Enter to Win a $200 Free Spirit Gift Certificate!

Enter to Win a $200 Free Spirit Gift Certificate!Thank you for another wonderful year! For our final giveaway of 2019 (and final giveaway of the decade!), one lucky reader will win a $200 gift certificate to use at freespirit.com.

To Enter: Leave a comment below telling us about your favorite learning moment with children from the past ten years.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks that you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four additional chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, December 20, 2019.

The winner will be contacted via email after January 1, 2020, and will need to respond within one week to claim the prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. Winner must be a US resident, 18 years of age or older.


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FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Free Spirit News | Tagged | 86 Comments

Helping Kids Cope with the Fear of Violence

By Stephanie Filio

Helping Kids Cope with the Fear of ViolenceEvery generation seems to have their own approach to protecting children against violence on TV. In the 1980s, parents were advised to keep their children from watching the news and MTV. In the ’90s, parent groups scolded every television station and major brand for aggressive content. Though the methods were different, the goal was the same: to shield children from distress caused by viewing violence on TV.

Is it even possible to shield students from violence anymore?

With the rapid development of technology in the new century, the question is no longer whether children should see violence, it is what kind of violence is appropriate for different age ranges.

Technological advances have brought us to a place of unlimited access with little control. Our children are seeing more violence than generations in the past did, and the fact and fiction of brutality are blurred in their world. They know what a mass shooting is; they know that death occurs unexpectedly. They see violent scenes in movies, commercials, games, and internet videos, often without the knowledge and support of their parents as a buffer.

What will be the long-term effects of the stress students feel from this exposure to media violence? And how do we help kids cope with the violence they see?

Know the Signs of Anxiety

Fear of violence is ultimately rooted in a fear of not being safe. After exposure to violence, students recognize that the victim could just as easily have been them, their parent, or a friend. The settings for the graphic news that students see could easily be their school or another public place they visit.

Anxious thoughts breed anxious actions, and a student focused on violence can experience serious physiological effects. It is important to see the signs of anxiety in students. Sometimes students are vocal about their fears and predictably emotional or moody. Sometimes they have headaches or abrupt stomach issues. But other times the signs are masked by behaviors that indicate something bubbling below the surface. Your school’s tiered levels of support will help you identify students who might be manifesting fear:

  • Truant students withdrawing from school
  • Students who have suddenly become complacent with their grades
  • Aggressively behaving students with multiple disciplinary infractions
  • Students who miss class to see the counselor every day and then barely talk within the office walls
  • Students who stay after school every day but don’t engage in class

All these students have reasons motivating their behavior, even if they do not understand themselves what those reasons are. Students who show up on tiered needs lists can almost always benefit from a close mentor peeling back the layers of emotion. In time, and after speaking with family and teachers, you might find that the student has been obsessively discussing a recent violent event in the news. You might see increasingly violent student journal entries. You might hear about domestic violence in the home. Once you have the root of the anxiety, you can begin to support the student and provide resources for community services at home.

Get It Out

Allowing students to recognize and discuss their emotions is the first step in helping them let go of the emotions. So often our society emphasizes the goal of always being happy, no matter what. In reality, we have a wide range of emotions that serve important purposes.

I’m going to say something a little controversial here: let students be sad. Without getting too crazy, I will also say, let kids cry if they need to cry.

Part of the venting process is de-escalation. De-escalation is not minimizing feelings, but rather acknowledging feelings and then bringing the person back to also acknowledge the rest of the world. When we allow someone to vent, we must listen without bias and without interrupting. Then we can start to usher thoughts around the bend to return the person to the present.

I Am Safe

Sometimes people experiencing anxiety are just in need of a reminder that their life is not as out of control as they feel. I often ask students directly, “Are you safe right now?”

Sometimes they say yes, and sometimes they say things like, “Well, yeah, but my dad could come up here and try to take me!”

I redirect them again: “But right this second, in this room where you and I are, are you safe?”

Sometimes I have to redirect the student to the present moment several times, and other times I realize that the student needs to be reassured. In these moments, I have the student repeat this mantra after me:

I am safe.
I am breathing. I am aware. I am alive. I am not in imminent danger.
I am safe.

During the process, I am collecting data and noting any pertinent information that will be useful moving forward. I may call home to follow up with any explanations of fear and to start connecting the network of people in the child’s life. In school, a plan of action might include:

  • Reminders to check in with the student
  • Emailing teachers about sending the student to a counselor when the student is feeling anxious
  • Providing the student with fidgets or other relaxation tools in the counselor’s office
  • Practicing breathing and other mindfulness techniques
  • Allowing the student to visit a counselor for quiet time during particularly rambunctious times of the day

Coping Moving Forward

Student Coping PlanI don’t know that there is a time of innocence anymore, a time before children are exposed to violence. At the end of the day, the best bet may be to simply help children learn to cope with the ever-present fear associated with disorder and turbulence.

Continuing to work with our students to uncover their stories is the first step. Helping kids stay mindful will reduce rumination on the violence they see around them and remind them to simply put one foot in front of the other instead of worrying about the entirety of the marathon.

BONUS! Download the Student Coping Plan, a free printable page from A Practical Guide to Mental Health & Learning Disorders for Every Educator. Use the worksheet to help students establish provisions for times when they feel upset or overwhelmed.

Stephanie FilioStephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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8 Ways to Make the Best of a School Day Gone Wrong

By Andrew Hawk

8 Ways to Make the Best of a School Day Gone WrongAny experienced educator knows to expect the unexpected. In the course of a school day, challenges can come from many different directions. All the teachers I know can tell multiple stories about days that were progressing normally and then suddenly ran off the rails.

How a teacher reacts can decide not only how much of a day is salvaged but also whether or not the days to come are reruns of the day gone wrong. Teachers need to learn how to steady themselves when things do not go as planned. Here are some ideas you might try the next time one of your days goes wrong.

1. Consider Your Perspective

Has your day really turned out to be bad—or just not as perfect as you would have liked? I am a believer in the concept that “perception is reality.” The tricky part of this idea is figuring out whether you have the reflective abilities to recognize if your perception is flawed. When you feel like you have had a bad day, ask yourself, “Was my day bad . . . or was it just not the way I wanted it to be?”

2. Look for Learning Opportunities

I have written about learning opportunities in past posts. This is a recurring theme because it is so relevant in teaching and in life in general. People have the potential to learn more from mistakes and failures than from easy successes. However, teachers must be able to glean new knowledge from situations they would often like to forget. If you have trouble doing this, I recommend reaching out to an experienced staff member for help.

3. Find a Silver Lining

Learning opportunities aside, I cannot think of a situation that was a complete failure. Even when a lesson does not go smoothly, learning still takes place in many cases—just not as much as you may have anticipated. Look for the good in a day that went wrong. I think you will find one or more good things that happened, even if the majority of events revolved around challenges.

4. Vent Your Frustrations

We all need one person to whom we can vent. I recommend having only one and making sure it is someone who does not gossip. Feeling frustrated? Go to your person and vent for a minute or two. If you choose the right person, they will help you find perspective, learning opportunities, and a silver lining. So choose wisely.

5. Model Appropriate Behavior

Educators are first and foremost role models. This being so, we should always be modeling appropriate behavior. If a student calls you out for making a mistake, point out how you are going to not make a big deal about it. All humans make mistakes. It takes confidence to be okay with making a mistake in front of students or peers. Have enough confidence to let yourself be human. If you feel yourself coming unhinged, take a deep breath before you move forward. How you react in challenging situations is how you are teaching your students to react.

6. Know When to Change Directions

I like the adage, “Do not force a square peg through a round hole.” There is a fine line between changing directions and giving up. Learn how to recognize that line. There is no shame in trying something and finding out that it does not work. It is all part of the process of developing into a great teacher, but you have to be able to evaluate a situation and know whether it is salvageable. Some people learn this skill faster than others, but we can all keep working on it.

7. Learn to Compartmentalize

This is easier said than done. I went to school once knowing that I was going to take a pet to be euthanized at the end of the day. Was I able to completely shut off the emotions that came with that situation? No. Did I try? Yes, and the trying will make it easier to compartmentalize in the future.

Professionals should attempt to leave work at work and home at home. This is challenging when major life events take place. Also, there are things in the classroom that teachers cannot forget once they have heard or seen them. Keep trying—I have found that it gets a little easier as I gain more experience.

8. Engage in a Menial Task

When I was a classroom teacher, I found much peace in straightening my room at the end of the day. I would line up all the desks, pick up all the dropped pencils, and straighten my bookshelves. When I come home after a difficult day, I find comfort in mowing the grass or doing the dishes. Tasks that are productive but take little concentration help the mind right itself and recover from stress quickly.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for eighteen years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Why Character Education Is Important for Young Children

This post was originally published on May 20, 2015.

By Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., author of the Learning About Me & You, Learning to Get Along®, and Being the Best Me!® series

Why Character Education Is Important for Young Children“Character is like a tree and reputation is like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”—Abraham Lincoln

President Lincoln is one of my all-time heroes. I respect his deeply rooted character, and that he didn’t sway or compromise his principles. According to Lincoln’s own observation, character is the real thing—it is the essence of who we are.

His metaphor of a tree reminds us that teaching our children time-honored principles can help them stay grounded and rooted so that they can stand tall and live with integrity when winds of challenge blow. Others are also positively affected when children offer fruits of kindness, responsibility, and respect.

Character is an aggregate of all our traits and includes all our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. Our children’s character is molded by their decisions and affects every aspect of their current and future lives. As parents and teachers, we’re responsible for their upbringing, and we play a vital role in helping children develop their full potential.

With the many varied messages children see in the media and in their associations, we can’t expect them to merely observe and adopt the character traits and maturity that we’d like them to develop. A consistent and thorough teaching of ethical behavior is critical to shaping character. Here are some reasons why:

1. Character development is the basis for personal growth.

As children practice skills that promote character development, they build a reservoir of strength that they can draw on throughout their lives. Self-esteem, confidence, courage, resilience, integrity, and forgiveness are examples of traits that can sustain children at home, at school, and in the community.

2. Character development is the foundation for lifelong learning.

Schools that teach character education report increased academic performance and attendance. They also report decreases in disciplinary problems. Children appreciate the safe environment that occurs when their peers are also learning about respect, honesty, and compassion. Teachers also find it easier to teach when children are learning to exhibit habits of patience, diligence, and self-control in the classroom.

3. Character is the bedrock that solid relationships are built on.

Our children will be happier, more caring, more forgiving, and more responsible as they are taught to think about the needs of others.

Cooperation, tolerance, and teamwork are examples of social skills that can be experienced firsthand when children are given the tools and opportunities. Schools and homes are ideal settings for children to practice communicating, sharing, and getting along. Speaking of how relationships and character are intertwined, Woodrow Wilson said, “If you will think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself.”

4. Character shapes us as neighbors and citizens.

Our character is a holistic language we daily communicate to others. We constantly affect one another. Beyond our homes and schools, our children’s character will also affect all of us in the workplace and in our communities as they grow to be our employees, neighbors, and leaders.

When young people have not been taught principles of character that can anchor them, and if they don’t feel strong ties to faith, family, or community that nurture them, they may feel adrift and hopeless. They may not be attuned to the consequences of their actions or to the needs of others. Delinquency, gangs, and violence are sadly visible in our culture and are a reminder that we have an awesome responsibility to exhibit strong character ourselves as we raise and influence the next generation.

Developing a respectful and responsible character is something every child needs in order to thrive, find fulfillment, and be an influence for good in society. On the importance of character education to prepare children for learning and for life, Dr. Kevin Ryan (founder of the Center for Character and Social Responsibility) emphatically stated, “Character education is not one more thing to add to your plate. It is the plate!”

Cheri MeinersCheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., has her master’s degree in elementary education and gifted education. A former first-grade teacher, she has taught education classes at Utah State University and has supervised student teachers. Cheri and her husband David have six children and enjoy the company of their lively grandchildren. They live in Laurel, Maryland.

Free Spirit book series by Cheri Meiners:

learning-to-get-along-WEB

Being The Best Me

Learning About Me and You


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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5 Expert Tips for Cluster Grouping Success

By Dina Brulles, Ph.D., coauthor of The Cluster Grouping Handbook: A Schoolwide Model: How to Challenge Gifted Students and Improve Achievement for All (Revised and Updated Edition)

The third in a four-part series on successful cluster grouping. Click here for part 1 and here for part 2.

5 Expert Tips for Cluster Grouping SuccessA vast majority of our schools now claim cluster grouping as their primary method for serving gifted students. Inarguably, grouping gifted students together for instructional purposes benefits these students. In this blog series, I describe four main components critical for success in a cluster grouping model: implementing, supporting, teaching, and evaluating progress. Today’s post describes methods effective gifted-cluster teachers employ to engage and challenge gifted students. Gifted students, when clustered together, thrive on opportunities to collaborate and engage in interesting and challenging learning experiences that go deeper than grade-level curriculum and instruction.

Those reading this blog understand and accept that gifted students need to experience rigor and productive struggle in their daily learning in order to advance academically. Gifted-cluster teachers who understand this need recognize the importance of building depth and complexity into their daily lessons. They accomplish this through lesson extensions that incorporate preassessments and ongoing formative assessments, tiered lessons that use Depth of Knowledge (DOK) levels, and modified grading practices.

Here are five steps to follow when teaching in a gifted-cluster classroom:

  1. Use ongoing informal assessments to guide instruction.
  2. Form flexible learning groups.
  3. Compact curriculum to build depth and complexity.
  4. Use DOK levels to tier instruction.
  5. Grade differentiated lessons.

Use ongoing informal assessments to guide instruction.

Since gifted learners need fewer repetitions to master new content, it is imperative that gifted-cluster teachers use formative assessments to gauge the level of mastery students can demonstrate throughout the instructional process.

When introducing new concepts, consider providing preassessments prior to instruction to determine students’ entry points into the material. During the learning process, ongoing formative assessments provide teachers with data that shows how students are progressing while engaged in differentiated lessons. Formative assessments also provide documentation that cluster teachers can use to help form flexible learning groups in the different content areas.

Form flexible learning groups.

Using diagnostic assessments prior to instruction (pretesting) and formative assessments during instruction gives teachers ongoing evidence of student mastery, progress, and areas of challenge. With this information, teachers can readily form (and reform) their flexible learning groups.

The process allows the teacher to know when students need curriculum compacting. Ongoing informal assessments ensure that the learning groups change often and routinely, since not all students are advanced in all areas at the same time.

5 Expert Tips for Cluster Grouping SuccessCompact curriculum to build depth and complexity.

Put simply, curriculum compacting reduces the amount of time students need to learn new material and allows them time to go deeper into the material being studied. Curriculum compacting works in two ways: when the content has already been mastered by students and when the content is new to them.

Gifted learners have many and varied interests, and they often possess enormous amounts of information in certain areas. Preassessment results commonly show that some gifted learners do not need to spend as much time learning “new” content as their peers do.

In these situations, preassessments yield the documentation necessary for teachers to know which students to group together who are ready for curriculum compacting.

Use DOK levels to tier instruction.

Depth of Knowledge (DOK) is a process that differentiates instruction by classifying learning activities according to different levels of rigor and complexity. In this model, all students are working on the same content, but at vastly different levels of complexity based on where they are with the content they are learning.

Gifted-cluster teachers determine students’ learning levels using preassessments and formative assessments. They then form flexible learning groups so that all students can engage in productive struggle with peers working at the same level.

Grade differentiated lessons.

Teachers typically question how to grade student work when students are working at different levels and on varied activities. We can use a variety of tools to document student progress on differentiated lessons. Examples include daily activity logs, record sheets, learning contracts, and rubrics.

Always keep in mind that to motivate gifted students to engage in rigorous learning activities, we do not want to grade them lower on advanced-level work than on grade-level work. We do not want to punish them for engaging in productive struggles where real learning occurs.

Chapters 5 and 6 of The Cluster Grouping Handbook contain numerous instructional strategies and methods for offering preassessments to form flexible learning groups, compact curriculum and instruction, use DOK levels to tier instruction, and grade differentiated lessons. Lesson templates, scenarios, and step-by-step advice guide you through the process. Your students will be thrilled with the learning opportunities that recognize and build on their strengths and interests!

Dina BrullesDina Brulles, Ph.D., is a school administrator and the gifted-education director for Arizona’s Paradise Valley Unified School District. Recognized for her expertise in creating and supervising schoolwide cluster grouping, she also assists districts throughout the United States in developing gifted-education programs, including those districts serving culturally and linguistically diverse gifted students. She holds a Ph.D. in gifted education and an M.S. in curriculum and instruction and serves on the faculty of the Graduate College of Education at Arizona State University. Prior to becoming an administrator, Dina was an elementary classroom teacher, a bilingual teacher, an ESL teacher, and a gifted-cluster teacher. She lives in Peoria, Arizona.

Cluster Grouping HandbookDina is coauthor The Cluster Grouping Handbook: A Schoolwide Model: How to Challenge Gifted Students and Improve Achievement for All Revised and Updated.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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