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Character Education

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Digital Learning

Holiday Self Care

Brace yourself, teachers! The holidays are upon us! So much to plan, experience, and enjoy! But since teachers are also the planners of most of the experiences in the classroom and at home, it can also be a stressful time. Just as they tell us in the opening instructions on every plane flight, place the oxygen mask on your own face before you attempt to help others. You will not be able to serve and share if your own metaphorical cup is empty. My message today is about some ways that you might consider in taking care of yourself during these always fast paced couple of months ahead.

Find some time for yourself.
I can tell you that the dishes and laundry will still be there the next time you look. Even if it's an hour later. Or the next morning. With a retired spouse, you might even find that the need to do them no longer exists when you return to them - because they're done! (I know that's something that most of you have only to dream of right now, but it may be in your future!)

With two career families raising children, it may seem super important to stick to a schedule. Fine for most of the year, but during this hectic time, why not just walk away from it all for a half-hour vacation inside your own mind. While I was teaching, I tried to carve this time out when I first got home; now I do it after dinner. Right to the couch for knitting or reading. Thirty minutes, then back to reality. It's so relaxing, and I have clinical proof that it lowers blood pressure. (Proud owner of a home blood pressure cuff here.)

Your thirty minute vacation from planning and chores can also include meditation, yoga, or exercise. Meditation is great. Darken a room, assume your position. I use lotus - criss cross applesauce - but any position that you feel comfortable in is fine. If you have a family around, seeking your attention, let them know that this is meditation time, and they are free to join you in their own practice of meditation, but not free to interrupt. Baby see, baby do - you might just be setting your children on a path to better physical and mental health for a lifetime. Who knows?

There are so many apps out there for setting the atmosphere for meditation, and Sirius radio even has two or three stations with spa music that you can use. And then, of course, there is always good old, much welcomed silence! I have discovered that total, absolute silence has its own sound. I'm sure I'm not the actual discoverer of that fact, but wow! Was I surprised when i finally took some time to pause and just listen to the silence. It has an energy all its own.

If meditation isn't your thing, try taking a walk. Walk outside for thirty minutes or so at the end of your teaching day. Do it right at school before you leave, when you first get home, or just after dinner. Dog owners already do this self-care technique every day. Walking your dog can be very much a self-care activity. I like to take walks in my neighborhood at a pace that I might use if I had a dog. I miss my dogs, but have no plans for a new puppy right now, so walking after dinner (or before in Eastern Standard plunged into darkness time) gives me a chance to see everyone else walking their dogs. Love!

Find some time to spend with friends.
Too busy getting ready for the holidays to spend time with friends? Work each other into those preparations! Have an online shopping party. Pour the wine, get out the credit cards, and boot up the laptops! Check some things off your list, and fill your soul in the way that spending time with friends always does.

Meet at a mall restaurant. Have lunch and shop together. Still getting things done, but making your life better with your besties.

Invite some friends/family over for tea or coffee and a recipe exchange. Everyone brings extra copies of their recipe for everyone else, and samples (if that's not adding extra pressure), and you are all set with some new recipes to try out on your family! And - no affiliate link here, but I just downloaded a free recipe and shopping list app called "Copy Me That". You have got to check it out! Just another little way to make your life easier. A friend told me about it when we were spending some quality time together!

Plan a getaway.
Get out those travel catalogs that seem to be in everyone's mailboxes this time of year. Plan some fantasy getaway vacations. Make a scrapbook or collage board that you can look at for a quick trip away in your mind whenever you need it throughout the year! And better yet, it may lead to the beginning of planning an actual getaway!

Introduce a new calming practice.
Never tried yoga? Tai chi? Journaling? Gratitude lists? Pick one and try adding it to your life.

I've had to add a food journal back into my life recently. (We won't discuss it here, because I hate to journal every bite that I eat, and it makes me the opposite of calm. It does keep me from eating some things though, just because I don't want to write about them. Wait - so maybe that's the point.) Whatever. I have found that adding one sentence ( We can do this!) at the bottom of the journal page about something that made me me feel grateful that day really helps. It impacts my whole day because my mind wanders several times to finding that morsel of gratitude each day.

And yoga? I can't say enough good things about it and what it has done to keep me out of physical therapy after an auto accident and flareups of sciatica. The best part is the calming practice. And the studio. It's dark in there, and no one can talk to you. Aaaahhhh.....

Journaling and gratitude lists. These move in and out of my life. I'm always sorry when I come back to them that I ever left. They always forgive me and welcome me back with full benefits.

Teach your students about self-care.
Try some zen inducing activities from Rainbow City Learning to bring a calming atmosphere to your classroom, starting right now and continuing throughout the year. Zen coloring pages, gratitude journals, group activities, and yoga resources can all be fun and very helpful in calming everyone down and keeping an even flow as you travel through the rest of your school year!

Click on the word links above to try some of these resources.

Here's a free poster to get you started!

Hope you have a happy and peaceful holiday season! And for the best self-care of all, a $100.00 choose your own gift certificate could not be too bad. Enter here to check out our podcast "We Teach So Hard" and to win!

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For more thoughts and talk for November, please visit these great posts. Like what you see, and want to join us? Before posting your link, please email me at


Finding Gratitude

It's been a hard week. A close member of my family is a survivor of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue massacre.  My family and larger religious community has experienced unheard of horror and sadness during the week that has just passed. When something like this happens, we have to dig down really deep to find something to be grateful for. This was a challenging week for me to seek gratitude, but seek I did.

First, I am beyond relieved that our loved one is physically safe and still here with us. As a survivor, he has a long road back emotionally. We are grateful as a family that he still walks this earth and can receive our love and hugs. We know it will take time, and we will be grateful for each day going forward when the news doesn't contain tales of more hate and destruction. We are grateful for the outpouring of love and multicultural unity that has arisen from this tragedy. I am grateful to see good people trying to do good in the world all around me.

When the world lets us down and children are filled with questions and needing to talk about it, I have always turned to literature. I find it so much easier and more effective to focus the conversation on what some of our favorite characters have done to manage their shock and sadness. Please note that any books mentioned in this post are Amazon affiliate links. You can also find them at the library!

As I searched my shelves and the internet for books on gratitude, I found mostly picture books. Those are the easy ones. Easy to work in a read aloud lesson on many days. Easy to have the whole piece to connect and discuss in a short time period. Even when adding in a chapter book as book clubs or whole class reads, I would still begin with a picture book.

Here are some favorites. Picture books first!

Be Good to Eddie Lee by Virginia Fleming

This beautiful book was on my mind this week, as two of the victims of the massacre were mentally challenged brothers who brought nothing but love and light to everyone they met. I recall them as small children visiting their cousins who were our neighbors. Like Eddie Lee, they appreciated the little things in life, like the beauty of nature and the goodness that can be found inside most of us.

On a boring summer day, Christy learns from Eddie Lee that beauty and gratitude can be found in unexpected places. Christy starts out being annoyed by Eddie Lee's always wanting to follow her around, and ends being grateful for the friendship he offers so completely.

Gratitude Soup by Olivia Rosewood

Told in poetry and illustrated with beautiful collage art, this book is a perfect prompt for your students to write their own gratitude poems and create their own gratitude collages.

When Violet, the Purple Fairy, gets a case of the "gimme gimme want wants", her mother suggests making an imaginary pot of gratitude soup. She reaches deep down and pulls up so many things that she  is grateful for to create her special soup. Luckily, the pot can be downsized to fit inside her heart, where she keeps it constantly warm.

Olivia Rosewood, the author, reminds us of the research that proves that gratitude changes brain chemistry, supporting mental and physical health. I am sure that it was the tiny pot of gratitude simmering in my heart for so many years that kept me from turning into a hater this week. It's certainly an image that is stuck in my brain now, after reading this beautiful book.

Chapter books for third, fourth, and fifth graders:

Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles

This is an old favorite from my personal and class bookshelves. I've always asked for parent permission first because the main character, Comfort Snowberger, lives in her family's funeral home and has attended 247 funerals. I always thought that might be considered too intense or scary for some kids, but I have never had a parent say that their child could not participate.

Even the first line resonates, " I come from a family with a lot of dead people." Don't we all?
Comfort says it so beautifully herself:
"...death is hard. Death is sad. But death is part of life. When someone you know dies, it's your job to keep on living.
So...we did. We adjusted. We did what we always do when death comes calling:
    We gathered together.
    We started cooking.
    We called the relatives.
    We called our friends.
    We did not have to call the funeral home. We are the funeral home.
    I wrote the obituary."

And Comfort eventually takes over writing the obituaries for her local newspaper. She call them "Life Notices" rather than "Death Notices". She writes the most unique obituaries you will ever read, truly celebrating the life of each person. Comfort teaches each of us to find gratitude in the sweet, funny, and even outrageous events that make up a life. I met Comfort as a reader in my 50s, and she changed so much about my outlook on life. I like to think that she has done that for many of my students too!

Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney

More than a century ago, on a fictional farm in Sassafras Springs, Missouri, Eben McAllister has been fascinated by reading about The Seven Wonders of the World in school. He wants to take his first trip away from his "boring" home to visit relatives in Colorado. Eben's dad challenges him to find seven wonders right at home in Sassafras Springs that can rival the real Seven Wonders. Eben sets off on a journey of knocking on neighbors' doors to discover the origin stories about some ordinary seeming items. He hears magical tales about a doll that saved a life, a musical saw, an ordinary table, and an incredible wonder at the end that I won't spoil for you!

As Eben says:
"Sometimes extraordinary things begin in ordinary places. A fancy-dancy butterfly starts out in a plain little cocoon. A great big apple tree grows from a tiny speck of a seed. And the wonders started right on our own front porch on a hot summer night I would have forgotten on the spot if it hadn't been for what got started then and kept on going."
Once you start looking for the beauty in and finding gratitude in ordinary things, it's hard to stop. Eben sets a great example for all of us.

This book has held a special place in my heart for so many years. It was a favorite read-aloud for my students. We all loved how each chapter was its own little story. I based my writing lessons on it for a unit on memoirs. Each student created a "Wonder of Farmington Hills" story. (The location of our school.) Every story was a touching closer look at something that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.  One particular story still in my heart was the story about a rose that blooms each summer in one family's yard on the anniversary of the death of a favorite uncle who left them at a young age. Another was the story of how the Rainbow City (my classroom name - but you knew that, right?) Rocking Chair came to be. It was a special chair, painted and repainted every year by each new class, but of course the story of how it came to be was nothing like the real one!

We sent our collection of "The Wonders of Farmington Hills" to Betty Birney and she loved it! She sent us a beautiful letter to share with families and our school community as a celebration of our writing!

The best lesson here though, is the same as above - finding beauty and feeling gratitude when looking at simple everyday things. "Fancy-Dancy butterfly". I still love that!

While digging deep for some gratitude this weekend, I attended a huge Solidarity service and multicultural gathering at our Temple on Friday night. We welcomed a new Shabbat with shalom (peace) in our hearts and gratitude to God for this crazy, unpredictable world that has been entrusted to us. I was honored to have been asked to light the Shabbat candles for all to see and to read a poem with my daughter in honor of my uncle and in memory of his friends who were lost. As we said the blessing over the candles, I could feel the love pouring out from our expanded congregation, and I let the light of gratitude back into my heart.

I am grateful to have been born and raised in Pittsburgh. My upbringing has made me #PittsburghStrong and #StrongerThanHate for life. I am grateful for the home I've made and the family we have created and the friends I have found here in Michigan. I'm so very grateful for all the students I've known and hopefully reached over the years of my teaching career. And... I'm especially grateful to each of you who is reading this post.

To express my gratitude to you, I have pulled out a sample of my new Grateful Gnomes resource. I would love for you try it along with some (or all!) of the books I've talked about here as you awaken just a little more gratitude in your own students.

Find it here:

Tonight, I'll be talking about Gratitude and how to bring it into your classroom with my podcasting buddies, and we'll be announcing an amazing gratitude giveaway! (Aren't you glad you kept reading?)
It will be released on Wednesday! Check out our podcasts here and click below to enter  our giveaway and how you can win your choice of a $100.00 gift card! 

Our Podcast:

                       I hope you'll check out the posts below by our blogging crew on gratitude!

Wishing you the magic of fancy dancy butterflies, a tiny simmering pot of gratitude inside your heart, and the wonders of noticing the beauty in simple things inside your mind in the days ahead. Even that chatty class that you may have - it's a beautiful thing! Right?

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