No Name-Calling Week: Highlighting Pronouns

By Afsaneh Moradian, author of Jamie Is Jamie: A Book About Being Yourself and Playing Your Way

No Name-Calling Week: Highlighting PronounsIt’s No Name-Calling Week, time for adults to pay special attention to the names kids are calling one another and the different forms bullying can take. Specifically, let’s consider pronouns and how they can be used as name-calling.

Pronouns are simple words we use all the time to talk about people. (She went to school. He will do homework when he gets home. They are playing outside.) They are both generic and personal to each of us, and are tied to our internal sense of being female, male, both, or neither. When misused, they can become a weapon to demean and degrade a person.

When a girl is called he, for example, the intention is to make the child feel bad. But why is it effective?

When someone intentionally calls a girl he, that person is denying who the girl is. A whole set of other traits are being placed on the girl, and she is meant to feel bad about who she is, what she is interested in, or how she looks. Perhaps the girl prefers sports, or some other hobby typically considered to be for boys, over activities that are typically considered to be for girls.

When she is called he, the girl has our ideas of boys and masculinity placed on her, making her feel that she is not really a girl. She is not who she is supposed to be, which means there must be something wrong with her.

Similarly, when a boy is called she, he is being told that who he is does not fit what is considered to be masculine. Calling a boy she can also be used to imply that the boy is gay. The boy is being told that there is something wrong with being a girl and/or with being gay, and that, by extension, there is something wrong with him.

Beyond the gender binary, there are many children who don’t identify as a boy or a girl, and their pronouns need to be included in this discussion. Yet many adults in kids’ lives—at school or even around the Thanksgiving dinner table—refuse to call kids by the singular they when told that they is what the child goes by.

No Name-Calling Week: Highlighting PronounsAs adults, when we don’t use the singular they (or whatever gender-neutral pronoun the child goes by) for a child who does not identify as a boy or a girl, we deny that child their right to be themselves. We also teach the children around us that they don’t have to respect or accept the child by using the correct pronouns. The same is true of adults who refuse to use a transgender child’s chosen name and pronouns rather than the child’s given name and assigned pronouns.

Using the incorrect pronouns can absolutely affect a child’s self-esteem and sense of identity and self-worth. Intentionally calling someone by the wrong pronouns, or refusing to use the singular they, is a form of harassment and bullying and teaches other kids that it’s okay to use pronouns for cruelty.

Misusing pronouns as an insult is deeply rooted in how we gender our children and the list of traits and interests we assign people based on gender. In order to teach inclusion, respect, and acceptance to the children in our lives, we need to be on the lookout for students using pronouns as a way to be mean to others.

To promote kindness, we must break down our definitions of gender and provide space for kids to just be who they are.

Here are some ways to expand children’s definitions of gender:

  • Make sure there are gender-neutral games and activities in play spaces and classrooms.
  • Read children books that have characters behaving in ways that challenge gender stereotypes.
  • Show children examples of people of different genders and backgrounds participating in all forms of art: dance, music, painting, fashion, and so on.
  • Invite people from the community whose occupations defy gender stereotypes (for example, female doctors and firefighters, male nurses and makeup artists) to visit and speak to kids about their work.
  • Using images, show children famous people who have blurred gender lines (for example, David Bowie, Billy Porter, Grace Jones, K.D. Lang, RuPaul).
  • Encourage children to try different forms of art and to express their creativity in a variety of ways.
  • Look for ways to validate children’s creativity and individuality.

This week, the emphasis is on acts of kindness and thinking about the power of our words. Let’s help expand definitions of what it means to go by she or he, let’s include the singular they and teach children how to use it, and let’s respect who children are and what they want to be called.

Afsaneh MoradianAfsaneh Moradian has loved writing stories, poetry, and plays since childhood. After receiving her master’s in education, she took her love of writing into the classroom where she began teaching children how to channel their creativity. Her passion for teaching has lasted for over fifteen years. Afsaneh now guides students and teachers (and her young daughter) in the art of writing. She lives in New York City.

Jamie Is JamieAfsaneh is the author of Jamie Is Jamie: A Book About Being Yourself and Playing Your Way


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Enter to Win an SEL Coloring Book!

Coloring Book GiveawayThis month we are giving away a copy of Coloring Book and Reflections for Social Emotional Learning (in English or Spanish) to five lucky readers. Kids can reflect, relax, and focus with 36 mindful coloring activities.

To Enter: Leave a comment below with your best tip for integrating social and emotional learning in the classroom.

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

Each comment counts as a separate entry. Entries must be received by midnight, February 21, 2020.

The winners will be contacted via email on or around February 24, 2020, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. Winners must be US residents, 18 years of age or older.


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)© 2020 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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When We Lose a Fellow Teacher

By Stephanie Filio

When We Lose a Fellow TeacherWhen someone in a school has something to celebrate, the whole school celebrates together. Marriages, graduations, babies—no matter what it is, the staff is less weighty, the kids catch the spirit, and everyone moves through the day with a little extra pep in their step. In the same manner, when something unfortunate occurs to one of us, there is a unified sadness in the school. When a school community grieves, staff and students sit vigil together. To watch a school ache as one is both fiercely heartbreaking and extremely heartwarming at the same time.

Sometimes tragedy hits very close to home and we lose one of our own.

A school might go years without losing an educator, or it might experience a dark time when tragedies occur in a chain rather than experiencing an isolated incident. This year has been one of those tough years for many of my current and former colleagues and students. At my school, we started the year with a loss, and then lost a second wonderful teacher. Not much later, a lovely teacher passed at the school where I previously worked.

Lessons Learned

We come to be so familiar with our jobs, schools, and students that we are rarely surprised. Being able to anticipate student needs is comforting, allowing us to feel in control in the midst of the preadolescent chaos. But there is always something unexpected on the horizon, and in those moments we can learn a great deal. I am learning so much from my colleagues this year as we navigate these sad losses in our hallways.

We speak without words.

Many staff members expressed feeling anxious about returning to school, wondering what it would “feel like” to walk through the school hallways for the first time after the news that a teacher had passed away. We nodded and waved at each other, giving silent condolences and assurance of solidarity. My colleagues appeared trapped by their thinking and found themselves at a loss for words.

Having time to process things is immeasurably important for adults and students alike. It is okay to let our feelings take time.

Even in our more solitary states, we still need social interactions. These interactions can be quiet, or leadership can be tasked with the talking. Either way, the goal is to allow everyone to lean on one another. When one of our school family members dies, we need reassurance that we still have each other.

We can feel close to someone even if we don’t know them well.

Educating students is emotionally intimate, and it leads to relationships that go much deeper than surface feelings.

Some teachers remarked that they still felt deeply moved by the loss of a fellow teacher, even though they had hardly crossed paths with the departed colleague. In our schools, our spirits fill spaces larger than our immediate bodies. We share our thoughts and feelings with a friend, and they carry us to their corridor. We educate students, and they carry us past that year. We are all so connected; there is no one way to care for someone or grieve for someone—a reassurance that some of us need to hear.

There are things we can never be prepared for.

The shock of a death is always difficult. When it happens in our schools, we are given reminders all day that the person is gone. We may have been co-teachers on the same team, passed by each other every morning, or had neighboring mailboxes. Our emotions are tripped each time we go through the same motion with that missing piece.

When our daily pattern is abruptly altered, we might feel anxious until a new habit is established. Changes caused by tragedy obviously create complex emotional responses. By grief counseling standards, we know that the human heart and mind fight the “new normal,” causing tension and behavior within an individual. Sharing feelings such as sadness about the loss, guilt for surviving, or fear of the future does not always take a clinical professional—sometimes it just takes a friend.

Support for Students Through Teachers

After we learned that a teacher had passed away at my school, my fellow school counselors and I offered teachers a shoulder to lean on if they needed it. I reached out to teachers at my previous school as well when I heard that a staff member there had passed away. In both places, and over and over again, the offer was appreciated but declined. What I found was that for many school staff members, the need was in the classroom and with the students.

Teachers turned to us to gain an understanding of how these situations were interpreted by students. They needed help establishing their role with students and figuring out the best way to approach young people who were grieving. The number one support my colleagues and I gave them was an invitation to send our way students who were struggling to maintain their emotions.

Some opportunities that we can provide students also serve a purpose for teachers. Activities and conversations can become a powerful rapport-building experience in the classroom. The goal is not to explain death, dying, or suffering to students, because that is best decided by students’ families and their norms. We can, however, remain focused on positivity and help students learn to cope with hardship. Here are some activities you might use with your school community:

  • A remembrance or mindfulness activity can help students who feel the urge to contribute in some way. They might be grappling with feelings of helplessness, and making cards for the family, creating remembrance rocks to decorate the school, or fundraising can help these students and staff feel like they are doing their part.
  • Social activities can give students and staff the opportunity to share their feelings and also feel renewed by camaraderie with one another. The activities can be optional, but might include sharing positive stories for the family, celebrating the deceased person’s favorite hobbies or teams, or wearing something representative of that teacher to celebrate their legacy.
  • Mindfulness activities are helpful for everyone and are particularly loved by students who are not ready to talk, but need to keep their minds busy without effort. Coloring Zentangles, practicing breathing techniques, or listening to soothing music while completing quiet work might be ideal activities for the days that follow a death in the school. These give students a brain break, and they also give teachers a chance to catch their breath.
  • Completing a worksheet about positive community qualities or emotion identification, discussing positive personal qualities, and writing about great qualities in a friend or family member are helpful ways to keep students and staff focused on the positive things in life.

Don’t underestimate how tricky it can be for teachers to show up to their classrooms during an emotionally charged situation while still having to lead, teach, and engage students. Though emotional exhaustion would cause anyone to need to pause and have a quiet day of reflection, teachers are awarded no such luxury. The students still come, the clock still ticks, and the pressure to deliver content still hovers and stalks. Giving teachers specific responses and phrases offers them a script to draw from so that quick thinking in the moment can be eased, even if only a bit.

Teachers might like a little crash course in sensitive communication. They can use direct language that only repeats the message of administration in terms of how much is revealed about the circumstances of the loss. For example, if a student asks, “What happened?” the teacher can say, “It is sad that Mrs. T—— passed away. What do you remember most about her?” When students break down, your responses can be short, such as, “I am glad we have each other to remember her by. What was your favorite thing about her?” All answers can be steered toward positive living and personality traits of the deceased person to help students focus on climbing out of the hole instead of falling down it.

Family First

We all know that it is not the exorbitant pay or lavish locales that keep us coming back to education every year. The feeling we get from serving our community and students is only the tip of the iceberg. The relationships we foster and the family we create within our schools and school divisions are what truly make our service possible. Our inside jokes, our memes, our disdain for a full moon make us the kindest (and smartest) mafia one can ever encounter. When we lose one of our school family members, we grieve in a way that is just as unparalleled as the rest of our world.

As I often say, counselors are in a unique position of being able to aid both students and staff. We can perform CPR when the heart of the school needs to keep beating, and we can support multiple functions of the larger system by collaborating with the smaller parts and uniting their needs. Part of this is sharing information with teachers to spread throughout the student body or reassuring them that they are amazing educators who will do no harm if they lead student interactions with their hearts.

Counseling in middle school in particular is a long game. What we teach students won’t really hit home until they are older and mature enough to really understand and process the information. Every one of our students will encounter suffering, such as death and dying, in their lifetime. I truly believe that by guiding students through moments of loss that occur in school, we might make immeasurable differences in their lives, especially as they grow and experience personal grief.

This post is dedicated to our lovely sisters in arms: Wendy, Jackie, and Stacy.

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.


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FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2020 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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Coaching Students to Overcome Executive Function Struggles

By Emily Kircher-Morris, author of forthcoming Free Spirit title Teaching Twice-Exceptional Learners in Today’s Classroom

Coaching Students to Overcome Executive Function StrugglesImagine an orchestra preparing for a concert, and all the instruments are warming up. You can hear the flutes, the strings, and the tuba—all the musicians playing their scales and working to tune their instruments. When the conductor steps up to the podium, the musicians come together with a single focus and purpose, following the conductor’s direction to create a coordinated symphony.

Kids who have executive function struggles are like an orchestra whose conductor is late or absent. All the components of their brains are humming along, but nothing is coordinated or in tune. The prefrontal cortex is the conductor in this example, and without the executive functioning skills provided by the prefrontal cortex, the rest of the function of the brain is out of sync.

Whether they experience difficulty in decision-making processes (planning, prioritizing, and managing time) or in behavioral regulation processes (response inhibition, task initiation, and sustaining attention), students in our classrooms who are dealing with executive dysfunction are struggling. Their grades and self-esteem suffer and they internalize messages of being lazy and unmotivated when, in reality, they need our support to overcome these struggles.

Many clinical and educational diagnoses directly involve executive functioning weaknesses. Characteristics of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and dyslexia involve trouble with executive functioning. However, executive functioning difficulties can be present without an established diagnosis too.

It’s important for us to recognize the careful balance between accommodating and enabling. Of course, on the one hand, we don’t want to foster bad habits or a learned sense of helplessness by providing too much help and removing all challenge. On the other hand, we don’t want to put students in a sink-or-swim situation, where they are in over their heads with so little help they can’t succeed. Explicit, guided instruction with frequent check-ins and coaching is an excellent way to provide the support these students need and gradually remove it as they become more independent in these skills.

Working with students through a coaching process empowers them. Take, for example, Dylan (not his real name). Dylan is a twice-exceptional middle school student (gifted/ADHD) having a hard time with task initiation after school to complete his homework. He explained that he had trouble getting started because it always felt like the work was going to take forever.

Together, we worked through the metacognitive cycle. The metacognitive cycle involves three specific steps that help students build the habits and strategies to overcome the lagging skills in the way of their success. The three steps for the metacognitive cycle are self-monitoring, self-assessing, and self-regulating.

Dylan’s first step in the metacognitive cycle was to self-monitor by tracking how long his homework took each night. To do this, before he would begin his work, he would estimate how long he anticipated the task would take and then use a timer to record the actual length of time the homework took to complete.

We reconvened after a week and self-assessed, determining if Dylan’s estimates were over or under the actual amount of time it took him to complete his work. He learned he was continually overestimating how long his homework was taking.

He chose to self-regulate his behavior by using the data to determine the average amount of time his homework would take and setting a micro-goal to start his homework by a certain time each day.

After completing this process, Dylan told me how proud he felt that he’d been able to make this change and how good it felt to be able to start his homework on his own (without his parents nagging him). The most valuable skill we can give kids who struggle with executive functioning is the knowledge that they can find new ways to overcome the obstacles in their way.

Here are some of the ideas teachers and parents can use to help kids with executive functioning struggles:

1. View the struggles as lagging skills instead of lack of motivation.

In the words of child psychologist Ross Greene, “Kids do well if they can.” Stay solution focused as you work to solve the problems.

2. Collaborate with the student.

Students who feel some independence to find strategies and solutions that work for them are more likely to invest in the process of changing behaviors.

3. Follow the steps involved in the metacognitive cycle.

The three steps in this process are self-monitoring, self-assessing, and self-regulating. Self-monitoring has students answer the question “What am I doing?” as they collect data about a certain area where they struggle. Self-assessment has them examine the collected data and ask, “How am I doing? Is what I’m doing working?” Finally, self-regulating involves reflecting on the question, “What can I do to improve?”

4. Using the information gathered during the metacognitive cycle, help the student set narrow “micro-goals” to gradually learn new behaviors.

This allows students to feel success as they gradually make progress so they can build on that gradual growth. Micro-goals are generally the steps of a larger goal. For example, instead of immediately focusing on having a child get ready for school within a certain amount of time (which involves many steps), maybe the target behavior is for them to have their backpack ready to go the night before. Once progress is being made toward this goal, another step can be added.

5. Recognize that there is no quick fix.

Executive functioning struggles are frequently neurological in nature, and while the brain exhibits amazing neuroplasticity, developing new strategies and skills to compensate takes time. Progress is gradual, and if an intervention doesn’t have the desired effect right away, keep at it. Tweak your strategy or data collection plan; novelty is a great motivator for kids with executive dysfunction.

Emily Kircher-Morris,President and founder of the Gifted Support Network and inspired by her own experience as a twice-exceptional (2e) learner, Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., L.P.C., is dedicated to supporting 2e children in a way she wasn’t during her academic years. She has taught in gifted classrooms, has been a school counselor, and is now in private practice as a licensed professional counselor, where she specializes in helping gifted and twice-exceptional kids. Emily lives near St. Louis, Missouri.

Emily is the author of the forthcoming Free Spirit title Teaching Twice-Exceptional Learners in Today’s Classroom.


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FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2020 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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There’s No Such Thing as Too Many Internships

By Madelaine F.
Free Spirit has an active internship program. We invited our fall 2019 publishing intern Madelaine F. to write a post reflecting on her experience at Free Spirit.

There’s No Such Thing as Too Many InternshipsAs the fall semester washed me into my senior year of college, I found myself faced with the crunch of time and thoughts of trying to find a career. I had already had three internships, both in marketing and editorial, at journalistic publishers and a film and arts magazine. Even with three internships completed and my internship credit fulfilled for school, I found myself still feeling unprepared for the real world.

I talked to my academic advisor and friends about how I was applying to book publishing internships and how I wanted to try out that world. I received the same surprised reactions from everyone and reminders that I had already had an internship. Ignoring the shocked reactions I received, I scoured the open internships in Minnesota and was delighted when I was offered the position at Free Spirit Publishing this fall.

For these past three months, I’ve been so lucky to work with and learn from creative, personable, and genuinely nice colleagues. I’ve loved coming into the office (even on Mondays) and being able to work with inspiring and original books. The mix between marketing and editorial tasks has made this internship more all-encompassing of the publishing industry than I’ve experienced before in other internships. My love for books has overflowed with new vigor this semester, and I’m excited to graduate in the spring and hopefully find a job that will allow me to exercise my creativity and build upon my excitement to learn the way I have at Free Spirit.

I’m so glad I plowed ahead and found another internship that allowed me to take the time to learn something new in a field I’ve found I’m passionate about. Looking back on my time, here are a few things that I’ll take with me from the Free Spirit Publishing internship:

The Books and Tools

Going into Free Spirit, I knew that they published books that gave tools to kids and adults who care for them, but I didn’t realize the variety of tools they truly shared. Each book I worked with was a new topic and allowed me to open my mind to new needs and problems kids may face. Whether it was the going-veg guide Living on the Veg (I secretly wrote down a recipe from the cookbook section for a green pasta sauce to try later) or something more complex, like Fighting Invisible Tigers, I could count on the shelves at Free Spirit to always have something that made me proud to work there.

Free Thinking and Meetings

As an intern, I was able to participate in marketing and creative meetings. I found myself in these meetings, sitting there in awe and wondering how so many intelligent and imaginative people could work in one place. Any part of business that was talked about, I was instantly enthralled as if I were watching my own personal publishing documentary. Each detail of publishing was open to me to ask questions and learn about, such as how to decide on the front cover of a new book, marketing to different audiences, and how authors can market themselves along with their book. It was fascinating to be on the other end and help authors publish their talents, passions, and messages. The meetings affirmed my passion for publishing and made me want to dive further into the industry.

Every Day Is a New Day

As a general publishing intern, I was able to get extensive training in both marketing and editorial tasks. I was never bored. I found I could see how each side looked at each book differently. I got to see how different audiences would look at the material of a book, and I strengthened my writing in ways I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been a general publishing intern.

Did I Mention the People (and Dogs)?

Nothing makes writers block go away faster than a dog running up to your desk. Even as I write this, I took a needed minute (or maybe three) to pet an attention-seeking dog. It’s not only the dogs that make me smile every time I enter the Free Spirit office. It’s also the people who wish me a good morning, tell stories about their lives in the kitchen, and advise me. Their guidance through each task is enough for me to feel secure yet free enough to make mistakes and learn without discouraging my growth.

Be advised, my fellow class-worn students, there’s no such thing as too many internships. Classes can be nice, but I’ve learned the most about myself and where I want to be through internships. As I’ve found while at Free Spirit, learning and gaining new tools can happen at any age and any time. I feel more prepared and at ease as graduation and the real world rush toward me. I hope everyone is able to, at some point in their life, work at a place like Free Spirit—it’ll be enriching and so, so much fun.

Madelaine F. was the fall 2019 intern at Free Spirit Publishing. She is a senior at Hamline University, majoring in creative writing and minoring in business.


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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