Transforming Change

Today I'm reflecting on transformation and change as I watch my butterfly garden

 with wide-eyed wonder and awe.

These guys started out as teeny, tiny caterpillars hatched from these itty-bitty eggs before they set out to devour these milkweed plants before our very eyes. Once they've had enough, they head off to find a safe place to turn their bodies into a J, wrap themselves up in a cloth-like silk substance and wait patiently for their amazing transformation.

Monarchs make change look pretty easy actually.
No hesitation.
No worry.
No fear.

And the struggle to get out of that safe chrysalis? No problem. That struggle is part of the deal, to get the blood flowing, so its wings will work and it can soar effortlessly to start the cycle all over again.

Ah, the circle of life.
Always growing.
Always changing.
Always moving on.

Check out these other miracles we couldn't help but notice this weekend, starting with this healthy plant growing out of a rock.

How is that even possible?
How about this cactus and the beehive next to it,
hanging on a cliff over the hiking trail?
Could the sky get any bluer?

And could these bluebonnets burst with any more beauty?

Springtime in Texas is a gift of transformation and change;

 enjoying it with family puts the fancy bow on top of the present.
What transforming change are you appreciating this beautiful Easter day?


The Path To Peace

Today I'm excited because we're having our counseling classes on conflict resolution this week outside on our Peace Labyrinth that former Bales Principal Jay Stailey and his friend Reginald Adams designed for us and helped us paint.

The lesson goes something like this:
First I share this funny and engaging Sesame Street clip, 
featuring the late Robin Williams, 
to show students what conflict is and what conflict isn't.

Then we watch this clip featuring a common conflict, a fight that ensued between two students after one cheated from another.

Before we head outside to the Labyrinth to role play what happens the next day between Jimmy and Max, we talk about what collaborating using the five steps to problem solving would look like on our conflict-resolution Peace Labyrinth.

It's interesting, because as they predict what the steps are, most of the students want to go straight to a solution. Instead, the steps include:
1. State the problem.
2. State your feelings.
3. State the other person's feelings.
{We're calling this one the empathy stop!}
4. Brainstorm solutions.
5. Choose the best solution.

So we head outside, and role play an easy one first, to review the steps: I want to eat at McDonald's, and the student who volunteers to walk the path with me wants to eat at Chick fil A. Then, we select a volunteer to play Jimmy and a classmate to play Max, and we let them walk the path to peace.

We're so happy even our Labyrinth is smiling!


Happiness Is ...

Get your happy on, because not only is it the official first day of spring, but it's also International Day of Happiness.

Our friends at the Joy Team are at it again, celebrating with 252 positively uplifting billboards across America. Have you seen one in your area yet? 
Remember last year when we partnered to create this one?

That made me so happy.

So today, I'm thinking about happiness,
and what that looks like, sounds like, and feels like in my Corner.

Happiness is being a mom, a wife, a school counselor.
Happiness is spending time together with family.
Happiness is a check-in text or email from a friend.
Happiness is a smile given, received and returned.
Happiness is doing, receiving, or watching a kind act.
Happiness is having good friends to share my story.
Happiness is solving (and surviving!) a conflict.
Happiness is getting lost in a good movie or book.
Happiness is a finishing a big task, like calculating taxes.
Happiness is baking up some goodness to share.
Happiness is being thankful and showing gratitude.
Happiness is soaking up some Vitamin D outdoors.
Happiness is helping or mentoring someone.
Happiness is gardening, knitting, writing.
Happiness is being understood.
Happiness is passion.
Happiness is peace. 
Happiness is grace.
Happiness is forgiving and being forgiven.
Happiness is feeling positively joyful.
And praying for that for our loved ones.

Clearly my cup runneth over.
ps. Today would have also been Mr. Rogers' 88th birthday.
We are all connected!
Here's to making it a cheerfully happy day.


My Name Is Blessing

Today is bittersweet, because it's our last official day of Spring Break 2016. What a glorious week of restoration and rejuvenation it has been. The sun shining through my window is calling me outside for some more Vitamin D, so today's post will be short and sweet. It's a bittersweet story about kindness and hope, one which was shared with me by my friend Jen Hammerle. 

Click the book cover to go to the author's website
Based on the true account of a Kenyan child with a physical disability, this tale finds a young Muthini living with a kind grandmother Mumo, who is struggling to make ends meet for him and his eight cousins. Check out this beautiful book's trailer:

Mumo, whose name means Grace, is forced with a difficult decision to journey to a Orphanage where Muthini might have a chance at a better life, but will they even allow a child whose name means Suffering to stay?

On my first reading, I wasn't sure I liked that the Orphanage was going to change the little boy's name, and I'm not sure my students will either. Use this as a springboard for a discussion about the importance of a name. What might, could, would be the difference in life for a child whose name means Suffering vs. one whose name means Blessing? Should the Orphanage take Muthini as he is or is there a benefit in changing his name? What does this have to do with mindset?

Create an empathy experience: After reading the book aloud, ask for a volunteer and tape that student's fingers down to recreate what it was like for Muthini Baraka to only have the use of two fingers on his one hand and none on his other. What skills might they still do handily? What things will be difficult to do without assistance? What is the experience of missing fingers like? How does it feel? What do you want or need to adapt and thrive?

Blessings are everywhere. As a follow-up activity, encourage students to make a list of their blessings. Can they get to 50? 100? 500?

For more engaging activity suggestions from the publisher, click {here}. For more information about the author's work at Creation of Hope, click {here}. 


Recovering, Reflecting, Returning

We've all had 'em, those days, the terrible, horrible ones when you wish you could have a do-over ... or, better yet ... that you'd have stayed under the covers and not come out in the first place, right?

So how do we recover, relax, reflect & return gracefully 
so that we can, in turn, help our children learn to reboot?
That was the assignment that Free Spirit gave me;
click their adorable graphic below to read my suggestions.

Our friend, ventriloquist Dennis Lee, lived through one of those days two weeks ago and is now recovering from that life-threatening collision. We were blessed to visit him in the Rehab Center yesterday and deliver this big box full of handmade get-well wishes, admiration and love from the school families at Ferguson Elementary, Westwood Elementary, and Bales Intermediate.

And talk about your growth mindset and optimism; we caught him with that signature smile and effervescent personality sketching notes for next year's show.
Despite the trauma.
Despite the many broken bones.
Despite the long, rocky road to recovery in front of him.

Resilience doesn't get much more graceful than that.

He expressed his gratitude to those prayer warriors who have been covering him as he heals and he assured us that he can feel the power of every one of those prayers. Then, with an unwavering faith that will only serve to strengthen his testimony, he promised that he will be back on stage one day.

We are so proud of you, Dennis Lee.
Thank you for being a beacon of hope, inspiration and light.
We're behind you as you rest, restore, recover & return.


Wise At Heart

Today I'm delighted because I spent most of it outside, enjoying the incredible weather and doing some work pulling weeds from the flowerbeds and yard. As I reflected on all of the happenings of last week, my heart and mind kept coming back to this gem that showed up on my desk, from my friend Zoe. 

Some days are like that, aren't they? 
You're struggling with something that seems insurmountable and then 
someone says or does just the right thing to help turn things around. 
Sometimes it's a drawing or a note of affirmation. 
Sometimes it's a phone call or a text. 
Sometimes it's a book, like this one, from my friend Annie.

It's a beautiful collection of inspirational pictures and words
about hope and kindness, about life and love.
Take a look inside, at one of my favorite pages.

It's chunk full of important reminders for and from 
young and old alike,
about how we all matter 
and how we can all make a difference.

Sometimes I get worn out and need to remember.
And then ... it's spring break.
And we're given a precious gift ~ time ~  
just like the perfectly-timed picture that Zoe drew for me 
and the book that Annie hand-picked for me.
If you're on break, how will you use your time this week?
Here's to some springtime relaxation, restoration, and rejuvenation.


Inspiring Collaboration Guest Post

Today I'm overjoyed because one of my cyberspace counseling colleagues has agreed to tell us about a strong cross-curricular collaboration that resulted in an assembly idea that I predict will be music to your ears. Please give a warm Corner welcome to School Psychologist (and my friend!) Julie Gordon-Buccitti.


Hello from Overbrook Elementary!                                                                                           
We were so delighted to be invited by Barbara to share with you about our special whole-school collaborative project that we initiated this year. Our collaboration is a unique one, since we’re not aware of any other school psychologist and music teacher collaboratives in our area. Bringing our disciplines together made sense though, as music is a wonderful therapeutic medium and avenue for self-expression!
Overbrook is a kindergarten through grade 2 school, that has been distinguished as a PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) Model Demonstration School. It was one of just two schools in the state of Connecticut last year to receive this honor!

With the support of our amazing principal, Diane MacKinnon, and our wonderful staff at Overbrook, we were able to create such excitement throughout our school. We began with a series of co-taught lessons that took place during our music classes and focused on the work of Carol McCloud, author of Have You Filled a BucketToday? We included read-alouds, hands-on interactive tasks, written activities, songs, and instrumental music. My friend and colleague, Denise Martino, even wrote an original song that was perfect for our bucket-filling endeavor. With the help of some local businesses, who were kind enough to donate buckets to our project, the children used buckets as drums as they sang Denise’s beautiful and very catchy tune. We even caught children singing this tune at various times and locations throughout the day!

I also purchased the book in Spanish, as we have a large population of bilingual students at our school, and, with the help of our kind ELL Aide, Miss Claudia, I was able to co-teach a lesson in Spanish. I was so touched as our bilingual students helped me, as I was attempting to read and communicate! This was a good empathy lesson for me as I took on the challenges of using a language that I am not as familiar with.

In our school, there have been many social-emotional learning initiatives. Some of these initiatives have included whole group and small group lessons in classrooms and centers, whole group lunch lessons in the cafeteria, and co-teaching in our music classes. In addition, there are now plans underway for bringing social-emotional learning into gym class. It was my hope that by bringing social-emotional learning to our students across a variety of settings, that we would see carry-over of the skills taught into multiple settings throughout the school. Based on feedback I have received from students, staff, and parents, this is exactly what is happening.

Recently, Denise and I had the pleasure of putting together a Bucket-Filling assembly. This assembly was attended by our entire school, as well as community stakeholders like our Superintendent of Schools, Pupil Services Staff, and our local newspaper, The New Haven RegisterDuring our assembly, we incorporated a number of activities, making sure to include variety and opportunities for movement, in order to keep our little ones actively engaged. Our students performed Denise’s original song, there was a read-aloud, we all took a bucket-filling pledge together, and acted out some skits and asked our students to identify whether we were bucket filling or bucket dipping. Our students have become quite the bucket filling experts! We also made some special edition bucket filling PBIS tickets, to tie in bucket filling with our Model PBIS program already in place.

Click to download these special-edition tickets.

At the end of our assembly, we wrapped up with a bucket filling music video and our students and staff had so much fun singing and dancing. Both music teacher and school psychologist are being asked when the next bucket filling lesson will be taking place. I wonder if our littles know how much they fill our buckets each day.

Our assembly was also written up in our support staff and specialists’ newsletters to parents, so now our parents can use similar bucket filling terminology, and together we can reinforce the importance of being a bucket filler at school and at home.

It was truly heartwarming working together to make this project a success. So many staff members helped in so many ways. I owe a huge thank you to my wonderful collaborating partner Denise, too; our buckets are overflowing!

Thank you for allowing us to share our story and our excitement about this project with you. We look forward to continuing with our bucket filling work, and encouraging kindness throughout our school and community!

Julie Gordon-Buccitti, School Psychologist
Denise Martino, Music Teacher
Overbrook Elementary School 
A K-2 PBIS Model Demonstration School
East Haven, CT

 Thank you, Julie & Denise, for sharing your heartbeat with us;
we are positively inspired by your bucket-filling collaboration.


Being Strong

As I close my eyes for the night, I've got this weekend's renewal retreat on my mind. To be perfectly honest, I didn't want to go. I told myself it wouldn't be the same without my cousin Amy, who went with me last year. I told myself that I didn't have the energy to go. I told myself I wasn't feeling strong enough right now, to be social, to connect, and to share. The truth is that I needed to go, Amy or no Amy, to find that energy, to regain that strength. It wasn't by accident that I wore my Ellie's Explorers shirt to climb the Challenge Tower yesterday.

Click the t-shirt to support Ellie's Stroll Against Epilepsy.
Ellie is one of my heroes; 
I wrote about her {here} back in 2012.
She was on my heart as I ascended that fifty-foot tower.

I decided to take the climb slow and steady,

to stay in the moment.

I noted the breeze as I rested on the ledge

and was keenly aware of the warm sun on my skin.

Sometimes those blocks seemed just out of reach

and at one point, I almost said enough.

That's when the coach on the belay pointed out that

I was only a body's length from reaching my goal.

So despite shaky legs and weakened hands, I kept going.

You'll have to take my word about the breathtaking view at the top.

Life's a climb like that.
Sometimes things get challenging and it seems like our goals are
 just out of reach.
But we forge on,
cheered on by those who love us,
stopping to rest when we need to,
and making sure 
to be in the moment,
to breathe in the journey,
to enjoy the view along the way.

Thank you, Ellie, for showing me what
being strong 
looks like, sounds like & feels like.