students who serve as Ambassador for the values because they put them into motion by walking the talk.

It's super fun to unite as a school family at our end-of-the-month Character Pep Rallies and celebrate character. To showcase responsibility, for example, our students worked together to create a rain storm that would parallel collective responsibility and the magic we can create when we all do our part. 


Hometown Heroes from our HS drum line along with Mighty, our mascot, helped lead our Respect Assembly. After they fired up the crowd, we discussed the Golden Rule pillar using these icons to represent the many facets of respect.

Can you guess how each of them fits?

We're coloring the world with character,
one day at a time,
one idea at a time,
one child at a time
until living our 
True Colors 
becomes who we are,
how we behave, and
how we treat others, 
all the time,
even when nobody's looking.


They Came Back

Today I'm excited because this is how we started our day.

They came back.

Our high school seniors.
The FHS class of 2017.

To walk our halls one last time.
The halls where their school careers began.
This time in their caps and gowns.

To see their teachers, principals and school counselor.
To smell and feel the memories.
To relive the happiness of their childhood days.

It was a treat to see them all again.
Some of them don't look at all the same
and I couldn't pick them out of a lineup if I had to.
Others look exactly the same
only older and taller.

So we put on our college t-shirts,
got out our rally towels,
lined the hallways in anticipation,
put on some graduation music,
and welcomed them back
so that we could launch them into greatness.

We cheered for them.
We celebrated them.
We gave them hugs and high fives.

It felt really good, to have them back at Bales.
Back home.
If only for a few minutes.
I wanted to keep them longer,
to hold on tight and not let go,
but I know we can't.
It wouldn't be any good
for either of us.
It's time for them to spread their wings and fly.

We're so very happy that they came back.
And we're gonna miss them like crazy.

Thank you, Class of 2017; you make us proud. 
We can't wait to see where life takes you.


Character Diplomas

Today I'm feeling melancholy, because it's time to start saying farewell to another group of amazing mentors, our high school PALs. 
And though good-byes can be understandably difficult,
this one was really tough, because these are Joshua's classmates.
This is a class full of Joshua's peers.
They are about to graduate from high school.
And that whole empty nest thing is about to get real.
At least for people like us. 
At least for me.
So I made each PAL a character diploma, suitable for framing,
with some of my reflections and dreams for them.
I rolled the papers up, diploma-style, 
and tied a blue and white bow around each of them.
I delivered it to them in person,
but I knew I'd be too raw to read it aloud right now.
I handed each student their diploma, 
then we took a moment of silence
to read and remember.

I may have heard a few sniffles. {It's possible they were mine.}
I'm also feeling thankful that we've had this opportunity
to teach them to soar, this amazing batch of baby birds.
Beautiful song birds, 
just waiting to be heard;
strong song birds,
so ready to spread their wings and fly.
It's what we want even as we fight with our hearts to let go.

I hope that they'll fondly remember the nest
where they grew up and learned to fly.
I hope they've felt comfortable here 
and that they'll return to refuel, restore, and reflect 
with some regularity.
I hope that they'll be able to apply all of the life lessons
and secrets of survival we've tried to share.
I hope that they will dream big and
give themselves grace when things don't work out.
I hope that they'll love and be loved.
I hope that they always know that they matter,
that they are valued and valuable.
Our most precious resource.
The golden eggs from our nest.
Our future. 
Our hope.
Our heartbeat.

That's what I would have said out loud,
if my heart, like an eggshell, weren't so fragile right now.

I can't wait to see where their flights take them
and I can't wait to hear all about it when they come back home.


PPBF: A Letter To My Teacher

Today I'm grateful because my day started with this beauty from one of our new students that has grabbed my heart. I love the creative way she spelled my name almost as much as her heartfelt sentiments.

One year, I got these books with letters from students
which I keep in my special Smile File. 
Letters from our students are such a blessing,
a treasured gift to be sure.

Click the image for more Teacher Appreciation Week ideas.

Tonight I found this touching PPBF gem on a date night at Barnes & Noble, the perfect complement to these student letters and the perfect way to top off 
Teacher Appreciation Week 2017.

Title: A Letter To My Teacher
Author: Deborah Hopkinson
Pictures by: Nancy Carpenter
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Date: April 4, 2017
Suitable for ages: 4-8 (and up!)
Genre: Realistic fiction
Themes: understanding, inspiration, gratitude
Brief synopsis: A girl, now an adult, shares her childhood reflections through a thank-you letter to her second-grade teacher.
Opening pages: Dear Teacher, Whenever I had something to tell you, I tugged on your shirt and whispered in your ear. This time I'm writing a letter.

Read review on Book Page {here}.
Check out the Publishers Weekly review {here}.
Enjoy the Random House review {here}.

Why I like this book: This book is a brilliant way to honor and celebrate teachers present and past while incorporating the lost art of letter writing. Through the technique of sharing vulnerable reflections in an honest, poignant way, this text tugs at heartstrings because we all have that one teacher that made an impact. I love the way that the little girl talks so openly about her experiences in school, the good times along with the bad, punctuating the difference that her teacher made to a little someone who wasn't always very keen on school. 

And as I was reading it, I couldn't help but wish I'd have written it.

Use this treasure as a perfect springboard for a letter-writing activity for your staff. Read it aloud at a faculty meeting and provide note cards so that your teachers could write to a teacher, mentor, or coach who inspired them when they were students in their formative years. Maybe even the one who sparked their passion for learning and growth and encouraged them to become teachers.  

When we did this (thanks for the idea, Jay Billy!), a few of the teachers shared how much they enjoy getting updates from former students, how it fuels their emotional reserves, how it keeps them going and makes them want to be better, a win-win for sure.

Check out this book; I think you'll especially love the full-circle ending. 

Then head on over to Susanna Leonard Hill's blog next to see the other fabulous PPBF picks waiting for you there. 

Happy reading.


The Color Rainbow

As I get ready to head to the teacher-sorority dinner where I'll be speaking on why Mindset Matters, I'm thinking about Teacher Appreciation Week. If you're an educator, I hope you're being pampered and appreciated. This afternoon, we treated our teachers to an ice cream dessert bar and put out blank cards for them to write a thank-you note to a teacher or mentor who inspired them. 

What have you done to thank, honor and celebrate your favorite 
educator, teacher, mentor, coach, or care provider this week?

I'm also still thinking about the cutest thing in church yesterday, from the little girl in front of us. She was trying really hard to visit with her great Grandmother, who was trying equally as hard to keep her quiet. 

Girl: You do know what my favorite color is, don't you Granny?
Granny: {Smiles.}
Girl: I think you do know what my favorite color is.
Granny: {Smiles and nods.}
Girl: I know that you know my favorite color is rainbow.

Well I didn't see that coming; I was actually guessing pink. 
And I'm not sure why that has stuck with me, but it has.
Now rainbow is my new favorite color
because it just makes me happy.

You know what else makes me happy? This! 

I met Texas teacher Julie Woodard on Twitter last week after I complimented her stunning Sketchnote artwork. We tweeted back and forth and she offered to create one for me. Isn't that so kind? If you'd like to commission one, look her up on Twitter {@woodard_julie}. She has a keen sense of humor and is super easy to work with; I know that we'll be laughing like crazy when we actually meet. 

Speaking of laughter, if you're already in summertime planning mode, check out the ideas in this guest post I wrote for Free Spirit.

Click image to go to the post.
Being home for the summer with kids or grandkids doesn't have to break the bank. What do (or did) you like to do on a budget during summer break?


In The Blink Of An Eye

Tonight as we're addressing the envelopes for Joshua's graduation announcements, I can't help but wonder:

How did we go from this ... 

to this, so quickly?

In the blink of an eye.
Like overnight.
Or so it seems.
Actually, it was lots of blinks
and a few sleepless nights,
many fervent prayers
and a whole lot of forgiveness and grace.

And as we head into another last,
our last FISD Teacher Appreciation Week, 
here's what's on my heart and mind.

To all of Joshua's teachers, thank you.

Thank you for celebrating Joshua for who he is
while gently nudging him to reach higher and be better.
Thank you for finding ways to
productively channel his enthusiasm and energy,
his inquisitive and stubborn curiosity,
and his passionate pursuit of creative problem-solving.
Thank you for being firm yet fair.
Thank you for trying to help him understand
that mistakes are just opportunities for growth
even as his perfectionism threatens to paralyze him.
Thank you for ignoring some of the small stuff
while holding him accountable for the stuff that matters.
Thank you for not letting him get by with less than his best.
Thank you for laughing with him in the good times,
and for holding his heart when he was hurting.
Thank you for preparing him for the future
with those all-important soft success skills.
Thank you for always going that extra mile for him
and for loving him unconditionally.
And above all, thank you for embracing Joshua 
and for helping him find joy in the journey.

We appreciate you, more than you'll ever know.


Bloom Parenting

Today I'm excited to share what I've been reading
and how it has helped me take root and bloom!

I lucked into this colorful parenting treasure by Lynne Kenney and Wendy Young as a Twitter-chat trade and am I ever grateful that I did. The whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking that I wish I'd have had this as a resource when we were parenting our children through their formative years!

As its readers travel through the chapters, Bloom encourages us to teach, educate and inspire rather than to punish and put consequences on our children. It points us to the thoughts and feelings behind errant behaviors and asks us to look at the child through a new lens, a calmer, gentler parenting lens, to see the whole child and take a new look at what is going on in his/her brain that might be causing the undesirable behaviors that we want to help them grow through and change.

At the end of every chapter, there are pages of things that you can say, think and do, to help you through life's parenting challenges like separation anxiety, hitting, biting, morning mayhem, grief and loss. This three-pronged approach printed on these colorful pages can be cut out and kept close for reference during those emotionally-loaded times when words of wisdom escape us.

I experienced so many a-ha moments as I turned the pages through this epic newcomer, but my strongest connection has to be this nugget from the chapter on trauma: "This child is not the problem. The problem is the problem."

And now, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story: This week I've been experiencing some tough trauma responses to a somewhat random trigger from this past weekend. And it has been horrible. I've felt that hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilance that I first experienced four years ago following the trauma of that head-on collision all over again. I've been lost, crawling out of my skin, feeling like I'm not safe, feeling like I don't belong, needing to get away but having no clue where I'm trying to go. It's really throwing me way off and sucking the joy right out of me. And I'm an adult with life experiences that tell me that I am safe and that I will be okay, with skills to help others through those very same feelings. I can do a pretty good job of hiding it and making it through. But what if I were a traumatized child in a classroom going through similar stuff and acting out? 
This is where Bloom comes in. 

I love this reminder about trauma from the authors:

Conventional discipline appeals to the cognitive part of the brain. This is not where trauma lives. Traditional discipline will do nothing to change behavior that is driven by trauma. (p. 192)  

It's hard to not think I'm the problem,
especially when I'm feeling how I feel.
I take comfort in and draw hope from knowing that it's
what happened to me that's the problem.
And that this, too, shall pass
as I use my therapeutic resources
to journey through this trauma response
and get to the other side. Over and over again,
if that's what it takes.

Another poignant reminder in this ground-breaking gem is that
we don't have to be therapists to help students do the same,
to navigate through their behavior challenges,
to recover,
to find calm, 
to heal, 
and to thrive.

And though this guide for care providers
is targeted at anxious, angry, and over-the-top kids,
I enthusiastically recommend it as a rich resource to help 
any and all kids Bloom
Exclamation point.
Any questions?

Check out this book; 
you (and your kids) will be glad you did.

Thank you, Wendy and Lynne, for helping us
shape, nurture and grow such beautiful flowers
in the amazing garden we call life.


Give And Take

It's almost Earth Day 2017, and this little puppy that we kept for a few days over spring break has me reflecting about give and take.

It takes a lot to care for this little girl. 
She wanted required pretty constant attention.
And while we (minus our cat!) loved having her,
I'll have to admit that I was grateful to give her back, too.

Life is like that, for sure.
Give and take.
Someone needed our help, so we gave.
Next time we need help, we'll take.
But in the meantime, I love the reminder
to give thanks ...
and take nothing for granted.
Life is too short.
It's too short to forget to say thank you.
It's too short to forget to lift people up in prayer.
It's too short to miss a chance to be kind.
It's too short.
Time and time again we're reminded of that ...
It's too short to hold on to grudges 
and refuse to forgive.
It's too short to not keep our promises.
It's too short to not be ourselves.

Yet time and time again we forget.
We take things for granted.
We think we have forever.
Heck, we think that for sure we have tomorrow.
And sometimes we do.
But sometimes we don't.

What would change if we lived as if we didn't?


I'm thankful for the opportunity to keep Lizzie for that long weekend. 
I'm blessed to have friends who trust me with their family pet. 
And I'm grateful for my cat, who doesn't take up nearly as much time and attention as that active little puppy did.

So how are you living a life of appreciation,
of give and take,
of service and love?
What are you rocking?
Where could you get better?
Whom could you affirm, celebrate,
honor and thank?
What are you waiting for? 


Otis Grows

Every once in a while, a publisher reaches out to introduce a new author and title to me. Sometimes it's love at first sight, other times I'm not instantly enamored. Since there was something odd but endearing about this onion called Otis that made me want to peel back the layers and learn more, I asked to talk with author Kathryn Hast about her intriguing newcomer Otis Grows. Thank you, Kathryn, for your insight; best wishes as Otis makes its trek around the world!

1. Otis Grows begins with an odd premise: that an onion is the son of a flower and a chicken. How did you come up with the idea, and what do those groups mean to you?

Yes, it’s a bit bizarre. But in some ways most children’s books are, right?  I mean, bunnies don’t talk, there’s no such thing as a Truffula tree, and we’re humans, not Muggles. I think one of the cornerstones of childhood is the ability to suspend disbelief, to see past odd anthropomorphization, for example, and find instead empathy via character. I studied magical realism a lot over the course of my MFA, and there’s surely a bridge there, but the story actually began as a dream my dad had. He told me about it, I laughed, and penned a few stanzas as a joke. Returning to it years later, I saw the story as a way to highlight the absurdity of American cultures in conflict, which seems to be happening at such an escalating level.

2. Do you think the theme(s) could be a bit heavy for kids?

It’s a good question. The book is not for everyone. I created it with a fundamental worldview that books are not just for entertainment. Social scientists and educators have been reporting for years that active learning is what works. By contrast, passive learning is when you attend a lecture, when you’re read to… but when you engage and explore concepts actively, the stimulation ensures a richer learning experience. Accordingly--in my view--books can and should lead to conversations. And sometimes those conversations aren’t quick or easy. If it takes a parent and child months to get through my little, forty-page book, I feel I will have done my job.

3. Most children’s books have a targeted age group. But you insist that Otis Grows is for all ages. Why is that?

While many children’s books adhere strictly to age and/or reading levels, I think there’s something to be said for using playful language, which may or may not be elevated. The word “inverse,” for example, is not really for kids, but when you couple it with “of course” and “war’s curse,” and when you provide visual context, kids can get the gist. They’re smarter than we think. Also, it’s always been my hope that adults would enjoy my books, too. How many of us with young kids wish we could read more? How many of us prioritize our kids’ exposure to books over our own? It’s always been my hope that adults can find reflection and meaning in my books. That would be great.

4. What would you say the central message is in Otis Grows?

At a very superficial level, simply: growth. Development. I’ve always been drawn to Bildungsroman as a literary genre, but of course “coming-of-age” can encompass any number of things. There’s a scene in Otis Grows that resonates with me as I enter my forties: it’s when Otis comes back home to see his dad, and from a distance, his father seems “old.” That little piece of Otis’s growth is what speaks to me right now in my life, but others may find pause in the “odor of growing older,” in the realization of the beauty all around, or in Otis’s gained physical height and awkward stature.

5. You’ve mentioned your other books. What more can we expect from you?

My illustrator, L.M. Phang, is currently working on our next collaboration called Batty Betty. It’s about a giant who dances by herself with a red basket. There are some beavers who deride her, and then a tuba and a banana who forge a friendship amidst the “crazy” world they live in. ...So right, if there are objections to an onion having a chicken for a mom, there’s plenty of concepts to critique in this one, too. But I hope people can see past that. You know, Beckett had people living in trashcans; Kafka made a man turn into an insect. I do not claim (or aspire) to be giants such as they, but I do hope for a world where there is more literature, for everyone, including kids.



Inspiring Hope

I've been thinking a lot about inspiring hope lately. 
It's my one word for this year
and it's an amazing gift.
Life-changing even.

Hope is woven throughout this guest post I wrote with tips for 
helping kids move through and beyond tragedy to tranquility.

Click the image to go to the post.
Then my friend Sylvia invited me to guest post at her beautiful blog
Learning With Mrs. Parker and, sure enough, more connection. And hope.

Hope is a must when life challenges and overwhelms.
It's pretty much a non-negotiable in seasons of sadness.
In fact, without it there is no light at the end of that tunnel.

This week has been so so dark for my friends at Ross Elementary.
Thursday night as I was presenting a parenting workshop there, tragedy struck and complications from an injury sustained in a collision just outside the school took the life of one of their third graders.

In an instant, life changed for all of them. Forever.
A mom and dad lose their baby girl.
A brother loses his sister.
Grandparents lose their granddaughter.
A class loses their friend.
A ukulele club loses a musician.
A ball team loses a team member.
A school family loses a Roadrunner.
A school counselor loses a superhero. 

There's no way around the fact that her friends and family are in excruciating, unimaginable, unspeakable pain. And the hard truth is they are going to have to lean into the pain in order to go through it and to ever get beyond it. It won't be fast and it won't be easy. There really are no words at a time like this. 

But there is hope.  

In what has to be the most difficult decision ever, the family decided to donate this young angel's organs to save the lives of five children. Just as heaven got its newest angel, five beautiful children for whom things seemed hopeless got the gift of hope for a chance to move forward and live healthy lives. All because of Kelsey. And when I shared her story with our daughter Kaitlyn, she said that she is planning on signing up as an organ donor when she renews her license next month.

So tonight, dear reader, I'm asking for your fervent prayers,
for warm thoughts and wishes of peace, comfort and healing 
for the Ross Elementary school family
and the many friends and relatives of the young girl,
a sweet, joyful soul who lived a lifetime in just eight years,
and who, at losing her life, manages to give 
life-inspiring hope to others.

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