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Blog Archive

This is a list of all the past blog posts.

Turning “Nobody” Into “Somebody”

Posted: September 10, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Early one morning in 2018, a “twitter challenge” caught my eye. It was from a principal in Missouri. This challenge struck a chord with me. It seemed like a valuable activity. When you are aware of a good idea, I've learned that it's good to go ahead and implement it if you are able. Don't wait! Don't procrastinate! So after I finished the morning announcements that day, I asked all our students to get out a sheet of paper and write down the name of one adult they trusted - someone that they could talk to if they needed. I told them that if they could not think of one, they could write "nobody." I collected all the papers and we began putting our data into a spreadsheet.

Out of about 500 students, we had 38 who wrote “nobody.” That's 38 too many! We want every student to feel connected in our school, as I know you do in your school. We want every child to have an adult they feel comfortable talking to.

I made a slide show of the pictures of our students that wrote “nobody.” We watched this slideshow at our faculty meeting the next week. There were no names attached to any of the pictures and we did not discuss who taught these students. We viewed these pictures in complete silence. It was a sobering moment - one that I will not soon forget. When it was over, I told our teachers, "It is my hope, that if we do this activity again in a few months, we won't have any students who write "nobody."

That evening, the activity inspired me to tweet about it. There were a number of people on Twitter who asked me what I was going to do with the data we generated. One person responded, "What are your next steps?" That left me feeling a bit convicted. Showing the pictures at the faculty meeting was a good activity, but it was not enough. The fact is, some of our kids don't feel sufficiently connected and we don't want to just hope they get connected. We don't want to leave it to chance. So, yesterday, I gave the list of these students to our counselor and I emailed our teachers asking them to connect with her to "adopt" a student on the list. This isn't a formal process, but it reflects our faculty's commitment to ensuring that every student in our school has an adult advocate. We don't want any student falling through the cracks. That is our goal. Every kid is important. Every kid matters. And they need to feel it.”

This story was shared by Danny Steele, a principal at a high school in Alabama, in his blog that I first read in 2018 and recently read again. It was just what I need to hear and be reminded of, especially right now.

How to Overcome the Balancing Act Between the Positive and the Negative

Posted: September 3, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Picture this scenario… Kathleen, a third grader, is working hard on her math assignment and asks for your help. You review her work and your eyes are drawn to one of the 20 multiplication problems: 5 × 6 = 35. You note her mistake and continue scanning for other errors. You note two more incorrect answers before giving the assignment back to her. You ask her to correct the three wrong answers.

Now, hang on to this picture for a bit…

In last week’s blog I wrote about the importance of establishing standards of behavior with students in the first days of the new school year. The topic prompted a good number of emails to me.

The most asked question by readers was, “What are consequences I can use online when students aren’t living up to the standards of behavior?”

I understand why this question would quickly come to mind when you think about managing students’ behavior, especially if virtual learning is unchartered territory for you. Typically, we don’t worry about the students who will live up to the standards. They aren’t our problem. We worry more about the students who won’t live up to them. They are the ones who create challenges, chaos, stress and frustration for us.

You do need to be prepared to address problem behavior when it happens - even online. You can’t avoid it and ignoring the behavior won’t help.

Tips On Establishing Standards Of Behaviors With Your Students - Even In A Virtual World

Posted: August 28, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Starting a new school year on a positive note with a classroom or group of students is important. It's important for learning. It's important for teamwork. It's important for enjoyment. Let's just say, it's important for everything!

There are many things you can do to create a positive environment with students in the first days and weeks of a new school year. One of the most important things you can do is set and reinforce standards of behavior with your students. This is important during a typical in-person back-to-school season. But, if you are beginning this school year partially or fully remote they will be even more important and you may need to re-think a new set of standards.

Having standards of behavior provides a sense of normalcy, fosters positive engagement and accountability, creates a safe and positive culture, eliminates stress and prevents problem behaviors with the students. Standards also allow all students to have a fair and equal opportunity to be seen and heard.

Creating standards of behavior is also beneficial to you. When students realize what is expected of them and the expectations are consistent and fair, they are more likely to build trusting and positive relationships with each other and with you. Standards of behavior also reduces your stress, allows you more time to listen to students and encourage their participation and increases the likelihood you will enjoy your time with them.

Community-Building and Getting-To-Know-You Activities You Can Do Virtually With Your Students

Posted: August 20, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Never before have I seen so much uncertainty and anxiety surrounding heading back to school. It’s totally understandable! These are unprecedented times. This back-to-school time of the year looks NOTHING like we have ever seen before.

As summer comes to a close, many of you are preparing for the first day of school. If you are going back to school in-person, chances are you will be doing some remote learning in the future. Many of you will be doing a hybrid of in-person teaching and virtual learning.

No matter where you or your students are learning from, the first few weeks of the school year are crucial for community and relationship building between the students and with you. Fortunately, many of the beginning of the year activities you know and love can be done virtually! You just need to “think outside the box” and be creative!

To help you, I am sharing several activities you can do if you are teaching or engaging with students virtually. Consider how each idea can help you build a sense of community and encourage positive relationships among your students even in a virtual world.

The X Factor

Posted: August 13, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Even bloggers like myself like to follow other bloggers. Reading blog posts from others inspires ideas for topics to write about, challenges my perspective on certain issues and affirms my own core values and experiences.

One blogger who does this for me is Danny Steele. Danny is in his 28th year of education and currently serves as principal at a high school in Alabama. Prior to this, he served as an Assistant Professor of Instructional Leadership, assistant principal, teacher and coach. In 2005, he was recognized as the “Secondary Assistant Principal of the Year” for the state of Alabama. In 2016, he was recognized as Alabama’s “Secondary Principal of the Year.”

I value Danny’s experience and perspective as many others do. He doesn’t blog regularly, but when a new post does land in my Inbox I know it’s something worth opening and reading. This happened last fall when I received his blog post entitled, The Unforgettable Interview.

Is the Glass Half Empty or is the Glass Half Full?

Posted: August 6, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

You see a glass with water in it. The water is at the half-way mark in the glass.

Which leads to the question:

Is the glass half empty?

Or is the glass half full?

How would you choose to describe it?

A glass containing water to the half-way point is often used to point out the difference between optimists and pessimists. The optimist sees the glass as half full - focusing more on what is there and all that could be done with half a glass of water. The pessimist sees the glass as half empty – focusing more on half the water being gone and, eventually, the glass becoming empty.

Are you the optimist? Or are you the pessimist?

Making The Impossible Seem Possible

Posted: July 29, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

As a mom who raised two children I often thought about the many things I needed to be teaching them. Manners, kindness, empathy, volunteerism, hard work, resilience, teamwork, and of course, cleaning and hygiene. Hope was also high on my list of teachable items with my kids.

Hope is the feeling that what one desires WILL happen. Hope is a choice. It can be learned and shared. Best of all, it’s free and available to everyone. It doesn’t discriminate. If hope could speak, it would say, “The future will be better and I have the power to make it so!” With hope, we understand there are many paths to one goal, yet none of them are free of obstacles. Hope is the mindset that equips us to overcome those obstacles.

Hope, like oxygen, is essential to life. We simply can’t live without it. When we have it, it can carry us. When we don’t, it can suffocate us. It isn’t hard to see which kids are full of hope and which kids are grasping for it.

Just Listen

Posted: July 23, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Giving another person our attention is one of the most important things we can give another person. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything else but listen to them. Take them in. Listen to what they are saying and care about it. Caring about what they are saying is more important than understanding what they say.

Have you ever tried telling your story to another person only to be interrupted by them saying they once had something similar happen to them? Subtly, our story ends up being their story and our story ends with them.

We connect with others through listening. When we interrupt someone who is talking we move the focus of attention to ourselves. When we just listen, the focus stays on them and lets them know they and their story matters and that we care.

Listening isn’t easy. It’s something most of us need to learn. But, a loving silence has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.

Remembering the Profound Change that Occurred that Day

Posted: July 16, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

There were ten of us in a large room sitting in a ring of comfortable chairs encircling a large table. Late afternoon sunlight caught the red hair and freckles of a 15-year-old student (we’ll call her Sarah) as she tilted her head back slightly to keep tears from escaping.

This was my first Restorative Justice (RJ) Council and everyone at the table was sharing how they were affected by Sarah’s choice to drink on the student government weekend trip. Our principal had to call Sarah’s parents, drive her back to Seattle and miss a lot of the retreat. The 11th-grade student who facilitated this council meeting shared how alcoholism had affected his own family and the pain he felt seeing Sarah drunk. Sarah’s parents shared how scared they were to get a call from the principal in the middle of the night.

Sarah had her boyfriend there as a student ally. He wanted the group to know that she was a good person, that she has been depressed lately and that everyone makes mistakes when they are young.

The Challenges of Crossing Things Off Your “To Do” List

Posted: July 9, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

If you read last week’s blog post, it probably wouldn’t surprise you if I said that I’m a sucker for a to-do-list. I make lists for everything. It’s really the only way I can get things done.

However, when my “to do” list is long and every task on it seems equally important, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. The stress of not being able to find a starting point can make me sometimes freeze in my tracks, resulting in me doing a whole lot of nothing.

During the past four months I’ve hosted webinars and written weekly blog posts about the important things you will want to consider doing as you welcome your students back after months of isolation and separation due to COVID-19. Last week's blog challenged you to think about how you have used your time these past months to prepare for their return.

Are You Winging It?

Posted: July 1, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

One of the biggest challenges I have had to overcome as a blogger is knowing what to write about every week. I value my followers, like you, and I want to write about what is important to you and the work you do with kids and families.

In my early days of blogging I discovered the importance of having a well thought out plan. At the beginning of every new year, I strategically plan what my blog topics will be every week in the coming year. The process starts with brainstorming at least 52+ topic ideas, writing each one on a sticky note and plastering them on my office wall. Then, the hard part begins – choosing the final 52 topics and arranging each one by the week it will be featured.

Like all previous years, this is how 2020 started for me. I had my weekly blogging plan and was faithfully following it every week…until…the coronavirus hit in mid-March. I remember sitting at my computer on Monday, March 16, and staring at the screen for what seemed liked hours without typing one word.

Trauma And Kids

Posted: June 25, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Do kids experience trauma? Can the effects be long-lasting? Can trauma be treated? Can kids be happy again after experiencing trauma? The answer to all of these questions is, “Yes”!

Trauma is actually quite common among kids. In a groundbreaking research project called, The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied over 17,000 participants in the San Deigo, CA, area. Participants were given a questionnaire asking if they had experienced any difficult childhood events, such as a death in the family, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, parent imprisonment or similar events. Surprisingly, this study found that over 50% of all kids experience at least one traumatic event before the age of 17! It’s important to note that the study was conducted on primarily white, middle-class participants. In areas where there are high amounts of crime, poverty, or drugs, the incidence of trauma in kids can be as high as 100%!

I have to wonder then…If we surveyed ALL elementary, middle school and high school aged students today, what percentage of them would report having already experienced a traumatic event in their life?

I think the percentage would be much higher than 50%. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was close to 100%.

Why wouldn’t this surprise me? Because we are ALL experiencing life with COVID-19.

A traumatic event can be defined as exposure to actual or threatened injury or death. COVID-19 is all of that – for all of us – even kids. COVID-19 has threatened our sense of security, safety and life.

Would You Pass The Test

Posted: June 16, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

If you were asked to identify up to 14 different vaping devices hidden in plain sight among a classroom of students, how confident are you that you could identify all of them? Would you know what to look for?

When you read or hear that kids have new ways to hide their vaping habits anywhere they go, including in school, at home, in public places, it's true. Kids are vaping in plain sight and most adults don't even know it.

If you are a parent who has been sheltering at home with a middle or high schooler these past months, vaping could be happening right under your roof without you even realizing it. If you are a teacher, coach, youth worker or anyone who engages with adolescents, you could also be unaware of the vaping that is taking place right in front of you.

I'm hosting a free webinar tomorrow from Noon-1:15 pm EST, called, "Youth, Vaping & E-Cigarettes: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly".

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Posted: June 12, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Every January I turn to the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey results to see what the national trends were with adolescent substance use over the past year. Since 1975, the MTF study has been conducted annually by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

I’ve seen a lot of trends with different substances over the past 30+ years of reviewing MTF studies – trends that primarily showed a decrease in use while other trends raised some concerns.

This past January I read the summary of the 2019 MTF survey which involved about 42,500 students in 8th, 10th and 12th grades enrolled in 396 secondary schools nationwide. I was a bit more prepared for the 2019 results than when I read the 2018 report a year earlier. From 2017 to 2018, increases in adolescent vaping were the largest EVER recorded in the past 43 years for any adolescent substance use outcome in the United States! So, not surprisingly, from 2018 to 2019, the vaping continued its dramatic increase.

A Summer Like No Other Summer

Posted: June 5, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

I’m a day late with my blog. But, for good reason. I just returned from visiting my 88 and 89-year-old parents who still live on the family farm and who I haven’t seen or been with since COVID-19 hit in early March. I had to quarantine for 14 days before my visit due to my dad being a dialysis and cancer patient. After spending fourteen days alone in my home, followed by three days in the beautiful, quiet, peaceful countryside, I am more relaxed, focused and energized than I have been for a long time. It’s actually been a life-impacting experience for me.

Time was the gift I was given during my quarantine at home and visit to the farm. Being free of interruptions and distractions for 17 days, gave me the time to think about things that typically get pushed aside in my mind because I’m moving on to another task or I’m rushing off somewhere. I had numerous “a ha” moments these past several weeks. One of them came just a few days ago when I turned my calendar from May to June.

Come And Get It!

Posted: May 29, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

“Come and get it!” When was the last time your family heard those words?

The case for family meals has always been strong, but with music lessons, ball practice, dance class and work schedules prior to the pandemic it was challenging to sit down and enjoy a meal together. However, as families are staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, this is an opportune time to reset our routines.

Incorporating mealtime into your new normal – and making it a family ritual – can be a routine that is reassuring for everyone during this unsettling time. But, there are lots of other reasons to make it a priority.

This Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint

Posted: May 22, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

You have likely heard this phrase before as you have begun any number of ambitious tasks: “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

I’ve never run a marathon before (a 5K is my limit), but I have friends who have. I listen to them talk about what they endured while training for a marathon. I hear stories about what it is like to actually run 26.2 miles. The common theme I hear in all their stories is…marathons are hard. Really hard.

The race is a mental rollercoaster. You can feel unstoppable for miles, and then, out of the blue, your legs stop working. You can feel so many highs and lows over a four+ hour time period. At points you are cruising, passing people and smiling, and at other times, you are ready to pull yourself out of the race altogether.

Even though you are exhilarated and filled with pride (and relief!) for crossing the finish line, in the back of your mind, you’re already evaluating what you could have done differently. You think about all of the details you neglected in your training and the mistakes you made in your race.

Whether you realize it or not, you are running in a marathon right now. A pandemic marathon. Unfortunately, you didn’t have the opportunity to adequately train for it and your race has no set finish line. Pacing yourself and reserving all the energy you will need - physically, emotionally and mentally - to finish the race will be important in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Preventing A Second Pandemic

Posted: May 15, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley
I recently saw a meme on Facebook that had been shared by thousands of people. It was a fictional story of a child asking his grandparent, who was a child during the 2020 coronavirus, what that scary time must have been like. The grandparent shares that he doesn't recall the fear or anxiety, but only remembers that it was a wonderful time at home with his loving family.

Sadly, many families and children across the nation will not think back to this time so fondly. From a loss of employment or cuts in pay, increased stress in relationships, food insecurity, unreported physical/emotional abuse, uptick in substance use, to a loved one's death without proper closure, the list of damaging stressors goes on for some families.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times in previous blogs, the coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything we have ever experienced. Consequently, there's no way of knowing what the long-term emotional effects of living through it will really be on families.

Restorative Circles

Posted: May 8, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley
At some point, students will return to school, community-based programs and extra-curricular activities. When they do they will come with many questions, concerns and experiences on their minds and in their hearts. Giving your students the opportunity to tell their stories in an atmosphere of safety, trust, respect and equality will be vitally important.

Restorative practices can cultivate a culture of community in which all your students feel they belong and are seen, heard and respected – increasing the chances they will feel comfortable sharing their stories with you and each other.
Circles are the foundation of restorative practices. Restorative circles proactively build the trust students need to safely risk self-disclosure, authenticity, confrontation, empathy and care. Circles develop the relationships and skills students need to support one another and collectively address the challenges they face.

Circles are exactly what they are called. Students are arranged in a circle shape so that everyone can see every face without having to lean forward.

Sitting in a circle is a fundamentally different experience than sitting in rows or meeting across a desk. When we are in rows there is generally someone standing in front who is commanding our attention. Clearly, this is the person who is in charge and who has the answers and to whom the group is accountable to. When we are meeting with someone who faces us from behind a desk we instinctively know the authority and power belongs to that person.

Interact With Your Kids Using A Restorative Lens

Posted: May 1, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley
There are so many unknowns living through the current pandemic. I’ve never had more unanswered questions in my life than I do right now. Just when I get an answer to one question another unanswered question comes to mind. Perhaps you’ve had a lot of unanswered questions, too.

Lately, I’ve been wondering about the effects physical isolation will have on kids’ relationships with their peers. I also ponder what the impact will be for kids who have been physically disconnected from the daily routine of school and afterschool activities where they learn how to get along with others, gain a sense of belonging and community and build supportive relationships. While texting, phone calls, social media apps, FaceTime and Zoom can help to fill kids’ need to socially connect with others, does technology meet all of the emotional and mental needs a face-to-face, in-person connection can provide? Even so, when we open our doors and welcome kids back, what physical restrictions will we need to adhere to and how might they continue to influence a sense of community among kids and their overall well-being?

Will You Respond or React

Posted: April 24, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

The COVID-19 pandemic has the capacity to affect every person in the world. Its immediate effects and long-term impacts is still unknown. But, one thing is for sure. Life is different today than it was before the pandemic.
The world has changed since the day we shut the doors of our schools and community-based agencies. Kids have changed. Families have changed. Communities have changed. Life will never be what it was before COVID-19.
It’s still unknown when we will be able to open our doors and welcome kids and families back. But, when the time comes, we need to be ready…ready to respond.
Anticipating and preparing for the issues and needs kids and parents will have when they walk through your doors again is one of the most important things you can be doing right now. Now is the time to get yourself, your staff and your organization ready to respond. If you don’t think or plan ahead now, you will find yourself in a state of reaction later. And, there’s a big difference between a reaction and a response…

The Wake Up Call That Changed Everything

Posted: April 15, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

It was a phone call I wasn’t expecting. It was news I wasn’t prepared to hear.
“You have been exposed to the coronavirus in your home. You need to go into quarantine.”
Instantly, my life changed with this one phone call from the Nebraska Department of Health.
My mind was racing when I got off the phone:

  • Do I have the virus right now?

  • What do I need to do today in case I test positive for the virus tomorrow?

  • Do I have enough groceries and other supplies to survive during the quarantine?

  • Where might the virus be in my home? Where do I even begin to sanitize?

  • What have I already touched in my home that might have exposed me to the virus?

  • Who should I tell about my exposure?

  • How could this have happened to me?

Earlier in the day and before I received the phone call, I listened to the local news on television. I remembered hearing the report that day…14 confirmed community spread cases of COVID 19 in Lincoln and Lancaster County (total population of almost 314,000 people), with the county health department monitoring 110 known exposed individuals for symptoms.

Quit Asking The Usual Question

Posted: April 2, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley
Have you been in an exchange with someone recently that goes something like this:
You: “How are you?”
Other Person: “Good, and you?”
You: “I’m good, thanks.”
We ask the “How are you?” question with such regularity and little thought and answer the question from a standard set of responses. We’re either busy, fine, okay or good.
Most of us ask this question out of habit, but also because it’s the polite thing to do. We usually ask it as a greeting and not necessarily with the intent of actually acquiring information about the other person.
These days we are asking the, “How are you?”, question even more in our exchanges with others as we all live through the current COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, we really DO want to know how the other person is doing.
During this time of social isolation and distancing, I hope you are reaching out and checking in with your students, parents, team members and others you love and care about. But, what alternative questions can you ask that shows you are genuinely asking about their life and well-being, leads to new information and builds a stronger relationship with them?

Are You Feeling Nostalgic These Days?

Posted: March 25, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

How are you?
How are things in your corner of the world?
I hope that wherever you are and whoever you are with you are healthy and doing what you can to care for yourself.
After all the turbulence last week related to the coronavirus outbreak, I was physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted when the weekend arrived. On Saturday and Sunday, I found myself craving breakfast for every meal and watching lots of classic TV shows. In two days, I binge watched two seasons of “The Waltons” and ate my share of fried eggs and bacon. By Sunday evening, I actually felt more calm, content and a few pounds heavier!

Shaking Things Up

Posted: March 20, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley
We’re living through a very difficult time right now. Anxiety, stress, isolation and fear of the unknown seems to have invaded many of our lives in a short period of time. The coronavirus has shaken us to our very core. It has shaken up our routines. It has shaken up our jobs. It has shaken up our investments and bank accounts. It has shaken up our social lives. It has shaken up our families. It has shaken up our relationships and connection with others.
I’m going to be honest. I worry about what this “shake up” means in my life and those I love. But, I worry even more about what it means in the lives of kids.

Step Up And Step In

Posted: March 12, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley
The middle school years can be just as challenging of a time for parents as it is for their kids.
We go from being one of the most admired, loved and smartest people in our kids’ lives during the elementary years to someone who doesn’t know anything anymore. We play “second fiddle” to our kids’ friends. Our rules and expectations are being questioned and challenged. Conversations that came easy with our child are now limited and difficult to initiate.
If you’ve been or are a middle school parent, you understand. The middle school years can be tough.
At a time when parents need to step up and step in even more with their parenting practices, parents may feel the tendency to step back and pull away during the middle school years. Many give up and give in to the other influences they believe is overriding their influence.

Making A Commitment Is Better Than Having No Commitment

Posted: March 5, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley
Have you ever made a commitment to someone or to something and then later you regretted making it? You probably had all kinds of reasons or excuses running through your head as to why you couldn’t keep the commitment. (Trust me! You're not alone. This has happened to me many times over!)
But, surprisingly, you found yourself still following through with the commitment anyway. Maybe you followed through because you didn’t want to let yourself or the other person down. Maybe you followed through because you wanted to be known as someone who does what they say they are going to do. Or, you followed through because you realized the commitment you made really was important to you.
Research shows that when we make a commitment to someone or something we are more likely to follow through with it than if we made no commitment at all. Commitments guide and influence our behaviors.

What Is Everyone Really Doing

Posted: February 27, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley
“Everybody’s doing it. I’m the only one who isn’t!” I’m sure you have heard your students or maybe your own kids say this to you more than once. They think they are the only one who isn’t wearing the latest fashions, staying out late, having a cell phone, accessing social media or going to a party.
The question is, “Are your kids right? Is everyone their age really doing these things?”
It is somewhat true.
When it comes to drinking, smoking and other risky behaviors there are more kids who begin to experiment with alcohol, tobacco and other risky behaviors in the middle and high school years. If we look for kids who are participating in these behaviors we will always find them. So will your students.
For example, what would catch your students’ attention most – four kids their age vaping or thirty kids who aren’t? What would grab your attention – those who are or those who aren’t?
Your students will very likely pay more attention to the kids who are vaping than those who aren’t and will generalize, from just a few, that lots of kids their age vape. Perhaps you would do the same. 

A Story of How a BIG Dream Influenced a Young Man's Behaviors and Future

Posted: February 21, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley
I first met Craig Shelburne when he was a high school student and I was organizing alcohol and drug-free youth groups in schools around the state of Nebraska. Craig was active in his local drug-free group. His desire to achieve a big dream in his future gave him the strength, tenacity and focus to do what he needed to do to make it happen and stay away from the people and things that would get in the way of it, including alcohol and other drugs. His story is a real life example of how "idealism" can give a young person their own personal reasons to not use alcohol and other drugs when they want something so much in their future. Craig is now a grown adult living in Nashville, TN. I recently interviewed Craig about his journey to achieving his dream job and his decision to not use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs along the way.

The Importance Of Giving Your Kids 2020 Vision Of Their Future

Posted: February 14, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Have you ever had the opportunity in your past to do something that you knew, at the time, was illegal, unsafe or would break some rule and you didn’t do it because you knew that if you did you would risk losing something that was more important to you than what you had the opportunity to do?

Can you think of a time when this was true for you?

If so, then you had “Idealism!”

Idealism is having a vision for yourself and your future and believing that risky behaviors will get in the way of what you want in your future.

Research has found that kids who have idealism are more likely to NOT participate in risky behaviors. Idealism is one of the five most effective prevention strategies you can use to influence the attitudes of middle and high school students if you don't want them to drink alcohol, use tobacco or illicit drugs, fight or engage in early sexual activity.

The important question to ask yourself is...Do ALL of my students have idealism?

How An Attitude Adjustment Saved My Life

Posted: January 31, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

In the later stages of pregnancy with my son I developed preeclampsia. My blood pressure got dangerously high and an emergency c-section was performed for fear his life was in danger, as well as mine. He was born a very healthy baby boy while I, on the other hand, was not in a good state. I was immediately put on high blood pressure medication and placed in intensive care. Consequently, I couldn’t have my new baby son in the room with me. I couldn’t have any visitors or phone calls. The room needed to stay dark and quiet at all times. The slightest stimulation would elevate my blood pressure.

Imagine Teaching 24 Students In 2nd Grade

Posted: January 24, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley


You are an expert in your community on the topic of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and the 2nd grade teacher in your local elementary school has invited you to speak on the topic with her students.

You walk into the classroom and you find 24 excited 2nd graders anxiously waiting for your arrival. They love to have guests in their classroom!

You begin to talk with the students about the consequences of smoking cigarettes and they are attentive and ready to learn from you. They see you as the expert and believe you know more than they do on the subject.

Four Proven Strategies to Prevent Lying, Stealing, Cheating & Bullying With Your Students

Posted: January 14, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

I was recently visiting with a 4th grade classroom teacher about several of her students who she was concerned about. She shared how she had caught one of them cheating on a test – not just once, but twice! There is another student who has the habit of taking things that don’t belong to him and taking them home. While the things he has taken aren’t valuable, she’s worried about the behavior leading to more serious stealing in the future. And then there’s a girl who one day is liked by a group of other girls in her class only to be ousted and isolated from the friendship group the next.

She’s concerned about each of these students, but she is most concerned their behaviors will influence other students in her classroom.

I listened to her talk about her students. This isn’t the first time she has seen behaviors like this. She’s been teaching 4th grade for six years. But, this is the first time she began to see the behaviors in a different light.

What You Expect is What You Get

Posted: January 9, 2020, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

The expectations you have of a student can influence their behavior. Kids can read you like a book. They will know what you expect of them based on what you say or don’t say and what you do or don’t do.

So, how do you want your students to read you? What is the message you want them to get from you and what you expect of them in their future?

There is a lot of research about the role of expectations and the influence they can have on kids. Research shows that it’s important to have expectations of your students, rather than no expectations.

So, what are your expectations of your students when it comes to using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs sometime in their future?

Do you expect them to not drink alcohol until the age of 21?

Do you expect them to not use tobacco products for a lifetime?

Do you expect them to never use illicit drugs?

Do you believe it’s realistic or idealistic to have these expectations of your students? In other words, do you think it’s possible to expect all of your students to not use alcohol until the age of 21?

I'm Never Doing That Again!

Posted: December 13, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Have you ever done something that caused you to walk away and say, “I’m never doing that again!”? And, you really meant it!

Believe it or not, a lot of kids think or say the same thing after their first experience* with drinking alcohol. And, they mean it, too!

A majority of kids report their first experience with alcohol as being a negative experience for them. The #1 reason kids give for why it was negative is because they didn’t like the taste of it. Other reasons they give are not liking the way it made them feel, the loss of control they felt, feelings of a hangover the next day, doing or saying something they later regretted, the guilt of knowing they did something illegal or wrong and the fear of getting caught and the consequences if they did.

Is It All or Nothing

Posted: December 5, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

I am thinking about a mother I met who was so distraught when she heard her 18 year old son had drank alcohol for the first time the night before. She was disappointed in him. Her expectation of him was to not drink alcohol until the legal age of 21. He fell short of her expectation. She believed her prevention efforts as a parent failed.

This mother’s experience reminds me of how we sometimes measure our success in prevention. If our kids drink alcohol before age 21, we see it as a failure. If our kids wait until the age of 21 or later, we see it as success. This “all or nothing” mentality with substance use prevention is common.

But, is our success in prevention really “all or nothing?”

Research shows that kids who start drinking alcohol before age 15 are 5 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after the legal age of 21.

Pay Now or Pay Later

Posted: November 28, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Does alcohol and other drug prevention make sense in a time of shrinking budgets, fewer staff resources and an increasing emphasis on student performance?

Should we make the time to do substance use prevention?

Is there any benefit to keeping prevention alive?

The answer is clearly, “Yes!”

According to a recent article published by Verywell Mind, the estimated cost of substance abuse in the United States, including illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, is more than $820 billion a year and growing.

The total annual costs related to each type of drug is…

Kids Without Friends

Posted: November 6, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

I think I am like many of you. I know that understanding and addressing the needs of kids who don’t have friends – social isolates – is important. The challenge is where to start. If you feel a little stumped, take heart that there are many who feel the same way as you.

Friendships, belonging and acceptance grow in importance as kids move through adolescence. Their identity becomes defined by the group of friends they have. Spending time with friends provides opportunities for social interaction, information sharing, demonstration of values and reinforcement of behaviors important to the peer group. Sometimes we fear peer groups have a negative influence on adolescent behaviors; however, research and experience generally shows that, with the exception of getting high-risk kids together, the influence of peer groups is almost always positive.

Peer Opinion As Change Agents

Posted: October 24, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Peer opinion leaders are students who set the trends and patterns of behavior. They define “what is in and out”, “what to do and not to do” and “what to believe and not believe.” The bottom line is…peer opinion leaders influence the opinion and behaviors of others. Knowing who the natural peer opinion leaders in your class or group are is key to establishing positive standards of behavior, setting positive norms and making anything you do successful.


Almost every peer group has an opinion leader. During early adolescence, girls will have their leaders and boys will have theirs. Some can be positive leaders while others may be negative.

How to Help 4th and 5th Grade Students Get Along With One Another

Posted: October 18, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

The late elementary years are a time of great personal and social growth. At this age, children become more interested in friends and social activities. They begin to form stronger and more complex friendships that are based on more than just common interests. They understand that emotions play a major role in relationships. They learn how to identify what others are feeling based on their facial expressions and body language and to understand and evaluate social situations better. They are also learning how to communicate their needs and feelings verbally with others while respecting and identifying other people’s opinions and behaviors.

Understanding how to get along with others is vital for 4th and 5th graders. Creating an environment in your classroom or group setting that has clear expectations of behavior, encourages team work and communication and promotes respect and responsibility among classmates is important.

How to Develop Standards for Getting Along With Your Students

Posted: October 11, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

My blog this past month has focused on how to increase positive behavior with your students while decreasing the negative. We discussed a number of proven strategies to help you achieve this, including:

The Best, The Worst and The OK

Posted: October 4, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

In my last blog I wrote about the importance of setting “standards” of behavior with student input as a more effective way of increasing positive student behavior than having “rules” established by you.

Establishing standards for getting along with students can be done with late elementary through high school age. Consideration needs to be given to the age of the students when determining the process you will use for establishing the standards.

The Difference A Word Can Make

Posted: September 19, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

When you hear the word, “rules”, what do you think of? How does the word make you feel? How does it sound to you?

Maybe the word sounds and feels the same to you as it does when kids hear it. When kids hear the word, “rules”, they think of everything they can’t or aren’t suppose to do. To them, rules are usually made by an adult and enforced upon them. Rules are made to be challenged.

Let’s try another word…what do you think of when you hear the word, “standards”? How does this word make you feel? How does it sound to you?

When you ask kids what the word, “standards”, means they usually say it is something they should or are expected to do. Standards are something to live up to.

How Does Your Own Behavior Influence Your Students’ Behavior

Posted: September 6, 2019, 4:35am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

If classroom management is an ongoing issue for you, you are not alone. It's an ongoing issue for many teachers or anyone who works with kids. Nearly half of new teachers report they feel “not at all prepared” or “only somewhat prepared” to handle disruptive students. This is, in part, because the average teacher training program devotes just eight hours to the topic, according to a 2014 report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. This lack of training comes with a cost. Teachers report losing 144 minutes of instructional time on average to behavioral disruptions every week which comes out to roughly three weeks over the course of a year.

Unfortunately, research indicates that teachers overwhelmingly report lack of professional development support in improving classroom management. How to effectively manage student behavior is the #1 concern I am asked to consult, coach and train on. It doesn’t matter if you are the most experienced teacher or the least experienced. We all deal with problem behavior. Over time it can take its toll on you, and the students, if not addressed as early as possible.

Why 1 in 3 Teachers Consider Quitting the Profession.

Posted: August 30, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Starting a new school year on a positive note with a classroom or group of students is important. It's important for learning. It's important for teamwork. It's important for enjoyment. Let's just say, it's important for everything!

One way to start the year on a positive note is creating an environment that minimizes negative student behavior and maximizes the positive. Unfortunately, too many students are losing critical opportunities for learning – and too many teachers are leaving the profession – because of the negative behavior of a few students. Student discipline is and continues to be a major concern to teachers and parents that affects both teacher morale and student learning.

Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together

Posted: August 23, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

“I want to be a nurse. I’m going to be a fireman. I want to be a professional basketball player.” Ask elementary-age youth what they want to be when they grow up and they have quick and definite answers. They have hope and optimism for their future.

Ask middle school youth the same question and you may still hear similar answers, but you will also hear comments such as, “I don’t know” or “whatever”. Starting in the middle school years a sense of hopelessness, apathy and discouragement can set in with some youth. The clear vision they once had for their future is now blurry or completely gone. Research shows that kids who “don’t know” what they want in their future or “don’t care” anymore are more likely to engage in risky behaviors.

In last week’s masterclass, One Thing You Can Do to Instill Hope and Prevent Vaping, I introduced a prevention strategy called “Idealism.” This strategy has proven to keep kids from engaging in risky behaviors – including drinking alcohol, smoking, vaping, misusing opioids, fighting and being sexually active.

Helping Your Parents Transition to Middle School With Their Student

Posted: August 16, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

A new school year has already started for some kids while for others it will begin in the coming weeks.

I was watching the kids walk to the nearby elementary school for the start of a new school year on Monday and it brought back memories of the first day of school with my two kids.

Both of my kids are now young adults, but the memories of their first day of a new school year are still vivid in my mind. Some of the memories make me sad as I yearn to have that first day of school experience with them again. But, there’s also a few memories of the first day of school I would prefer not to re-live.

Measuring Hope With Your Students

Posted: July 25, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

I hope my blog series on instilling hope with your students over the past few weeks has been helpful and insightful. I've appreciated the comments and stories shared with me by my readers on their hope-filled work with kids.

Creating a Ripple Effect of Hope With Your Students

Posted: July 19, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

I've been thinking about those students we talked about in last week's blog. Those students who are stuck and have no hope. And, are likely students you are working with right now.

But, the good news is that hope is something you can cultivate with all of your students – even those who are at risk for losing it or have already lost it.

Are Your Students Hopeful or Stuck?

Posted: July 11, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

I want you to think about two kids you work with…one who is resilient and happy and the other who is struggling and discouraged. Imagine if you interviewed each of them and you ask them to respond to each of these statements with a “yes” or a “no.”

Vaping Surges... Largest Year to Year Increase Ever Recorded

Posted: June 28, 2019, 5:53am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

How Your Kids Will Remember You

Posted: June 24, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

You are a leader. You are a leader of children. You are creating a legacy every day you come to work. You are leaving your mark – an indelible impression upon the kids entrusted to your care.

In this week's blog, we wonder How Your Kids Will Remember You.

If you're wondering, too, then take a moment from your busy life and read on.

We don't think you will be wondering any more.

Lessons Learned from Stories Told

Posted: June 13, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

One of the best parts of my job is hearing stories from All Stars teachers after they have taught the program. Some stories make me laugh. Some stories make me proud. Some stories make me cry.

But, every story teaches me (and you!) a lesson that impacts our work with kids, especially in All Stars.

Teens And Volunteerism: "Try It! They'll Like It!"

Posted: June 6, 2019, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

I remember a summer day when I told my 8-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son that I was taking them to lunch. They were excited and quickly requested their favorite restaurant.

We got into the van and drove off. It didn’t take them long to notice I wasn’t going in the direction they expected me to go. Instead I parked in front of a local soup kitchen with people lined up outside waiting for lunch.

Lessons Learned From a “Dark Monday”

Posted: May 31, 2019, 1:26am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

I refer to it as “Dark Monday.” It was April 15, 2019. In a matter of hours, I learned…

I had to write a check to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). (UGH!)

My daughter was moving out and into her own place to live; leaving me to live alone for the first time in my home.

My aunt had hours to live.

My dad was diagnosed with kidney failure.

I was diagnosed with shingles.

I’ve had challenges, bad news and unfortunate luck in my past, but usually it’s over the course of weeks, months or years. I have never had a single day when, within hours, I have been hit with so much devastating and life-changing news.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Posted: May 17, 2019, 3:39am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

A dear friend and colleague shared a podcast with me this morning and encouraged me to listen to it. The podcast, What's Not On The Test: The Overlooked Factors That Determine Success, was published by NPR as part of their Hidden Brain podcast series. It featured an interview with James Heckman, a professor at the University of Chicago who, in 2000, won the Nobel Prize in Economics.

To Pick The Tomatoes Or Not Pick The Tomatoes

Posted: May 10, 2019, 3:26am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

My son, Christopher, was an All Stars student. It didn’t surprise me that he choose me as the adult he wanted to talk to about his All Stars conversational assignments. I also wasn’t surprised by what he was saying about himself through his All Stars work. Everything seemed to “fit” for him. For example, Christopher by nature is a helpful person. It was no surprise to me when he brought his Getting A Reputation worksheet home and he had written that the reputation he most wanted in his future was “to be a helper,” it fit. He got great advice from his classroom partner, his best friend, and me on things he should and should not do if he wanted to earn this reputation.

Tips For The Opinion Poll Game

Posted: March 12, 2019, 2:22am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

I offer coaching to All Stars teachers who desire to be their best and do their best when teaching the program . The lesson I coach the most is the Opinion Poll Game. I want to share with you the tips I recommended to teachers to improve their effectiveness. I hope these insights are helpful.

Every Good Teacher is Prepared

Posted: October 15, 2018, 5:07am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

I think everyone will agree how important it is to prepare before teaching an All Stars lesson. However, agreeing and doing are two different things. Two challenges I hear All Stars teachers say they face in prepping is time and not knowing how to effectively prepare. Here are some suggestions.

Becoming A Loving And Nurturing Adult

Posted: June 21, 2018, 2:48am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Kids Without Friends

Posted: March 18, 2018, 12:01pm By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

I think I am like many of you. I know understanding and addressing the needs of kids who don’t have friends – social isolates – is important. The challenge is where to start. If you feel a little stumped, take heart that there are many who feel the same way.

Friendships, belonging and acceptance grow in importance as kids move through adolescence. Their identity becomes defined by the group of friends they have. Spending time with friends provides opportunities for social interaction, information sharing, demonstration of values and reinforcement of behaviors important to the peer group. Sometimes we fear peer groups have a negative influence on adolescent behaviors; however, research and experience generally shows that, with the exception of getting high-risk kids together, the influence of peer groups is almost always positive.

Using Peer Opinion Leaders As Change Agents In The Classroom

Posted: February 19, 2018, 2:37am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Peer opinion leaders are students who set the trends. They define what is "in" and "out". They influence the opinion of others. Knowing who the natural peer opinion leaders in your class or group are is a key to setting positive norms and making anything you do successful.

Almost every peer group has an opinion leader. During early adolescence, girls will have their leaders and boys will have theirs. Some can be positive leaders while others may be negative. We tend to think we know who the peer opinion leaders are on our own. We sometimes see them as the class clowns, the most vocal or the most popular. These characteristics can be misleading. Not all peer opinion leaders have these traits.

All Stars Character Education: A Unique and Fun Way of Reaching Elementary Students

Posted: January 18, 2018, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

All Stars Character Education is an innovative program that promotes the development of positive character traits and attitudes with children ages 9-11 (grades 4 and 5). Research consistently demonstrates that early intervention is essential to prevention and positive character development. Substance use and violence are rare among later elementary-aged students. However, research shows that attitudes and beliefs formed during these years predict the development of problems later on.

The Meaning Behind the All Stars Name

Posted: January 11, 2018, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

Often I am asked about the name, All Stars. Does it have special meaning? Why was it chosen?

While writing the commitment sessions in All Stars, developer, Dr. William Hansen, believed he needed to have students make commitments in some symbolic way. He considered giving some kind of recognition for each commitment made in All Stars. Dr. Hansen developed a circle of nine stars and found that each star could represent one of nine commitments made in All Stars. When a student makes nine commitments for themselves in All Stars – earning all nine stars – they become an All Star!

The Importance of Ideals

Posted: January 4, 2018, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

My son, Christopher, was an All Stars student. It didn’t surprise me that he choose me as the adult he wanted to talk to about his All Stars conversational assignments. I also wasn’t surprised by what he was saying about himself through his All Stars work. Everything seemed to “fit” for him. For example, Christopher by nature is a helpful person. It was no surprise to me when he brought his Getting A Reputation worksheet home and he had written that the reputation he most wanted in his future was “to be a helper,” it fit. He got great advice from his classroom partner, his best friend, and me on things he should and should not do if he wanted to earn this reputation.

Things were going well for Christopher until one hot July day six months after All Stars concluded. That day I asked Christopher to pick the tomatoes in the garden. He had every excuse as to why he couldn’t pick the tomatoes. I was not in the mood to argue with him. In fact, I knew I didn’t have to argue with him. Within an arm’s reach hanging on the refrigerator were his All Stars worksheets, including his Getting A Reputation worksheet. I removed the sheet from the refrigerator and asked him to listen to something he wrote six months earlier. I read what he had written, ”More than anything else, I want to have a reputation of being a helper.” I also read aloud the advice his best friend and I had given him on how to earn this reputation, which included “being willing to do something when asked.”

Teachers Do Make A Difference

Posted: December 19, 2017, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

There is no doubt that nearly all teachers are effective. The more important consideration is the ways teachers differ in their influence on students. What is it that makes some teachers more effective and influential than others?

Recall the teachers who truly made a difference to you when you were in school. Most of us think of 1-2 teachers. During your elementary, middle school and high school years you would have experienced between 40-60 teachers. That means only 4-6% of your teachers left their mark. What is unique about these teachers that sets them apart from all the others?

All Stars Senior Has A Facelift

Posted: December 14, 2017, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

All Stars Senior has a brand new design and delivery! The program now includes five interactive and engaging online modules that Senior High students complete on their own. Knowledge checks after each module, along with a teacher-facilitated classroom/group lesson before and after the students complete the modules, makes this version of All Stars Senior an efficient, fun and effective way to deliver a wellness and prevention program. Module topics include perceptions of drug use, personal consequences of use, resisting pressure, opioid and prescription drug use and planning for the future without ATOD use - just to name a few.

Opioid Use Now Included In All Stars

Posted: December 12, 2017, 12:00am By: Kathleen Nelson-Simley

The national opioid use epidemic has created the need to address it as a specific behavior in All Stars. The middle school All Stars series - Core, Booster and Plus - have all been updated to include opioid use. Contact Anne to get more information on how you can receive these updated materials to include in your future delivery of All Stars.