Interview with Barbara Gruener

Counseling Blog Author

School Counselor, Character Coach, Author of The Corner on Character

About Barbara: About to start her 34th year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, TX, has had the pleasure of working with and growing alongside learners from every grade level. She grew up on her family’s farm in Wisconsin, where she earned her BS in English and Spanish at the University of WI-Madison. She holds two MS degrees, in Education and Counseling. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.

[] When and why did you originally start a blog about children’s character development?

[Barbara Gruener] I actually started website writing back in 1999, before the word blog was even a word. I was transitioning from my position as a high school counselor to counseling on a 5th and 6th grade campus and I thought that writing online “blurbs” might be a fun way to engage parents and share info and ideas about my guidance time together with their children. Interestingly enough, one of my very early posts caught the eye of author Philip Hoose because it reviewed a lesson we’d done using his picture book Hey, Little Ant. He encouraged me to submit my reflections to Teaching Tolerance magazine and it was published in the Fall of 2000. An excerpt from that post now appears on the back of the hardcover edition.

[] What do you hope to achieve by maintaining The Corner on Character? Is there a central message you strive to communicate to your readers?

[Barbara Gruener] I strive to make the Corner on Character a place where readers can come for a booster shot of inspiration, hope, reflection, motivation, intrigue, gratitude and connection. I work to intentionally serve as a resource for all things character-development. My goal is to help my readers by planting seeds of positivity, resilience, kindness, and joy that they will harvest to make our world a better place. I love hearing what they’ve done with ideas; one school in WI even earned the distinction of State School of Character because the counselor was using some of the things I’d blogged about to make her school better. I got to visit there one summer and was so happy at seeing my heart-print on so many of their halls and walls.

[] On your website you mention that you travel often to speak at conferences, trainings, and school counseling events. What’s unique about the online medium that keeps you blogging after all these years, even amid so much valuable time with your peers in person?

[Barbara Gruener] I do love and thrive on the face-to-face interaction of my high-energy learning sessions and trainings, no question, but with increasing budget challenges, professional development of that nature isn’t always possible. A rich but inexpensive alternative is to open up a teaching or counseling blog or jump onto a Twitter chat or into a Voxer group and let the personal and professional growth begin. So many mentoring opportunities have presented themselves as a direct result of my blogging presence. Every time I can pass the baton by igniting a passion in just one cyberspace collaborator who will, in turn, be sold out for kids and ignite that spark in them, I am leaving the world better than I found it, a legacy I can be proud of, don’t you think?

[] In your bio you mention that you transitioned from being a teacher to a school counselor. What inspired you to make this switch, and what advice do you have for others who are currently considering or making a similar career change?

[Barbara Gruener] It would be impossible to count how many students reached out to me during my ten years as a high school teacher for an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and understanding response or wise word of caution or advice, and my gut reaction was always the same: Let me write you a pass to the Counselor. And, because I didn’t feel equipped to step into their stories, sometimes I actually did. I chuckle at that as I reflect; if I knew then what I know now! In any event, I decided to go back to school for an MS in counseling because I wanted to move beyond teaching Spanish to teaching kids and, in order to do that, I knew I needed to know more about ages and stages and emotional literacy. Initially, I wasn’t even sure I’d use the degree to become a school counselor because I loved teaching foreign language so much. But once I walked across that stage with those new skills and that diploma in hand, I knew I had to give counseling a shot. For anyone who is considering a change, dream big and get growing!

[] One of the shining features of your professional work is your book, What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind. Where did you get the idea for your book?

[Barbara Gruener] Thank you. When I attended my first Character Development Seminar and became a trainer of trainers for Character Counts!, I started doing workshops that I called, Sing, Dance, Laugh & Build Character. And though every one was unique and customized, the title always stayed the same. I started small, presenting workshops locally, but then ventured onto the national scene because I wanted to lead our elementary school on the National Schools of Character journey. After the first two years I attended the National Forum and presented my Sing workshop, the Conference coordinators invited me back for a third time, but only if called my workshop by a different name. {Gasp!} After a lot of resistance and reflection, I came up with “Character Is Our Superpower” because it complemented the part of my message to caregivers that encourages them to BE the hero that they wanted or needed as a child. It also occurred to me that our core values do come to the rescue for us a lot in life. A publisher by the name of Marian Nelson came to that workshop and afterward asked me why I didn’t have a book. So now I do.

[] Is there a particular aspect of character education that you think is most challenging to teach, or most lacking, in school counseling today? If so, what is it, and why is it so challenging?

[Barbara Gruener] A couple things come to mind. First is that some educators still kind of think that teaching character is something extra to put on their plate when, in reality, it truly IS the plate. Second, some think that character integration is the counselor’s job. Character education infusion truly does take a village and cannot fall to just one person if it’s to be sustainable. Third, we might also get some pushback from parents who think that it’s the job of the home, not the school, to teach core values. I would have to respectfully argue that it’s best if we can do that in concert. Finally, I think that engaging children in connections and relationships has become increasingly difficult as we compete with the devices that they are connected to at such an early age. I really caution caregivers to limit screen time so that those “soft skills” don’t suffer as a result.

[] Is there anything else you’d like to add?

[Barbara Gruener] Thank you for your interest in my story and my calling. I am at once honored and humbled to be among the passionate edu-hero bloggers on your list. As we cape up and crusade for good, remember that every day brings with it another chance to stretch and grow, to become a better version of ourselves, and to ultimately find ourselves in the service of others.

Thank you, Barbara! Learn more about The Corner on Character on our Counseling Blogs list.

Last updated: April 2020