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.

Giving Empathy Wings

This special delivery from a 4th-grade reader brought me to tears.

It was an update, about how the class is doing putting their KEY Principle into action, giving it wings, if you will. His KEY is empathy. What this empathy hero’s teacher might not know is that her thoughtfulness was perfectly timed, because this treasure came in the mail just as I was about to celebrate my first Easter without my brother Mark. My spirit needed a booster shot of connection, hope and love, and her empathy winged its way from my home state to deep in the heart of Texas at exactly the right moment. It’s empathy that gives kindness its why; I wrote about it {here}, along with some empathy integration ideas, in case you’ve been looking.

From time to time, our book gets a Twitter shout out; so thankful for this one from Florida. I love that the story whets their appetites for learning ASL.

Our hardcover in the Spanish language has arrived; check it out on Amazon {here}.

I’ll leave you with that beautiful smile, which says more about our joy than my words ever could. Happy springtime.

The Keyhole of Hope & Possibilities

Click the image for a download of this key template.

I’m always honored, excited and grateful to discover how schools around the world are using Mr. Quigley’s Keys to inspire and influence; one of the most recent projects shared with me comes from Lincoln Elementary in the state of Washington. Click {here} to watch their beautiful work of HEART unfold. My soul is singing that a seed our story planted has germinated and blossomed into this incredible school-wide project which this family of CAN-DOER Bull Pups is using to help them hurdle over some upcoming challenges and changes.

As I was creating this template, it occurred to me that you could teach your learners about symmetry so that they can create their own keyhole instead of using mine.

Directions: Fold a piece of paper in half lengthwise and draw a half circle and a slanted line; it’ll end up looking a bit like a capital R. Cut along the lines, open it up and find your very own, individualized keyhole template.

Write or illustrate the world you see through the keyhole when we use our keys to connection to encourage, support, love on and serve one another. Or let your artists create the prompt by asking them what they are looking for through their keyhole.

What do YOU see when you peek through the keyhole of hope and possibilities?