Walk in Their Shoes for Empathy Building

Step into Another Person’s Mindset Jim Ziolkowski’s National Bestseller Walk in Their Shoes: Can One Person Change the World? details his life changing experience. A business major, he had planned to go into a corporate career. However, while backpacking through Nepal in his senior year, he discovered how simple kindness and caring can change people’s…

via Footsteps: An Activity for Developing Empathy — Teach Peace Now

Writing About Bullying Heals the Past

Okay, I’ll admit it. I wasn’t always this confident teacher and writer, wearing her freak flag like a badge of honor. Back when I was a kid, I was the naive one that brought her Scooby Doo lunch box to the first day of junior high. And that set me up for years of ridicule. From, “Dog” to “Freak” to “Your face makes me vomit,” my days were filled with absolute torture. And I never said a word, just shrunk further into myself, believing their every word.

But now I’ve found my revenge, in writing. Every one of my novels has some sort of bully who teases, taunts, lies, and cheats and a misunderstood character trying to navigate through life. As my heroes find courage within themselves, they realize that the bullies only have power if it is given.

For example, in Artania III- Dragonless Sky 13-year-old Gwen, who has always reveled in skateboarding and working out, begins to try to mold herself into the populo group’s image.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Yuck,” Gwen muttered. Nothing on her face seemed right. Her lashes were so blonde you couldn’t see them. Her lips were as pale as the toilet. And her green eyes could have been the ugly tiles on the floor.

With a long sigh, she laid a long swathe of lip gloss on before lining each lid in fluorescent blue. Next, she squeezed in cheeks and brushed pink streaks up each one. Almost passable. She thought.

The tube of black mascara popped open with a snap that surprised her so much she almost dropped the wand. Catching it just before it tumbled out of her hand she lifted it slowly to her face and began to apply coat after coat of Midnight Black. She looked in the mirror and blinked. Weird, like tarantulas framing her eyes.

Gwen held the mirror at arm’s length barely recognizing the stranger peering back her. She suddenly got a déjà vu feeling. An image from a memory, or maybe a nightmare tugged at the edges of her consciousness. What was it? She tried to summon it, but all she got was a vague feeling that this mask protected her. As if makeup would save her from something horrible.

Just then the mirror shimmered and her image blurred. The glass rippled and seemed to melt. Unable to look away, Gwen gripped it tighter.

When her face came into focus it looked just like it had before. And that face terrified her.

“What the–?” she gasped dropping the compact.

“You okay in there?” a familiar voice sneered.

Lacey. Oh no! Gwen scrambled to pick up her mirror and shove it in her backpack. Zipping it closed tightly, she smoothed her skirt, put on a placid smile, and opened the stall door.

“Oh my gosh,” Gwen said, trying her best to imitate Lacey, “Someone must have been a total spaz.  T. P.’s on the floor. Gross.” She kicked at the imaginary mess on the floor and crossed her fingers behind her back.

“Probably some seventh grade cronk,” Lacey said. Then she smiled. “Look at you! Love the skirt and that eye shadow.  The cream!”

“Thanks, wanna borrow some?” Gwen suggested letting out the breath she’d been holding.

As the weeks go on, Gwen tries ever harder to fit in with Lacey’s crowd, but deep down she knows it’s not who she really is. I went through the same thing as a kid, trying desperately to make those bullying girls accept me. In the end, I forgot who I truly was.

That’s why I wrote this line of the Artanian Prophecy.

Our world will be saved if their art is true.

I’ve learned that when we are true to who we really are, bullies don’t matter quite so much.





Thank you, Kendall, for this thoughtful reminder.

The Neighborhood

power of respect image by John Hain

“There is nothing more despicable
than respect based on fear.”
– Albert Camus, Philosopher


In every culture, on every level there is a line that need not be crossed. It is not written, rarely stated and never etched in sand, but simply taken for granted – or discarded – that regardless of our differences there is still respect of man; a reverence of one another, as an extension of oneself. Not necessarily on a spiritual level nor from a lineage perspective, but a sense of knowing, that we are all in this world together. Rather rich or poor, black or white, christian or muslim, that indeed, we are our brothers keeper.

As human beings, we are full of uncontrolled emotions. We may laugh one minute, then without notice, breakdown and cry. We allow rage to overcome us, to blow an everyday situation, way out of…

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Review of Bullied by Carrie Goldman

I recently read Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Need to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.”The mother of a bullied first grader, popular blogger Carrie Goldman’s inspiring true story triggered an outpouring of support from online communities around the world. In Bullied, she gives us a guide to the crucial lessons and actionable guidance she’s learned about how to stop bullying before it starts. It is a book born from Goldman’s post about the ridicule her daughter suffered for bringing a Star Wars thermos to school–a story that went viral on Facebook and Twitter before exploding everywhere, from CNN.com and Yahoo.com to sites all around the world. Written in Goldman’s warm, engaging style, Bullied is an important and very necessary read for parents, educators, self-professed “Girl Geeks,” or anyone who has ever felt victimized by a bully, online or in person.”

I found it to be a thought-provoking book with plenty of good tips for anyone dealing with this blight. It begins by narrating an experience the author’s daughter went through in first grade and how the family helped her through it. I found it heart-breaking to imagine a six -year-old wanting to throw away a Star Wars water bottle because it wasn’t gender appropriate with her peers.  The author then continues with good tips for t gender stereotyping and the messages that advertising and gender-specific products send to children.“Bullied” also discussed best practices for dealing not only with victims, but also with the bullies themselves. Goldman emphasizes that we should not change children to make them less of a target. Rather, we should change ourselves and our culture so that all children are safe expressing their true selves.From the starting place of her own daughter’s experience with being bullied, Carrie talks about possible solutions, including the wide variety of programs that are available to schools. She also places bullying into the community context. Programs that focus only on the victims, or only on the bully are doomed to failure. It is vital to give support to the victims at the same times as we teach the bully new ways of interacting. Punishment is not effective at reducing bullying, but intervention to teach empathy and a different set of social skills is.

Our Connections

Have you ever thought about how we are linked together? How our connections define who we are? And how each action can either create gentle ripples or leave the waters untouched. So often we imagine ourselves as separate, just living our lives. But I believe that when we seek to understand the impact our actions can have, amazing things are possible.

Like Dean Bernal did when he befriended a wild dolphin. Then he spent half his life keeping it safe.

Watch, and be inspired. You never know, the ripples you create just might keep a beautiful creature alive.

Honoring the Constitution

Every day I begin my class with a flag salute and a discussion of the Constitution. I tell my fifth-graders how great our nation is because we have Freedom of Speech, Assembly, Religion, Press, and the ability to redress grievances to our elected officials. That each and every one of them is a precious citizen.

I say, “No matter what your background in this country, you have equal rights under the law.”

But on Thursday one student asked, “But aren’t some religions illegal?”

I looked at him, confused. “No, of course not.”

Another child raised her hand. “Yes, Ms. Woodward. Those terrorist ones. I saw it on the news.”

Then I realized what the kids were thinking. I started to say that it was impossible, the Constitution was the highest law of the land, even if someone said that on the news, it couldn’t really happen.

My class looked at me doubtfully. That’s when I realized that maybe they were right. Perhaps someone was trying to deny certain people equality. And it gave me a sick feeling deep in my  heart.

I am a patriot. I love America. To me the Constitution is one of the most inspirational documents of all time. One worth fighting for. We must continue to say, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

I believe these ideals should guide our choices as educators and citizens. Keep the Constitution safe. For our children.


Marching for Peace and Equality

Women’s March In San Luis Obispo

Yesterday I joined the Women’s March, a global event to promote equality, peace, and kindness. Although, like many I’d been saddened by the rancor of our recent election and was feeling hopeless that anger, racism, and finger-pointing would continue, I still knew that there were many people who see the good in others.

That’s why I marched. Because I have a daughter and want her to be free from fear, I marched. I marched because I have a son who treats women with respect. I marched because there are little girls in my classroom who deserve the chance to dream of the same future as boys. I marched for the little boys who need to see role models who treat others with respect.

Because I believe in the United States Constitution, I marched. I believe in the First Amendment and that all American should have the right to free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble peacefully, and to redress grievances with individuals in public service.

I marched because I believe with every cell, molecule, and atom of my body that people are essentially good.

And that is what I saw on January 22, 2017: a sea of beautiful, caring faces.