Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

If each one of us untangled one string at a time...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Peanut Butter Jelly Time Homecoming

When it comes to serving our country, One (Soldier) Can Count.  When it comes to supporting families, One (School) Can Count.  When it comes to getting home safe and sound, One (Adorable Little Daughter) Can Count.

We all can make a difference.  Just ask J.E. Woodard School in Columbia, Tennessee.  They make it a point to teach their students how to be a ONE all year long.

Thank you to David Fitzgerald for his service and to the J.E. Woodard Elementary School for inspiring me today.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Reading, Pajamas and the Little Leaders Among Us

I met the most extraordinary boy yesterday through the Pajama Program.  (Please click the link if you want to find out about the coolest organization doing something simply spectacular...inspiring reading and providing warm pajamas to under served kids.)

Shane, age 8, and I were reading the book Frieda B.  It's a whimsical book about imagination and dreams. It led to a conversation about what we want in our lives.  He said his dream was to become a billionaire.  When I asked why, I expected answers like "getting a big house" or "buying every video game."  His answer shocked me.
Shane:  "I want to give it away."
Me:  "Who would you give it to?"
Shane:  "People with cancer who can't buy things on their own."
I was humbled...for the second time that morning.

Before the kids arrived, the volunteers were talking about helping kids.  One wise man, Steve, who worked as a volunteer in the inner city Newark (NJ) school system for years talked about cutting through the rough exterior of kids who struggle during their growing up years.  His approach was to find common ground and build trust.  Common ground can be hard to find when there's an age, ethnic, and demographic difference.  He did it by bringing in photos of his dogs.
Trust is like love. Both parties have to feel it before it really exists. -- Simon Sinek
He said that it doesn't matter how old the kids are.  His advice is to never lose faith.   Sometimes middle and high school kids act tough but there's still a child underneath all the layers.

I have to add to that.  I think there's also a leader under all those layers.  Sometimes we just need the chance to have the conversation.

Thanks Pajama Program, sponsored by Scholastic and Carter's,  for providing the platform and the common ground called books to be inspired by the little leaders among us.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Teaching Our Kids How to MEDABO

Last week I handed out three MEDABO cards in very unlikely places.  Two were on the 15X express bus from Staten Island to Manhattan and the other one was on the #4 subway.

MEDABO is a family charity.  My father used to tell the kids to go out and make every day a better one and so my daughter, Alice-Kate, and her cousins decided to make it official by creating these cards.  It's mission is simple.  Recognize acts of kindness and pay it forward.

Three Cards: Three Unexpected Parenting Lessons

The Sunny Bus Driver

The first card was given to the bus driver on Tuesday.  She was incredibly kind to every single person who boarded the bus.  Not easy to do when you're a driver in New York City.  She connected with each person and sincerely asked how they were.  When one regular customer was getting on she showed true concern for his obviously failing health.  It made my heart melt.  

Teachable Moment

The next time I saw the driver, she told me that she had given it to her  son for doing something good and she asked him to pass it along to someone else who was making a difference.

The Kind Passenger

On the following Friday, I boarded the bus but when I went to pay, I realized that the Metrocard that was in my wallet was expired.  I had left the one with $20 on it on my kitchen counter.  When I asked a woman who looked approachable if I could pay her in exchange for using her Metrocard, I had another jolting thought.  I only had $3 on me.  The fare is $6.  She didn't even blink.  She just stood up and paid my fare.

Teachable Moment

We started talking about Tangled Ball and early bullying prevention.  She has twin 3 year olds but she pointed out something really key to me.  Her son had recently used the "hate" word at pre-school.   He was quickly corrected but it left her wondering how he even knew the word?  (She laughingly said that it could have been a lot of other choice words if he was mimicking her but that she actually never used the word "hate.")

It reminded me that kids are sponges.  They'll pick up words and actions that their peers use.  So even if you don't do some things at home, once they go to school, they're learning more than their colors.  

Early course correction is a good idea.

The Wise Upstander

You run into a lot of crazy stuff on the subway.  On Friday, there were a mother/daughter duo having an argument to beat all arguments.  It got really heated and everyone on the train was uncomfortable. There was a sigh of relief when they got off but one gentleman didn't just leave the crazy vibes in the air.  

Teachable Moment

He said out loud,. "That's a shame.  People just don't say I'm sorry anymore"  He continued, "I'm sorry" works.  As a matter of fact, I said it to my 6 year-old daughter last night.  She was upset that I came home late and I looked her in the eye and said, 'I'm sorry.' And she was satisfied."

His parting words of wisdom:  "People are too defensive.  Saying I'm sorry is really important."

I couldn't agree more.

Who is Making Every Day a Better One in your life?  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Leadership is the Anti-Bully" Month

Thanks to the Pacer Center, October has been declared Bullying Prevention Month.

Since I work mainly with Pre-K through elementary schools, I would respectfully like to rename it "Leadership is the Anti-Bully" Month.  At these ages,  we should remove the labels of "bully," "victim or target" and teach children skills.  Learning how to respect themselves and others will benefit them through middle and high school and the rest of their lives.

There are many great social emotional learning programs that have been introduced into schools over the years, including CASEL, The Leader In Me program, National School Climate Center (NSCC) and Yale's Ruler Program, among many others.

Some schools embrace the idea that teaching leadership and social emotional learning is an important part of the student's education while others don't make it as much of a priority.  But the schools that do embrace it do better academically.  Makes sense.  The safer and happier a child feels, the better they perform.

When Kathryn Otoshi, author of the award-winning book, One, and I created One Can Count, we didn't know what to call it.  We hesitated to call it a program or initiative. Too complicated.  Would people understand if we simply called it a tool?

We wanted to remove any barriers that would make teaching leadership challenging.  The truth is that schools DO have too much to do.  There IS too much on their plate.  Each teacher and staff member can't be asked to be an expert in EVERYTHING.

I enthusiastically support schools who have invested time and money into high-quality school-wide programs that positively impact school climate but not all schools can or have. We wanted to at least provide something simple, inexpensive and that school staff could embrace and make their own.  We wanted to inspire schools to give students a chance to step up in very real ways. Practicing leadership includes simple concepts such as older students mentoring younger children.  It also includes identifying jobs that students can do as part of the regular school day or even the special occasion days. In other words, any opportunity that doesn't compete but enhances classroom time.

We also wanted One Can Count to be inclusive.  We encourage any school to use it in conjunction with any other initiative or program.  Teachers and counselors need tools.

I want to thank the 30 schools on Staten Island who used One Can Count last year thanks to Senator Andrew Lanza, who sponsored the workshop at St. John's University, as well as materials and multiple copies of the One and Zero books for each school.  Principals, teachers, parent coordinators, and counselors got inspired and had fun.  The result?  Kids got inspired and had fun, too.

This is a month of awareness but the benefits of the efforts on the part of schools, organizations and parents will last a lifetime.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

National Be Nice to the New Kid Day

By September 7th, most kids up to the age of 18 will be back in school in the U.S. so I've designated the 7th as National 'Be Nice to the New Kid Day.'
"Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much."   —Blaise Pascal
If you've ever had to walk into a school knowing no one, I don't have to explain the importance of a peer introducing themselves or including you at their lunch table or sharing a book if you don't have one.  For most kids, the fear and anticipation of starting a new school is like jumping out of an airplane. You know other people have survived but you're not sure you will.  That one kind person can feel like soft welcoming ground.

Although I'm sure she doesn't remember me, I'll never forget the girl who was nice to the new kid.  When my family moved from a small town in Indiana to San Juan, Puerto Rico, I was going into 8th grade.  I didn't know the language. I was leaving the world's best friends right before the best year of elementary. And my new brown and yellow uniform could not have been uglier (the phys ed uniform is too embarrassing even to describe) .  A trifecta of horribleness.

To say that I was scared is an understatement.  I wanted to be invisible until Carmelina broke away from her gaggle of friends and switched from Spanish to English as she took me under her wing.  She introduced me to as many people as she could and although they weren't mean, they didn't pay much attention to me either.  I kept thinking how grateful I was to her for getting me through the dreaded first day. Although most of the other girls didn't ever really warm up to me, Carmelina was kind every single day until graduation.

Kathryn Otoshi, author of the award-winning children's book,One, knows that this is a subject near and dear to my heart so she sent me a copy of Wonder.  It beautifully illustrates the plight of the new or different kid and the tangled ball of emotions most kids experience.  They need mentors.  We are their "Go-To Adults."

So when you drop your kids off at school and you remind them to "be nice to the new kid," know you're raising a leader and this former "new kid" is cheering you on.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Silent Soul Crusher of #Bullying

Sometimes it's not the words that hurt, it's the shrug of the shoulders, it's the no eye contact, it's the looking through a person and not at them.  It's the absence of words.

Message is received.  You're not important.  Your heart shrinks a little more.  Kids know when their peers or even adults are not that interested in them.  It's like the title of the book and movie by the same name, "He's Just Not that Into You."  

This is something that has to be experienced to understand.  And that's really part of the harsh reality.  Often this is a silent soul crusher because the method of hurting another is off the radar.  No one sees it.  It's no big deal to others.  It doesn't matter.  There is no recourse.  It is isolating and there is no road map.

No child should feel alone.  Correction.  No person should feel alone.

Kids don't read this blog so if you're an adult who is made to feel small by being made to feel invisible, please know that your suffering is real.  Although we probably have never met, I am sorry if you are feeling diminished in any way.

You are important and fight for yourself.  Get new friends.  Seek new circles and perhaps look out for a child who may be feeling the same way.  See them. Validate their importance.  

Your interest is proof of how important you are.  Sometimes it just takes one person to remind a child of their value.  You won't know it by their words but you'll see it in their eyes.

My hope is that you are seen and appreciated today.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Chain of Leadership as the Anti-Bully

The 2013-2014 school year was full of light bulb moments.

It started out with this thought:  What if we gave young students the chance to shine as leaders?  What if we spent as much time creating opportunities for them to practice their leadership skills as we did talking to them about bullying?  What if we got a little creative? What if we could inspire the adults and the kids without it being a hassle or taking away from class time?  What if we made it inexpensive?  Simple?  Flexible? And dare I say, what if it was fun?

The answer was One Can Count, based on Kathryn Otoshi's award-winning book, One, and thanks to Senator Lanza, we were able to answer some of those burning questions.

It is the first time that all 30 elementary schools in Senator Lanza's Staten Island district received the tools they needed to start their own One Can Count initiative.  It became a chain of leadership.  From the free workshop in September to the last day in June, schools made One Can Count their own.  Parent coordinators, teachers, principals and counselors embraced the concept that leadership is the anti-bully.

Here's the simple theory:  Kids need attention.  They'll get it any way they can.  So, if you give them the chance to be their best self, they most often rise to the occasion.  The more leaders you have in a classroom, the better the balance.

Although it's a children's book, every age, including grown ups are inspired by the power that each of us has to stand up and be the One that steps in.

One Can Count is designed to be a stand alone initiative or work with existing programs in the school to help children value the concept of respect.  Bullying is a tangled ball and just like any messy and complicated issue, it often requires many small solutions.

With that being said, I was amazed at what schools accomplished this year.  They took this tool and ran with it.  They had mentoring programs, art and writing projects, assemblies, leadership counsels, performances, and much more.  They created daily reminders of what it's like to be a One.

The year started out with questions but it ended with an answer:

Words of a 5th Grade Leader presenting chain of leadership to Senator Lanza:
Just like the chain, we are connected to one another in our commitment to grow into young leaders.  We are a community of learners who recognize that leadership is not just a position, but a process. -- Piumi
Part of that process:

Books and Materials  

Multiple copies of One and the companion book, Zero, were delivered to each of the 30 schools in early September.


With the generous support of St. John's University, schools came together to hear from experts, including author Kathryn Otoshi and to discuss ideas in which schools could easily incorporate the concepts of leadership.

Free Materials

Materials to help get the tangled ball rolling are free and downloadable here.

Creating the Concept of a Team

Schools had the option of ordering special personalized One Can Count t-shirts for students or teachers.
We're just getting started.  Next year our goal is to have every student feel like a leader. -- Parent Coordinator, P.S. 80
Sometimes it just takes One.

Thank you Senator Lanza, St. John's University, Kathryn Otoshi, and especially schools, for delivering hundreds of light bulb moments for me and hopefully Staten Island elementary school students.  Looking forward to 2014-2015.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A School Full of Leaders: A Plan at SI's Petrides

The goal at Staten Island's Petrides (P.S. 80) is to have a school full of leaders. They believe that every student has the potential to be a leader.  It's a priority and they have a plan. It started with an interested parent coordinator, enthusiastic administrators, a handful of student leaders and a big dose of enthusiasm and creativity.

One Can Count, sponsored by NYS Senator Andrew Lanza and based on Kathryn Otoshi's award-winning children's book, One,  is in full swing.   Petrides, a dynamic K-12 school that values respect, is constantly developing ways to get across the point that each child has the ability to become their "best self" and add to the good of the whole.

Lesson #1

Taking the Lead

Student leaders in the 4th and 7th grades got the tangled ball rolling by visiting each and every classroom from K-8th grade to read One.  Think about this.  Seventh graders reading a children's book to the mighty 8th graders.  That takes courage.

Lesson #2

How Am I a One?

Students got involved in simple activities that inspired them to think about themselves as a One.  Using cut outs of the #1, they reflected on how they could be a One.  Then they created shadow cut outs of their profiles with an assignment that asked "How Am I a Leader?" Powerful.

Lesson #3

Appreciating Others for Being a One

Students, administrators and teachers are encouraged to recognize others for being a One.  The hallways are lined with photos of kids and teachers with a brief description of their positive action.

Example:  John Paul was caught being a One when he invited a lonely classmate to play.

Lesson #4

Individual Students as Team Builders

Students will all be contributing to a chain of leadership.  Each paper link represents a student and when each student brings their unique talents and they're connected to each other, the community becomes strong, nurturing and a safe place to learn and enjoy growing up.

Lesson #5

Support is Key

Why is One Can Count such a success at Petrides?  Support.  Parent Coordinator Jami Kilichowski and Elementary School Assistant Principal Danielle Bennett attended the One Can Count workshop in September.  They took a spark ignited from the workshop and created a fire of enthusiasm among school staff and students.  And it doesn't stop this year.  A detailed plan has already been outlined for next year.

It's not just words at Petrides.  It's a plan.  One administrator, one teacher, one parent coordinator, one mentor, one student at a time.

I have complete faith that Petrides will reach their goal.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Leadership is Igniting Good

Life is beautiful not because of the things we see or do. Life is beautiful because of the people we meet. -- Simon Sinek

Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to my son give a speech about leadership.  In his short remarks, he said that leadership is about interconnectivity, empathy and attitude.

Of the three, he emphasized interconnectivity which is really community.  We don't necessarily have to have research to tell us that we're social beings who need each other to be happy but there is plenty of it to support the obvious.  Feeling connected is one of our basic drivers throughout life. 
Happiness may be surprisingly contagious. Psychologist James H. Fowler studied the data of 5,000 people over 20 years and found that happiness benefits other people through three degrees of connection, and that the effects last for a year. He says: “We found a statistical relationship not just between your happiness and your friends' happiness, but between your happiness and your friends’ friends’ friends’ happiness.” (PBS: This Emotional Life)
 And staying connected enough to have empathy may be our biggest challenge as a culture.  It's one of the tangled strings in the tangled ball in our texting, friending and posting society.  

But here's the hopeful part (attitude!).  It's all evolving.  There are smart, empathetic connected people who know the value of Facebook, Instagram and all things social media but who are actively giving a generation permission to remember that now, more than ever,  we still need to get to know people face to face.  Adding to the quality of other people's lives adds to the quality of our own. 

It's fairly brave to swim in a slightly different direction.  To say it's ok to embrace something new but to pay attention to the thing that makes us click and makes us whole.  Purpose.

Here's to Ignite Good.  Check out their mission.  I dare you not to be inspired.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Students Encouraged to Be Their "Best Selves" at P.S. 69

Our school has been placing an emphasis on exposing our students to Character Traits such as Respect, Patience, Tolerance, Responsibility, and Loyalty (just to name a few.) This emphasis shows them that truly exhibiting these traits will allow them to collaborate and communicate effectively. -- P.S. 69
P.S. 69 is keeping their eye of the prize.

Last week was big for New York schools.  Testing Week!  Administration, teachers and students gear up for this day from the first day of school.  Everything seems to lead to this ever important time.

Correction.  Almost everything.  At P.S. 69, they have a wider goal.  It's making sure that students learn how to treat each other and become their "best selves" all year round.

As part of One Can Count, sponsored by NYS Senator Lanza, every grade level and every classroom used Kathryn Otoshi's award-winning books One and Zero as a foundation to promote the concept that "Everyone Counts." (The school even involved the parents by asking the second graders to perform a play based on One for the PTA meeting.)  Although the new core curriculum has taken over and has been a time consuming focus, P.S. 69 didn't want character education to go by the wayside.

And good for them because as the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence explains,
Our research shows that students with higher emotional intelligence are better prepared to manage their emotional lives so that they can focus, learn, and do their best in school.
Inspiring kids takes time, energy and a lot of creativity.  Hats off to ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) Nest Coach Stefanie Martingano, and principal Doreen E. Murphy for making sure their students gain leadership skills because leadership is the anti-bully.  Teachers get in on the act, as well, and wear their One Can Count t-shirts to remind the students that "Sometimes It Just Takes One." With the help of the staff, each student has received the message that they are a leader.

Even before the tests were finished, it was clear that this is a school full of winners.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

P.S. 45 Takes "Respect For All' Seriously All Year Long

Visiting Staten Island's P.S. 45 (John Tyler School) inspired me.  (For those reading this outside of New York City, P.S. stands for Public School.)

Every student in this elementary school participated in an awesome kick-off  assembly honoring Respect for All Week.  The students were led in a special reading of Kathryn Otoshi's book Zero by a group of their peers involved in the SOAR program.  (To facilitate character building,  New York State Senator Andrew Lanza sponsored One Can Count in all the elementary schools in his district.  Multiple copies of One and Zero were provided to each school.)

According to guidance counselor and SOAR mentor Libby McPike,

SOAR stands for Safe Organized Attitude Respect. It's our school wide positive behavior model. Kids follow these expectations and when caught doing well, can be rewarded with eagle dollars (eagle is our school mascot). Then they shop in the SOAR STORE for items anywhere from erasers to DVD players (all run on donations). 

P.S. 45's approach to teaching respect and character education is one more example to me that "leadership is the anti-bully." And sometimes teaching leadership takes a bit of creativity. Ms. Libby and her students have plenty of that to share. Here's just a snippet of the kind of activities that this dedicated professional and the students she mentors have developed to engage the entire school -- staff and students alike -- in the empowering messages of kindness, tolerance and respect. 
Wear Purple: Purple is the color of good judgment. It is said if you surround yourself with purple you will have peace of mind. Purple is a good color to use in meditation. Purple has been used to symbolize magic and mystery, as well as royalty. Being the combination of red and blue, the warmest and coolest colors, purple is believed to be the ideal color. 
Activity: Good Deed CatalogIt goes without saying that it’s important to teach kids to do nice things for one another. During Respect for All Week, keep a running tally of good deeds that students perform. These can include helping clean up, consoling a sad classmate, sharing, helping out a friends, etc. Tell your class that if they reach a certain number of good deeds for the week, they will receive some sort of prize (Ex. Lunch with the teacher, homework pass, Good Deed Certificate, Etc.)
On the day I visited, the gym it was an enthusiastic sea of purple. 

After reading the book, the group of SOAR students (as young as 3rd grade) led the entire school in a question and answer session based on the themes of Zero, including "What does it mean to have a hole in your middle?" and "How did it feel to have the other numbers step up?".

5 Things I Learned at P.S. 45

•    A thoughtful, creative and enthusiastic administration is the foundation for promoting high quality character education.  (A shout out to principal Ms. Chavez and parent coordinator Mrs. Poli who allowed me to be there and so graciously welcomed me to their school.)

•  It's a worthy commitment to create an environment where leadership is part of the culture year round.

•  Helping students develop leadership skills such as public speaking gives children confidence and confidence is the key to resilience.

•  When students are expected to listen to each other and value each person's opinion, they rise to the occasion.  (Note:  Amazing how many students were eager to be a part of the question/answer session.  The students obviously felt safe to share their opinions with a gym full of their peers.)

•  The students had fun.  Teaching children to step up helps children SOAR and it's never boring.

(Speaking of "stepping up," Ms. Libby went the extra step and wore purple shoes!)

Teaching leadership and respect takes a lot of hard work.  Mentoring children is exhausting and never a perfect process.  For those reasons, I am deeply grateful for the fine professionals at P.S. 45 and other schools around the country who hang in there every day and give it 100%.  You deserve a parade.

Thank you.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Connecting the Dots: Daydreaming, Resilience and Bullying Prevention

There's an upside and a downside to our focus on bullying prevention.  The upside, of course, is that we're shedding light on the pervasive culture of mean that is destroying the confidence of so many children and teens.  

The downside is that the conversation doesn't go deep enough.  Should we be talking just about prevention or should we be spending some time exploring what makes children resilient?  I'd love to think that we can "prevent" all bullying.  With a lot more work and dare I say, money,  I definitely think we can change the balance in schools and homes...but kids will always face the challenge of mean behavior.

So what's the difference between the child/teen that carries the hurt with them forever and the person that not only survives but thrives?  I've talked with 80 year olds that tell me that the hurt stuck with them for their whole lives and the negative experience had somehow formed them.  That's how deep the silent pain hides in the soul.  What if that long tail of pain could have been blunted?  What if their ability to become resilient was nurtured?

The subject of resilience is as intricate as the topic of bullying but it deserves it's day in the sun.  

I highly recommend reading Carolyn George's article "18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently in the Huffington Post.
Many of the most iconic stories and songs of all time have been inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak -- and the silver lining of these challenges is that they may have been the catalyst to create great art. An emerging field of psychology called post-traumatic growth is suggesting that many people are able to use their hardships and early-life trauma for substantial creative growth. Specifically, researchers have found that trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and -- most importantly for creativity -- seeing new possibilities in life. 
When we allow kids to daydream, it nurtures their individual creativity.  Their creativity defines them as  a unique powerful person.  When kids are allowed to go into "the zone," they are happier and more satisfied.  It's harder to negatively impact a person who knows what makes them feel the joy of their own individuality.  Creativity comes in so many forms...art, music, writing, sports, film, tv production, theater, even developing video games...anything that takes vision.  

So here's a tip.  Allow your children to spend time staring out a window or laying on the floor listening to music or curling up in a chair and relaxing.  It's time well spent.  Their creativity may sustain them for the rest of their lives.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Gold Medal Performance in Feeding the Hungry

Just as I was feeling down realizing that there would be no gold medalist to watch tonight, I came across this story of a college guy who should receive the gold for putting 2 and 2 together and feeding thousands.  Food Recovery Network is an organization that donates food from college campuses to the hungry.

Leadership is about not being afraid of having a really good idea and making it happen, even if no one else has thought of it before (but maybe they should have.)  It's about inspiring your peers to do even more.

Thank you, Ben Simon, for doing the equivalent of a perfect freestyle skiing run or an impeccable "twizzle" or racing the fastest down a bobsled course.  You put yourself out there every day without any expectation of a hometown heroes welcome.

I'm cheering you on whether you're in Sochi or not.  College Park is equally impressive.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Are the Next Great Leaders At P.S. 22?

ABC's The View celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by asking Staten Island's P.S. 22 Chorus to appear on their show to sing, "We Shall Overcome."  The song was interspersed with students reciting  lines from Dr. King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech.

P.S. 22 is known for its famous chorus.  They've sung with incredible musical artists as well as making appearances at The White House and the Oscars, among many other incredible venues, thanks to the passion of their musical director, Gregg Breinberg (or affectionately called, Mr. B.)  Mr. B. took a small elementary school job on Staten Island and did it so well that eventually the world took notice.  That's a lesson in loving what you do and doing the best job possible.  That's leadership.

But P.S. 22 is more than the famous chorus.  It's a school full of students learning to be leaders.  I was speaking with the school last week, and they are equally enthusiastic about the many projects they do with the entire student body to ensure that they are contributing to society and becoming the best people possible.

Among other efforts, students from Kindergarten through 5th grade have recently participated in the Warm and Cozy Drive, a winter clothing collection for children in need, they've collected books, blankets and stuffed animals for kids living in shelters, visited nursing homes forging relationships with the residents and working together on art projects, hosted food drives and collected various items for our soldiers.

In other words, all the students at P.S. 22 are stars.  Stars burn bright for many reasons.  It could be using a talent to perform or performing acts of kindness.  Both bring joy to others.  Congratulations to the hard working P.S. 22 staff and their efforts in bringing out the best in these little leaders.  (Leadership is the anti-bully.)

It doesn't have to be Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to appreciate that every child has their own dream.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Getting Creative and Teaching Leadership at P.S. 55

Students are learning that One Can Count at P.S. 55 on Staten Island.

Fifth graders are the experts as they partner with the Kindergartners to reinforce the message, "Everyone Counts."  After reading Kathryn Otoshi's award-winning book, One, the mentors got together with their younger counterparts to lead them in an activity that demonstrates that everyone is unique, beautiful and valuable.  (One is an ageless children's book which beautifully and simply inspires kids -- and adults, too -- to step up for themselves and for others.)

A One Can Count team of teachers and staff came up with the idea of doing something seasonal that expressed the importance of respecting each other's differences.  As the partners created their own snowflakes together, the students had fun getting to know one another as well as crafting something that they could display with pride.

There are so many positive things about P.S. 55's efforts.

Using a Simple Tool

NYS Senator Andrew Lanza provided 30 copies of One and 30 copies of it's companion book, Zero, to each elementary school in his district on Staten Island.  Inspired by the book and the gift, P.S. 55 set out to ensure that each student received their own personal copy of One.


The message of One is for all ages but when you make the older students the teachers, they take ownership of the concepts of kindness, empowerment, and positive action.  There are countless benefits of mentoring but perhaps placing students in a leadership role is the most powerful.  Leadership is the Anti-Bully.

Staff Involvement

When administration, teachers, guidance counselors, parent coordinators and other staff members get together to promote leadership, it's a message to students that they're important.  In essence, it demonstrates leadership and students learn by example.


Think about it.  Children learn more when they feel emotionally safe and when they're having fun.  The fact that Kindergartners have a friend in the 5th grade is a big deal.  Add to that, the time spent doing a creative activity brings joy to both.


Empathy is easier to teach when students are asked to look out for someone younger.  Compassion helps students become "upstanders," the secret weapon against bullying.  When kids step up for one another in mean situations, the bullying stops in seconds.

Hats off to Principal Sharon Fishman, Guidance Counselor Arlene Donnelly, staff members Juleah Bracker and Julia Lucchese and of course and most importantly, the brilliant students at P.S. 55.  Getting creative and teaching leadership helps create a school climate of cooperation.

In other words, P.S. 55 itself is like a snowflake -- unique and beautiful.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Inspiration at the 7-Eleven: #Leadership

When we tell people to do their jobs, we get workers. When we trust people to get the job done, we get leaders. -- Simon Sinek
I've been lucky enough to hang out in San Diego for the past month.  I have my new granddaughter, Lucy, to thank for keeping me out of the harsh NewYork cold.

My daily routine includes getting up early and going to the 7-Eleven on the corner of Beech and State to get a cup of coffee and it always includes nice conversation with the people working there.  For example, early Christmas morning, I happened to ask the cashier how his Christmas Eve had been and then he gave me the most spiritual description of Midnight Mass at St. Paul's Cathedral.  He was so peaceful telling me about the music and the lighting of candles.

It seemed as if he was totally in the moment and appreciating every aspect of life.  It suddenly dawned on me that if he was at Midnight Mass, he must have only had a couple of hours of sleep.  He happily told me that four hours of sleep was fine and he was able to get off in the afternoon to celebrate the holiday with his family.  Not one complaint.  Not one.

I don't know what it is, but every employee there is exceptionally nice.  They're not just nice to me. A handful of homeless individuals frequent this store -- begging outside on the corner before they go in. They are also treated with kindness.

It's gotten to the point that if I'm feeling a bit blue or sleep deprived, I look forward to going in there for a boost.  And it's not the caffeine because I only drink decaf.

It's a culturally diverse group of employees but they all seem to have one thing in common.  They know how to treat people and seem to be genuinely interested.

As I was fumbling around with the simple but complicated process of pouring that first cup, I asked the 20-something guy who was efficiently restocking creamers, if it was a good day.  "It has to be," he said.  I wasn't 100% sure of what that meant so he explained, "It's my choice to make it a good day and so it has to be a good day."  And by making it his choice, he made me aware that it was up to me, too.

As I was leaving, he said, "Have a good one."  And I replied, "Now I will."

Leaders work everywhere and do every type of job.  Doing a good job takes commitment and a positive attitude.

Good lessons for our children.  (And speaking of children, there's an awesome woman there who has 5 children, two grandchildren, and looks 20 years younger than her actual age and I think it's because she has an optimistic attitude!)

Look for leaders wherever you go.  You can even get inspired at a 7-Eleven.