education, ITRT, kindness, reflection

Kindness Share Fair 2019

It’s a busy time of year, my friends.

If you are an educator, you might be nodding in agreement to the statement above. If you are a parent, you might be nodding, too.

The start of May seems to bring a rapid-fire season of events in our lives. The weather is warmer and our days and nights get filled with spring sports, outdoor festivals, and a dozen more activities that fill our calendars.

Dance recitals.

Proms.

Graduations.

There are end-of-year concerts, additional sports practices, and awards assemblies in the mix and the homework that fills a child’s backpack seems to multiply as teachers are making that final push for assignments to be completed and turned in.

For teachers, especially those in grades 3 and above, the daily art of teaching takes a major shift as well. We are not simply teaching something new, but also reviewing a year’s worth of instruction in hopes that students will pass a state-wide assessment to prove that yes, we did teach the content for mastery and yes, students actually learned what we taught them.

The stress of this time of year can be almost unbearable.

In my earlier years as an educator, I would look towards May with a bit of trepidation, because I could see the writing on the wall. In our school district in Virginia, our school year doesn’t end until mid-June, so May was the month where everything flipped a little upside down. I would wistfully wish that I could have more time, more energy, more joy in what I did on a daily basis.

I would often get caught in the trap of believing that this time of year was beyond my control. I was stuck teaching test-prep lessons. I was bound by the constraints of a curriculum that didn’t allow for creativity; I was shackled by a schedule that offered no flexibility.

Then one day I realized those thoughts were simply flaps of a cardboard box held together by a single piece of tape placed by someone else. If I wanted to do something creative, something empowering, something I knew would make a real impact on my students’ learning, there was absolutely nothing stopping me from removing that one piece of tape from the box.

I simply need to push up to open the box and step out to catch my breath.

Four years ago, I approached one of my collaborating teachers, Lori Cross, about doing a year-long kindness initiative that culminated with a grandiose project of giving every student in her class a $10 bill to make a positive impact in the world around them. We worked together to write a grant that was funded first by the Hanover Education Foundation, then later supplemented by Renee’s Cheerios, to provide a unique, meaningful learning opportunity for students to learn about gratitude, empathy, and compassion, while having a bit of fun along the way.

In 2016, we hosted our very first Kindness Share Fair, an event that showcased our students’ Kindness Passion Projects for parents and local community members. (In my book, A Passion for Kindness, I described our first year on pages 172-182.) Now, three years later, we have scaled our kindness initiative to include three classes with a total of 65 projects to share.

In May.

With JOY!

Our initial planning of Kindness Passion Projects began in February, as we read the book Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed to our students and discussed the “ripple effect” of kindness. Following that lesson, we brainstormed a list of “who and what” – people we could bless and things we could do to be the good in this world. Students worked in groups to create lists which we compiled on a Google Doc and shared to students through Google Classroom.

Then we told our students they were going to have an opportunity to make it happen.

For REAL!

Each student in Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Cross, and Ms. Miller’s classes were given $10 to plan their own Kindness Passion Projects. They had complete control over how they spent their money with only two guidelines:

  • They couldn’t spend the money on themselves, their immediate family, or their friends.
  • They had to create a Google Slides presentation about their project to inspire the world through our kindness website.
$10 “Seed Money” to grow kindness in our local community

Students researched the costs of their ideas (many modified their purchases when they discovered which stores offered the best deals!) and made a plan of action for their random act of kindness, which they completed over Spring Break with the help of their families. For students who couldn’t complete projects outside of school, we helped them design in-school projects to bless people like bus drivers, custodians, and cafeteria workers.

Students researching cost of items for their Kindness Passion Projects.

When students returned to school following Spring Break, they worked for several weeks on their presentations. I met with each class twice: once to provide instruction on basic presentation design and again to discuss copyright images and show them how to add photos of themselves to their projects.

In the blink of an eye, the calendar shifted from April to May and it was time to open our doors and welcome the world to view our projects on display!

It. Was. Amazing!

Welcome sign
Ready for students and digital projects!
Our favorite kindness-themed books on display for anyone that wants to read in our cozy reading area of our Innovation Lab!

Each class had a designated time throughout the day and I stood at the doorway of our building to greet guests and check badges. Our guest book showed more than sixty guests including family and friends, community members, teachers in our building, penpals from a local community center, school district personnel, and even kindness project recipients! Wow!

Our Kindness Share Fair Guest Book
“You can inspire the world!”
“Everyone has the power to be kind.”
Our Innovation Lab was quickly filled to capacity with community guests!
“Kindness is for everyone!”
“Be the good you want to see in the world.”
“Kindness is joy for others and you, too!”

Each class had a raffle basket filled with donations from parents and others. We also had a Call to Action table where guests could write on Post-it Notes how they would choose to be kind to others, placing their note on our Call the Action board for all to see.

We are so appreciative for donations to our Kindness Raffle!
Basket of JOY raffle
Call to Action table
“What will YOU do to scatter seeds of kindness in this world?”
It was such a joy to see all the ways our projects inspired others to be kind!

There are so many things I love about Kindness Passion Projects:

  • Students take ownership of their own projects from start to finish.
  • You can easily integrate instructional content of digital writing, oral communication, research skills, mathematics, character education, even a little scientific process structure while using technology and working on life skills of collaboration, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and citizenship.
  • Visitors have an opportunity to get an inside peek at student learning.
  • Kindness makes EVERYONE smile!

By sharing projects with an authentic audience, our students were reminded that their voice matters. They took pride in their projects and it showed! Some students overcame the fear of public speaking where others learned how to graciously share attention with others. It was a day of learning, sharing, and inspiring in so many ways!

We were blessed to have our school district spotlight our Kindness Passion Projects with a video shared on social media and our local NBC12 news station shared the video as a part of their morning broadcast, too!

As we move towards our final weeks of school, we embrace the joyful moments created by intentional planning and preparation. Is it possible to show what we know while also creating new memories that will last a lifetime?

We say, “Absolutely – YES!

We would love for you to take a moment to peek at our Kindness Passion Projects and let us know how our kind acts have impacted you. In a few weeks we will gather once again to celebrate kindness and see just how far our ripple effect has traveled. Maybe we can inspire YOU, too! If so, comment on this blog post or share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #passionforkindness!

To view our student Kindness Passion Projects, please visit http://bit.ly/MESkindness

Examples of a few Kindness Passion Projects we have on our Kindness Website!
Mrs. Miller’s Fourth Grade Class
Mrs. Cross’ Fourth Grade Class
Ms. Miller’s Fifth Grade Class
Ms. Miller, Mrs. Cross, Mrs. Letter and Mrs. Miller
“Scatter seeds of kindness near and far!”

A special thanks to Amanda McDaniel, HCPS Communication Specialist, for being a part of our special day, sharing photos, and creating a video to spotlight our projects. We appreciate everyone who supported our Kindness Passion Projects this year!

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family, mom, reflection

Two Years

Two years.

Each day this week I have glanced at the calendar, the bright days of April quickly transforming into May. I didn’t want to turn the page to a new month; I wanted to freeze April for just a little bit longer, just as I had two years ago.

Just a little more time.

Just a few more days.

Just a few moments more.

What I have learned in two years is that even when we don’t turn the calendar page, even when we pray our hardest for more, more, more, we are unable to stop the progression of time.

Time continues on without our permission. Time turns daylight into night and the low tide of the morning will always rise by afternoon.

We are not in control of all things.

Today it has been two years. I can hear the faint echo of your laughter in my dreams, and I wake with the knowledge that you are still with me, witnessing all the things that the past two years have brought into my world.

You were in my heart as I struggled to fulfill the promise I made to you on the last day you were on this earth.

You whispered encouragement to my mind when I was too scared to submit a book pitch to my favorite publisher, the crushing weight of fear and failure immobilizing my courage.

You nudged me on the inside as I pushed through the fear and submitted my proposal and you were right there in spirit to celebrate when I signed that final line of the book contract.

You reminded me of my worth, my purpose, my passion again and again and again.

You smiled sunbeams from above when I submitted my first draft.

You created an avalanche of accolades when my first book was shared with the world.

You sent signs and Godwinks all around, reminding me that though you are gone, you are always here.

And today, two years later, you are reminding me that it’s OK to laugh through the tears; it’s OK to find joy in the journey.

It was through your dying that I truly learned how to live.

Today I am thankful for so many things. For my faraway friends who send surprises my way, not even knowing that their timing is perfect. For family members who treat me to breakfast (and later dessert!) and others who sent messages of love and thoughtfulness.

I am thankful for the small ways I see your love shining through and those little reminders that there is always joy to be found, no matter the date on the calendar.

After all, each day we’re a little closer to dying, so why not stop and enjoy the moments while we can?

Surprise gifts from Karen Caswell who lives in Australia.
Another surprise gift from Kim Gretes, a childhood friend – a handpainted frame in celebration of my first book.

As I attended my niece’s dance recital today, I saw a duet performed by two graduating seniors and the lyrics of the song grabbed my heart as I thought about my mom and the journey we shared. I was so touched by the words, I immediately downloaded the song from iTunes and copied the lyrics below.

Two years after your passing, the words still ring true to my heart.

"Time Of Our Lives" 
Written by Timothy Myers and Tyrone Wells
Performed by Tyrone Wells
This is where the chapter ends
A new one now begins
Time has come for letting go
The hardest part is when you know
All of these years - When we were here
Are ending, but I'll always remember
We have had the time of our lives
Now the page is turned
The stories we will write
We have had the time of our lives
And I will not forget
The faces left behind
It's hard to walk away
From the best of days
But if it has to end
I'm glad you have been my friend
In the time of our lives
Where the water meets the land
There is shifting in the sand
Like the tide that ebbs and flows
Memories will come and go
All of these years
When we were here
Are ending
But I'll always remember
We have had the time of our lives
Now the page is turned
The stories we will write
We have had the time of our lives
And I will not forget
The faces left behind
It's hard to walk away
From the best of days
But if it has to end
I'm glad you have been my friend
In the time of our lives
We say goodbye
We hold on tight
To these memories
That never die
We say goodbye
We hold on tight
To these memories
That never die
We have had the time of our lives
Now the page is turned
The stories we will write
We have had the time of our lives
And I will not forget
The faces left behind
It's hard to walk away
From the best of days
But if it has to end
I'm glad you have been my friend
In the time of our lives
I'm glad you have been my friend
In the time of our lives

Tyrone Wells. Lyrics to “Time of Our Lives.” AZLyrics, 2019, https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/tyronewells/timeofourlives.html

As I sat outside later in the day, soaking in the sunshine remembering how much you loved the outdoors, I saw small reminders of joy.

A baby bird came to greet me on the sidewalk before scampering away to the other side.
A nest of baby bunnies nestled deep in the grass.
A Boston cap and a clay frog, reminders of the things that brought you joy when you were here.

Two years later, I am choosing to celebrate joy.

I know you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Today I remember you.
education, kindness, REBkind, travel

Texas Kindness: Character Strong

What does it mean to be “Character Strong?”

I have pondered this question, allowing it to swirl a bit in my mind, ever since I returned from my visit to Houston, Texas in March. During that trip, I was graciously allowed to tag along with Barbara Gruener as she and other kindness cultivators around the U.S. gathered to learn more about the Character Strong program, honing their skills as presenters and advocates for kindness.

Houston Kraft inspired us throughout the training day.
A group selfie once training was done!

Character.

Strong.

Driving back from the training, there were visual reminders of the strength of this community of Friendswood, that was underwater just 18 months before. Abandoned houses juxtaposed with boarded up buildings and Do Not Enter signs were in stark contrast to blooming flowers and thriving neighborhoods just a few streets away.

A home that was underwater during Hurricane Harvey, now stands abandoned.
An entire neighborhood is now abandoned, a casualty of the hurricane destruction.

This is a community who embodies the spirit of strong character. As we drove, Barbara shared story after story of resilience and perseverance that carried them not only through the horrific weeks of unprecedented flooding 6-10 feet high, but continued for months thereafter.

Strangers rushed in to rescue friends and loved ones from nursing homes, now boarded up and vacant from the storm. Neighbors checked in on one another, doing whatever it took to help each other rebuild, restore, renew.

Residents of the Friendswood Health Care Center were rescued on school buses and taken to the local high school during the crisis.

I find in times of unspeakable tragedy, such as the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, that the character of others rises and soars. Strength and compassion shine brightest on the darkest days, and we are reminded of the good in the world.

The American flag still flies strong in Friendswood, even despite the desolation.

To see more photos of the floodwaters caused by Hurricane Harvey visit http://bit.ly/harveyphotos17.

Later that afternoon, Barbara brought me to Lake Friendswood Park and we walked the path along the lake as her husband and son went fishing in kayaks.

The entrance to Lake Friendswood Park.
The lake was a perfect place to ponder and reflect.

The calm water and beautiful blue skies reminded me of the phrase Jet Stream Jax shares in his Kind Coins video:

“If raindrops can create a flood, people can create a jet stream of kindness.”

~Jet stream jax
A Passion for kindness, p. 36

I believe that’s what makes people of strong character: when they put their differences aside, embrace the humanity of which we all share, and continue to create ways to inspire and uplift others.

Maybe your kindness is a smile for the daycare teacher who is holding your child at the end of a long work day. Perhaps your kindness is surprising a stranger with a meal paid-in-full at a local restaurant. Your kindness may be driving past a front row parking space near the mall so someone else can have that joy, or maybe you take a few moments of your day to text your mom to say, “Hi.”

Whatever you are doing to remind people they matter, keep rocking it out. Don’t stop. We shouldn’t need a tragedy to bring us together, but it’s nice to know that in the moments of deepest despair, there is light.

There is love.

There is hope.

A special thanks to Barbara Gruener and her family for hosting the first of my R.E.B. trips to cultivate kindness for global impact. I knew she would be the perfect person to receive Gini Bonnell’s “Be Kind” sign, a reminder that the world really can be changed by the kindness of one.

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education, kindness, REBkind, travel

Texas Kindness: Jet Stream Jax

The third visit in our Texas Kindness Tour was meeting a very special student named Jet Stream Jax. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may recognize his name from my Remixing Relevance post in October 2017 where I shared about his community of Friendswood, Texas receiving catastrophic damage from Hurricane Harvey and his call-to-action to help rebuild school playgrounds in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Maybe you shared in the joy of my May 2018 post titled A Jet Stream of Kindness where our students virtually connected with Jax over Facetime to see him enjoying his new playground and asking questions about his journey.

Perhaps you read about him in Chapter 3 of my new book, A Passion for Kindness: Making the World a Better Place to Lead, Love, and Learn where you learned more about kindness rocks and how they can heal hurting hearts.

If this is the first time you have heard the name Jet Stream Jax, you need to watch his “Kind Coins for Hurricane Relief” YouTube video right now and listen to his story. It’s compelling. Heart-wrenching. Inspiring. Then you will know exactly why I chose to include him in my book and wanted to meet him in person.

Barbara Gruener, author of What’s Under Your Cape? Superheroes of the Character Kind, was Jax’s elementary school counselor. In the fall of 2017, she tagged me in a tweet sharing his Kind Coins video, which ended up being the kick-off lesson for our year-long kindness initiative last school year. Throughout the year, we thought of Jax and his school community as we collected coins and strengthened our compassion for a boy we had never met.

Then the day arrived where meeting him was no longer a wish, but a reality.

Barbara and I planned to arrive at his school after dismissal, which gave us time to trek back to town following our visit to Todd Nesloney’s school. We met in the front office with formal introductions, where I presented him with a signed copy of my book, showing him the section I had included about his kindness advocacy.

Showing Jax his story, shared on pages 36-38 in A Passion for Kindness.

I asked if he would autograph my book, too, and he carefully penned his initials on the page. (I have one copy of my book as an official “autograph book” where I’m gathering signatures of those who are mentioned throughout the pages.)

After a short walk through his school building, he led us to his school’s playground, which was actually an obstacle course complete with a timer.

Jax ran through the obstacle course as his mom, sister, and district representatives watched from the wall. I had so much fun recording him as navigated each of the challenges, mastering the entire run with a time of 40 seconds. He then turned to me and said, “Your turn!”

Last year, when Jax connected with our classes, he offered an open invitation to our class: “If you’re ever in Texas, you can run the course and try to beat my time.” Here I was, in person, for a once in a lifetime opportunity – to become a kid again and enjoy the playground our students helped to build with their donations.

When a student invites you to share in their joy, there is no other answer but, “Yes!”

I gave it my best effort with Jax and his sister cheering along the way. I will admit that my speed as a middle-aged, mom of three, lagged a bit behind Jax, but I was pretty impressed with my time of 52 seconds. (The videos of our obstacle course runs make me smile at the memories!)

After exploring the playground a bit more, Jax led us to their Playful Hearts Peace Garden where he and Barbara searched for the kindness rock created for my school.

A Heart of Kindness
We found the rock for Mechanicsville Elementary!
Jax shared his family rock that was painted for the rock garden.

Our visit concluded with a few formal photos and a brief interview with the communication specialist in Friendswood Independent School District, then we gathered at the front of the school to take a few more photos together. It was a joyful reconnection for Barbara and Jax, and I had the privilege of meeting another amazing kindness cultivator in our world.

The following week our visit made the front page news in an article written by Karolyn Gephart for the Friendswood Reporter News and was spotlighted by Friendswood ISD on their Twitter and Facebook pages. So exciting!

Article in Friendswood Reporter News
Tweet by Friendswood ISD
Photo courtesy of FISD Comm. Dept.

Never doubt the power you have to put good in this world. Whether you are a nine-year-old storm chaser from Texas or a forty-six-year-old woman from a town that grows tomatoes, your words and actions matter.

Keep sharing your stories. Keep doing kind things for others. Keep being the person that someone else needs you to be.

Each day is a new day to inspire!

Photo courtesy of FISD Comm. Dept.

In March, I traveled to Houston, Texas as part of my R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence, the first of several trips I will complete this year and next. My proposal, “Cultivating Kindness for Global Impact” takes me to various locations in the United States and Canada to dive into learning opportunities that align with my passion for kindness. One of the perks of these trips is meeting Kindness Cultivators, many of whom I spotlight in my book, A Passion for Kindness: Making the World a Better Place to Lead, Love, and Learn. This week and next I will be sharing stories from my journey so you can “travel” with me, too!

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education, kindness, REBkind, travel

Texas Kindness: Kids Deserve It

The second stop of my kindness tour with Barbara Gruener was visiting Webb Elementary School to meet principal, Todd Nesloney, author of Stories from Webb and co-author of Kids Deserve It and Sparks in the Dark.

I met Todd in 2014 when we both presented Ignite sessions for the ISTE Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. In fact, it was his presentation about Genius Hour that sparked my passion project collaborations with teachers in my school! It was a delight to see him again and thank him for the positive impact he’s had on my teaching journey.

Webb Elementary in Navasota, Texas is another “must-see” school. We were delighted to receive a tour by a fifth grade student named Eli, whose smile could light up the darkest room. We began our tour in the office where a massive Lego wall spanned more than half the wall. Barbara snapped a photo of Eli and I adding a few creations of our own to the wall.

Eli proudly explained the meanings behind their “House Families” and patiently watched as Barbara and I took dozens of photos. We learned that families include students from every grade level and they remain in these families for the entire year with school-wide challenges at regular intervals.

As we were admiring the giant wall paintings, several kindergarten students passed by and excitedly announced that their family had won the latest challenge and they were chosen to go on a field trip together! The pride they had in sharing this reward with us was precious!

Love in many languages.
One of their family emblems hand-painted on the wall.
Each family emblem and name is displayed at the front of the school.

As we continued our tour, we saw many Disney references, the chosen theme for this school year. We also admired their “I Am” mirror wall (I couldn’t resist looking into the ‘kind’ mirror!)

“I am Enough.”
“I am Kind.”

I love the way Webb Elementary makes use of each nook and cranny to make school an inviting place to be. A corner reading nook caught my eye as did the colorful canvases displayed throughout the building. I especially loved the family canvases shown at each teacher’s door, spotlighting personal families, too.

Random Reading Spot with canvases on walls.
Canvases of teachers and their families outside of each classroom door.

At the conclusion of our tour, we met back with Todd and spun the color wheel to determine which family we would join. It was a joy to get a sneak peek at Webb Elementary and learn more about their school culture!

A special thanks to Barbara Gruener who volunteered to drive the distance to Navasota and back. We were able to enjoy the Bluebonnet wildflowers along the way and geared up for our next stop: meeting Jet Stream Jax who inspired our Kindness initiatives in the Fall of 2017!

More Texas fun to come in my next post! Stay tuned!


In March, I traveled to Houston, Texas as part of my R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence, the first of several trips I will complete this year and next. My proposal, “Cultivating Kindness for Global Impact” takes me to various locations in the United States and Canada to dive into learning opportunities that align with my passion for kindness. One of the perks of these trips is meeting Kindness Cultivators, many of whom I spotlight in my book, A Passion for Kindness: Making the World a Better Place to Lead, Love, and Learn. This week and next I will be sharing stories from my journey so you can “travel” with me, too!

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education, kindness, REBkind, travel

Texas Kindness: Kind Kids


On my first #REBkind trip, I visited Houston, Texas and neighboring locations to meet kindness cultivators and learn more about character education. I was blessed beyond measure by the hospitality of Barbara Gruener (@BarbaraGruener), author of What’s Under Your Cape: SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind. She not only opened her home to me as a warm, welcoming bed-and-breakfast, she offered to drive me around town to meet others and take in the local sights around Friendswood, Texas. Although I was in town for less than three days, we made the most of every moment!

*Fun Fact for you: Friendswood began as a colony created in 1895 by two Quakers, Frank Jacob Brown and Thomas Hadley Lewis, “to establish a community dedicated to God.” (The term “Quakers” and “Friends” are often used interchangeably.) Almost one hundred years later, I would be married in a Friends church in my hometown! What a delightful connection to discover!*

Our first stop on this kindness adventure was teaching a kindness class! Barbara had already arranged to teach a lesson with Wendy Hankins (@MrsHankinsClass), but unbeknownst to Wendy, I was joining in the fun, too!

At Kirk Elementary School, they have a school-wide genius hour where students get to follow their passions and join a mixed-age group for a themed lesson. Wendy and her coworker, Christine Owings (@MrsOwingsClass), host a kindness club called Kind Kids (@KindKidsAtKirk) and Friday was their first lesson with a new group. It was perfect timing for a surprise visit!

I wish we had taken a photo of Wendy’s face when she came through the door and saw us sitting in her school’s office! It was the first time we had ever met, but we hugged as if we were long-lost friends!

After introductions, we made our way back to her class and Barbara and I blessed Wendy with a copy of both of our books. We took a few photos, then watched as Wendy welcomed her students to class, listening to sounds of “Limbo” playing through the laptop. We even had a chance to check out the students’ stellar dancing skills, too!

When students switched to their Genius Hour groups, our “class” had expanded to nearly 40 students! WOW! I read one of my favorite kindness stories, “Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed” by Emily Pearson, then Barbara and I shared our personal experiences with kindness, specifically how one ordinary deed could make a monumental impact on someone else’s life.

We discussed the hurricane that came through their area last school year and showcased Barbara’s student Jet Stream Jax (both of whom are spotlighted in Chapter 3 of A Passion for Kindness.) We showed them Jax’s Kind Coins video and talked about kindness rocks, kindness shirts, and how we can all become kindness cultivators, too.

Wendy showed them where their Kindness Club was mentioned in my book  (p. 113) and Barbara led a visualization activity so students could see the ripple effect of kindness over the course of one month. The students were excited to start sharing kindness with the world!

Following the kindness lesson, as students switched back to other classrooms, Wendy showed us the Kindness Quilt displayed in their school’s hallways that students had made last semester. (Could you tell it was created with 12″ x 12″ scrapbook paper? So quick and easy!) Before we left, I gave Wendy a few things for her students as little reminders that every act of kindness matters.

Barbara and I were filled with such joy from our visit with Wendy, Christine, and the kind students of Kirk Elementary! It was a wonderful way to start our morning of kindness!


In March, I traveled to Houston, Texas as part of my R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence, the first of several trips I will complete this year and next. My proposal, “Cultivating Kindness for Global Impact” takes me to various locations in the United States and Canada to dive into learning opportunities that align with my passion for kindness. One of the perks of these trips is meeting Kindness Cultivators, many of whom I spotlight in my book, A Passion for Kindness: Making the World a Better Place to Lead, Love, and Learn. This week and next I will be sharing stories from my journey so you can “travel” with me, too!

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kindness

April Fools’ Kindness

It’s the first day of April and you know what that means – a day filled with jokes, pranks, and “Gotcha!” moments left and right. For us, it’s the first day of Spring Break and it’s a Monday, so I decided to do something fun just because I could. It’s also the week that many of our students are performing their Kindness Passion Project RAKs, so I wanted to share in the joy, too!I

Inspired by Laurie McIntosh’s recent RAK of giving flowers to drive-through workers, I decided to bring someone flowers, too. I wasn’t quite sure who I wanted to bless, but I figured it would hit me as I went about my day.

As I added my final items to my shopping list (including flowers!), I grabbed the stack of books I needed to mail out and put them in my travel box to bring to the post office. As I was putting them in my car, it suddenly hit me – I should bless the postal workers with flowers!


I went to the post office first as it sometimes takes a while to mail out packages and I wanted to see how many people were working at the registers today. I saw two ladies and knew they would be the perfect recipients.

Next, I headed to my favorite Kroger grocery store and saw these beautifully bright flowers that caught my eye. I grabbed all the groceries on my list, carefully added the flowers to my cart, made my purchases, then walked back to my car.

Standing outside the post office, I decided to make a live video to post on Instagram. (This is a stretch for me because live videos are a wee bit outside my comfort zone. This may shock a few of you because I love to talk and love technology!) As I was fumbling with the phone and the flowers, a kind lady came up to me and asked if I needed some help taking my photo (she thought I was trying to take a selfie!) I graciously thanked her, then explained I was getting ready to take a video instead. She laughed and continued inside the post office.

After explaining my RAK to those on Instagram, I went inside the post office and waited in line again, this time absolutely giddy with anticipation. After all, how many people walk into a post office with flowers in their hands?

When it was my turn to approach the counter, I handed the clerk my bouquet. “Today is April Fools’ Day, which means lots of tricks and pranks. I thought it would be fun to do something GOOD instead, so I’m blessing you with flowers to say ‘Thank You’ for all you do!”

Oh my goodness! I wish you could have seen her reaction! It was priceless! She put her hand to her heart, the shock apparent on her face, as this beautiful smile spread from cheek to cheek.

“For ME? That is so sweet!”

I asked if we could take a photo together and she readily agreed, coming to the front of the counter to stand together.

Joy! Joy! Joy!

Then I waited for the other clerk to return from the back and I presented her with flowers, too. She was the clerk that had processed my book packages earlier in the day, so I thanked her for taking care of all the books I’ve been mailing lately. She was just as surprised by my RAK! As she came to the front, I heard her say, “Wow! I feel so appreciated! This is just incredible!”

After we took our photos, I turned to see everyone smiling. EVERYONE! Do you know how great that is to see EVERYONE around you with a smile on their face? WOW!

I left the post office with a heart filled with joy and a perma-smile on my face for the rest of the day. It was a perfect way to #CelebrateMonday and put a little kindness boomerang on this April Fool’s Day!

How are YOU adding good to the world this week? Leave a comment and share your stories, too! There will be a few more posts heading your way this week as I share the latest on my #REBkind Kindness Book Tour to Texas and my recent book signing events. Subscribe below so you don’t miss a single post!

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family, kindness, reflection

Three Weeks of Joy

Three weeks ago, my life changed forever.

On February 14, 2019 – Valentine’s Day – I became a published author. It was a bucket-list, milestone moment that ranked almost as high as my goals to become a wife, a mom, and a teacher.

It fulfilled a promise I made to my mom on the last day she was alive.

Three weeks. Twenty-one days. Six months of editing, six months of writing, and a lifetime of living all wrapped up in one 270 page novel.

WOW. Sometimes, there just aren’t enough words to adequately express the impact of such a moment in your world.

Several times in the past three weeks I have sat down to update this little website of mine, to share my joy moments with you, to shine a light on the unbelievable kindness of others, and each time I have been overwhelmed to the point of tears in trying to express my gratitude to you all.

How does one begin a thank you note to the world?

How does one send a hug to each person they’ve never met?

How does one reciprocate the vast depth of love and joy received?

They sit in a cute little coffee shop on a rainy Friday afternoon with a perfectly crafted Dulce de Leche and simply let the words pour out on the page.

The past three weeks have been a complete whirlwind in my world. I have quickly discovered that life doesn’t stop just because you published a book; if anything, the pace ramps from 0 to 60 overnight! My days continue as before, filled with lessons and collaborations, and my evenings are still rocking on with mom-mode as I help with homework and take-home projects, do laundry, and try to figure out what on earth happened to the entire package of cheese sticks I bought just days before.

But now there are new adventures and opportunities woven in the mix. I was a Keynote speaker for the CKI Capital District Convention, speaking to 75 college students about the importance of community-based service-learning projects. I met friends and family (and a few new friends, too!) during my first book signing event at my favorite little coffeeshop, The Local Cup. I even got to meet Jason Mraz’s mom for the first time which was quite the fangirl moment for me!

Keynote Presentation for the CKI Capital District Convention
Book Signing at The Local Cup
Signing books for June, Jason Mraz’s mom (His story is on p. 200-201 in my book!)

I moderated Twitter chats for #tlap and #122edchat and scheduled more for the coming weeks. I prepared for a poster session and an Ignite presentation which I shared at our local EdTechRVA conference this week.

Poster Session at #EdTechRVA2019
Ignite Presentation at #EdTechRVA2019

I packaged and mailed books and ordered more when I ran out. I took selfies with coworkers, signed books for students, and answered emails about my passion and my purpose.

Signing and packaging books for my Kindness Cultivators
Celebrating my book with my coworker and friend of 25+ years, Brian Capaldo
Have you met my Zumba instructor, Toni? SHE IS FAMOUS, Y’ALL! Check her out!
Even our retired custodian, Carter, came back to school to get my new book!

I became a real author in every meaning of the word.

I also learned that real authors are not immune from getting sick either, so in the midst of it all I’ve lost my voice, coughed up a lung, and gained appreciation for medical insurance to cover the cost of prescription medications.

But even in the hardest of moments and toughest of times, I am reminded of the power of A Passion for Kindness.

I am receiving countless stories of how this book has impacted your world. On Twitter. On Facebook. On Instagram. Face-to-face conversations, handwritten notes, and reflective blog posts. I’ve even had my very first sketchnote completed about A Passion for Kindness!

A Twitter tweet from my school district’s superintendent – Honored!
A quote from my book created by Alicia Ray, who also shared her reflections about A Passion for Kindness in her #DBCBookBlogs post.
A Twitter tweet shared by Christine Bemis, with her mom and my book in the hospital.
“High Expectations” – No pressure, right?
A Twitter response from Renee’s cousin. Renee’s story is the heart of Chapter 6.
An incredible sketchnote about A Passion for Kindness drawn by Julie Porter
A special blog post from Dave Burgess with his reflections about A Passion for Kindness, with watercolor artwork created by 10 year old Rowan Weston, daughter of DBC author, Amanda Fox.

I stopped in the grocery store to pick up a few things and the cashier congratulated me on my book. I sat in the pharmacy drive-through and the person behind me was waving her book out the side of her car window.

When the grocery store cashier at Kroger congratulates you on your new book, you feel like a local rockstar! Thanks, Sandy! Lovely to meet you, too!
“I even have your book in my car!!”

That’s the power of kindness. My joy is your joy; your joy is mine. My cheeks are nearly sore from all the smiling I’ve done recently.

The past three weeks would have been NOTHING without your support and encouragement. You have celebrated each and every moment of this accomplishment, and you continue to pour into my heart with each post you share.

In the coming weeks I hope to write more details of all the amazing events happening in my author life, so you, too, can join the fun. For those of you who are budding writers and aspiring authors, perhaps my stories may bolster your confidence and give you ideas for the future. For those of you who are educators, perhaps my stories will show you the power of your voice, too. And for those of you who are family and friends, well… it’s just fun to share my life with you, so thanks for staying on the train and enjoying the ride!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the many ways you have uplifted me and my book these past three weeks. Each of you is a thread woven in my life’s tapestry and my goodness, what a beautiful piece of artwork we are creating together!

You bring joy to my soul!

For more information on A Passion for Kindness, visit http://bit.ly/DBCkindness or click on the “Book – A Passion for Kindness” tab on this website!

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education, family, mom, reflection

The Gaming Child

He received the game as a Christmas gift.

With the other surprises of the day, he didn’t open the game right away, but when he did, he was hooked.

He sat for hours in his gaming chair, eyes glued to the screen, as he manipulated the controller in his hand to make the character move through one challenge to the next.

He was searching for moons.

He was collecting coins.

He was trying to get to the next level.

He was so engaged with his gaming, he didn’t hear the call to come to dinner and lost all interest in building Legos.

His behavior persisted throughout the winter break and into the new year as he and his older brother bargained and battled for gaming time on the device.

He stopped reading books. He didn’t want to play outside. His entire focus was wrapped inside that game.


As an educator, it’s easy for me to read the story above and fall into the abyss of my bias. To pass judgment on that child. To pass judgment on that parent. To shake my head and lament about life “back in my day” then make a direct correlation to the child’s gaming patterns and his average reading ability. After all, if he spent less time gaming and more time reading, he would receive better grades, become a star student, and master his standardized assessments.

But this story is different. I’m not passing judgment because “that” child is mine and “that” parent is me.

I’m writing this post to let you know that my child is fine, and yours will be, too.

My son received a Nintendo Switch gaming system for Christmas, a shared gift with his older brother who is in high school. Both boys received a chosen game to go with the device and they have played on the system nearly every day since we got it.

But here are the details you didn’t get to read above.

Each day my youngest son begs for us to play Mario Odyssey with him, because he knows we have a greater chance to win a level if we work together.

When he’s not playing the game, he’s watching YouTube videos created by others to learn better strategies on how to master various levels with the greatest number of coins.

He invited a friend over to play the game with him, something this somewhat introverted child never does, as we don’t have many neighbors his age nearby.

We made the gaming day happen, and the joy on his face was immeasurable.

He has battled his own frustration to the point where we have nearly sent him to his room. He has discovered that sometimes persistence and perseverance require not more grit, but a change in task and location.

As his mom, I could have very easily placed time limits on his gaming throughout the week. “No games until the weekend,” or “Only 20 minutes today.” But I know what it’s like to be SO EXCITED TO DO SOMETHING only to be told no repeatedly.

It crushes the soul and makes you resentful over time.

I also know what it’s like to be at school all day, followed by hours at after-school care, when all you want is some time to yourself doing something that makes you happy.

I remember what it’s like to be nine years old.

Caleb playing Mario Odyssey.

As I watch my son playing his game, and invest MY time getting to know about HIS passion, I discover he’s learning things I would have never thought to teach him.

He is solving complex algorithms as he patiently reminds me, “No, Mommy, you can’t do it that way. You can’t just jump. You have to ground pound, then jump, then do a half wall jump, then throw your hat where you want to land, then dive. That’s how you do it.”

He has become the teacher, and I am his student.

I am fiercely protective of my child, as many Momma Bears are, but I am also a seasoned educator and parent with more than twenty years of experience as both.

My son will be fine.

Yours will, too.

If you are concerned about your child’s gaming interests, take the time to learn more about their passion. What is it about the game that intrigues them? What challenges must they overcome to win? What keeps them coming back to play again?

When my oldest son, Daniel, was obsessed with Minecraft, I discovered his innate ability to match colors and shading to create masterpieces of art. Hours of designing and creating sparked an interest in engineering and chemistry, both of which he is exploring in high school. In fact, he once spent an entire afternoon presenting at our district’s Leadership Conference about how to use Minecraft to teach math and science.

When he was in fourth grade.

Daniel first designed the inside of the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, LA (notice the complex shading and symmetry from Minecraft blocks).
Daniel then designed the outside of the cathedral wrapped around his previous creation, all from looking at this photo.
Daniel showing district leaders how to apply Minecraft to math and science during our district’s annual Leadership Conference.

As I look across the room at my youngest child, Caleb, I am mesmerized by his ability to remember exactly which kingdom has which star power and his intuitive skill at reading various maps to discover the treasure he seeks.

And just this week, this same nine year old did something I didn’t think was possible.

He actually beat the game.

999 moons. 43 souvenirs. 82 music tracks. Bowser was defeated and he had the joy of seeing every variety of bird on the final ledge, including the elusive penguin.

He even received a digital celebratory postcard showing every single character displayed in the game.

The level of pride my son has for achieving this goal rivals that of student who has received a Principal’s List award at a school assembly.

He knows the satisfaction of accomplishment.

He may never read a 500 page novel and I’m OK with that. (Although, as his book-loving Momma, you can rest assured he is surrounded with books throughout the house should he change his mind!)

He may never play on the high school soccer team and I’m OK with that, too. (Not for lack of trying, of course. He’s done his time with basketball and soccer, neither of which garnered much enthusiasm. Even his interest in swimming waned as he grew older.)

He can put together a 1200 piece Lego set and meticulously create masterpieces with Perler beads, much like his older brother. Perhaps, just perhaps, he is bound for a greater success than I can even imagine in a career that hasn’t yet been created.

It makes me ponder my own instruction as an educator, and wonder if there’s a way we can link this gamification mindset to required curriculum standards in such a way that students can apply these skills to the classroom, too. Are we really preparing our students for future success in this digitally enhanced world?

I don’t have answers, only insights to my child.

I don’t have judgment towards you if you raise your child a different way.

I’m simply bringing to light my experiences and putting them out there from my perspective as I support my child’s passion and celebrate his success.

He’s going to be just fine.

education, ITRT, reflection

Coding is My Jam

As a technology integrator and instructional coach, much of my interaction with teachers is supporting them in their efforts to use technology in their day-to-day work with students. Their technological expertise ranges from novice to advanced, so each collaboration is personalized to take them from whatever level they are currently at to helping them reach the next level. The goal is to push up a notch, not push off a cliff!

Many subjects align nicely with technology. Digital writing is a great way to reinforce grammar and composition skills. Recording reading makes oral fluency more relevant and easier to assess. Interactive activities that layer text, photo, and more provide students an opportunity to create products to showcase their learning in ways that didn’t exist before.

There are times, however, when we need students to engage in learning experiences that may not be directly tied to testing standards. That’s when it gets a little tricky, because we all know how limited that precious commodity of time is with jam-packed schedules and multiple pacing guides to follow.

In Virginia, we do not follow the Common Core curriculum. Instead, we have our own state guidelines called the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs). In November 2017, our state approved Computer Science Standards of Learning for all grades K-8 with specific course standards for the high school level. A quick glance of these standards might give a general classroom teacher heart palpitations as the verbiage is tough to deconstruct if you are not familiar with technical computing language.

Understanding these challenges, coupled with the reality that I am only available in one school 2 days a week (with an occasional 3 day week here and there), I have to get a little creative to find ways to support teachers for their requests while also providing additional experiences that bring non-tested curriculum directly to the students.

Enter the world of collaborative coaching.

Several times a month I sit down with the gifted-talented teacher at my school, Maureen Ambrose, to compare notes on lessons we are doing with teachers and students. When we first began our collaborative planning sessions last year, we mainly touched base to make sure we were on the right track and brainstormed ideas; now we use the time to extend our conversation to creating unique learning experiences for individual classes and grade levels as a whole.

It started with Pirate Day in the fall, where we used a common theme to focus on three learning experiences using technology, one of which was coding with Ozobot robots. Each station was led by either me, Maureen, or the classroom teacher. We offered Pirate Day two days with flexible signup and it was so popular we will offer it again for another two days this spring!

This month, we focused specifically on third grade classes, inviting them to a “Coding is My Jam” learning experience with each station focused on various coding skills. As Brian Aspinall, author of Code Breaker states, “I don’t want all kids to code, but I do want all kids exposed to coding.” (His blog post about going beyond the Hour of Code reminded us of the importance for students to have these experiences all year long, not just in December!)

For Coding is My Jam Day, we transformed our Innovation Lab into a coding studio with three designated areas for each of our activities:

  • Robot Coding – Create a sequence code using designated cards, then input the directions into a remote control and watch the Botley robot move from start to finish. If the output doesn’t work the first time, analyze the code and debug to try again!
  • Coding is My Jam – Using the Osmo “Coding Jam” block coding kit, work with a partner to create unique beats for various instruments to design a new musical soundtrack!
  • Binary Bracelets – Discover the wonderful world of binary code! After a brief overview of the history and purpose of binary code, use a basic binary coding sheet to create an 8-bit code identifying your initials. Then, after planning out your design using a basic storyboard, replace the code with colored beads to string on a pipe cleaner, creating a “readable” coding bracelet. If time allows, you can complete extension activities to create a secret message for a friend using binary code or answer riddles by deciphering the coded answers.
Items used for coding lessons
Botley Robot materials
We created squares on our tile floor for Botley to maneuver through.
Binary Bracelet station
Materials used to create Binary Bracelets
Coding Jam Osmo kit with iPad on display
Osmo Coding Jam station
Coding sheets
Extension activities (with Table Talk Math mats below!)
A quick photo of Maureen and I before all the fun begins!

Prior to our coding day, Maureen visited each third grade classroom to read the book, How to Code a Sandcastle, and play an unplugged coding game called “Let’s Go Code” to build a bit of coding background knowledge. It was a quick interactive intro to hook them in for what was to come!

When Coding is My Jam Day arrived, students entered our coding studio and sat on the floor as Maureen provided a brief overview of each station. During that time, I took the classroom teacher to her station and shared details in how to guide students in their learning. We then began the rotations, using a timer on our cell phone to notify us when it was time to switch stations. We made sure to include a brief discussion at the end, emphasizing the challenges and lessons learned in coding.

What I love about this three station model for learning is that every single student in the class gets to experience every activity in a way that encourages communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and even creativity. There is equity in access to the technology and having three adults in the room helps to guide conversations and pitfalls that inevitably occur.

“See? Coding works!”
Testing the output to see if there are any bugs in the code.
Students work together to create a block code.
Lots of critical thinking when the levels get harder!
Students coding with block coding tiles from Osmo.
Collaboration makes block coding fun!
Student mapping out her initials using binary code and a planning page.
Creating the binary code as a story board before creating the bracelet.
Student creating a Binary Bracelet using beads and a pipe cleaner.
Binary bracelet success!
“We love our Binary Code bracelets!”

For the classroom teacher, it was a 75 minute commitment (30 minute pre-lesson one day and 45 minutes on the Coding is My Jam day), but hit on several of the Computer Science SOLs which actually maximized the time spent. Best of all, we had no behavior issues for either experience, as all students were actively engaged exploring unique tasks that challenged their thinking in a non-threatening way. We even saw several students wearing their binary code bracelets throughout the week!

While there was a bit of work on the pre-planning side (you don’t host an adventure like this without having a strong plan of action!), the actual day of implementation was relatively easy and provided flexibility for Maureen and I to rotate through the other stations offering additional support. We also captured the learning with quick videos to a Flipgrid grid with three topics for the stations we used.

Overview of our Flipgrid topics
Flipgrid Topics for capturing learning

We look forward to offering additional learning opportunities like this throughout the year and encourage others to give it a go, too. You might be surprised how much joy can arise from three little stations in your day! We also want to give a huge “Thank You” to the Virginia Professional Educators for supporting creating learning experiences such as this and providing funding for us to purchase materials to make this day a success!

Used with permission from Sylvia Duckworth

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