For years, counselor Barbara Gruener has been inspiring students and teachers in her Friendswood, Texas elementary school with her teachings about kindness and character. In 2011, she began blogging at The Corner on Character as a way to share her unique brand of positivity and kindness with the world. With 1,000 blog posts, hundreds of thousands of visitors to her site, and countless speaking engagements under her belt, it seemed only natural that the wisdom and inspiration would find its way into a book that would have the power to touch even more lives.
Character Education with What’s Under Your Cape?
TL: What inspired you to write the book?
BG: That’s an interesting story, actually. I’ve been speaking on and writing character development activities since the Fall of 2000, and I’m finding that my workshop participants are increasingly hungry for passion and positivity as they create a climate of caring in their classrooms. Without fail, teachers ask if I have a book, and I’ve always say, well yes, I’ve written enough content for a book and it’s posted online at my school’s website for free. I’d give them the address it seemed to satisfy. This past October, Marian Nelson from Nelson Publishing and Marketing attended a session at the National Forum on Character Education in Washington, D.C. and she asked the question I’d come to expect, but with a slightly different twist: Why DON’T you have a book? We talked a week later and decided it was time to extend my reach with the printed word in a book. I’m so very grateful to her for her encouragement and support.
TL: Why is character education so important in our schools – and homes – at this time in our country?
BG: While I firmly believe that values are timeless, right now there is just so much that can go wrong that we must be intentional and purposeful about doing things right. It seems like there’s a strong “whatever works” mindset that we need to combat if we want to avoid moral chaos. I’m certain that compassion can replace cruelty and that peace and joy are attainable, but not without hard work up front. We must flood the worlds of our future leaders with character so that they’ll learn about it, embrace it in their hearts, and show it in the way they treat one another and ultimately live their lives. We can’t watch the every move of our children so we empower them with the skills they need so that they’re in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. Then we must be able to trust them to do just that.
TL: You talk about 11 different aspects of character in your book, which of them are deal-breakers in your mind? Which of them are absolutely essential to building character?
BG: There are countless virtues that we can help our caped crusaders learn, embrace, and live, way more than the eleven that I chose to showcase in the book. Of those eleven, I’m going to go with empathy – children must be able to put themselves in one another’s shoes to connect with one another – and respect. If we can teach kids to treat one another the way they want to be treated, I do believe all of the other virtues could fall into place, because then they’ll encourage, they’ll love unconditionally, they’ll take responsibility, etc.
TL: I love that you offer teachers practical examples of how to incorporate the teaching of the traits into their lessons. Is there one lesson that you’ve done that was your absolute, stand-out favorite?
BG: Any time I can read a story in which the hero or heroine fights an evil and wins is a favorite, for sure, especially if it’s a Trudy Ludwig or Kathleen T. Pelley title. My all-time favorite object lesson has to be Empathy in a (Shoe) Box, a lesson that a cyberspace colleague in Montana sent to me. Coincidentally, it also has the most all-time views of any post on my blog.
TL: What message do you want to send to teachers who may be struggling with challenging students?
BG: Students will not learn from someone with whom they don’t have a relationship. They MUST know that you care before real learning can begin. So it’s a must to establish a way to connect with your kids so that they can grow academically, socially and emotionally.
TL: What message do you want to send to students?
BG: Be someone’s hero while you reach for the stars. Be on the lookout for someone that you can help. Always be a peacemaker and a good friend by asking yourself, “Is this how I would want to be treated?”.
TL: What advice would you give student teachers and those just entering the profession about character education?
BG: Character education isn’t an add-on or something more for your plate. It IS the plate! Please make time for morning meetings or sensitivity circles and teach students respectful communication. They must learn to listen to one another and they must learn that choices have consequences, both positive and negative. They must learn to feel what others are feeling so that they can practice acceptance, understanding, compassion, and love. Please make time to make those character connections; the benefits will far outweigh the cost and you’ll get that time back in spades.
TL: How has your life changed, if at all, in the writing of this book?
BG: I started to seriously collect stories and strategies about three years ago, when I decided to blog every day for a year. I figured that if I were to intentionally seek out positively influential experiences, then I might feel more positive and joyful myself. That first year I blogged something positive every day. For a full year. At the three-year mark, I’m about to write my 1000th post. Writing is therapeutic to me and has positively changed my mindset and disposition for good. We are made positive by being positive.
You can find Barbara’s book, What’s Under YOUR Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind,on sale at her website, as well as through national online book retailers. It is already getting rave reviews such as this one from Sheila Siolseth, Ed.M, Founder of Pennies of Time, certified Special Education teacher, and mom of two, from McKinney, TX:
Providing real classroom and school-wide experiences, Barbara proves herself to be the “Harry Wong” of character education. What’s Under Your Cape? shows, not tells, how to meaningfully integrate positive character traits in a doable way for teachers and administrators; these lessons will be impactful in classrooms across the world.
And this one from Dr. Jean, forty-year veteran teacher, author, and early childhood consultant:
In this world of negativity, What’s Under Your Cape? is like a breath of fresh air. Barbara reminds us of the good things in life and how we can make the world a better place every day!