Family Literacy Night

Today I woke up with a happy heart because of a Family Literacy Night I got to participate in last night. Here’s how our evening began, with a student-drawn sign reserving a parking spot outside of the Family Center, where we’d enjoy dinner with the volunteers before the inaugural event started. It totally made the Friday afternoon traffic jam we had endured to get across town worth it; SO thoughtful.

After a yummy dinner, I set up my author table, then headed into the Sanctuary, where I got a a few minutes with the students and their families for a pep talk, Listen Up: Character Speaks!. It focused on using our five senses to listen to, connect with, show empathy for, and love people. ALL people. I found a brave first-grade friend to join me in front and offered her a gift bag, asking her before opening it to describe how it looks, what it sounds like, how the flowers on the bag might smell, how the package feels. Then I asked if she wanted to open it or leave it wrapped, and how she’d feel if it were empty. After she answered my questions to pique the curiosity of the crowd, she opened the bag to find a key, which she told us would be useful for opening doors.

I reminded her that we all hold the key to kindness, and that her empathy and compassion will always unlock doors. She helped me teach the Empathy Switch before she sat back down with her dad.

We then talked about how every day is a gift and that each day we can choose to open it or leave it wrapped up. And how every choice we makes gives us another opportunity to grow physically, emotionally and spiritually so that we’re our healthiest selves to serve others, head, heart, and hands.

After a first-grade class recited three adorable poems for Poetry Month, two more authors spoke and my friend Margaret, who organized the entire event, shared with participants how they can get a library card to keep sharpening their reading skills even over the summertime months, it was time to return to and reconnect in the Commons.

We were accompanied there by our 8th-grade Ambassadors for snacks and an expo-type setting with tables that the families could swing by, learn more, and maybe even get a memento, like these antique keys. I loved sitting next to Ianna and learning all about about her as I answered participants’ questions about being an author and encouraged the kids to keep on writing.

My favorite moment was probably with Ella, whose smile was like sunshine for my soul. I asked her how it was that we connected in that big crowd and she said it was because she loved and agreed with what I was saying about kindness and keys and that even though she didn’t totally understand everything I was saying, she thought that it was really special and nice. She came by my table three times, each time with a smile bigger than before, the last time for a huge hug.

I even got to sign a Spanish version of our book for a student from Mexico, the cherry to top off this sweet event. If a Family Night like this is in your plans for the next school year, please keep me in mind; I’d love to be a part of it.

A Page In My Book

Today I’m grateful for this beautiful personalized notecard, which came in this week’s mail from a new friend, Linda in Louisiana. It’s fun how we met; I donated to a Donors Choose Project, then the project director reached out to let me know that as a thank you, she sent a copy of Mr. Quigley’s Keys to her friend Linda in New Orleans, for her Little Free Library. Isn’t that a fun way to express gratitude?

So I offered to send a signed bookplate and a week later I had that handwritten note from Linda in the mail. Life is made up of all of these little connections which make a BIG difference.

I’ve recently done a few family night presentations and my heart has been touched by the kids and their heARTwork. Their happy creations put a song in my soul, for sure.

More joy came knocking when this Principal and friend in WI chose our book for her World Read-Aloud Day pick with this group of first-grade readers. My heart warmed right up with gratitude and pride when she posted this picture on Twitter that day.

Last Sunday, I got to talk about empathy, compassion and kindness for the families as a local church. One of the coolest things was when I was giving out antique KEYpsakes to our participants. I said to one young boy, “Here’s a key for you and one for your mom.” He was beaming and without missing a beat, she said, “Oh, I’m not his mom; I’m his bus driver!” More goodness to nourish my soul; how lovely is that, for her to sit by one of her young passengers and share a donut during our class.

In this interactive session, REAL stands for Reflection, Empathy, Appreciation and Love. Do let me know if you have a needs for a growth session like this with your school family.

My final booster shot of inspiration and love came when a local Media Specialist reached out with this note:

I am messaging you because I wanted to see if I could buy a copy of your book for the student that you visited with at my school. He came by the library today and I had your book out on display and it was so cute because he said “you know I need to buy one of these because I’m in that book.” He said I don’t know how but I’m in the book. And I remembered that you asked the kids if they saw themselves in that picture on the back and I just thought it was the cutest thing so I wanted to get him a signed copy for him to keep.

She came to my house and picked up a signed copy; I wrote that he’ll always have a page in my books.

You will have to imagine his incredible smile, but I’m happy to share part of the picture she sent, with him holding his book and key necklace so tenderly while pointing to himself and the child that he sees as himself.

This week was challenging on so many levels, but what a gift, to know that our book is making its trek into the hearts and hands of precious young readers everywhere.

Happy February, dear reader.

Because Gratitude Is KEY

Happy Thanks and Giving! Today I’m grateful for this treasure from one of the 8th-grade boys in our Spanish 1 class family:

He knows what I’ve always suspected, that FUN is our ticket to engagement and that PLAY is our brain’s favorite way to learn. It makes my soul sing that he would share this gratitude with me, a keeper for my Smile File, for sure.

This week I’m on a much-needed Thanksgiving respite; the two weeks prior have been busy with author visits, our #TXCharacterWeek celebration and a Family Engagement Night.

I love this joyful memory of the moment the Bay Area Alliance For Youth and Families gave away three signed copies of the book.

Mrs. Hayes Tweeted this lovely shoutout after our Mystery Zoom with her 2nd-grade authors in OH.

I shared that I grew up on my family’s dairy farm in WI but told them I no longer live there. They were able to guess where I am now after narrowing it down with their Yes/No geography questions. Then I showed them my book and we learned some ASL. Finally, we sang this song together, which I love because music unites us. We can’t all talk at the same time but we CAN all sing at the same time! As a bonus, who doesn’t love the magical and soothing power of the ukulele?

Not too long afterward, I had the blessing of connecting with a group of 4th-grade writers up in Wisconsin who wanted to share their KEY Principle reflections with me. Is this WOW work or what?

Our future is bright with these superheroes sharpening their SEL skills; I’m always so grateful for the opportunity to connect with our youngest leaders.

And speaking of thankful, what’s your favorite benefit of making gratitude a verb?

I really connect with the enhanced empathy and reduced aggression. Signing off with my favorite new commercial; have you seen this Hershey’s sweetness?

Savor every second; happy Thanksgiving 2022.

The Right Key

Today I’m grateful for so many things, but first let me start with this story. A few years ago, while Mr. Quigley’s Keys was still in the editing stages, my Dad and I were visiting his cousin Ronnie. An entertaining storyteller, Ron was showing us that his curio cabinet got locked during their move and that he couldn’t open it now because they didn’t have the key. So he got on Amazon and bought a hundred or so antique skeleton keys to see if one of them would do the trick. No such luck, he told us, so I asked him what he was going to do with all of those keys.

He asked if I wanted to buy them, and I chuckled before mentioning that I was writing a book about about keys and that his story and those keys had intrigued me. At church that next morning, he brought me a baggie of about fifty of these tiny treasures and said that he was still searching for the right key to unlock that cabinet. As an aside, he mentioned that, since his last name is Kiekhaefer, his nickname was KieKie in his younger days.

Since that serendipitous encounter, I have purchased thousands of these keys because I take them with me to speaking engagements and keep them handy for impromptu book readings or signings. The other day, my auto mechanic asked if I’d be willing to sign the book for his daughter while I waited for my car horn repair, so I put together a little ring of keys for her and headed over to Friendswood Auto.

This pre-K reader was so excited to get a key ring of her own. Not only did I get to sign her book but we also spelled her name and phone number in ASL before my car was ready to go. Oh, and as an act of kindness, there was no charge for the repairs that day, two reasons why I left the shop that day with an extra spring in my step.

Earlier this week, I got to visit my Ross Elementary school family and sign books for their passionate educators during Character Week. Such a gift, to reconnect with my Roadrunners and sit with them for a spell.

This week I get to do back-to-back author visits on Tuesday and Wednesday, then I get to lead a parenting night in partnership with the Alliance on Thursday night. We’re going to discuss how Empathy, Compassion and Kindness are KEY to connecting by HEART and I can’t wait!

Then on the 16th, I’ll be facilitating our #TXCharacterWeek Twitter Chat.

Won’t you join us? I’m grateful for you, dear reader; happy November.

Coloring With Kindness

Happy October! I pray things are going well in your corner of our world. It’s not really a colorful Autumn in Texas yet, but my sister sent me this colorful booster shot of joy from Northern Wisconsin and it absolutely makes me happy, albeit homesick.

Another thing that makes my soul sing is finding posts like this sharing ways in which educators from all over have used Mr. Quigley’s Keys to inspire gratitude, connection and love in their students, staff and stakeholders for our unsung heroes who serve tirelessly and wholeheartedly behind the scenes. Look what I found when I jumped on IG this morning, from Kindness And Krayons.

I recently made a header for a coloring sheet that students can use to draw or write about their KEYS to connection; click {here} to download the template and encourage your students to reflect on how they use key principles to connect by heart with their family, their friends, and maybe even people whose paths they cross who aren’t necessarily their friends …. yet.

Happy connecting by heart as you and your learners color our world with kindness.

#Kindness Is KEY

Happy new {school} year! Today I’m grateful because of a very special delivery that came my way recently from Sarah T. in Wisconsin; look at that gorgeous antique key on the right that perfectly complements our tiny tribute table.

It just arrived one day, this priority mail, out of the blue, and it made my heart soar. When I texted to thank her, she said when you see a key and it screams your friend’s name, you just have to buy it and ship it south. Her words of affirmation on the note read: Saw this while shopping and immediately thought about you. You’ve made a difference in more lives than you’ll ever know. Keep being YOU. Her thoughtfulness made my day, week, month summer brighter.

I’m spending my Labor Day signing a few books, more joy to fuel my journey.

Then, another blessing, this picture from a family that I babysat for when I was in college; it’s the then-father, now grandfather, sharing our story with his grandchildren at their Grand Camp retreat. Be still my soul.

I’ve gone back to school to teach 8th graders again this year; we have completed 3 weeks already and are having a blast learning Spanish while sharpening our social and emotional learning skills. Here’s this year’s Esquina de Paz (Peace Corner):

They’re getting more and more comfortable using the calming resources in the area to help center them and get them ready to learn. Yay!

Finally, after talking with some friends over at Applied EQ Group about something I tried last year to assess what kind of SEL skills my students were acquiring, Elizabeth asked if she could blog about it, so here’s a link to that post, which came out yesterday.

Ours really is more of a Leadership Lab than your ordinary classroom, and mutual respect and kindness is certainly key when it comes to getting 8th-graders to try partner yoga on their own and then ask you to take their picture for Open House. It’s just one of the reasons that I truly believe that the BEST is yet to come.

Here’s to an incredible 2022-2023 school year that’s one-of-a-KIND.

My Mr. Quigley

Happy July; for those of you on summer break, how’s it going?

Photo posted with permission from Brienne Marie.

Today as I reflect on June, I’m thinking about all of the people I’m meeting who are somebody’s Mr. Quigley, like Jesse, from Howard Elementary in the Green Bay area. Fourth-grade teacher Brienne, pictured above with him, confirmed what I felt when we met: He loves our littles so well and they all adore him!

Wanna hear a cool coincidence? Jesse shares the same last name with Fred, the hero handyman at Westwood and Bales where I worked for seventeen years! Fred took such amazing care of us; I think about him all the time and miss him every day.

Anyway, we actually dedicated our book to these kind and compassionate humans.

Our lives are better because of people like Mr. Quigley, unsung heroes who show up and support us through the good and the bad, who care for the needs of others before their own, who serve with a smile. Sometimes they’re even veterans, who sacrifice so much for us, just like Don Pittman, the real Mr. Quigley. Here he is at the age of 19, when he served as a sailor in the Korean War. Didn’t our illustrator do an amazing job on that portrait of him on my favorite page?

Maybe your Mr. Quigley doesn’t work at your school. After reading our story aloud to her fifth-grade friends, Barbie Monty, an incredible educator and friend in Florida, invited them to write about that special Mr. Quigley in their lives; prepare to be wowed by their insightful reflections about a neighbor, a teacher, a mom, a dad, and a friend!

Thank you, Barbie, for giving us this gorgeous glimpse into the hearts of McKenna, Anvi, Violet, Evan, Saisha and Audrey; I appreciate how you encouraged them to make connections and share what endears these key people to them and how they positively impact their lives. Your passionate influence shines through their work.

Who is YOUR Mr. Quigley? Leave us your answers in the comments.

Her Hand On Mine

Today my soul is still singing from a private reading with a four-year-old birthday girl who my sister knows and loves. I put four keys on a key ring for her and grabbed an extra copy of the book not really sure how well it would go to read a book, written for children in the age group 6-10, to such a young girl. I encouraged her to jingle her keys when she saw Mr. Quigley on a page; at the part about him being deaf, we stopped and shook the keys while holding them tight, to help her understand what his keys sounded like to him. It makes me happy to report that she was with me for the entire book, and I got the BEST feedback when she asked me to read it again.

Hoping to engage her in the author signing, I asked her to help me spell her name. Without skipping a beat, Zoe put her hand on mine, to help me with her name, literally and figuratively. It was a magical moment that I wished could last forever.

This morning I led a growth session, Building Equity By The Book, at the Character Conference in WI; click {here} if you’re interested in seeing those slides.

Inspiring Magical Moments

Today I’m grateful and filled with joy from last week’s school visits in Wisconsin. The week started in Hartland, where I got to read my book and sing with a class of third graders and then two classes of fifth graders. This visit was actually an auction-item donation to support their school building project, time with an author and signed books to the highest bidder. My husband was also there; his donation, a meeting to learn from a planetary scientist from NASA. You could say he’s recruiting, to help keep dreams of space travel alive. My Dad and sister joining us made it extra special.

Our second visit found me at Howard Elementary with a special group of fourth graders in the Green Bay area. To celebrate my book’s birthday, we were greeted with balloons, cookies, flowers and tons of smiles!

It made my soul sing to be able to read the story aloud after sharing its backstory with this school family, connected to us because their teacher, Mrs. Vande Hei, is the sister of my brother Mark’s friend Mike. Sibling love for the win!

While I was talking about their Key Principles, John was sharing all about space down the hall with the third grade team. (Photos courtesy of Howard-Suamico Schools)

We both encouraged them to follow their dreams and pursue their passions, be it writing or science, neither or both. What a joy it was to spend time with that incredible school family; the bonus was meeting their servant-hearted custodian, Jesse, on our way out the door. Then we headed south to Cedarburg, where we walked the streets of that quaint little town and celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary before my third and final school visit. This door to a stationery shop caught my eye and spoke to my spirit.

To say that my day at Westlawn Elementary was magical doesn’t begin to describe the enchanting things that are happening in that school of character.

The morning began with a Character Day assembly; no, Colleen and Stef, not THAT kind of character! There were 300 students in that gym but you seriously could have heard a pin drop as these young leaders respectfully listened, eager to hear what the day would hold for them as they unlocked the magic together.

Since Mr. Quigley’s Keys has served as their “North Star” this year, there was a collective gasp of excitement and joy that I will never forget when they announced that I was there to spend the day with them.

This was my nook for the day as I met all of the students by grade level and shared my story from farmer’s daughter to educator to author, a spot I will forever appreciate because it’s where I got to sing and sign with these beautiful Westlawn Dolphins.

At the end of the day, we presented a copy of the book to their hero custodian, Mrs. Heidi, a role model who is cherished and loved because, in the words of a first grader, “she puts us before herself.”

So many magical moments forever imprinted on my heart; I’m leaving Wisconsin with an extra spring in my step and a more vibrant energy, hope and love in my soul.

The Kindness Podcast

Right now, I’m feeling grateful to have been invited to visit with Nicole on The Kindness Podcast today at noon, perfectly timed to coincide with the Mr. Quigley’s Keys softcover release in Spanish this week.

Tune in today and you’ll see why Nicole’s podcast was named one of Oprah’s Top Five Happiness Podcasts; her questions were so thoughtful and her enthusiasm was contagious. Oh, and she was super easy and fun to talk to. Thank you, Nicole, for planting seeds of kindness wherever you go and for letting me share my essence, my purpose, and my story with your audience of kindness crusaders.