Episode #82: Connecting By Heart with Barbara Gruener

By Barbara Bray

Join Barbara Bray in conversations with awesome educators, leaders, and influencers as they talk about their passion and purpose for planting seeds for change. Each podcast has a link to a related blog post with more information and resources.

Barbara Gruener loves the challenge of being an educator and staying current as things trend in and out of our field. She is a coach, mentor, consultant, speaker, and author of What’s Under Your Cape.

Barbara especially enjoys working with people as they discover who they are, what they stand for, what motivates them, and what they want and need. Enjoy our conversation!
Where you grew up
Growing up on my family’s dairy farm in Wayside, Wisconsin, I learned what it meant to work hard and make a living off the land. My parents always welcomed people into our home including foreign exchange students and foster children, so I learned to cook and manage a household at a fairly young age. I also grew to appreciate diversity and culture! These skills have all served me well as an adult.

What it was like for you as a student
I got my education at a parochial grade school, a public high school, and a Big 10 University. My first-grade teacher knew what the young know-it-all, energetic child in me needed; she made me a teacher’s assistant at the age of 6. I love learning and teaching; I didn’t love leaving Miss Natzke, and my grades 3 and 4 with the next teacher weren’t very happy. That teacher didn’t know I was an assistant and, even if she did, she didn’t need one. I was a scared, nervous wreck. It did make me happy when it was announced that summer that she was moving, especially since my little sister wouldn’t have to endure another year with her. That is until the move was to grades 5 and 6. I barely survived those four years with her; I stayed home most of the 7th grade with a severe stomach muscle spasms. After a year to heal, I did return back to school and remember enjoying my high school years. College at UW Madison was kind of hard for a farmer’s daughter like me but I love a good challenge. I graduated with a BS majoring in English and minoring in Spanish.

Your family
There were five of us kids plus mom and dad grew up on the farm in my family of origin; they all still live in WI but me. My parents divorced just as they were about to celebrate their Silver Wedding Anniversary. I’ve managed to stay very close with my Wisconsin family despite the distance.
Journey to become an educator
I graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1984 with a Bachelor of Science degree in English and Spanish. I began a Spanish Department in a small high school in central Wisconsin before heading to Texas in 1985. I taught Spanish and ESL classes at North Shore Middle School for a year before moving to FISD to teach Spanish and coach volleyball and softball at Friendswood High School. My education includes earning a Master of Science degree from the University of Houston Clear Lake in Education in 1989, followed by a Master of Science degree in Counseling in 1994. After 16 years of teaching and counseling at the secondary level, I decided to give the elementary school a try; there I found my niche as the counselor and character coach at Westwood for grades PreK through 3rd for 14 years, then with grades 3-5 at Bales Intermediate for three additional years.

In January of 2013, early one afternoon on my way to get my son from Junior High for a dentist appointment, I was hit head-on by a drunk driver, who was also on her way to get her child from school. I was left broken in 3 places physically and in many more pieces emotionally. I returned to work fairly quickly, but by May that semester, I was unable to continue after PTSD made my life too difficult. After two years of trauma therapy, some medical intervention to take the edge off, and the opportunity to give my Victim Impact Statement, I was able to journey through recovery to the other side, to find my joy again, and to forgive so that I could move on. I still experience the startle response when I’m traveling down the road, and I still have chronic pain in my shoulders an…