Peace And Plenty

As we say good-bye to 2015 and start our 2016 story,
I'm reflecting on my one little word for this past year:
The first definition in the dictionary has to do with musical notes struck simultaneously to produce a pleasant sound; the second definition? 
Agreement or concord.

And as I reflect, I'd like to say that because I chose harmony as my focus word, that this year fell beautifully into place like the notes on a John Williams' score. But, alas, that wouldn't be painting an honest or accurate picture of how it went. In reality, a good part of my 2015 was out of harmony for me. Some of the discord was downright painful, but in hindsight, I'm convinced that those times served an important purpose, to stretch and grow me, and for that, I'm thankful.

And, just because God has a keen sense of humor, look what I spied in the butterfly garden at Bales earlier this week when I was showing my sister around. 

I'm sure it has been there every time I've sat out there with a student this semester; it just took me looking at my new surroundings again through a different lens to find harmony where it has been all along. 
Life's funny like that, isn't it?

We also got a sneak peek at the progress of our new mural.
Isn't it going to be a valuable addition to that hallway?

Click the picture for more information about Murals by Kathy.
So as we move forward into a new year, today I'm enjoying the memories of these past two weeks spent putting puzzles together ... 

... and finishing a furniture-restoration project,

of our hearts and our home filled with so much JOY . . .

that even our backyard birds are chirping with delight.

Warm reflections of walks and talks and card games and Hallmark movies, 
of eating in and eating out, of smiles and satisfaction.

Life feels harmonious again. And I'm filled with gratitude.
Our last night of extended-family holiday togetherness found us watching 
the UW Badgers battle to win the Holiday Bowl.

And as I write this, my Dad and his wife are on the road headed back home after a dozen days with us; my sister and her husband are en route home by air. My brother and his girlfriend have returned to Wisconsin, too, and the college kids will spend New Year's Eve with their friends in their perspective college towns. 

I'll sign off with this sign that my sister brought from my mom's kitchen for mine, my wish for you, dear reader, in 2016 and beyond.

Happy New Year.


Quietly Observant

Today I'm delighted because my Activate Empathy, Mobilize Kindness guest post went live on the Free Spirit Publishing blog this morning. It has been so much fun, to be assigned a topic, let it marinate while prewriting it in my head, then write and rewrite on paper. I'm really pleased with how it turned out.

I'm happy with how my homework assignment turned out, too.

Click image to read about the Therapeutic Effects of Coloring
Our AP put these in our boxes right before we left for the holidays, with a challenge to color it for a visual display she wants to make. In a fun coincidence, it just so happens that my sister got three types of coloring mediums, which she willingly shared. We had fun side-by-side, pretending to be artists.

We've also been doing some reading; 
I started Making Rounds With Oscar this morning.


It's an account about an ordinary feline with extraordinary feelings,
 a cat who can sense when a person is in his/her last earthly day, 
a quiet observer who makes his way to the dying person's side.

We also saw a movie, which loosely connects to Oscar's tale.
I laughed and I cried through The Intern, 
featuring Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway.

(Disclaimer: There are a few distasteful words and scenes.)
It's about a fashion start-up that decides to hire senior interns (DeNiro) and the brain-child behind the dot com (Hathaway) who wants nothing to do with the one who gets assigned to her. In fact, before she realizes how much she can learn from him, she demands he be transferred to another department. 
The reason? He's just "too observant." 
A quiet observer, like the comfort cat.

So much food for thought coupled with examples of elevated empathy in both of these. When we're able to get quiet, to silently observe from outside of ourselves, then we can see what others need and experience their emotions.

When is the last time you got to be a quiet observer?
What did you notice?
What did you learn?
How did you grow?


That's Enough

Today I'm excited because our daughter is coming home and our house will be almost as full as our hearts are. My Dad and his wife have arrived from the frozen tundra and two siblings with their significant others arrive tomorrow. 
Oh, what fun!

But as the excitement builds, I find myself wondering:
Will there be enough? 
Will we have enough? 
Have I done enough?

Enough cookies to frost?
Enough treats to enjoy?
Enough variety?

Will we have enough time together?
Is there ever enough time together?
I'm reminded of the Byrd's song Turn Turn Turn.

Weird thing is, it's not like we want for much.
And yet, I find myself often wanting more.
Or maybe better is a more accurate word.
Whatever the case, I've chosen the word enough
as my 2016 focus word.
My one little word.
To help me be more mindful,
in the moment.

To discern between wants and needs.
To appreciate what I have.
And to help me celebrate that what's in front of me is sufficient,
and quite likely more than enough.
Every. Day.

Do we have enough?

You better believe it!
What's your 2016 one little word?


A Darling Daddy-Daughter Duo

Today I'm excited because I've gotten a sneak peek at Flashlight Press' upcoming book, scheduled to release on April 1, 2016 (no foolin'!), and it's a keeper.

Written by Josh Bledsoe and aptly titled Hammer and Nails, this adorable adventure begins as a disappointed Darcy discovers that her playdate plans have gone kaput. In walks her doting Dad, who seems willing to do just about anything (including don a tutu?) to turn his daughter's day around. And though his offer for a Darcy-Daddy Day is initially met with some skepticism (exactly what's on his to-do list anyway?), Darcy decides to give it a go. And is she ever glad she did! 

Their playdate starts when the two connect over coffee (and chocolate milk!) and ends with a new appreciation for the everyday things that make each other tick. 

Jessica Warrick's brilliant illustrations sweeten the story to endear its readers to this darling daddy-daughter duo. As for its eSPAcially clever ending? Nailed it.

Need some enrichment ideas?

*Watch this cute dad dance his chores away {here}.
*Host your own parent-child dance party. 
*Check out these Dad's Book of Awesome project ideas.
*Make this Footprints Worth Following craft.
*Encourage students to plan a playdate with their caregiver(s).

Pre-order your copy today. 


The Ring of Kindness

I was visiting Westwood on Friday at lunch when I spied a first-grade friend signal me to come his way. "Mrs. Gruener," he said as he showed me his ChicFilA kids' meal toy, "you're gonna love this!"

Though technically it's called Shuffle It Forward, Jax went on to explain that it's a ring of kindness, because you have to pick a card and then do that kind thing before the end of the day. So I picked this one . . .

 . . . and promptly made up a song. About him. 
Which I sang in front of him and his family.
To the tune of Jingle Bells. 
Jaxson rocks, Jaxson rocks, Jaxson rocks all day ... 
And he giggled through the whole thing.

I couldn't wait to get to ChicFilA and get one for my office. How fun would it be to have our students make these? Turns out they have a few other items, including Gift It Forward coupon books.

Clearly, kindness is a gift we can give every day!
Check out these other recent resources I've discovered:

Check out The Season of Kindness on the Today Show.
A recipe for visiting the elderly at Ripple Kindness.
Ideas for Raising Compassionate Kids from Pennies of Time.
Ideas for family service projects at Small Acts Big Change.

Now I must get back to the kitchen to dip my Caramel Turtles because tomorrow we're taking trays to treat our support staff at the Print Shop, Transportation, the Custodians, Maintenance, our Technology Services, Special Programs, and Central Office. I can't wait to thank them with our homemade goodness.

Sing it with me: It's the most wonderful time of the year!


Gifts From The Heart

Today I'm bubbling with joy because I'm linking up with Carla over at Comprehension Connection to celebrate gifts from the heart.

It's likely you've heard this before . . .

. . . and it's not just a sweet sentiment.
It's true!

Let's start with the gift of mentoring.

Yesterday our Character Cam caught this PAL pair playing
ring toss with our giraffe friend, Junior.
Oh, what fun, right?
I could just feel the joy.
Whom are you mentoring right now?
What could he or she learn from you?
How could he or she benefit from your wisdom?
And what might you learn in return?

Listening is also a gift from the heart; maybe someone has a problem that you can coach them through. Check out today's guest post about resisting peer pressure at Free Spirit Publishing by clicking our decision-making model graphic below.

I experienced an act of kindness yesterday when I snuck over to the elementary side of our school and found first graders in Mrs. Collins' class writing thank-you notes for their mail carriers. As they attached a candy cane to sweeten their sentiments, they enthusiastically shared that they'd left notes for their garbage carriers the day before. The sweetness spreads ...

Gifts from the heart don't have to be grand to be great.
I've seen students holding the door for a friend without being asked.
I've seen them carrying a bouquet of flowers from the garden.
I've seen them bringing in fresh fruit from their citrus trees.

A kind compliment here ...

My friend {and IT expert} Libby designed these gift tags that we're making available to our staff so they can affirm one another in writing. What a gift!

Click {here} to download the "school family" version 
that you can use on your campus.

Check out these cool Compliment Cards 
if you want a fun template for kids.

. . . a generous gesture there.

How about setting up a hot chocolate bar with candy canes to stir? Or bringing in a batch of your homemade, hand-dipped chocolates to share? Maybe decorating smile cards to put on the windshields of the cars in a parking lot? 

Sometimes the gift from the heart is spelled T-I-M-E and it looks and feels like cozying up with a loved one and a good book or a Hallmark Channel holiday movie. Or maybe it's the gift of a song, either played on an instrument, sung with some carolers, or sent to an inbox via email or text.

I wonder what other gifts from the heart will enrich with special significance 
your celebration this holiday season? 


Minor Alterations

Every so often, a song really speaks to me. When I first heard David Lovrien's Minor Alterations four years ago, however, it didn't necessarily grab me. But last week when Joshua's band played it, it did. And it doesn't want to let go.

Click for purchasing information
I think it's because I hear it now as kind of a metaphor. For life. Just as Mr. Lovrien twisted all of the notes in these popular holiday tunes from a major key to a minor one, so our journey sometimes detours from a pleasantly paved road to a bitterly bumpy one, from a comfortable cruise to a tempestuous trek. 
And then, like this medley, it feels just a little off. 

But, with the help of your family and friends and a little bit a lot of faith,
you make it work. And in the end, it resolves.
You find harmony again.
Life ebbs and flows like that, 
so sometimes we have to make minor alterations.

Grab some coffee, hot chocolate or tea, turn it up an enjoy the Friendswood High School Wind Ensemble, under the direction of Gregory Dick, performing 
David Lovrien's holiday masterpiece . . .

. . . while you ponder the metaphor and reflect upon 
the twists and turns that your life took this year.


PPBF: You're Here For A Reason

Happy Friday.

Yesterday I was invited to the Bay Area Alliance luncheon, to speak to them for a second time this year. As we stood in line for that yummy homemade chili, I thanked one of the Board Members for having me back, adding that I hoped I didn't repeat myself too much. She said, "Oh, even if you did, that'd be okay. It wasn't so much what you said to us, but how you made us feel." Such a sweet affirmation of my work and the perfect segue into today's PPBF pick, 
which has significance and belonging written all over it.

You matter.
You belong here.
You make a difference.
You are loved.

Title: You're Here for a Reason
Author & Illustrator: Nancy Tillman
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends New York
Publication Date: September 1, 2105
Suitable for: All ages
Genre: Motivational
Themes: belonging, kindness, stakeholders
Brief synopsis: Fly along with the child's red kite and see how one little kindness can ripple to show that we are all connected and what we do matters.
Opening page
You're here for a reason, you certainly are.
The world would be different without you, by far.

If not for your hands and your eyes and your feet,
the world, like a puzzle, would be incomplete. 

Resources: Take a peek at the book's intriguing illustrations {here}.
Read a review at Novel Novice {here}. 
Check out these Interactive Mindful Notebooks {here}.
Talk about strengths as superpowers with this reflection sheet.
Then display them in a life-sized cape for a super visual:

Why I like this book: First of all, this was a Kohl's Cares selection, so I purchased the hardcover for just $5.00. Who doesn't love a deal like that? Secondly, let's just say it's a counselor's dream because its theme is at the core of what we do when we coach our students as they try
to figure out who they are, 
to forge their own way,
to be kind to others, and 
to use their strengths to make a difference.
And finally, the book puts the all-important me to we spin on life,
to spark a conversation about stakeholders.
Who cares about our choices?
Whom do they involve?
Whom will they affect?
How might considering stakeholders change our choices?
Because nothing happens in isolation.
We are all connected.

Check out this beautiful book; I think you'll be delighted you did.

Then head to Susanna's blog for our final PPBF titles for 2015. 


A Happy Meal

Today I'm excited because we just spent five glorious days away.
A much-needed break from the hustle and bustle.
Celebrating family.
In the great outdoors.

It's a twenty-year tradition, to leave home over Thanksgiving break and spend some time a few hours down the road in the Texas Hill Country. 
Swimming in the Comal River.
Playing cards.
This caught my eye on this year's outing: 

I've never heard it said like that, but I believe it's true. 
I've watched grace change people's lives.
I know that this Thursday it made a difference in ours.

We decided to enjoy an early Thanksgiving meal this year, so we drove up to the Golden Corral shortly after they opened. The line stretched out the door, but wasn't as long, we didn't think, as it was last year when we ate after our hike. An elderly man got in line right behind us. By himself. After a few minutes, I invited him into a conversation by asking if he graduated from A&M, a pretty easy guess since his shirt sported its colors and logo. I told him that Jacob was a student there now, and we visited about Aggieland for a bit. We stepped into his story for a spell and learned some things about our new friend, most significant was that he had recently lost his wife of 34 years. As we neared our turn at the cash register, I wondered if it'd be weird to ask him to sit with us. It was Thanksgiving, after all, and he was all alone. And then, as if John were reading my thoughts, he asked if we ought to invite that Aggie to eat with us. So, we did. And as we were about to sit down, he told us he said as he entered the restaurant, "It's just you and me today, Lord." He thanked us for including him and offered to say grace. So we circled up with Morris at the Golden Corral, we held hands, and we prayed.
It changes everything.

Speaking of happy meals, if you want a creative twist for your next collaboration, here's a fun resource we made. Print these on card stock and laminate them to use when you want to randomly group students. (There are 3 sets of 36 cards, so feel free to share with 2 friends.) Want a foursome? Group them by restaurant. Want pairs? Let students find someone with a matching item. Want a bigger group? Have all of the burgers, fries, toys, or shakes, for example, work together. Click on the picture to download. How else would you use these grouping cards?   


Inspiring Connections Guest Post

Today, I'm excited because my friend and kindergarten teacher Heather Krail accepted my invitation to guest post about a promising practice I recently witnessed in her classroom. Thank you, Heather, and welcome.

As teachers, we often witness “cries for help” as acting-out behaviors from our students. This post about a South African practice inspired me to try something new in my class. Without isolating the students who might be struggling and allowing everyone to get a turn, we started giving compliments to every Student of the Day during our Morning Meeting time.


Our kindergarten students stand in front of the board and I write down the compliments as the other students give them aloud. This bucket-filling practice has turned out to be beneficial to the receiver of the compliments as well as to all the givers because we get to practice giving and receiving genuine affirmations. 

It has been fun to witness the excitement and joy on each child’s face as they listen to and hear their peers compliment them, respect them, and cherish them. It helps them feel, trust, and know that they matter in our class. It has also brought a stronger sense of community as it encourages my students to find and acknowledge the good in all of their peers, even those who are crying for help.


Isn't this an awesome idea?
Look what happens when it is tried in a middle school!
Becky Bailey from Conscious Discipline says that often it's connection rather than attention that our struggling students are craving. 

Do you have a strong community connections practice you'd like to share? 
Leave it in the comments section or contact me to guest post!



PPBF: The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish

Happy Friday! Let's start with some grateful things ...
First, I'm excited about the opportunity to deliver the keynote address in my home state in June. Here's the save-the-date flyer that just came out; 
who wants to meet me in Milwaukee?

Next, I'm so grateful to be guest blogging over at Free Spirit Publishing; click {here} to read yesterday's post about helping hungry students through food insecurity.

I'm also tremendously thankful that our tree is filling up. It is such a special treat to peek into our students' happy hearts and see what they appreciate.

Don't you love how the character cam caught the sun's rays
 illuminating our gratitude?

UPDATE: Our tree just keeps blooming with blessings!

Finally, I'm swimming with delight that this week's PPBF also serves as a stop on the #poutpouttour.

Title: The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish
Author: Deborah Diesen
Illustrator: Dan Hanna
Publisher: Macmillan Kids
Date: September 8, 2015
Suitable for: ages 3-6
Themes: holiday spirit, generosity, mindset 
Brief synopsis: When Mr. Fish decides to go shopping with a fixed mindset about what the perfect holiday gift is, he comes up empty-finned. Will Miss Shimmer be able to help him unlock those errant beliefs and complete his quest?
Opening Page:
In a festive ocean corner,
Fish were decking out the reef,
Hanging tinsel, bows, and lights
In a holiday motif.

Enjoy this endorsement at Picture Book Reviews {here}.
Read the review at Chat With Vera {here}.
Talk about feelings with a creative Pout-Pout Fish activity idea {here}.
Create a visual display to showcase no-cost gifts.

Why I like this book: In true Pout-Pout Fish fashion, there's a echo verse that young children will grab on to and easily memorize ... 

"A gift should be big,
And a gift should be bright.
And a gift should be perfect -
Guaranteed to bring delight.
And a gift should have meaning
Plus a bit of bling-zing,
So I'll shop till I drop
For each just-right thing!"

... begging us to seize that teachable-moment extension about the fixed-mindset expectations of our friendly fish.

 In the end, Mr. Fish is given a beautiful gift from Miss Shimmer, the key to unlocking his beliefs about what gifts should be and adopting a 
growth-mindset alternative.

As an additional creative enrichment activity idea, invite students to re-write the book's poetic refrain with their beliefs about gift-giving. Then encourage them to exchange their work with a critical friend to see if their beliefs are fixed and could benefit from being unlocked.

And what did the author Deborah Diesen hope that we'd glean from her underwater holiday jewel? Here's some timeless wisdom about gift-giving from a recent interview:

Q: Do you have any tips for parents of toddlers about the joy of giving gifts rather than just receiving them this holiday season?

A: Kids love to give presents and they especially love having an active role in the process of creating presents. Try a craft idea or a project that's extremely simple and stress free, and then let your child have at it with a minimum of help. The more messy, lopsided and imperfect the results, the better. Have fun with the process and as you do, you'll create not just gifts, but memories as well.

This joyful holiday treasure spotlights hand-made presents from the heart; 
give yourself a gift and check it out.

For more PPBF picks, visit Susanna Hills blog {here}.