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}.  


Singing My Song

Today I'm excited because the leaf-sized hearts, filled with the things we're grateful for, are filling up this tree in the entrance to our school. 
The most beautiful, heartfelt things. 
Families & friends. 
Sunshine & rain. 
God & Jesus. 
Gratitude, from the bottom of our students' hearts. 
I can't wait to share a picture of it once it's complete.

I'm also eager to share this recap of my visit to
Charlotte Anderson Elementary in Arlington, Texas, last week.

I arrived on Thursday evening in time for Family Character Night. Picture the scene: 50 families coming together for dinner, for a singing performance by their kids, and for some time with an author and character educator, me. The coolest part is that those angelic voices were singing one of my songs. 
On stage. 
To me.
I wish you could have been there to hear them singing my song, 
the one called Talk, Walk, Then Tell
set to the music of The Chicken Dance:

If a bully bothers you, 
and you don't know what to do,
out at recess or in school,
talk, walk, then tell.

I'll be a buddy, not a bully.
I'll be a friend and take a stand.
I can swarm or go get a grown-up,
so we can all lend a helping hand.

What an honor, to have those superheroes singing my song. It was a hard act to follow, that's for sure. For my part of the program, I chose to read aloud Maria Dismondy's Chocolate Milk Por Favor, and intersperse the text with a few of my other poems, ditties, and songs. I drew a parallel between my story about Carlos (how he came to live on our farm not knowing a lick of English and how his predicament taught me empathy) and Gabe in Maria's masterpiece. When I'd finished, a young boy came to thank me, and his mom shared that that was his story just two years prior, coming to America to school and not speaking the language. Then she asked if she could take a picture of her children with me. 
Be still my beating heart.

Friday was equally as heartwarming. I played my ukulele as students arrived at school. They'd stop to talk - Thank you for the music. - and ask questions - Do you get paid to play that for us? and more questions - Wait, are you the author? And I felt right at home, in my element. 

Kindness: The writing's on the wall at CAE.
Routines changed a bit that morning because the school was on an early dismissal schedule that day but it didn't seem to phase the kiddos one bit. I met them in the gym where they were sitting respectfully and the Art teacher and I led an impromptu ukulele-guitar sing-along using the song You Are My Sunshine. Such an AmAzInG way to launch into a fantastic Friday!

Don't you love the kid-friendly LOOK?
I spent two hours with the Character Crew before being interviewed by this Viking News Network Crew. Here are two excerpts from that time with them; prepare to be WoWed by these articulate budding reporters.

I truly could have visited with them all afternoon, without question. After their dismissal and our lunch, I led a two-hour afternoon session with the staff on school climate. Before I was whisked away to the airport, I was given a very special gift, one that I'll never forget. The CAE school family has commissioned a Buddy Bench to be built and installed on their playground in my honor. Such a generous gesture of caring, support, kindness, enthusiasm and love.

Oh yeah, they're singing my song alright.

Who's singing your song?


A 'Tweet' Way To Give Thanks

Today I'm grateful because Free Spirit Press invited me to be a guest blogger in their Counselor's Corner column while Danielle is away on maternity leave. My first post for them, After The Trauma: Treating PTSD in Children, is now live.  

I'm also happy because of the fun I had with this idea:

It's gratitude with a twist because I put this basket in the staff lounge ... at my old school, to 'tweet' my former faculty, to #CelebrateMonday by being thankful.

Author Douglas Wood said it best: We don't give thanks because we are happy. We are happy because we give thanks.

I also updated my Connections Countdown calendar with a few new connection ideas as we prepare for the holiday season. 
Click {here} to download your copy.
Might be kind of cool to give your students a blank copy
and see what innovative ideas they'd like to try.

Megan over at Coffee Cups and Crayons has something similar, a Random Acts of Christmas Kindness calendar; click {here} to download hers.

Even NBC is climbing aboard the Kind-Acts Train. 
Click {here} for details about their #ShareKindness campaign.

Finally, check out this Gratitude Experiment clip.

I think you'll be glad that you did.

How did you #CelebrateMonday?


Making Kindness Viral

Happy World Kindness Day 2015.

Welcome to our Warm The World With Kindness campaign.
Need a resource to help make kindness go viral?
Check out Words Wound by Justin V. Patchin and Sameer Hinduja.

Written with connected kids in mind and dedicated to teens everywhere, Words Wound is a must for all students as well as any parent, grandparent, educator, caregiver, and/or guardian who wants to keep our children safe and help make respect and kindness online {and off} a habit. Period. Exclamation point. 

Positively filled with real-life stories and actionable strategies for responsible computer use, this treasure is laid out in three parts:

Part One: Cyberbullying - What you need to know
Part Two: Treating others with respect and protecting yourself
Part Three: Building a culture of kindness

 The Think About It boxes encourage deeper reflection that will likely prompt important discussions with peers and role models; the Status Update pages ask readers to take a realistic look at their own digital citizenship.

Kindness truly is the real global warming. 
Check out this book; I enthusiastically recommend it.

Here now, some additional resources to help spread kindness like wildfire:

Check out a cool Kind Acts generator from Shari's Berries {here}.
Harvest some Random Acts of Kindness suggestions {here}.
Purchase Kids for Peace half-priced kindness merchandise {here}. 

We're getting the blue wristbands for our students; I can't wait! 
And if you haven't already signed up for the Great Kindness Challenge 2016, 
you can do so by clicking on this save-the-date graphic.

Treat yourself to these inspiring Kindness Tree visual displays.
Enjoy an interview with Lisa Currie from Ripple Kindness Project {here}.
Soak up some sage advice from Sue Scheff: Just Be Nice.
Mine service jewels from this Pennies of Time Kind Acts page.
Read a post about Sneaky Cards: Play It Forward {here}.
Help MaryCate's cause with Kind Ts at Mama Said Tees {here}.

Always choose kind.
I like that.
Any questions?


I Love That He Bounces

Today I'm excited because I took the character cam out and saw so much goodness on our campuses. First, this Thankful Turkey crafted by the first-grade team. All of their thankful things are beautifully displayed on the colorful feathers.

Then, this note from a third-grade girl, for me.

When I asked her about it, she told me that she drew it to be "kind of like an Amusement Park ride because kindness makes everybody happy." I didn't think it could get any more magical than that, until I saw what a PAL had worked on with the third grader she mentors. Can you imagine how cool it must be to see yourself through your role model's eyes?

She made their time together interactive ...

by asking him leading questions ...

about how he puts our Pillars of Character ...

into action. Be still my heart.

Then I snapped this shot of an owl silhouette that just showed up last week. Mysteriously. On my wall.
It took me a day or two to figure out whoooooooo
would leave me such a beautiful surprise.
Doesn't it fit perfectly?

And to close, my personal story of the day about our youngest child, Joshua.

Today as I was visiting with our high school PALs teacher, she remarked that she saw Joshua bouncing down the halls yesterday, en route to his chemistry class. 

"He doesn't walk, you know," she told me. "He bounces." 
Then she added, "I love that he bounces." 

It warms my heart that she sees the beauty in the bounce. We talked about him for awhile, what he's working on, how he's doing. She normalized some junior-year behaviors and, as always, offered to check on him and help if ever he needs anything. When we hung up, I found myself thinking that we are abundantly blessed to have caring adults who notice and appreciate the small stuff, like the spring in his step, about Joshua.

So this afternoon, I sent her this affirmation: 
I love that you know that he bounces.
And I smiled.


The Gift Of Gratitude

Let's talk gratitude. A month or so ago, I was invited by Shelley Burgess to guest moderate a Twitter Chat {#satchatwc}. When I selected a November date, I just knew my topic would have something to do with thanks-giving. 
Today, I'm sharing how that chat yesterday went.
Click {here} to read the archives; enjoy these highlights.

First, I asked participants to introduce themselves and share a favorite quote, thought, or reflection about gratitude. Here's mine.

There were SO many inspirational quotes shared,
like this one from my Principal friend, Beth Houf.

After about 7 minutes of sharing, I posed the first question on this beautiful picture of last week's rainbow, taken by my friend Jen.

Here are just a few of their awesome answers:

Seven more minutes passed, and then came question two.

I shared this infographic from the Templeton Foundation:

After we talked about the benefits of gratitude, we moved on to
question three, which asked participants to share their promising practices for nurturing gratitude in their students.

From students, we went on to showing gratitude to faculty & staff.

Someone shared this cool idea for a staff WoW journal.
Then I challenged my Tweeps to go deeper ... 

... and deeper.

Some of the answers were heartbreaking.
Gratitude through cancer.
Gratitude through student suffering.
Gratitude through broken trust.
And yet, gratitude has gotten them through the tough times.

Now that's thanks-living.

And our final question:

Did you know there's an APPreciation app? 
Check out Gratitude 365.
Then it was action time. The Challenge:
How will you make gratitude a verb?

It was so much fun to come up with these questions and then experience the generosity of these gratitude gurus.

Click to learn more about The Zen Teacher book.

So today I'm celebrating the gift of gratitude and I thank you, dear reader, for being in my Corner. I'm grateful for you. Every day.

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