David & Goliath

Today I'm thinking about that little shepherd boy from the Bible named David and that giant he faced called Goliath and the metaphor that their story is ... for life.

It's probably because we went to San Antonio for the State-level Science Fair this weekend and what we saw, felt, and experienced just blew us away; 
project after project with words we couldn't pronounce, 
research that would never cross our mind to pursue, 
and experiments that we wouldn't know where to start to reproduce.
And then there was our Joshua David. 

His project, which came out of the Houston Science Fair a first-place winner in the Earth and Space Science category, really seemed small and somewhat insignificant at State in comparison with the others, the upper classmen with their professional-looking double-board posters and their equally impressive business dress. Some of the participants even did their projects in an Independent Study Mentorship (ISM) class. With a mentor. In some cases, as an extension of a summer internship. Joshua wasn't feeling very confident. At all. 

But he had taken pride in his work, his experiment was creative, and he enthusiastically explained it to anyone who wanted to learn. He wasn't sure that'd be enoughbut it must have made an impact with the judges, because Impact Craters: What Your Angle? took second place against the giants. 

On our way home, we stopped at the same Freddy's where {this storyabout custard kindness happened just last week.

So let's upack this metaphor with some reflections: 
What giants are you facing?
Who is there to support, help and encourage you?
How will they know what you want and need from them?
How will you know when you've done enough?
How will you celebrate your victory?

On another happy note, we got to see our billboard yesterday, 
beautifully-framed by the San Antonio skies.

Turns out, you don't have to be a giant to be a superhero.
I'm thankful to The Joy Team for our partnership
and hopeful that our inspirational message might 
equip, encourage and empower 
a present-day David (or two) to face those giants
with strength, purpose, and grace.


PPBF: Our Friendship Rules

Today I'm excited because I've finished around round of Peace Class. We were talking about manners and their connection to respect and I found it so intriguing to talk with them about the why behind some of the manners. Not a single student knew why it's not good manners to put your elbows on the table. Interesting ... 

Turns out the why is pretty important to motivation; 
just yesterday, I found this Daniel Pink quote on Twitter: 

How do you encourage your students to respectfully figure out the why?

Then last night I attended a Red Grammer concert. WoW!
He performed music from this simply powerful CD.

Click the graphic for a sample song.
What an expert bucket filler and gift to our community this 
Grammy-award-winning musician and friend is.
And speaking about gifts, check out today's PPBF.

Title: Our Friendship Rules
Authors: Peggy Moss & Dee Dee Tardif
Illustrator: Alissa Imre Geis
Publisher: Tilbury House Publishers
Date: May 2007 
Suitable for ages: 5 and up
Realistic Fiction
Themes: friendship, betrayal, conflict resolution
Brief synopsis: Our narrator experiences conflict with {and risks losing} her best friend when she shares her biggest secret to impress a cool new girl.
Opening page: When my friend Jenny Martin hides, she is almost impossible to find. Unless she starts talking. Jenny Martin is my best friend.

Read Roxanne's Books That Heal blog review {here}.
Check out a review on scrumdilly-do blog {here}.
Download the pdf from one of the authors {here}.
Find lots of resources at Friendship Is Our Hands {here}.
Try this idea I wrote for our school website:

Why I like this book:  I've used this gem so SO many times since I added it to my shelf; it's just so real. Alexandra loves her best friend Jenny Martin, but she gets sucked in by the outward beauty of Rolinda, the new girl, and starts dressing like her, trying to emulate her. She even cuts her hair like her. Soon she's sharing her best friend's biggest secret with Rolinda. And it hurts Jenny. Bad.

Just today I shared it with three firsties who are sort of stuck in a triangle and one of them said it so eloquently: You can't just pick a friend by how beautiful or fancy she is. That's just on the outside. What about what's in her heart? So just like Alexandra and Jenny in the book, we work together write friendship rules together, and then look at them to see if they're "outside" or "inside" qualities.
 My favorite rule on their contract? Keep an open heart!
A friend that fits is totally worth the work.
So many extension possibilities in this scrapbook-style Mom's Choice Silver Medalist. Check it out to see for yourself.


The OvationBox - Delivering Gratitude

In Peace Class today, I mentioned my Smile File to a group of third graders. One of them asked if they could see it. Well, it's not really a file so much as a dozen or so large manila envelopes filled with smiles, happiness, and love that students have shared with me over the past fourteen years. Wouldn't it be nice, I mused, if these notes of affirmation were somehow more organized for me? Enter OvationBox.

From the Press Release:

OvationBox - Delivering Gratitude
Kickstarter campaign wants to brings letters of love and appreciation to your mailbox

Montreal, Quebec – OvationBox collects letters of love and appreciation from the most important people in your network and delivers them on typewritten cards in a beautiful gift box.

The idea is to provide recipients of this unique gift with a source of constant love and encouragement from their closest family and friends - a standing ovation that, once opened, never stops delivering the applause they deserve.

“It’s the most personal gift you could ever receive,” OvationBox co-founder Colin Belyea says. “OvationBox is a simple concept, but each individual box holds an entire history of love and friendship.”

“No other gift can appreciate in value over time like gratitude can,” co-founder Alex Curtis says. Their Kickstarter campaign gets underway on March 4 to help fund OvationBox’s first shipment. After the campaign, the box opens. When an OvationBox is purchased, each customer is given a unique weblink to send to up to twenty of the recipient’s closest friends and family. The link allows them to contribute a short letter of love, gratitude or appreciation to that person's OvationBox. These letters are personally collected, printed, packaged and shipped in custom boxes by Belyea and Curtis.

“It was really important for us to do something physical,” Belyea says. “We rely so heavily on digital and social media interactions these days that people often lose the feeling of warmth in their interactions with the people closest to them. Over time, it makes us sadder.”

“I can recall and have saved every personal letter or package I’ve ever received. There are few things as genuinely thrilling as seeing a package left in your mailbox. Combine that feeling with the excitement of hearing from close friends and family and I imagine it will be truly elating,” Curtis says.

Belyea and Curtis hope to raise $10,000 to begin producing OvationBoxes and to simultaneously publish a blog that echoes the sentiments of their product. 


The Dew Drop Inn

Today marks the final day of our spring break. 
Wait, what? How did that happen?
Yesterday the Spring showers that bring May flowers threatened to come right on in through the back door ... check out Lake Gruener.

But it was worth it, to wake up to 
these Texas beauties on my morning walk!

Don't you love how those raindrops are clinging on for dear life?

So I spent most of yesterday inside, reading and thinking.
After my jaunt to the grocery store, I did a little baking, too. 
This old-fashioned strawberry shortcake was delicious:

I also spent a lot of time online, collaborating and learning.
When I made this bulletin board two years ago, never could I have imagined how Twitter would transform me and my teaching.
In fact, having a Twitter account wasn't even on my radar back then.

But here we are, in 2015, and I was able to virtually attend ASCD15 from my couch thanks to Twitter feed yesterday.
Twitter chats remind me of a place we used to pass on our way up north called the Dew Drop Inn. The chats are a gathering place {kind of like in the sitcom Cheers} where you can drop in to quench your thirst for learning, enjoy some food for thought, and satisfy your hunger for collaboration with other educators. A place to come hungry for innovative ideas and leave full of inspiration and intrigue. A place to connect.
And just like that clever name that has two meanings, Twitter has provided a platform where I'm challenged to reframe my thinking.
It's about perspective.
It's about point of view.
And it's about looking at things through another's lens.
Stretching. Growing. Learning to fail forward.
And my brain is firing dendrites like never before.
Twitter is a tool of transformation that has introduced me to some amazing educators from all over the world. I have expanded my Professional Learning Network (PLN) not only beyond Friendswood and Texas, but beyond America and out into the world. One PLN, a few hashtags {also known as the pound sign and the number sign}, endless growth possibilities. The world is at our fingertips.
Can you feel the spark? Want to know more?
Click {here} to read yesterday's archives from our #nt2t chat about 
the power of the hashtag. 
And if you're online next Saturday morning at 8 am {CST}, do drop in!


PPBF: Dragon And Captain

It's International Day of Happiness and guess what's happening?
44 billboards ... 19 cities ... 10 million smiles ... one goal:
Inspiring America!
Click the happy map for more information.

As you may know, I've partnered with The Joy Team to put the one in San Antonio that reads: SUPERHEROES are real. You're one of them. It goes up today if it's not already up and we can't wait to see it next weekend. 
Don't you love this one? So grateful. 

So, to spread a smile across your face, I've made us some strawberry muffins from some of the berries Joshua and I picked yesterday. 

Wait, what? You gave up sweets for Lent? No worries; you can still enjoy some fresh berries. So grab some coffee or tea and meet me in the breakfast nook while we adventure with today's PPBF.

Title: Dragon and Captain
Author: P. R. Allabach
Illustrator: Lucas Turnbloom 
Publisher: Flashlight Press
Date: April 1, 2015
Suitable for: ages 5-7
Themes: point of view, imagination, friendship 
Brief Synopsis: Two young boys let imaginative play run wild as they work together in search of a lost ship. Can they find it ... before lunch?
Opening Page:

Resources: Visit the Publisher's page {here}.
Enjoy a flip through the virtual book {here}.
Check out the book's Facebook page {here}.

Why I like this book: 

The top three things that drew me to this newcomer include:

1. The incredible illustrations. Flip through that virtual book and you'll see what I'm talking about. Engagingly brilliant and eye-catchingly bold, Turnbloom's drawings are sure to suck you in to the adventure of these two creative kids. They're that real!
2. A connection to Calvin and Hobbes. The two friends in this tiny treasure are so reminiscent of that out-of-bounds Boy and his Tiger from Bill Watterson's comic strip. From 1985-1995, the Sunday paper couldn't arrive early enough for just a handful of comics, and Calvin's escapades topped that list. We all knew that Calvin was just a boy and Hobbes his stuffed animal, but their adventures jumped off of the printed page because we got to see Hobbes through Calvin's eyes, a perfect parallel with what's happening in Dragon and Captain.

Click picture for source.
 Use the book for a point of view lesson, then compare and contrast it with Calvin & Hobbes. Coincidentally, there was an article about this comic and an interview with Watterson just yesterday {here}.

3. Memories of my kids' younger days. They'd spend all morning playing in the sandbox, on the swing set and/or in their plastic swimming pool, then come in for lunch and spend some quiet time playing cards or board games, doing a craft or drawing. In early elementary, the older two used to love writing books. I dug up this flip-book attempt at animation recently and it made my heart happy.

With its comic-book-style whimsy, Dragon and Captain can serve as a springboard for a writing project to fuel your pirates' fantasies. Host a gallery walk to let students showcase their work in a costume that complements its theme. 
{You could couple it with International Talk Like A Pirate day September 19th.}

A myriad of reasons to set sail with Dragon and Captain;
arrrrrrgh ya ready to check it out and discover why?

Oh, and don't forget to head to Susanna's blog for more PPBF picks.


Compassion Just A Breath Away

Today I'm delighted to again be linking up with a passionate group of bloggers, one-thousand strong, to help educate and equip as we move from cruelty to compassion, for one another and for ourselves. {#1000speak}

Click graphic to read all of these amazing posts!

My first job after I left secondary education was counseling fifth and sixth graders at Jamison Middle School. I was replacing Marsha, a well-respected counselor who was retiring after many years with that school family. She helped me make that transition in so very many ways, but the most powerful thing she said is this:
Hurt kids hurt kids.

Her wisdom made me wonder ~ If we could teach children how to process those hurts in a healthier, more helpful way, could we, then, keep bullying behaviors at bay? It would take intentional work, diligent hard work front-loading, but wouldn't the pay off exceed the cost? Convinced that it would, that November I found myself at a Character Counts! Character Development Seminar to find out how. How do we teach values like fairness, caring, trustworthiness and respect to all students, even those who come to us broken and hurting? And as I continue to research and refine what I do to help build character in the children whom I'm blessed to counsel, I seek out experts and glean nuggets from their work:

Author Trudy Ludwig's Bullying Basics 
Huffington Post: On Bullying

There's a plethora of posts out there that tell us what not to do, but to me the more helpful resources are the ones that tell us what to do. How can we be proactive instead of being forced to be reactive? How can we prevent so that we don't need intervention? How can we live what Frederick Douglass so eloquently expressed: It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. 
{And women.} Amen!

Then, as I was reflecting on the awesome calling that character coaching is, this clip about mindfulness and self-care crosses my path. Coincidence? I think not. We can't care for hurting children when we, ourselves, are hurting. 
Put your own oxygen mask on first. 
Sound familiar? Counterintuitive, I know, but oh, so important
and such a beautiful metaphor for life. 

Click graphic for source {and inspiration}!

So get yourself some herbal tea or a bottle of water, put your feet into a basin of hot water with some scented epson salts, carve out 15 minutes of quiet time, and prepare to enjoy what Dr. Romie has to say about the power of mindfulness 
to build self-compassion.

How would teaching this to our littles
empower them to spread compassion when they're big?


The Butterfly Effect Takes Wing

Have you heard about The Butterfly Effect? Have you read

Click graphic to hear author Andy Andrews talk about the Butterfly Effect.

As we March into spring, I'm thinking about this idea, that every little flap of a butterfly's wings matters. Every one. Every day. 

And on this week's Steve Hartman On The Road assignment, get this, he targets the Butterfly Effect. I find his stories incredibly Hart-warming {oh yes, I did!}, and this one is no exception. We've met ALS patient Chris Rosati on his show before; this time he decided to test the validity of The Butterfly Effect by giving two young girls each $50 with a simple challenge: to do something kind with it.

One little flap of his wheelchair-bound wings, which are fading in strength but not in desire, and ripples are felt across the world.

The Butterfly Effect.
A Kindness Crusade.
Pay It Forward.

Whatever you call it, how we treat each other matters.
But just as the butterfly doesn't just let the wind carry it.
kindness doesn't happen by chance.
It has to flap its wings to move.
To get where it's going. 
On purpose. 
With intention.

So how will you get where you're going today?
How will your actions ripple out?
What will you do to create the Butterfly Effect?

Here are some easy-breezy ideas to warm up your wings:

Find service-learning ideas at Moments A Day {here}.
Mine even more service ideas at Pennies of Time {here}.
Download Random Acts of Kindness resources {here}.
Visit our Kindness Collaborative Pinterest board {here}.
Go beyond International Day Of Happiness {here}.

And please join us on Twitter tomorrow night at 4 pm PDST, 6 pm CST, 7 pm EST to chat about positively inspiring a better tomorrow with special guests from The Joy Team.

Click for details at the Character Educator blog.

Cape up ... it becomes you!


With Grace

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all of my Irish friends.
Today would have been my Grandma Natzke's 105th birthday, 
and memories of her have me thinking about grace.

Unearned favor.
Undeserved merit.
Is there anything you'd rather be saturated in right now? 

Like kindness, grace tends to have that boomerang effect.
The more we receive grace, the more we want to give grace.
To experience it with our whole heart.
Harmony for the soul.
My one little word for 2015.
Little yet big.
Having enough. 
Being at peace.
Experiencing mercy.
And grace
In good times.
And in bad.

Grace for that child who loses his wallet.
Grace for that friend who just won't listen to you.
Grace for that sibling who drinks too much..
Grace for that adult who keeps letting you down.
Grace for that colleague who is always short with you.
Grace for that parent who hurt you.
Grace ... for yourself.
On purpose.
Can you feel the harmony?
Is it well with your soul?
And if not, how can you increase the dose?

Grace. More than just a prayer you say before meals ...  
it's simply a beautiful way of life.

Circa 1990 with Aunt Norma, Grandpa and Grandma Natzke
So today, I'm grateful to a grandmother who showered us
with grace. And I'm smiling.


Purpose & Meaning

Today we woke up officially on Spring Break 2015. One son came home, another left on a Band trip. Our daughter ought to be home any time now. I started my break determined to spend more time outdoors, so I walked three miles. After my walk, I spent an hour pulling weeds before I pulled a hamstring muscle. Ouch! 
As I laid on the couch nursing that strained muscle and reading Results Coaching, thoughts about intentionality and purpose grabbed my attention, gave me pause, and got me pondering. 

What is my purpose?
How am I giving that purpose meaning?
And what will I do today to be better tomorrow?
Big questions that will require more thought and reflection.

This past week I found these must-share resources:

*Read about raising a Kind Kid.
*Check out this creative clip on communication.
*Download a free poster on Feelings Management.
*Watch how touch trumps technology with a crying child.

Happy springtime.


PPBF: The Greatest Power

Happy Friday, the 13th. 
Today I'm delighted because in a week my billboard {in partnership with 
The Joy Team} will be going up on Commerce St. in San Antonio.
It's super exciting to be a part of this inspirational campaign! 

Who is your superhero?
What is their superpower?
And what, do you think, is the greatest power in the world? 

That's a nice segue into today's PPBF,
which attempts to answer just that.

Title: The Greatest Power
Author & Illustrator: Demi
Publisher: McElderry Books 
Date: March 1, 2004
Suitable for ages: 5 - 8 (and older!)
Themes: harmony, wisdom, culture
Brief synopsis: In search of a wise Prime Minister to help bring harmony to his kingdom, Emperor Ping, of Demi's The Empty Pot fame, sends the children on a year-long quest to find and bring back the greatest power to him.
Opening page:  A long time ago in China there was a boy emperor named Ping who was known throughout the kingdom for his honesty and his love of harmony. The boy emperor enjoyed climbing to the top of the palace and looking through his big telescope at the heavens.

Resources: Read a review at Simon & Schuster {here}.
Visit You Tube {here} to learn more about the book.
Download The Quest lesson plan by Nancy Sheehan {here}.
Click {here} to integrate some Chinese Culture

Why I like this book:  Books by Demi challenge me to think "outside the box" and go beyond the words to find deeper meanings. And since my one little word for 2015 is harmony, you can imagine my surprise and delight when I uncovered this Demi treasure that I'd never heard about before at Half Price Books a few weeks back. Ping's story continues with a challenge {sort of like the one he took in The Empty Pot} that sends the children in search of something special: The Greatest Power. Could it be weapons or wealth? Fortune or fame? Young Sing is certain that it's bigger than all of those things because of what Ping told them: 
A wise person must be able to see the unseen
 and know the unknown.
I can see posing this inquiry ~ What is The Greatest Power? ~ to my students prior to reading what the author proposes as her answer. You could have students write their answer in Chinese lettering and create a billboard ad, kind of like this:

The title also begs for some Chinese cultural integration and celebration; integrate costumes or currency, food or fun into an enrichment event as you and your students celebrate The Greatest Power. {Have you guessed yet what it is?}

Check out this book; I think you'll be intrigued to find out what Ping sees as the greatest power in his kingdom and for his people. Then head to Susanna's blog to read the other blogger's PPBF picks.


Celebrating Your Beautiful Oops

The other day in Peace Class, we were talking about why people lie to cover up mistakes. Most students thought it was so that they wouldn't get in trouble, but one explained it just a little differently. She said that she thought it might be to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment and her reflections gave me pause. Why does making mistakes cause us to be embarrassed? 
Aren't mistakes just learning opportunities in disguise?

Then, another student asked me something that stopped me in my tracks: Do you ever make mistakes, Mrs. Gruener? The answer, of course, is a resounding yes, but only recently have I learned that it's not the end of the world to admit to mistakes, to ask for forgiveness, to grow from them, even! 

I love this saying, especially if you replace the phrase things from the past with one simple word: mistakes.

Then last night, I participated in a #daretobe Twitter chat about confidence. Is it possible that fear of making mistakes keeps people from living life fully, with confidence? Lisa from Growing Firsties uses this classroom mantra below to keep that from happening with her school family; talk about your confidence-builder.

What if we looked at mistakes through a growth mindset lens, as just a natural part of the education process, the journey rather than the destination? What would celebrating mistakes change? 

Enter Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg.
Do you know this book? Check out the trailer:

This past January, Workman Publishing launched a campaign with one thing in mind: Celebrating mistakes in this classroom ... because every oops is an opportunity to make something beautiful. 

Make it your resolution that your classroom and school be a mistake-making place where you foster creativity and work with students to learn, explore, and grow. Then register your school for the Celebrate Oops program {here}. Once you do, you'll receive a kit with a cool poster for your door, some Beautiful Oops stickers and an Educator's Guide. It would feel like a huge mistake to miss this freebie!  

The author is also available for school visits; clicks {here} for more information about that beautiful opportunity.

Want a title to compare and contrast?
Click the Willow graphic for a review and a long list of ideas.

What was your most recent beautiful oops?
How did you celebrate?
What did you learn?

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