Project Wisdom Character Education and SEL.

Helping Students Make Wiser Choices

Project Wisdom Logo - Social Emotional Learning

A Teacher's Story

Witnessing the positive results of one's efforts in the classroom can be a huge blessing for any educator. We want to jump up and down! We want to share the joy! But sometimes we don't know when and how to do that. The following stories are great examples. These educators (counselors, principal and teacher) knew they wanted to share their stories, but only when they realized they could publish them with Project Wisdom, did they find their vehicle. If you have some classroom joy to share, we would love to hear from you! Your story does not need to be specifically about Project Wisdom, but about anything that you believe would be encouraging to fellow educators. In the meantime, we hope these stories encourage you.

For more information or to submit your story click here.

Words of Wisdom Bring Comfort in the Google Classroom*

By Julie Johansen

Experienced Principal uses Project Wisdom to create a sense of normalcy in the daily routine of students learning from home. Read her story about using technology to help students cope during the pandemic.

This is my 12th year as a principal, but my first year at Creswell Middle School. I have used Project Wisdom at all of my former schools to engage students to think critically about important social emotional topics. At my previous school, we also used the Words of Wisdom each day to incorporate school-wide writing during homeroom. To this day, I will see former students in the community who heard my "famous" words daily, and will quote me by saying, "Make it a great day, or not, the choice is yours."

Moving to a brand new school this year, in the middle of a pandemic, I was worried that the Words of Wisdom wouldn't be possible. I also worried that without being at school in-person, I wouldn't be able to deliver the "WOW" daily to all students.

Luckily, I stuck with it, and my new staff encouraged me to use technology to deliver the program online. Since the beginning of school, students watch their daily WOW during homeroom (online) and then respond in writing in Google Classroom. During parent conferences, I have heard nothing but positive feedback that parents really enjoy listening to the WOW with their children at home and discussing the concepts. In addition, when I see the kids at the grocery store or at drive-thru events, they recognize me from my videos.

Although this school year is NOTHING like I ever imagined it would be, I appreciate that Project Wisdom has been a consistent for me and that I'm able to provide this for my students who need it now more than ever.

Julie is the Principal of Creswell Middle School in Oregon. She has served as a school principal for 12 years and was a classroom teacher for 5 years prior to that. She believes that we all have the power to "make it a great day" for ourselves and for others, and loves that Project Wisdom reminds us of that power, daily.

*NOTE: During this crisis, we are giving our licensed schools permission to step outside the bounds of our license agreement and share our materials with their students using technology and/or social media. This is a temporary agreement, and we ask that you acknowledge Project Wisdom and diligently include Project Wisdom as the copyright holder. This will help protect the future of our small business. It is our hope that these Project Wisdom Words of Wisdom will uplift and encourage everyone to be their very best selves during this time.

Along with many other small businesses, we are facing many challenges. We want to be able to continue to support and encourage students and educators for many years to come.

Focusing on the Possibilities

By Amy Barsanti

Morning announcements are necessary, but dull, right? Our principal always tried to make them interesting and fun, but they weren't. That is, until Project Wisdom broadcast messages were incorporated. On the first day, a third-grader asked me if the principal had too much coffee that morning! Conversations were started, lessons were added, stories were shared and enthusiasm grew.

An educator sees students make meaningful connections with the world through Project Wisdom.

It is difficult to measure objectives in character education (SEL) aside from memorization of concepts. And it is virtually impossible to establish direct causality. Still, a difference was palpable. It became easier to align the messages/stories with Language Arts and Social Studies curriculum for which I am responsible: international folktales, cause and effect, character, setting, plot, theme, and so much more.

It has been written that there is more information in the Sunday New York Times than someone in the 15th century encountered in a lifetime. Teachers cannot teach students all they need to be successful or culturally literate, but we can instill the love of lifelong learning. And we cannot form character or change values, but we can model coping skills and reinforce positive character traits. The Project Wisdom topics and stories are gentle reminders, items of discussion and reflection, and springboards for meaningful connections with literature and the world.

What makes this even more significant, more compelling, is how the circumstances of our students make Project Wisdom so important. Many of today's students have so little control over their lives. Illusion of control are all around them, but children are buffeted by media, opinions, and the actions of peers, family finances, and violence. Ours is a rural setting. There are few employment opportunities, and even fewer opportunities for cultural and artistic enrichment. What, then, can students really choose? When working with Project Wisdom, I choose to focus on the possibilities that come with the empowerment of these simple words repeated daily, "Make it a great day or not. The choice is yours."

Amy Barsanti has been teaching for 33 years, the last 24 in North Carolina. She currently teaches 3rd grade Language Arts and Social Studies at Jamesville Elementary School. She has a BA in Communication Arts and Theater, an MS in Elementary Education, and an MEd in Science Education with STEM concentration. Barsanti is published in many periodicals including Mailbox, Parents Magazine, and Teacher's Helper.

Kindness is Valued Here

By Katie Eller

Note: We recently reviewed this story, first published in 2012, and found that the message is as relevant to educators today as it was when it was first featured. Teacher Katie Eller offers encouragement to teachers who may be disheartened during their first years in the classroom.

During my first two years of teaching, I experienced it all: difficult colleagues, out-of-touch administrators, angry parents, testing pressure – and all I wanted to do was teach! I felt strongly about offering my students a quality education in a kind, respectful community of learners. It was heartbreaking to see that my ideals of teaching well and effectively were not always the "norm" among teachers. Due to multiple moves for my husband's occupation, I decided to "give education one more year." I told my husband that I only had one year left in me and if my experience did not prove that education could be a great field, I would need to find another way to support our home.

A "last-ditch effort" helps an educator hold on to her passion for teaching.

I'm entering my ninth year of teaching and this is why: I sat in a faculty meeting prior to the start of that third year. My principal took us through the staff handbook. I was already overwhelmed with new people, new curriculum, and a new grade level. When she came to the section about discipline and behavior, she read the words, "Restoring the relationship is the ultimate goal in addressing inappropriate behaviors." She went on to describe the kindness and respect with which she expected all teachers to treat students and each other. A quality relationship with students was her value and she was describing a small characteristic of the handbook that gave me the ultimate insight into my new campus: kindness is valued here. It wasn't just valued, but expected. In that role, I was grateful as I experienced tremendous professional growth simply by working with teachers who loved what they did and loved the students in their classrooms. It changed my life.

I have since moved to a new state and with the changes that came, albeit many great ones, I have carried with me the determination to treat students and teachers with the kindness that was emulated at my "last-ditch effort" in education. On each of my classroom walls, my students see posters that say: "Be kind. Work hard." We work together to live up to this and as I tell my students, it's my expectation for them, and it is the expectation for myself.

Katie Eller is a graduate of Baylor University and Duke University who has taught first, fourth, and fifth grades in public, private, and charter schools. She has conducted several trainings in literacy and reading curricula and served as a Curriculum Facilitator for the past 15 years. Katie was awarded an exemplary distinction on her Master's research project on Stories and Moral Imagination in the Middle Grades Language Arts Classroom.

The Promise of Summer

By Sarah Knutson

I worked far too hard to enter the teaching profession to ever realistically consider leaving. Still, there are days (years) when I have considered other jobs where I could make a solid income and avoid the stress and anxiety that teaching can cause.

Ready for the school year to end? One educator offers advice on recharging over the summer.


The year I was pregnant with my second child was one of those years. Everything seemed impossible that year. The students threw out new challenges. My administration asked me to accomplish new tasks. There were fears of what being a working mother of two would bring. I felt ready to leave.

But I knew I could not. What other job would let me do what I love (work with middle school students) and have guaranteed time off with my family? The promise of summer break, the fact that I don't have to fight (as I once did) to get Christmas off, and that I can pick up my children before 6 p.m. were benefits that kept me going.

It was summer break that saved me that year. It allowed me the opportunity to reflect on what I could do to feel better about teaching. Today, summer break gives me the opportunity to travel, to exercise, and to practice self-care. It gives me the time to complete professional development and explore community-building classroom activities, to create and revise procedures and protocols that make sense for my students.

And I believe summer saves students, as well. At this year's Open House, I had parents of 7th graders asking what their 8th graders can do over the summer to prepare for my class. My advice? To read books as a family. To relax and enjoy not having as many responsibilities, to take advantage of quiet mornings and long, warm evenings. My wish for students is for many summer days without technology, for long conversations, and memory making. Then, when we are together again, we can start with a bank of energy, with a willingness to focus and learn.

Summer break saved my teaching career, and I will remain ever grateful that I have a career with a release valve, with the built-in time to return to myself, my family, my life.

With degrees from UC Berkeley, San Jose State, and UC Davis, Sarah Knutson is a Young Adult Librarian turned middle school teacher. She will enter her ninth year of teaching this fall and still adores the magical world of middle school. When not teaching, Sarah is likely off on adventures with her husband, son, daughter, and dog.

Words of Wisdom Stay with a Young Marine

by Dianne Cicchetti

Prior to my current job as a career liaison at a local high school, I worked for twenty-two years at Hillside Middle School in Naugatuck, Connecticut as a school counselor. For twelve of those years, I was in charge of scheduling Project Wisdom. The students enthusiastically participated in and supported the program. The faculty wholeheartedly endorsed it and viewed it as a huge success. Faculty and students enjoyed and benefited from reading the daily messages. So for a solid twelve years, we were all greatly inspired by what was read.

From middle school to Afghanistan, a young man remembers words of inspiration and wisdom.

But the success of this program in Naugatuck is not the whole story that I would like to tell.

This is the story.

Recently, our retired principal ran into one of our former students, a young man who had returned from Afghanistan after two deployments while serving as a Marine. This young Marine was excited to see his principal and had a nice conversation with him. He told his former principal that when he meets up with friends from middle school, they often talk about the "good old days," the time they spent at Hillside, and the fond memories they had of those halcyon years.

During the course of the conversation, he also mentioned Project Wisdom. One special memory he shared was of the messages he heard each morning throughout his years in middle school. As he put it, "After listening for three years, the messages stuck with me in a significant way." He said he often thought of the inspirational and meaningful words he heard during the daily broadcast in middle school. He revealed that, in particular, those words had helped him through the difficult days of being at war.

This young man's testimony fulfilled a hope I held during all those years as we offered students the opportunity to both read and to listen to inspirational (and sometimes humorous) words from many wise and thoughtful individuals. I hoped that if not all the students were being impacted, at least some would be touched and influenced by the wisdom and inspiration we offered them each day. Knowing there is one story such as this young Marine's gives me the assurance that there must surely be more. Little did I imagine that a young man hearing our daily broadcast would one day grow up, serve his country as a Marine in a war torn region of the world, and find comfort and solace in the words he heard so many years before.

Thank you for this, not just for this young soldier, but for the thousands of students throughout the country who have been touched and exposed to the diverse contributors who shared their meaningful and often profound thoughts, beliefs and words.

Dianne Cicchetti, a retired school counselor, works as a career liaison at the CareerCenter at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Connecticut. She has been in charge of the center for the past five years.

I am Jonathan

By Joel Blaylock

Jonathan had real trouble making friends. He had moved a lot throughout his school career, and because he was always the new kid at school, everyone was always asking him, "Who are you?" Jonathan was discouraged and at times felt that all might be lost. But then, he made a decision, a very wise decision. He was determined to be remembered instead of being the kid who was always asked, "Who are you?"

A discouraged student finds success with some extra help from his school counselor.

He knew he had better work fast, so he developed a plan. He would learn the name of everyone at his school. When he saw them, he could then do more than just say, "Hi!" He could call them by name. So he asked Ms. Blake, the counselor, if he could see photos of all the kids and if she would help him learn their names. She agreed. Together, they made a chart and every day at recess she helped him practice learning the names of his classmates.

Just before the holiday break, Jonathan put his plan into action. At the school pep rally, he named more than half of the kids in attendance. When the break came, the kids in his class sent him a card. "Thanks for learning our names," it said, "That shows you really care. We will never forget you. Your friends forever."

One caring adult on campus gave special time to a boy who felt discouraged, a boy who wanted to take charge of his life and overcome negative circumstances. Without the help of Ms. Blake, it may have been impossible for Jonathon to implement his plan and turn things toward the better. But this brave boy found a way to make new friends, and together with Ms. Blake, helped build a stronger school community. Everyone benefitted. Ms. Blake did what all good educators do. She gave a student the support and the tools he needed to make his experience at school a rewarding one.

Joel Blaylock began his career working with homeless youth on Music Row in Nashville. Seeing a great need, he became a licensed drug and alcohol counselor for youth. After serving as a house parent for kids without parents in California, he returned to Texas to serve as a school counselor in Bonham. He has two sons, one is a motorcycle police officer and the other is a cardiac catheterization nurse. He has two rescue dogs named Olivia and Pistol Pete.

Sowing the Seeds of Success

by Tammy Ragan

Have you ever had a student in your class (or during an activity) who everyone warned you about? The one who isn't the school role model? The one who "never finishes anything"? The one with "the mouth"? I had one of those students in my first year at a new school in which I was teaching. He tried out for the musical, and, not knowing any of the students well and being desperate to fill the roles, I cast him. Soon I was pulled aside by many veteran teachers who, while trying to be helpful, suggested that I cast him in a lesser role as he would probably drop out or become academically ineligible.

One teacher, one student, and one musical add up to success.

Well, I stuck with him. It wasn't easy! I made a well-worn path between my room and the rooms of the teachers for whom he had outstanding assignments. Sometimes I had to remind him of rehearsal with phone calls and reminders from fellow students. Sometimes there were minor power skirmishes. In end, he stuck with me too.

After the final performance, he sat on the edge of the stage and said to me, "You know, Mrs. Ragan, this is the first thing I've never quit". My response to him was, "Feels good, doesn't it? And now that you know you can do it, go out and do it again."

His life has had its ups and downs. However, he enlisted in the service, learned career skills, is married, and has a family. Not bad for "the school quitter." We never know what seeds we sow or when the teachable moment will occur. We're told that if we make a difference for one, we make a difference for all. New Year's never happens in January for me. New Year's for me is the start of a new school year when all is fresh, all is new, and the opportunities abound! Love your challenges, lean on your colleagues, and learn through the eyes of your students.

May this school year be your best yet!

Tammy Ragan is in her 34th year of teaching music. After 17 years at CGB Public Schools in west central Minnesota, she finds herself a rookie once again at the Clearbrook-Gonvick School system in northwest Minnesota. Tammy is married and has four children, three of whom are teachers or teachers in training.