December 29, 2013

Success Begins with Baby Steps

I don't usually share personal stories on my blog, but today I wanted to share a story that taught me the importance of celebrating the small accomplishments needed to reach a big goal. From this experience, I learned that we should never give up hope, even when it seems there's no hope at all. It's an amazing story about my father who wasn't expected to live long enough to see the new year ... but who is still with us and becoming stronger each day. At the end of the story, I'll share a simple motivational strategy that helped my dad - a strategy you can use to encourage your students and help them reflect on their own accomplishments.

Dad's Story Begins
You may have noticed that I've done very little blogging recently and I've had several guest bloggers here on Corkboard Connections. The reason I've been absent lately is that I needed to take some time off to help my father whose health has been failing in recent years. My dad enjoyed vibrant health for over 75 years and even at the age of 76 he was still mountain climbing, rock climbing, and doing 40-mile bike rides over hilly terrain. In fact, when he came to visit me a few years ago we did a zipline adventure together! Here we are on one of the platforms as we waited our turn.

Shortly after this trip, he began to experience tingling and burning in his hands and feet that eventually spread throughout his body. It was similar to diabetic neuropathy, but he's not diabetic so doctors were baffled. His symptoms got progressively worse causing him to visit doctor after doctor, but no one could figure out what was going on and how to stop the progression of his illness. He also began to experience hives and rashes when eating certain foods, especially sugars and starches. To make a long story short, he was eventually diagnosed with leaky gut syndrome which he feels was caused by over-use of NSAIDs like Aleve and Ibuprofen. He had been taking large doses of these drugs to relieve his arthritis pain. The term "leaky gut" refers to the intestines becoming damaged and allowing toxins to leak into the body. However, even though he finally had a diagnosis, the prescribed treatments didn't seem to be working. Leaky gut is not recognized by many doctors and it's difficult to find reliable information about it. Eventually his condition progressed to the point where he could not eat anything without intense pain and burning throughout his body and the neuropathy pain was so severe that he felt life wasn't worth living. He had lost over 40 pounds and was completely defeated.

Dad lives in California and I live in North Carolina, so I had been making regular visits to see him but had not visited for an extended period of time. When his condition took another turn for the worse, I got my affairs in order and flew out for an extended stay. His goal at that point was to get Hospice to accept him as a patient and provide some comfort until the end of his life. When I arrived and saw how weak he was, I honestly didn't think he would make it to Christmas. He was no longer eating and was getting weaker and weaker. A few days after I arrived, we celebrated his 79th birthday and I don't think anyone present had any hope that he would make it to age 80. We were having trouble getting Hospice to accept him because he didn't have a terminal diagnosis, but a few days later his condition became so critical that I called 911 and he was taken to the emergency room. At that point he wasn't even able to drink water and could not get any pain medication down so he was in agony. The folks at Hospice finally stepped in, and they took over that very day.

Beginning with Baby Steps 
Amazingly, this story has a happy ending. Hospice is all about comfort care, and in one day they were able to do something that his doctors had not done for him in 2 years. They figured out the right combination of drugs to give him relief from his constant pain. They administered the medication with liquids that are given "sublingually," or under the tongue, so he didn't have to swallow. After one dose he slept peacefully for 4 hours. When he woke up, he said, "Wow! I never thought I would feel this good again." As soon as I heard him say those words, I felt hope because I knew he wanted to live and wasn't ready to give up. With the pain under control, he was able to consider trying to drink water again. The nurse gently suggested that he start with just a few mL of water from a syringe squirted into his mouth so he could let it trickle down his throat. He tried that and was able to get it down, then he took a little more later. He told her he would just take it in baby steps, and that's exactly what he did. He later sipped from a straw and then started drinking from a cup. We had been doing research on what foods were needed to help heal a leaky gut, so we started him back on chicken broth and worked back up to a diet of mainly meats and veggies with no processed foods, grains, or sugars. Occasionally he experiences some itching when we introduce a new food, but his terrible rashes and hives have gone away with the proper diet. We realized that a big part of his problem was the large doses of Gabapentin he was taking, and we suspect it was wreaking havoc in his body due to the leaky gut problem. Now that he's on the right medicine and eating the right foods, he's gaining weight for the first time in 2 years and is actually able to walk a bit on his own now.

Recording and Celebrating Baby Steps
As you might have suspected, he did experience a few setbacks in his recovery, especially within the first week. Even though he was making progress, it was so slow that it was almost hard to tell that he was getting better instead of progressively getting worse. We had been keeping a journal with information about his medications and the foods he was able to eat, so I suggested we add a page called "What I Can Do Today That I Couldn't Do Yesterday." He loved that idea, and we immediately began thinking of all the little things he was able to do that day that he had not been able to do the day before. He came up with the ideas, and I wrote them down in the journal. We recorded things like "Walked up 4 stairs," "Picked up a book and read a few pages," and "Played chess on the computer." All of these were actions that he had not been able to do when he was at his lowest point.

It's been amazing how much this "baby step" journal has helped him. We have kept it going for over a week and filled up 2 pages with tiny print about the details of the things he can do each day that he couldn't do before. It's become a sort of game each day to come up with new things to record in the journal - he continues to try to challenge himself to accomplish something new to record at the end of the day. Usually there are many new things he can do that we can record. When visitors come, we pull out the journal and share some of the small successes he is experiencing.

I'm actually back at home in North Carolina for a few weeks now. I stayed with him through Christmas but decided to return home to spend time with my husband and two daughters, all of whom have been wonderfully understanding about why I needed to stay with my dad for such a long time. I'm planning to go back in January for another few weeks to help him on the path to full recovery.

Celebrating Baby Steps in the Classroom
Even though I retired from the classroom, I still think like a teacher! I've been reflecting on how this "baby steps" journal idea could be used in the classroom to motivate students who need encouragement. Sometimes when kids are struggling in school, they don't see the progress they are making even though everyone else sees it. Keeping a daily journal might be too time-consuming, but you could easily have students keep a weekly journal to record accomplishments. Each Friday afternoon, wrap up the week by having students jot down something new they learned and/or a skill they were able to accomplish during the week that they weren't able to do the week before. Give students time to share what they wrote with a partner or in cooperative learning teams. Talk with them about the importance of taking "baby steps" to reach a big goal. Or introduce the famous quotation from the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I'm guessing that you and your students will find this to be a very positive and motivational experience.

Rainbows and Renewed Hope
Finally, I want to thank everyone who has been offering prayers for my father over the last month. I'm normally a very optimistic person, so I'm ashamed to say that I had given up all hope that he would recover, mostly because he had given up all hope. He had been to so many doctors and was in so much pain that I could not envision him ever being healthy again. A miracle occurred on December 11th when the angels from Hospice took over and helped him begin his recovery. When he realized Dad was getting better, he joked, "Hospice is supposed to help you die and they saved my life!" I truly believe that this miracle happened as a result of all of the prayers on his behalf, and I feel blessed to have so many friends whose faith helped make this possible. I learned that you should never give up hope, because miracles can happen!

Rainbows symbolize hope, so I wanted to share with you this beautiful panoramic photo that my daughter Amy took from my father's backyard in Benicia, California. Dad's hopelessness has been replaced with hope, and we continue to celebrate each baby step along the path to recovery. I'm confident that he will once again hike the hills of California and experience all the joys of nature!

December 7, 2014 Update: It's now been almost a year since I wrote this and Dad is still recovering. Today is his 80th birthday and we are so grateful that he is still with us! Several months ago he was diagnosed with Lyme disease and we are hopeful that he will continue to recover.

December 11, 2013

Helping Children Cope with Tragedy

Guest blog post by Julia Cook

Our country has been plagued with several disasters in the last few years. There was the Joplin, Missouri tornado in May of 2011, we’ve had numerous catastrophic wildfires, Hurricane Sandy tore the east coast apart in October of 2012, and then there was that day…

I remember that horrible day…December 14th, 2012…The Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.  My eyes filled with tears as I watched this horrific event unfold on television.  How could this happen?  How could we ever let anything like this happen?

Three days later, I found myself in front of 400 children doing an author visit at a different elementary school that was thousands of miles away.  When the kindergartners and first graders walked into the gym, sat down on the floor, and looked up at me, I lost it.  I couldn’t talk.  I couldn’t even breathe!  My heart felt like it had a hole in it…a big, empty hole.  Our world can be so cruel.  I made eye contact with one of the teachers.  Her eyes screamed “There’s a hole in my heart too!”

At that moment, I knew I had to find a way to reach out. Parents needed to know what to say to their kids and how to say it. Teachers needed to know what to do, what to say, and how to act.

When a disaster occurs, it affects everyone at different levels of intensity, much like the ripple effect when a rock is thrown into water. With natural disasters, most humans feel responsible for helping. We empathize and then focus our efforts on comforting and rebuilding. But we realize deep down that what happened could not have been prevented. Sandy Hook was different…disasters caused by man happen by choice.

The Ant Hill Disaster
In the months following, I wrote numerous articles and gave several media interviews surrounding the topic, “Helping Kids Cope with Disasters and Violence,” but the gnawing of hole in my heart continued.  I knew I needed to write a book, one that spoke to children about living through and living after a disaster. I decided to use ants as a metaphor.

Ants are masters at working together and rebuilding. Also, ant hills can be destroyed by humans as well as by storms, so the metaphor applies to both natural disasters and those caused by man. By writing this book, I could demonstrate empathetic understanding for children, as well as model positive parent and teaching strategies.

But this book would be very different from the others.  All of my other stories were proactive.  The Ant Hill Disaster is reactive…reactive to the hole inside my heart…inside all of our hearts.

After the Ant Hill School is destroyed, a little boy ant is afraid to go back to school.  His mom caringly explains to him that sometimes things happen in life that we have no control over, but we have to find a way to keep living and growing.

Helping Kids Cope with Disasters and Violence
The Ant Hill Disaster thoughtfully addresses fears associated with both natural and those caused by man. It models effective parenting and teaching responses. This book can help assure children that through love, empathetic understanding, preparation, and effective communication, they can stand strong, even in the midst of uncontrollable events.

When disasters, both natural and man-made occur, parents are faced with the challenge of discussing tragic events with their children. Although these might be difficult conversations, they are important and necessary. Always remember, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to talk to your child about traumatic events. At the end of the Ant Hill Disaster, I included tips for parents to help them talk about tragic events with their children. You can download a page of these tips on the right. Always remember: you are your child’s coping instructor!

I had the great honor of reading the Ant Hill Disaster over the phone to Michelle Gay who lost her 6-year old daughter in the Sandy Hook tragedy. She graciously agreed to write the forward of the book and I want to share her thoughts with you.

Foreword to The Ant Hill Disaster by Michele Gay

On the evening of December 14, 2012, my husband and I were faced with the unimaginable task of telling our older daughters of our family’s loss.  Our precious daughter and their little sister, Josephine, had perished in the tragedy at her school, Sandy Hook Elementary.  

Though a mother and former elementary school teacher,  I grasped for words that could explain the events of that morning... but there were no words. 

What I did manage to say was that I knew our Joey was in heaven and we would find a way to carry on together. That we loved them, and so did she, that we would never allow her sparkling personality and loving spirit to be lost in this tragedy.  

We came together with family, friends, neighbors, and our community to defy this tragedy with our love.  

In the weeks following, we sent our daughters back to school, confident in the love and support they would receive in our community. I volunteered to stay. I wanted to deliver a message: that we were meant to carry on together. And so we began our journey.

Julia Cook’s Ant Hill Disaster honors this journey out of loss and into hope. She lights the path for the youngest of readers with words, colors, and a familiar setting that young children understand and need. Her adorable characters model team work, empathy, and compassion in a child-friendly story that may translate to a tragic event in their own community or another, man-made or natural.   

Ant Hill Disaster is a message of hope and love that will touch and inspire young children and the adults who love them.

     Michele Gay
     Mother of Josephine Gay, A Sandy Hook Angel
     Co-Founder of Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative

Words to Comfort Us from The Ant Hill Disaster

“We breathe in and breathe out, we hold onto each other.
We shed a lot of tears, and we love one another.
We’ve all come together as a strong team of ONE,
 We’ve rebuilt our lives, and we’re get things done!
They say that when change happens, it makes everyone grow.
Our pain is never forgotten, this we all know.
But together we somehow are learning to cope.
Because disasters will NEVER diminish our hope!”

To me, it is an absolute must to align the information contained in my books with the best research-based topic information available. This led me to contact the ALICE Training Institute. For more information on disaster preparedness visit the ALICE website:

Julia is nationally recognized as an award-winning children’s book author and parenting expert. She holds a Master's Degree in Elementary School Counseling, and while serving as a school counselor, she often used children’s books to enhance her classroom lessons. Julia has written dozens of books that teach students to become life-long problem solvers and enable them to deal with difficult situations in their lives. She enjoys visiting schools and talking with kids; in fact, she's done over 800 school visits! You can learn more at her website,

December 7, 2013

Bring Some Passion Into Your Classroom!

Guest blog post by Jen Runde

Have you heard of Genius Hour? If you are looking for a way to bring a little more motivation, excitement, and real learning into your classroom, Genius Hour is the answer.

Genius Hour allows your students to explore their passions.  For one hour a week, they read, research, plan and design their passion projects. Students can take on any topic they are passionate about, and create a project they can share with the class, the school … the world!

Genius Hour is based on inquiry. Students need to develop a question related to their passion that they can research.  Simple questions that they can find the answer to easily should be discouraged.  Inquiry questions should lend themselves to the creation of a project – a passion project – at the end.  Projects can be media based (movie, slideshow, etc.), or something physical they build, design, or create.  At the completion of your Genius Hour timeline, these projects need to be shared with an audience. Throughout the entire process, students will be engaged in research, reading nonfiction articles, planning through graphic organizers, writing, and reflecting – all integral areas of our Language Arts curriculum.

I introduced Genius Hour in my classroom two weeks ago, and my students haven’t stopped talking about it. I dedicated a bulletin board space to it (well, actually a blackboard space because I’m out of bulletin board space).  This is where we will post our handouts and weekly inspirations.

For our first Genius Hour, I asked my students to close their eyes and think about something they were really passionate about.  I then handed out sticky notes and had them write down their passions and post them on our board.  I then showed them the video from Kid President, “A Pep Talk from Kid President.”

I also showed them the video found on the Genius Hour site. That video is aimed at teachers so I wouldn’t show it in a class with younger students, but it was perfect for my grade 5/6 students and it gave them a great overview of the project.

I then handed out a second sticky note (in a different colour) to each student and asked them to think about how they could turn their passion into a project – something they had a question about and could build a passion project on. They then posted this second sticky note on the board.

I gave each student a folder and small notebook to keep during the duration of our project. The notebook is for all our notes – graphic organizers, written research, written plans, and a weekly reflection. The folder is to keep any sheets or printed work they have. Their excitement about this project was evident when they immediately began to decorate their folder covers.

For our second Genius Hour, the students were to come with 2 possible inquiry questions for their passion projects that they have discussed with their parents. During this second genius hour, I met with each student to approve one of their ideas. I did have to work with a few students to tweak their questions to make them a little deeper, but most were ready and it was a smooth process. By the end of the class, each student had a question, a direction to head in, and a solid idea for their passion project. In our next genius hour, all students will be able to start on their research.

Some of the inquiry questions my grade 5/6 students have come up with are:
  • How were medieval castle walls constructed?  (passion project idea:  constructing a model of a castle wall)
  • Can I create new dessert recipes?  (passion project idea:  making a cookbook)
  • How do you make doll clothes?  (passion project idea:  a sketchbook of doll clothes and two handmade outfits)
  • What was the inspiration behind the movie, Star Wars?  (passion project idea:  a media movie or slideshow showcasing pictures and information)
  • Can I design my ideal bedroom?  (passion project idea:  an interior design board complete with swatches and furniture ideas, where to find or make items, and pricing options)
I am allowing my students to work at home on their projects (if they wish) as I am not assessing the final physical projects, but rather their process and presentation. If they are working at home, they do need to have all needed materials at school each week for Genius Hour.

Genius Hour has become MY passion project.  And if I continue to show and model that passion to my students, it will continue to motivate them. If this is something you are interested in doing in your classroom, you can make it work.  Timelines are flexible (we are taking 12 weeks (12 in-class hours) for our first projects. If we do a second project this year (which I am planning on), we will have a slightly shorter timeline. Class structure is also flexible. We are doing this whole group every Friday in our language block for our 12 weeks, but it can be built into your literacy centres, or completed during your computer lab time (if this is something you have).

You can get a copy of all the handouts I have given to my students HERE and HERE

I will also be posting a weekly update on my blog:  Runde’s Room (link:
  • Passion Projects in the Classroom – Week One 
  • Passion Projects – Week Two
You can click on any of the links in this post to get started on your own Genius Hour path.  It is hands-down the BEST addition to our classroom this year.  I hope I have inspired you to ignite that passion in your students.

Jennifer Runde is a teacher with twelve years of experience in the upper elementary grades.  She currently has a grade 5/6 class in Ontario, Canada.  She enjoys creating fun and interactive lessons that keep her students engaged in the learning process.  Follow her blog, Runde’s Room, to see what she has going on in her classroom, and find some fun ideas for math, literacy, and technology that you can implement in your own class.

December 4, 2013

Winning the Facebook Game

Congratulations to Erin Pizzo who won the $50 gift TeachersPayTeachers gift certificate that I gave away yesterday! What? You didn't know I was giving away a $50 TpT gift card? I'll bet you even follow the Teaching Resources page on Facebook. I posted about it several times over the last few days because I didn't want any of my followers to miss out on the chance to win it. You'd think with over 275,000 followers there would have been tens of thousands of entries, but there weren't. My guess is that most followers never even saw my posts about the contest.

A Game with Changing Rules
The fact of the matter is that Facebook is like a game with ever-changing rules. Unless you know how to play the game, Facebook gets to decide which posts you see. You thought that clicking the Like button on the Teaching Resources page meant you would get all updates from my page, right? But Facebook changed things up a bit a few months ago and you only get MOST of the updates. In fact, only about 20% of my followers ever saw my posts about the $50 TpT gift card. What a shame! Not only are they missing out on contests and giveaways, they are missing out on great blog posts, funny cartoons, free resources, teaching tips, and helpful advice from teachers.

Mastering the Game - How to Receive ALL Posts
Luckily even though Facebook is like a game, they do try to make some of the rules available and savvy Facebook users can customize what they see. There are two parts to mastering the Facebook game.

#1 - Be Sure Page Settings are Set to Get Notifications
It's very easy to change your settings to be sure that you are receiving ALL posts from your favorite pages. You can test it out on my Facebook page right now.
  1. Go to Teaching Resources on Facebook and make sure you have Liked the page.
  2. Hover over the "Liked" button and check Get Notifications.
#2 - Interact with Your Favorite Pages
Facebook promotes pages where the fans interact with the posts, so regular interaction is one of the best ways to make sure you are receiving all posts. When you see a post that interests you, click the Like link under the post to give it a thumbs up and write a short comment. Or click the Share link to share it with your friends. Scroll down to find a post on Teaching Resources that you like and give this a try! The more you like, comment, and share on Facebook, the more you likely you are to receive posts from those pages.

Take those steps, and you should start seeing all of my posts from Teaching Resources. You won't miss out on any teaching tips or posts that could have made a difference in your classroom!

Creating Interest Lists
You can also set up an "Interest List" which is a collection of pages you follow on a specific topic. To set up an Interest List of teacher pages, click "Add to Interest List" right after you click the "Get Notifications" link above and it will prompt you to create a list name. Name your list "Favorite Teacher Pages" and add Teaching Resources that list. Visit your other favorite teacher pages and follow the same steps to add them to your list. To see all the status updates from those pages in one place, click the Interest List left side of your Facebook feed page. You'll see a modification of your regular Facebook feed that only shows the pages you selected for your list. 

After you follow these steps, you'll start to see the content YOU want to see and not the content that Facebook THINKS you want to see! Not only will you be playing the Facebook game, you'll be winning it!