Giving Thanks

Look what I found for my office while we were browsing the shops
 of our favorite getaway to Gruene, Texas this weekend:

It encapsulates so much of what I believe that
we owe it to ourselves and others to do.
With purpose.
Every. Day.

It was the perfect find to top off this traditional Hill Country outing.

Think deeply.

Speak Gently.

Love much.

Laugh a lot.

Work hard.

Give freely.

Be kind.

And, in a digital society where we tend to be looking down a lot,
I couldn't help but add . . .
look up.

And give thanks. In all things, give thanks.

It's been such a relaxing Thanksgiving break,
a chance to rest and restore,
to escape and reconnect,
to unplug and plug in.

And for that, I'm so very thankful.


Happy Heart Kid Kits

 Today I'm excited because I get to share a new product I recently discovered over at my friend Leanna's blog {here}. Introducing the Happy Heart Kid, whose mission - to inspire families to engage in Character Building Activities through play - totally aligns with my work and passion.

Inspire. Engage. Empower.

These Play With Purpose kits spotlight virtues like self-control, generosity, kindness, patience, courtesy, diligence, helpfulness, unity, responsibility, courage and more. I recently dug into this awesome kit for teaching empathy, which includes interactive activity ideas, stories, games, and notes for parents.

All brilliantly engaging, the activities in these kits are designed to be interactive and spark the curiosity and creative of our budding empathy experts. Since I'm a firm believer that naming something gives it credence, I instantly liked the idea of making an empathy placard.

I know that my learners will connect with the Feelings Faces and Felt Flowers and I can't wait to try them out in small group counseling classes in December. 

If you're in search of an interactive, creative product to help develop character in your superheroes, check out these kits by connecting with Happy Heart Kid:

When we elevate empathy, kind acts aren't far behind. 
Need a few ideas for December? Here's an updated version of the 
Kindness Connections Calendar I posted last year.

Visit Coffee Cups & Crayons for a Random Acts of 
Christmas Kindness Calendar {here} and Raising Lifelong Learners for a Kind Acts Smorgasbord {here}. Brad Aronson's blog also had an extensive list of ideas {here}.

I'll be unplugging this week to spend time with family and friends, resting, restoring, and giving thanks. I hope you'll take the time to do the same. 
Happy Thanksgiving!


Angels Of Peace

Today I woke up a little under the weather, just in time for some time off so I can relax and restore, and the perfect time to reflect on what we have and how blessed we are. And I'm reminded of an angel I know named Margaret Limmer.

Click graphic for source.

I got a text from Margaret yesterday morning as I was scurrying to get on the road to Angleton for that fantastic NSOC celebration. She wrote of her concern for our friends in Ferguson, MO. My first reaction was indifference because I feel like my heart is already stretched in more ways that I can bear, but the fervency in her request was so compelling. She was hoping I'd share her idea on my blog. My second thought was to ask her to send me a guest post about it, and I went on my way down the road to celebrate with Southside.

That afternoon, I was visiting with two second graders (Mrs. Limmer's former students) and her name came up, so I mentioned how she's still the same wonderful woman, worried about others. The girl, whom I'll call Mercy, immediately wanted to know what was happening, then offered to pray for those friends in Ferguson. It was her next thought that connected to her former teacher in a way that I felt was providential: 
Doesn't that town have a Mayor? 

And that takes me back to Margaret's idea. See this angel? She's sending it to the Mayor of Ferguson, along with her prayers for peace. And she's hoping that we could join her, in praying and in showering Mayor Knowles with angels so that he can share them with his community.
An angel statuette. 
A picture of an angel. 
A pocket angel. 
Who's in? 
Here's his information:

Mayor James W. Knowles III
110 Church Street
Ferguson, MO 63135

Thank you, Mrs. Limmer, for being an angel of mercy. 
Your influence and inspiration lives on and ripples out.
Now I need to go find the perfect angel to send.


PPBF: Mogie - The Heart Of The House

First, an update about our Sweets For The Soldiers campaign:
Forty boxes of homemade goodies and treats are shipping out this morning en route to sixteen different deployed servicemen and women around the world who won't be home for the holidays, along with heartwarming notes like this one.

I just love that this writer gives her soldier credit for her safe feelings. And if my heart weren't happy enough, this morning I get to start the day with my friend Jennifer down the road at Southside Elementary in Angleton for their National Schools of Character celebration. We're on the agenda right after the AHS cheerleaders; I'm so eager to dance the Six Pillar Shuffle with those superheroes. And, I've got just the right PPBF to launch us into our
 Thanksgiving break week off.

Title: Mogie - The Heart Of The House
Author: Kathi Appelt
Illustrator: Marc Rosenthal
Publisher: Anheneum Books For Young Readers
Date: June 10, 2014
Suitable for: ages 4 - 8
Realistic fiction
Themes: compassion, friendship, empathy
Brief synopsis: Mogie is a Labradoodle who makes his way into the Ronald McDonald house in Houston to befriend and ultimately help restore mojo to a sick boy named Gabe.
Opening page:  There once was a very special house in the middle of a big city.

Visit the book's website {here}.
Read a Kirkus review {here}.
Watch the book's trailer on You Tube:

Why I like this book:  An adorable, active pup, a sick child, a charitable organization like the Ronald McDonald House ... what's not to like? Meet the real Mogie. This story is based on the real-life story of this empathy expert, who seems to have an uncanny ability to help the children who need him most. 
Click the picture to read his real-life story.

In this PPBF pick, Mogie is the one pup in a passel (have your students look up that word) who isn't destined for something big like his siblings, some of which join a Search and Rescue operation, others who take a Service job, and the rest who become Show Ring trophy dogs. 

Instead, Mogie is a rule-breaker who ends up at a Ronald McDonald House in Houston, destined to be the pet with the therapeutic ability to help heal. And when Gage, a sick child who is in the special house for treatment while he's ill, gets his mojo back, Mogie stays to help nurse Antonio back to health. 
Sounds like a really good job for a dog, don't you think?

I read it to a first-grade class yesterday, and they identified it as a circle story. Use this circle story to talk about empathy. How can you tell from Mogie's tale that it might be possible for a pet to have empathy? Have them cite specific examples. Switch places with Gage. What must his experience be like? How do you think he feels? What do you think he needs? What do you think his parents need? How about his friends? How could you use your superpowers to help this family?

This would be the perfect book to springboard a service-learning project. Is there a Ronald McDonald House in your area? What services to they provide? What do they need? Maybe you could partner to provide them a service. Could you make get-well cards or notes of cheer for the residents and their families? Maybe they need stuffed animals or board games? Some of the chapters take those pop tabs from soda cans. Perhaps you could start collecting them? Research what they use those for to spark a discussion about repurposing.

My brother Mark is on the Board of the Milwaukee Ronald McDonald House Chapter, so this charity has a personal connection for me, another reason that I was instantly endeared to Mogie.

Finally, have students write an essay and draw an illustration about who the heart of the house is at their place and why. These would make really special presentations and perhaps even a holiday bulletin board.

Check out this book; I think you'll want a copy for your shelves, too. Then head to Susanna's blog for today's other PPBF titles.


Sweets For Soldiers

Today I'm excited because our families are taking citizenship into the kitchen and the baked goods for our servicemen and women who'll be away from home at holiday time are rolling in. Brownies? Check. Rice Crispy Treats? Check. Pecan Pie Bars? Check. Sugar Cookies? Check. Chocolate Chip Cookies?
Oh, I can practically see the smiles on their faces and totally feel
 the happiness in their hearts as they devour our homemade goodness ...

and read our students' wonderful notes of admiration and thanks.

It's one of my favorite service-learning projects each year, 
because we get to give back to those who are giving up so much,
to serve and protect, 
to keep us safe and free.
I hope they feel pampered, appreciated and loved.
We're hoping to chat by Skype with a few of those heroes
on the Monday that we're back from break, so stay tuned.

On another note, I'm so grateful to {formerly known as the Character Education Partnership} for filming and sharing the video footage of my Kindness keynote.

They also posted Mary Gordon's keynote on empathy and Eduardo Briceño's presentation on growth mindset, so check those out, too. You'll be glad you did.


That's So Chocolate Bar!

Tomorrow I get to start another round of lessons,
this time about empathy, which has me super excited,
because it's one of my favorite topics.
Check out our problem poster; what could happen is
not so chocolate bar {though it does involve one ...}.

What choice should our furry friend make?
What will happen if he chooses what he's thinking about?
What will happen if he doesn't?
Switch places with him ... what would you do?

The lesson continues with our friend Pack, who's at it again ...
taking people's stuff. That's what pack rats do, right?
But where in the world did he get these shoes? And why?

From the puppet piece, we'll move to a character clip.
Do you know about these Chocolate Bar Boys?
I'll be using this AmAzInG story to spark our empathy discussion.

Isn't that story so chocolate bar? And chunk full of examples of empathy, which is all about switching places with someone, about walking in their shoes for a little bit to understand and care about how they feel.
How would it feel to be Dylan?
How about to be Jonah?
What would you want? What would you need?
What would it be like to be Dylan's parents? 
How about Jonah's?
What part does empathy play in this heartwarming story?

I can't wait to hear what my empathy experts have to say.

Kindergarteners will get an empathy wand.

Cutest idea ever from my friends at The Empathy Way!

Students in first through third will get an empathy card.
Click {here} for source.

After talking about these takeaways,
we'll dance the Empathy Hokey Pokey, 
with this adaptation to the words of the chorus:

You show a little empathy and turn yourself around ... 
that's what it's all about!


Thirty One Dresses

Happy Sunday. How was your World Kindness Week celebration?
Our friends down the road at Ross Elementary hosted a Character Crusade on Friday night and it was a huge success. They partnered with the Bay Area Alliance and made 120 gift baskets for a residents at a nearby nursing home. Students who attended went home with a heart full of happiness and a spirit stick like this:

Kindness is so much bigger than a hashtag;
life is better when we make kindness a habit.

Look at all of the words that engulf the word kind.
Ponder their meaning ... 
and reflect on Mr. Maraboli's wise words:
With one kind gesture you can change a life. One person at a time you can change the word. One day at a time we can change everything. 

It doesn't have to be huge, just done with great love. Look around and you'll see kind acts all around you. As you watch, pay attention to the glow of their aftermath. Keep the flame glowing and feel the warmth of their ripple. 
Then, find a way pay it forward, like what Heather's doing. 

She was in the second grade when I got that job at Westwood Elementary. Fourteen years later I probably wouldn't remember that, but it's so vividly etched in my heart because that year, right after school started, one of her classmates was killed in a hit and run and I found myself in her classroom sharing the news that their friend had died. He was buried on 9/11.

Truthfully, she's really one of the only ones I remember from that class, in part because her mom reached out to me that day to offer not only a word of prayer, but to also come and sit with me while I talked with the class. That endeared me to both of them and created a special bond, one that would really be important when this little girl lost her mom in a accident just two and a half years later.

She's in college now and doing amazing things.
One of those things reminds me of that caring, generous mom
whose time with us was way too short.
She's going to be wearing a dress every day in December 
to raise awareness and money for the Dressember Campaign,
which uses fashion and creativity to restore dignity to women.
One kind act ... endless possibilities rippling out.
Click the Dressember graphic to learn more and support this effort.

Small kindnesses are a big deal, to the person carrying them out, 
and to the person on the receiving end.
Why not head out on a #kindnesscrusade and unwrap the gift.


PPBF: Grandfather Gandhi

Today's PPBF is the perfect ending to World Kindness Week.

Title: Grandfather Gandhi
Authors: Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus
Illustrator: Evan Turk
Publisher: Antheneum Books for Young Readers
Date: March 11, 2014
Suitable for: all ages
Themes: peace, anger management, justice
Brief synopsis: Gandhi's grandson tells about a confusing time when anger sparked and threatened to take him on a detour from the Gandhi way. He must learn how to walk in of footprints of his Grandfather's path of peace while keeping his feelings of anger and frustration from ruining the route.

Opening page:

Resources: Visit the book's website {here}.
See it on a list by Elizabeth Bird, School Library Journal {here}.
Read a review at the Horn Book {here}.
Find the Gandhi Spinning Wheel Activity {here}.
Watch the book's trailer:

Why I like this book: I couldn't believe it when I saw this book on my librarian's stack of new books this week. Gandhi has a grandson? The Gandhi? I knew before I even cracked it opened that I had unearthed a treasure that I would love. And, sure enough, I loved it, so much that I asked to take it with me to my office so I could read it again. And again. When his grandson explodes and runs to his Grandfather for help, the elder Gandhi validates his feelings and then asks the twelve-year-old: Do you want to be lightning ...  or a light?

Such a powerful inquiry, something we can ask ourselves
with every move we make, to keep our actions and reactions 
in check. Then, today, I see this chart on a door at my school visit
to Ross Elementary:

What a great guiding question.
And it parallels today's pick because it's basically what
our book's author struggled with as a child in the
 lineage of someone supreme like Mahatma Gandhi.
How does a child live up to a name,
walk around in the skin they're in,
especially when the emotions that choose him
aren't necessarily comfortable or easy?

And what if our every word, feeling or action
were tattooed on our skin so others could see?
Ask students this question.
Find out what their family values are
and what it means to be a member of their family,
like being a Gandhi.
Is it easy or difficult? Why?

In the book, Gandhi suggests that the young boy
spin yarn as an anger management technique.
Sometimes I have students with uncomfortable feelings
wrap yarn with me, from the skein to a ball, and it works like magic. What strategies "to use anger" work for you and your learners? What does Gandhi mean that "anger can illuminate,
... turn darkness into light?"

For an explanation about what happens to the brain
when we we get mad, click {here}.

Wanna seal the deal with a song?
Try these lyrics using the tune from The Addams Family:

Check out this book; I predict you'll instantly fall in love, too.
Then check out our other picks at Susanna's blog today.


Six Kind Ways Guest Post

Today I'm delighted because it's World Kindness Day
and I'm guest posting over at the Character Educator. Click the graphic that I created from the autumn Texas skyline that we woke up to one day this week to read the post of ideas adapted from my kindness keynote.

In keeping with my Kindness Week celebration, 
here are a few more kind acts that have brought me great joy.

The first came from a second grader, who found me in the hallway yesterday 
and gave me a little book, simply called Joy. 
It's filled with all sorts of quotes, like this one: 

So kind of her to make that kind connection.

Another kindness came in the mail, from Montana. An educator whom I've never met came across an article in Teaching Tolerance magazine that I wrote in 2006 and she sent it to me, along with the sign language for the words of the poem I wrote for the post. How thoughtful is that?

She must know that we use some signs in our school,
and she took it a step further and created these pages.

Kindness ... global warming of the real kind.

And just this week I've received numerous nice notes, one from Wisconsin, another from NJ, and a third from Canada, just out of the blue, just because. It feels so rewarding to be on the receiving end of affirmation and appreciation.

So today I'm grateful. 


So He'll Be Happy

This morning I'm excited because I get to host our district Counselors' meeting at our school. I used my Kohl's Cash to pick up an assortment of flavored K-cups so we can have a hot beverage on our first cold day. We're going to drink out of real coffee mugs to school and there'll be a tall carton of half & half to sweeten the deal. We're also having pumpkin bread, so I made a mini to surprise someone. 

I usually send it along with Joshua, since it's not as common that we treat our high school teachers to something special, but today he opted not to take it. So I'll be leaving it with a Westwood friend; it's so much fun to leave a sweet treat on a colleague's desk, just because. 

And I've got a sweet story to share.

Late last week, a third-grade girl came to find me before school. That's not hard to do, because I'm typically at the front greeting students as they come in, but I know she had to search since she's a bus rider who gets dropped off in the back. She had these two things in her hands:

A girl of few words, she simply said, I brought this for you.

Me: Oh my goodness. He's adorable. 
Are you sure you want me to have him?

Student: Yes, Mrs. Gruener, she replied matter-of-factly. He was not treated very well at his old school and I know he'll be happy here with you.

Sometimes there are no words.
Happy Wednesday.


Thank You, Veterans

It's Veterans Day, 2014, a chance to pause, 
to honor, to reflect, and to thank.

To those who have served to keep us safe and free,
thank you. And to their families, thank you.
We will be forever grateful for your selfless service and sacrifice.

How does your school or community celebrate Veterans?
I sat in on our Veterans Day program rehearsal Monday afternoon and it brought me to tears to hear our first graders singing Patriotic songs, reciting the Preamble to the Constitution, and saluting their heroes, our Veterans. It perfectly complements our World Kindness Week celebration, to express gratitude to those who have served.

We're also celebrating, honoring and thanking those who are currently serving and will be away from their loved ones during the upcoming holidays. We're collecting names and addresses of our deployed servicemen and women so that we can send them a hand-drawn note of thanks and a care package filled with home-baked goodness and love. If you have someone overseas whom you'd like for us to "adopt" and treat, please email me their information between now and November 17th so that we can share our gratitude and some goodies with them.
We must never forget.