Developing Resilience

It happened again yesterday, that heart-stopping startle response.
From the passenger seat of our van.
The feeling that I'm not safe.
It's commonplace for me, that startle response, since the head-on collision 
two years ago, that could have very easily taken my life.
But yesterday it was worse than usual.
I felt it to my very core.
It was physical as well as emotional this time.
And it didn't feel good. At all.

Click for definition source at Merriam-Webster
Interestingly, I've been thinking about resilience since my recovery, as I go through my days as a school counselor and my nights as a wife and a mom. How do we help the next generation become resilient and bounce back from failures, disappointments and trauma? How did we, as caregivers, develop that skill? Is it as easy as a positive reframe or thought-switching or is it more complicated than that? Are there seven simple steps? Or, like a fine wine or cheese, does it take time and get better with age?

I don't have a single answer to any of that in the midst of those
 startle-response anxiety attacks of my own.

And earlier this week, when a second grader came to me for help, I'm not sure that I had any answers for her, either.
But I invited her in, to offer her a safe place 
to emote,
to process,
to start to heal.
She was feeling sad because her little world has been rocked.
More like an earthquake.
A heart-on collision, of sorts.
Her family, she told me, is getting a divorce.
And that feels .... ?
{Really? Is that all I've got?}
But that's where we start, with feelings identification.
Anything else?
So I share that my family got divorced and what happened next was adorable, because she asked me how I felt about that.
Then I spent what felt like an hour explaining to a 7 year old what relieved means and why I felt relieved about my family's divorce.
More crickets.
I'm learning that quiet is okay.
Because that's when the reflection usually happens.
And that's when the learning occurs.

That's when she asked if she could write a question on my chalkboard.
And that's when she wrote this.

We took turns adding to this list of some stuff that might help:
Hugs, Pets, Prayers, Humor, Music, Time, 
Making Mistakes, Journaling, Crying, Talking, Exercising.

Then I consulted the experts, for more ideas on developing resilience. 
Here's what I found:

Maybe we ought to add singing to our list.
Belt it out with me: The sun'll come out ... tomorrow ... 


PPBF: Clothesline Clues

It's that time of year again, 
time to talk with our littles about the end goal of school, 
to find out what they want to do when they grow up, 
to find out what they dream about for their future. 
Time also, to get out the tissues you'll want as you listen to a group of my littlest superheroes singing that signature kindergarten graduation song 
Big Big Dreams!

Doesn't that dreaminess just bring happy tears to your heart?

So today I'm delighted that my friend Tanya Kirschman, 2014 Montana School Counselor of the Year, selected our PPBF and offered to share a lesson she created with this career-clues treasure.

Title: Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do
Authors: Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook
Illustrator: Andy Robert Davies
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Date: July 2012
Suitable for: ages 3-7
Themes: careers, jobs, professions
Brief synopsis: Readers look at what's hanging on and surrounding the clothesline and guess which career they would complement.
Opening page: 
Look at this clothesline and see every clue. 
Who uses these things for the jobs that they do?
Christy Grisson has a comprehensive Career Collection {here}.
Read a review and find extension activities at book's webpage {here}.
Enjoy an interactive game of From Crayons To College {here}. 
Make a word search bulletin board; hide the word careers 
and related words like profession, job, work, and calling.

Why I like this book ~ Hung Up On Careers by Tanya Kirschman 

Who doesn’t love a good surprise? In this engaging lesson, you're sure to be amused as young students practice their detective skills and likely keep you in suspense as well. Begin the lesson by asking students to clap once if they know someone who has a job. Then, ask if they know reasons why people work and, if time permits, what they want to be when they grow up. I've had kids who want to be the tooth fairy, the president, a Maurice's worker, a professional wrestler. 

After listening to their answers, confirm or clarify that people choose jobs that interest them so they can do something they're passionate about or think is exciting and important. Students may want to talk about salaries, too, because people get paid money for their work and money helps to buy things they need.

Explain that each page of the book contains a mystery with clues, clues your students will have to figure out, clues that will lead your students to a certain career. Challenge students to use their detective skills to make smart guesses about the jobs in the book. While reading, make reference to the featured clothing, as well as different tools and the workplace shown. 

Discussion Questions:
* This book only mentions seven jobs; what are some other jobs you know about?
* Why do you think specific clothing might be required for a job?
* How tools are important to a job?  What if someone didn’t have the tools they needed to do their job? 

Worksheet can be downloaded by clicking on the image. 
Fonts from Lettering Delights.

Worksheet Activity

Encourage students to close their eyes and think about a job that they want to do someday, and have them imagine getting ready for their first day of work.  They’ll need to get their clothes washed and ready. Ask, “What clothes would YOU be hanging on your clothesline for your first day of work? What tools will you need to do your job?” Read the worksheet and instruct students to draw and color the clothing they would wear hanging from the clothespins.  Encourage them to draw related tools near the bottom of the page. 

Then say, “Now you get to create your own mystery! Don’t tell anyone what your job is. If someone tries to guess or ask, tell them it's a surprise. When we’re done drawing, we’ll sit in a circle and you’ll each get to share your clues while others guess what your job is.” 

If students are struggling to identify tools, I allow them to whisper their job to me and I whisper back tools used in that career.

A teacher with pencil, apple, whiteboard, Expo marker, umbrella

When students have completed their drawings and the circle is formed, allow each child a turn sharing their picture. Encourage them to describe their tools and clothing. In the interest of time, one classmate takes a guess before revealing the job and moving on. Encourage your students to keep their surprise and challenge their parents to guess their job, too. Or, for an eye-catching bulletin board, display students’ work on a makeshift clothesline with clothespins.

Extension: Bring clothing (i.e. Halloween costumes) of different job apparel in a laundry basket and have students identify the job that goes with each clothing item. 

Enrichment: Use Lakeshore Community Block Play People to review the jobs represented in the book. Figurines also give students additional ideas for career clothing and tools.

Another reason I like this book is that it avoids gender stereotypes. For example, the text features females as a mail carrier, carpenter, fire fighter, astronaut. Males work as a farmer, a chef and an artist. Students will probably notice that the mail carrier delivers something to each person as the book goes on culminating with a launch party for the astronaut. Ask what the mail carrier was delivering. {Answer: Party Invitations!}

Thank you, Tanya, for sharing your inspiration and expertise. 
For today's other PPBF picks, visit Susanna's blog.


Earth Day 2015

First things first; April 22nd is my father's birthday. And every year, he shares it with Earth Day. It's a pretty good fit for a dairy farmer, someone who made his living off the land. Farmers have to be uber-responsible. I always tell my students that responsibility is all about choices and chores, and, believe me, 
there were a lot of chores on that farm. 

Now that he's semi-retired, Dad spends a lot of his time in his wood shop, crafting cool stuff. Here's a picture of the rain barrel that he and the boys worked together to make when he was here a few years back. He's really good at building things. And people.

Birthday blessings, Dad. Thank you for your strong example.

Today one of my littles asked, "What's Earth Day?" and it felt weird to try to explain that it's a day set aside for us to celebrate the Earth, 
because I could hear what was coming next. 
"Shouldn't every day be Earth Day?" Why yes, yes it should. 

Did you know that our responsibility pillar is colored green because of our responsibility to the earth? From the Character Counts! website: As in being solid or reliable, like an oak

And before I could even look for something Earth-Day-ish to post, look what found me. Click it to go to its source, the HeartMath Institute.

My 2015 one little word. 
Being one with Mother Nature.
On Earth Day. And Every Day.

Oh, and we finished our state testing, so I'm ready to celebrate.
Birthday cake anyone?


The Petals On Your Flower

Today I'm delighted to share this Texas wildflower
that begs the inquiry: What's blooming in your garden?

A second-grade friend drew this purple beauty for me,
and she added words that she thought I'd connect with and like.
The connection it made for me is that all of our behaviors
begin with words. You've probably seen this maxim before,
on a poster maybe, but Sylvia Duckworth's illustration
really hits it home for me.

And I'm reminded of a technique I learned years ago in counseling classes called Thought Switching. Its original intent is to help people exchange their anxiety-producing thoughts of failure with hope-filled thoughts of confidence, but I've learned that we can use Thought Switching as a way to monitor pretty much 
any of our thoughts. 

Because thoughts become words. 

If I'm thinking I'm a failure, it's not long before words like I can't do this or This is impossible come out of my mouth. If we're mindful of the unhealthy negativity behind this thought, we'll switch our thinking to something positive before it can become words, words that could hurt us or someone else.

Because words become actions. 

The six steps to effective Thought Switching. 

1. List as many negative {I'm a failure} thoughts as you can think of.
2. For each of these thoughts, write a coping counter-thought directly related to the area of negativity {I can do this, maybe just not yet!}. By doing so, you are setting up the habit of changing negative thoughts to positive ones. 
3. Write down your new coping thoughts on small cards you'll carry with you.
4. Choose several activities that you do every day, like washing your hands, brushing your teeth, or combing your hair; each time, just before you do one of these activities, read the top card carefully and say the positive reframe to yourself. Preferably out loud. A few times. Then carry on with the activity.
5. When you are in a real-life scenario in which you're about to think negative thoughts, deliberately repeat and follow your positive coping instructions.
6. Give your positive replacement thoughts time to take hold and work, then go ahead and switch them out with new ones to keep your reframes fresh.

Because actions become habits. And you know the rest.

Click {here} for a more technical neuroscience explanation behind changing toxic thoughts before they become negative behaviors.

Give Thought Switching a try and let us know if it changes 
the petals on your flower. 


Through Each Other's Eyes

 Round 'em up? Did we ever! 
Two weekends, three big events, more volunteers than you can imagine, 
countless smiles and too many happy hearts to count later, another annual school fundraiser is in the books. It truly takes a village to raise a child; 
blessings overflow when our village comes together for a cause.

We're grateful to all of our school stakeholders for their support.

Today I'm thinking about this Thoreau quote:

Look at how tenderly this young girl is coddling this baby goat. Can't you just feel the nurturing, love and care? My guess is that she felt something for this kid, she connected with its situation, and she decided a warm embrace would be exactly what it needed. She was looking at the carnival experience through this furry friend's eyes. Empathy + Compassion = True Beauty.

It reminds me of this ABC report I saw earlier this week, about the third-grade teacher in Colorado who asked her students what they wished their teacher knew. Their responses were poignant, personal, and somewhat painful to read. 

If we're looking at life through our little learners' eyes, giving them a voice, and listening to understand, we ought to be able to predict with some accuracy the answers to these questions: What would the children in your orbit say they wish their teacher knew about them? What about what they wish their parents knew? Their grandparents? Their neighbors? Their friends? 
Download a cute template for the activity {here}.
I love the spin on this activity my friend Heather suggested; 
a What I wish my colleagues knew board in the staff lounge.

How might how we treat one another change if we were to look 
{more often and with intention} 
through each other's lens?   


More Gratitude, More Kindness

Happy Wednesday, everyone.
First things first ... it's time to announce our book winner.
Please congratulate Tanya, whose favorite book to teach diversity is The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania with Kelly DiPucchio. Tanya, you've got a signed copy of Chocolate Milk, Por Favor coming your way. 

Look at this sparkly mini-poster that Maria made with my words in last Sunday's post. Thank you, Maria. Kindness is a beautiful thing. 

Today I'm also feeling grateful for Erin Pesak, the parent volunteer and friend who masterfully crafted this 3-D bulletin board, in full bloom down our first-grade hallway. Doesn't this make you all shades of happy? 

My friend Annie D. sent this kindness nugget our way: Today marks the two-year anniversary of a difficult day in Boston, so the mayor has called for intentional acts of kindness to honor the resilience and generosity of the people of that great city. Read more about it at One Boston Day

Another reader, Maureen, sent info on these precious Zulily Ts.

Imagine a world brimming with more gratitude, more kindness.
Are you smiling yet?


Empathy & Chocolate Milk, Por Favor

Happy Sunday.
What does empathy have to do with chocolate milk?
Make room for Chocolate Milk, Por Favor!

Today I'm delighted because I get to introduce you to the beautiful
Maria Dismondy multicultural newcomer for your book shelves.
Check out the book's brief synopsis on the back cover, left side.

Love Maria's tag line: Actions speak louder than words. Truth!
My son wrote this essay in 5th grade on that very maxim.

Our personal, classroom and community libraries simply can not have enough diversity titles as we help our littlest leaders learn about, appreciate and celebrate cultural and other differences. Check out this flavorful find and see what happens when two unlikely things ~ soccer and chocolate milk ~ connect these boys and help them speak one common language.

Use a double-bubble map to compare and contrast Chocolate Milk, Por Favor with I Hate English! by Ellen Levine or The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig.

Dismondy's Gabe, Levine's Mei Mei, and Ludwig's Brian are all  thrown into a situation where they're having to not only navigate a new culture, but also master a new language and/or different school situation. How are their stories similar? How are they different? How would you help each of them if they were in your class? What would you want? What would you need? 

For other compare/contrast titles, my alma mater has made this list of 50 multicultural tales available. And check out my friend Shawna's refreshingly comprehensive extension and enrichment ideas for Maria's book {here}. Then read 5 Ways to Cultivate Empathy from our friends at Happify.

Use Maria's signature Tips For Teachers/Parents page, written by my friend Elizabeth from Fun In Room 4B, to connect with and assist English Language Learners like Gabe as they learn and grow.

Follow Maria for more inspiration:

And for the real deal, listen to Maria reading her newest delicacy!

Author Bio: Maria Dismondy is an award-winning author, specializing in books about challenges children face. A topic close to her heart, Maria’s own childhood experience inspired her first book, Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun. Maria’s dedication to empowering children with courage and confidence has reached new heights, touching the hearts and hands of children the world over. Grounded in her belief that all children deserve a voice, Maria’s latest book, Chocolate Milk, Por Favor, drives home the important message of celebrating diversity with kindness, inclusion and empathy. As a sought-after speaker, Maria spreads her message by presenting at schools and conferences across the country. She holds degrees in education and child development. Maria lives in southeastern Michigan with her husband, Dave, and their three book-loving children.

Are you still reading? If so, you just stumbled on the secret bonus: Maria has graciously offered to give away a signed copy of her delicious treasure to one of you, my fabulous readers. Just leave a comment below (or on my book's Facebook page) telling us your favorite children's book with a diversity theme for a chance to win. 
{It will also help if you leave your email, but if I know how to find you, no need.} 

We'll put all of the comments into the Gruener Generator and select a winner this Wednesday, April 15th (Tax Day in the USA) after school, at 4 pm CST, to be announced in my Wednesday evening blog post.

Won't you join me in lifting our glasses to Maria to toast her efforts in 
elevating empathy and celebrating diversity
one kind act at a time,
one child at a time,
one book at a time,
to make our world a better, more peaceful place to be.

Oh, and don't forget to stop visit my friend Sylvia at
Learning With Mrs. Parker for tomorrow's tour stop. 


Inspiring Mentorship

This evening as we close out another week, I'm on Cloud 9 about all of the amazing things going on at our school. One of my favorite annual events, our Round Up Carnival fundraiser, is just around the corner. In fact, the Fun Run is tomorrow morning. The generosity of our community really shines at Round Up time. From the countless hours of volunteerism leading up to the event, to the staff members who donate Teacher Treats and provide gathering opportunities to our students, to the giving family members who buy tickets not only for their own kids but for our families in need, I am blown away and stand in awe. Of all of it.
All of it, for the kids.

Thank you, Shelley Burgess, for this beautiful reminder.

We get more of what we focus on, so it just makes sense to affirm and encourage the positivity and passion of these dedicated volunteers and servant leaders.

Another reason I'm super energized this week is because I got to Skype with Paul Solarz's fifth graders in Illinois yesterday and I couldn't have been more impressed with this student-led classroom. Their plan is to mentor some kindergarten students in their school family and I was invited to empower and equip them 
with some start-up skills.

Because of some obvious front-loading, leadership and coaching from an award-winning educator, this pirate classroom could quite clearly run itself. Talk about your positive climate; I seriously didn't want the hour to end. We focused on strengths and self-esteem as we collaborated to launch their mentorship program.
I asked reflection questions like these: 
What is your superpower?
How do you use those superpowers for good?
Who is your superhero?
To whom are you a superhero?
What is your Kryptonite?
What superpowers will you use as you mentor? 
They asked me questions back:
What is my superpower?
Can a pet be a superhero?
What happens when I can't cheer someone up? 
What made me want to write the book?
What are some of the chapter titles?
What's the name of my website?

I challenged them to use their Covey wisdom and begin with the end in mind, then suggested a few activities that they could use as they build that relationship with their little buddies. In honor of National Poetry Month, they willingly and eagerly attempted my Empathy Switch poem and hand challenge with me.

So as I prepare to call it a day, my emotional reserve overflows with the assurance that there are students like my new friends at Westgate Elementary at the helm and taking the lead. 

Check out Learn Like A Pirate and see for yourself how you could set the course for such smooth sailing with your shipmates.


Hot Dog - It's Opening Day

Hip Hip Hooray - it's Opening Day!
At Westwood-Bales, it's a time-honored tradition to take the Gruener grill to school and cook up some fun complete with Ballpark franks and all the fixins.

This year in new twist to our tradition, we rustled up some 
dog-gone dandy dads to pitch in and man the grill and service line.

Service doesn't need to be great to be grand. Check out these everyday stories with ordinary people doing extraordinary things:

How will you serve others today? 


A Web Of Kindness

Happy Easter!

Today I'm delighted to share that my friend Sheila and her family are the cover story in the American Profile section of the Sunday paper. 
YAY! Raising Kind Kids is front-page news.

Photo courtesy of American Profile
By investing just a small bit of time every day on intentional acts of kindness and service, they are creating this incredible outreach of empathy, compassion and care. To make the world better. 

The ambitious spider web that we found yesterday serves as such a nice parallel to their purposeful work as kindness ambassadors.
All it takes, Sheila will tell you, is a penny of time.

According Dr. Matthew McQuaid, being kind is not only a good idea, but it's a natural anti-depressant. In this paper, he explains how raising kind kids creates a win-win because service has neurological benefits. The more kindness we show, the kinder we become, a sure-fire recipe for happiness all around. Not just a surface, reactive happiness, either, but the deep-seeded joy that comes from serving others. Isn't that what we want for our future?

Thank you, Sheila, for making footsteps worth following 
and weaving such a intentional web of kindness and love.
For more intriguing ideas and inspiration, visit Pennies of Time.


Currently In My Corner

Today I'm trying something new and joining Megan Farley's Currently to answer a few reflection questions. It involved a tutorial {thank you, Kim & Amy} and lots of techno-courage ... drum roll please ... here it is ... ta da!

Basically, it's a monthly thing, that's been going on forever for a very long time. True confession: I've been a stalker, a lurker, a secret admirer of Farley's Currently since it started. So today, I'm linking up. The beautiful templates that Megan creates make the information pretty self-explanatory; here's how it works.

We fill in the blanks -- it was great fun it was to font-match!
Then we link up with other bloggers. 
To check in. To connect. 
It's a way to eggsplain what's going on in our corner of the world. 
Eggscellent idea, right?

Here goes. Currently, I'm listening to Jacob's games. It's kind of fun, in a gaming sort of way. There must be a little merit in this genre; the Houston Symphony performs a whole concert of Zelda music.

I'm loving my long weekend off. Got lots of weeds pulled yesterday and soaked in some vitamin D. That gave me lots of think time ... 
and I concluded that, right now, life is good. 
I want time to slow down, especially as the college years fly by.
I find this answer entertaining, in a play-on-words double-entendre way.

 As I work on giving and receiving grace, the more intentional I am, the more I appreciate how much I need it. Every day!
And my blog's name: I wrote a post explaining how it came about back in 2011 at Erin Klein's Kleinspiration blog {here}. 
So excited that I get to meet Erin in person when she comes to Friendswood in August. 
Basically, I wanted to see if surrounding myself by uplifting, inspirational stuff would help to uplift and inspire me. So I decided to choose stories and strategies that corner the market on character and give it a shot. I wrote every day for a year and, sure enough, I felt more inspired than ever. Yay!

So, like these bluebonnets and paintbrushes found growing wild alongside the highway, we must bloom where we're planted
and always be willing to change and grow.

Thank you, as always, for journeying through the new with me.


PPBF: Voices Are Not For Yelling

We're on a school holiday as part of a three-day Easter weekend, so I slept in this morning. Until 8:53. And wow, did that refresh. I hope you're all in an equally prayerful and peaceful place on this Good Friday or Passover or whatever it is you're celebrating in your corner of the world today.

Are you ready for today's PPBF?

Title: Voices Are Not for Yelling
Author: Elizabeth Verdick
Illustrator: Marieka Heinlin
Publisher: Free Spirit Press
Date: March 18, 2015
Suitable for: ages 4-7 (and up!)
Themes: respect, manners, feelings
Brief synopsis: Help young children develop an understanding of and appreciate for the power of their voice.
Opening page:

 Excerpt from Voices Are Not for Yelling by Elizabeth Verdick, copyright © 2015. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; All rights reserved.

Resources: Check out the book's page at Publisher's site {here}.
Read Calm Voices, Calmer Kids {here}.
Try Exploring Your Voice activities {here}.
Hear Voices of Courage talk about Healthy Relationships {here}.
Watch this Mindfulness clip for feelings management ideas.

Why I like this book:  This powerful little pick is a must for every caregivers' shelf as we model and teach feelings regulation. Just yesterday, I heard a first-grade boy using his voice inappropriately as he tried to get what he wanted. 
Let's listen in:
Boy 1, normal voice: Just go on to recess without me.
Boy 2: No, I'll wait for you.
Boy 1, a little louder: I said go on without me.
Boy 2: Why?
Boy 1, a lot louder: Just do it!

I call them over and we talk about a better way for that conversation to go. 
Because character counts, even when we think nobody's listening in. 
We push replay, to practice our new skills. 
And I can't help but wonder why we think that shouting, yelling, or using 
a mean voice is a good way to get our needs met. {Did someone just say modeling?}

Then along comes this teaching tool for our arsenal!

In my book, What's Under Your Cape?, I recall the first time I heard a speaker say that we should never, ever yell at a child. Her name is Ginger Robinson and, quite frankly, I initially thought I'd heard her wrong. Really? Never? Well, my children were 8, 7, and 3 so it was too late for that! {Insert nervous laughter}. She went on to explain that creating shame and fear in people by dominating them with our voice, tone, and words doesn't bode well for a healthy relationship. In fact, it wells up feelings of shame, guilt, and fear in those very people whom we love and want to help be better. Simple, right? 

No, not at all, because our emotions are so powerful and they'll take over if we let them. That's why it behooves us as parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, and human beings first and foremost to model what's right, then to arm ourselves with resources that will support us as we teach the future how to do it better. That's why we must practice, practice, and practice some more. And that's why I appreciate the enrichment tips and integration strategies in the back of the book and am grateful for this Best Behavior book series!

The text in Voices Are Not for Yelling addresses a child's indoor voice and an outdoor voice. Another way we've used it is in our cafeteria is measuring 
our voice volume in inches. 
Outdoor voice = 6-inch voice. 
Indoor voice = 1-inch voice.
My friend from Tunstall's Teaching Tidbits uses numbers; click the graphic to go to TpT and download this fantastic freebie from her store. Thank you, Reagan!

We simply cannot afford to leave anything this critical to chance; if we don't teach them, how will they learn? Check out this book, then go to Susanna's blog to check out more new PPBF picks on this Good Friday.