Personal blog

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Every once in a while, I have something I want to write about that doesn’t quite seem appropriate for this blog. Sometimes it’s school related, sometimes it’s more personal or opinionated. So, I’ve created a new blog to share my thoughts, feelings, opinions, and creative writing pieces. It’s a way for me to share my voice in a way that feels right to me.

I’m just getting started, but check it out if you wish! ;)

The Loudest Minds: My thoughts out loud

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When the target is the teacher

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Dart and Dartboard

Anybody who works in a school setting probably knows that the word “bullying” is a buzz word as of late. Bullying is a hot topic and it gets a lot of attention. For me, bullying sometimes feels like a dark cloud looming over my head, as I wait for the next time it will come pouring down on me. The cloud opens up every time students use the word to describe a friendship conflict in which their feelings were hurt, or every time a parent uses the word to defend their child’s actions. Sometimes, I get so sick of the word that I don’t even want to teach it to my students, because I know it will result in the inevitable and annoying overuse. Of course I do teach about it, because it IS an important topic.

But I digress.

At my school, the excessive use of the word bullying hits overdrive as spring gets sprung. Friendships are breaking and mending naturally and repeatedly, and with this comes some mean behaviors. I spend a lot of time each spring helping students use the problem solving skills they already possess (and just need to be reminded they have).

I say all of this to say my next point – because spring is here, I’ve been thinking about bullying as a bigger issue than student-to-student relations; I’ve been thinking about it as a school-wide community issue, a climate issue, a global issue. We all know that bullying is not just a childhood problem – adults can bully too. Sadly, the students who struggle with bullying behaviors sometimes have parents or adults in their lives who struggle with it too.

Sometimes, students can even bully the adults in their lives. Sometimes, the target of the bullying is the teacher. I have seen it happen.

Let’s journey back to the year 1998-1999. I was in seventh grade, on a team mixed with eighth graders. The year I started in middle school, a new young teacher began teaching social studies. He was obviously nervous as he found his way around a classroom filled with hormonal adolescents. What most students noticed about him right away was a peculiar speech impediment – he finished most sentences with “mmkay” (kind of like Mr. Mackey, the school counselor on the adult cartoon South Park). During some class lectures, you’d hear “mmkay” a few dozen times. Needless to say, it got old. Really fast.

As you can imagine, the speech impediment became a topic of conversation and jokes for the eighth graders, which the seventh graders overheard and joined in on. Eventually, the jokes happened less behind the teacher’s back and more often to his face. I remember students interrupting his lectures to mimic his words. I never mimicked his “mmkay,” but I laughed along when others did. I was a bystander to the bullying of this new teacher.

Well, the teacher ignored the bullying for a while, until he couldn’t any longer. I was waiting for him to blow up, discipline the students, up and quit. He didn’t. Instead, he did something so special and so brave, that it worked.

I remember the social studies class that day. The teacher wasn’t standing at the board; he was sitting at a desk just as we were. He opened the discussion by telling us that he wanted to share something with us. Then he told us all about this speech impediment – he talked openly about it with us. He said it was something he struggled with for a long time, and that we weren’t the only ones who have noticed it and mimicked it. He said he had tried years of speech therapy to stop, but that it was a habit and it’s hard to stop. He ended his speech by sharing that he wanted to be our teacher and he wanted the classroom to be a cool place to learn cool stuff, and that he needed everyone to feel comfortable being there, including him.

He didn’t tell us to stop or threaten to send us to the office if we didn’t. He just put himself out there, openly and honestly, so that we could see how our actions affected him and others in the classroom. The students started to see him differently – he wasn’t just a teacher; he was a person with feelings, just like us. Seeing him put forth this effort changed the climate in this classroom from then on.

After that day, students stopped mimicking him. A few would make jokes behind his back, but those jokes soon sizzled out because no one found it funny anymore.

Thinking back on this experience, I realize how grand a gesture it was for this new teacher to open up his world to a group of awkward adolescents who needed a lesson in compassion. I commend him for his strength and courage to put his hurt feelings aside and use his struggle to teach us something more important than the curriculum that day. I don’t remember much from seventh grade social studies, but I do remember this lesson in empathy, humanity, and kindness.

As we each go forth and work with students, we may find ourselves mistreated, unappreciated, and maybe even bullied. I hope we can understand that these students need unconditional care regardless of their actions because they may be trying to push people away. I hope we can understand that these students may need a lesson in compassion because they may not get it anywhere else in their lives. I hope we can use their actions for teachable moments.

If we can do this, there will be more allies coming together than targets of bullying coming apart. It is easier said than done. We need to do it anyway. Every day.

Bouncy Bands provide some wiggle room

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Bouncy Bands. When I first heard the name, I thought for sure they were for exercise. Well, I was sort of right. Bouncy Bands are made to let students release energy while they are working at their desks in a quiet, non-distracting way!

Here’s a picture of Bouncy Bands set up on a desk:

bouncy bands

I was offered a free set to try out at my school, and for the last two weeks, a highly active fourth grader has had the set attached to his desk. Just for a little perspective, this student is scrappy, energetic, curious, and more often than not impulsive. Before Bouncy Bands, he would typically be found standing at his desk to do his work because sitting just wasn’t comfortable for his high energy needs. Basically, he was the perfect “guinea pig” for this kind of thing!

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been checking in with him to see how the experiment has been going. His first reponse was to thank me for allowing him to try them – isn’t that so nice?? Other feedback from him has been that he likes using them to move his feet up and down, back and forth, while he sits at his desk (SITS, not stands!). He also told me that it’s really quiet and no one even notices when he’s bouncing away.

When the fourth grade teacher requested to try the set for this student, I was a little skeptical because I thought for sure it would cause a distraction for the teacher or other students. I have received ZERO complaints from anyone, teacher included! I even sat at his desk last week to try it out for myself – I like how the rubber provides a comfortable and stretchy place to rest and wiggle your feet.

Here are a few interesting facts about Bouncy Bands:

  • They’re made with heavy-duty rubber bungee rope for maximum stretching ability.
  • They’re noise-less (really, they are).
  • They’re super easy to install – it takes a minute, tops.
  • They’re not just for students with ADHD or severe sensory issues – any student who is willing to try them can benefit.

For more facts and information, including how to order your own set of Bouncy Bands, head on over to the website: http://www.bouncybands.com/index.html.

“It’s okay to wear boy socks” – a very diverse lesson

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Todd Parr Book cover

When I bring a Todd Parr book into a classroom with me, I know that I’ll hear lots of laughter, meaningful comments, and creative ideas! The colorful pages in each of Todd’s books bring alive imagination. What I love about his books is how really important topics, like appreciating diversity and being tolerant of others, is conveyed in kid-friendly words and pictures.

As part of my diversity and tolerance unit, I read “It’s Okay to Be Different” and then had my kindergarteners and first graders create their own pages for a class book. I found the idea for this here: Teacher Idea Factory. They had to draw a picture of what makes them different/unique, and then write a sentence starting with “It’s okay to…”

All of my K and 1st graders LOVED the book, as expected, but my 1st graders were definitely able to go further when making their own pages, showing a deeper understanding of the topic.

After they finished their pages, I collected each and binded them together to create a book, which I shared with them the next time I visited their class. The pride on their faces when THEIR page was read aloud was priceless!

Here’s mine – which I made to show the students for an example:

Different1

It’s okay to wear glasses!

 Here are a few of the kindergarten pages:

Different2

It’s okay to have a dog with freckles!

Different3

It’s okay to go to a disco party!

Different4

It’s okay to love your mom!

Here are some of the 1st grade pages:

Different5

It’s okay to have orange hair.

Different6

It’s okay to be really really smart.

Different7

It’s okay to be born in China.

Different8

It’s okay to have a friend that owns pigs.

This one has got to be my favorite! It makes me laugh every time I see it. So simple, yet profound. ;)

Different9

It’s okay to wear boy socks.

I’m thinking I’ll hang onto these books and show them again when they’re older – that would be fun, and not at all embarassing. ;)

Diversity and tolerance is one of my favorite units to teach because there are so many interesting books to read and activities to do. I’d love to hear how you teach diversity and tolerance with your students! Share below or on this blog’s Facebook page.

And remember, as Todd Parr tells us,

“You are special and important just because of being who you are.”

Weird, Dare, & Tough

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Weird-Luisa-picture

The cover of the first book in the series.

This year, while planning my bullying unit, I couldn’t wait to use the 3-part “Weird” series by Erin Frankel. This post is about those amazing books and the lessons that came out of them.

Originally found on Vanessa’s blog, the Savvy School Counselor, I created some lesson materials to follow reading each book with my 3rd and 4th grade friends.

What I love about these books is that they are a series - my students were intrigued by the first page in “Weird” and wanted to read them all in one day! They loved that the same characters were in each book and that they got to learn more about each every time we read together.

From a School Counselor’s stand point, I am pleased that each story shares insight into bullying from different points of view. “Weird” is from Luisa’s perspective (the target), “Dare” is from Jayla’s perspective (the bystander, and as we come to learn, also a target and a bully at times), and finally, “Tough” is from Sam’s perspective (the child doing the bullying, who has also experienced bullying herself). I felt that by reading the entire series, my students gained a lot from hearing all sides of bullying and how it affects everyone in the school, teachers included.

Another amazing thing about these books is they each come with discussion questions and activity ideas in the back. I created documents for activities that I used (you can get access to each document by clicking on the title).

Weird Activity – I ended up using my school’s die-cut machine to make hundreds of polka dots for this activity. Each student got 3 plain white dots and wrote negative thoughts that Luisa had in the book, or they could use their own (for example, “I’m weird” or “No one likes me”). Next, each student got 3 colorful dots and wrote positive thoughts that Luisa had or their own (for example, “I’m unique” or “I’m proud of myself”). Then, we all gathered around the recycling bin, crumpled our negative thoughts, and threw them in. We discussed how we can recycle our negative thoughts into positive and how that can make us feel good. Many students chose to share some of their positive thoughts with the class, and some used their colorful dots to decorate their notebooks. The students really enjoyed doing this!

Dare Activity – the second book is all about bystanders and upstanders. So this activity page gave students practice with what they might say if they see someone being bullied. We discussed that Jayla had to prepare herself so she felt ready to handle bullying, and that’s why we practiced coming up with our own words to be an upstander. At the end, many students read their words aloud to the class.

Tough Activity – a huge part of the third book was about Sam learning why she was acting mean and how she could get what she wanted without hurting others. So, my students used Sam’s behavior in the book to fill out the worksheet. We discussed in length how she was acting tough so she could feel in control, but was actually causing more problems for herself and others by doing it that way, and learned that it felt better to be kind. Although this was one activity suggested in the back of the book, I’d like to do something different next time because this one was lengthy and many students needed help to complete it. I’m thinking of doing something with hearts and kindness…still thinking!

Here’s one website with activity ideas and more information about bullying. Check it out: theweirdseries.com

One last thought – although my 3rd graders absolutely loved the series, I’d recommend saving the books for when they’re in 4th grade. In my experience, my 4th graders seemed to have greater insight and understanding into the characters and got a lot more out of the follow-up activities. I think the “Weird” series will become my 4th grade bullying unit from now on!

A short post about self-esteem

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HAppy kids

This will be a short post.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the issues I work on with students at my school. As I went through a mental list of particular students I meet with regularly, it suddenly clicked – for the majority of them, whatever issues we’re addressing stem from an unhealthy self-esteem.

The reasons I meet with students vary, of course, from conflicts with peers, friendship issues, family concerns, anger management, emotional awareness and expression, etc. But, for many of my students, the REAL reason, the deep down reason, is because they don’t have great self-esteem, and thus, are not actively solving their own problems because they don’t feel capable, or are acting out because they don’t feel cared about or loved.

This lead to me to thinking about the root causes of their low self-esteem. For some of my students, I know it has something to do with abandonment issues or negative talk at home. But, I felt like I needed to offer something to parents about this issue and why it’s so important.

So, I decided to create my February School Counselor Newsletter around the issue of self-esteem, what it is, why it matters, and how parents can help their own children develop healthy beliefs about themselves.

If you’d like to take a look at it, click here.

Happy vacation! :)

Little book – Big lesson

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One of the best parts about being a blogger is the chance to share ideas and resources that can help others who have and work with children. There is power and knowledge in collaboration! Today, I’m excited to join a virtual book tour of “Spoonful of Sweetness and other delicious manners” by author Maria Dismondy.

Spoonful of Sweetness

Review of the book

Who knew that children could exhibit acts of kindness from the time they are infants? Children’s author Maria Dismondy makes this point clear and encourages the teaching of kindness and other powerful traits in her new board book “Spoonful of Sweetness.”

Each sturdy page pictures super cute and diverse babies showing character traits through their play. The traits include kindness, friendship, responsibility, empathy, respect, and courage.

What I love most about this book is how simply each trait is written about and shown through the realistic play of each baby. I have always believed that children learn the most through play and discovery, and Maria captures this beautifully on every page. I love that Maria shows how simple it can be to help young children begin to learn manners – it’s as easy as waving, saying hello, smiling, and picking up toys! What a great start to life every child would have if these behaviors were modeled and encouraged.

As an Elementary School Counselor, I have much appreciation for families who model and teach their children pro-social behaviors from an early age. “Spoonful of Sweetness” is an excellent resource for any parent, teacher, or counselor who believes in setting their child up for social and emotional success, in school and in life!

Other children’s books by Maria

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun

The Potato Chip Champ

Pink Tiara Cookies for Three

The Juice Box Bully (co-authored by Bob Sornson)

More about Maria

Maria

Maria Dismondy is a #1 best-selling children’s book author, former teacher, and highly sought-after speaker. Spoonful of Sweetness is her 5th children’s book. Maria has a passion for spreading an anti-bullying message and making a difference in her writing, public speaking, blogging, and charity work. She lives in southeastern Michigan with her husband and children.

Maria’s website: www.mariadismondy.com (go here for a FREE parent/teacher guide and a FREE coloring page!)

Maria’s Facebook page: facebook.com/mariadismondy

Book giveaway!

Maria was kind enough to offer a free, autographed copy of “Spoonful of Sweetness” to one of my readers! If you’d like to enter for a chance to get a free copy of this adorable book, all you have to do is comment on this post with a reason you’d like to have this book or how you’d use this book with the young children in your own life. All entries will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. Saturday, January 25, 2014. I will review all comments and pick one winner! I will contact you for your mailing address and Maria will send you your free copy.

Good luck and thanks for reading! :)