family, reflection

New Car, New Driver

This week our family crossed another summer milestone off our list – our daughter got her driver’s license! For many this may seem like a typical rite of passage for a high schooler, but for us it’s a little different.

Our daughter is starting her second year in college.

For years we’ve heard questions from others.

“What is she waiting for?”

“Has she started driving yet?”

“When are you going to make her learn how to drive?”

The last question still makes me laugh. I’m not sure I can make my daughter do much of anything, especially now that she is approaching her 20’s.

Despite being able to walk at 10 months of age and write her name at the age of three, our daughter has always done things in her own time, when it felt right to her. Thankfully, we realized this trait years ago and have embraced it as part of who she is and who she will become. For some things, like academic success, our daughter has soared as an early riser. For other things, like looking her age, she is a late bloomer.

She is wonderfully made, creating her own timeline as she goes.

I am very different than my daughter. I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license! From the moment I held those car keys in my hand to the time I could reach the gas pedal, I was yearning for the independence only a driver’s license could provide. It was a love I shared with my Grandma Payne; it was a bonus to going to college four hours away from home. Driving was then, and continues to be, one of my joys (even in standstill traffic. Yes, I know I’m odd!)

For years I held on to my favorite car, an immaculate sapphire blue, five speed Honda Civic, in hopes that one day I would pass it down to my daughter as her first car. When months turned into years and we still had no new driver in the house, we eventually realized it would be more advantageous to sell my beloved car, to let it go to someone else who might need it more. After all, I had already moved on and purchased another car and this one was just sitting around idle in the garage.

Today, I would like to share the story of my favorite car, the moment I let it go, and the pay-it-forward act of kindness I shared in the process. I hope it brings a smile to your heart as it did mine years ago.

As for my daughter’s new car? That will have to wait a bit more for us to carve out money in our budget. Until then, we celebrate the summer my daughter overcame fear, stepped out of her comfort zone, and met a milestone with us cheering her on the entire way.


In 2002, almost fourteen years ago, I discovered a new car in my driveway on Mother’s Day. Even though I knew it was being purchased (not quite the surprise Mother’s Day gift that makes for a great commercial), it was still an exciting memory to recall.

We bought a Honda Civic in the same color as my previous Honda Civic and it had exactly 10 miles on the odometer. My daughter, Katrina, was three years old and I grabbed her hand as my husband snapped a photo of our glee that bright, spring morning. (Don’t pay attention to the date listed on the photo – it took me nearly a month to learn how to change the date on my digital camera back then, lol.)

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Today I said goodbye to that very same car.

With 91,730 miles of memories tucked in the folds of its cloth interior, it was time to let someone else make memories, too. My daughter and I stood outside once again, hand-in-hand, and snapped another photo, showing just too clearly how quickly time passes in the blink of an eye.IMG_3523

I decided to leave a surprise for the new owner, a young man who was very appreciative to have a reliable ride to work, and placed it in the glove compartment to be discovered after he drove away.

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Time is filled with changes. We can choose to be sad, or we can appreciate all the memories made in the time we had. For me, I prefer to celebrate everything, big and small, even if my loss is someone else’s gain.

It brings me joy to know that this man will be happy with his new car and can take a moment to celebrate, too!

Reposted from http://celebratekindness.wordpress.com


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family, travel

Sweet Exploration

Do you remember what it was like to be “footloose and fancy-free?” Yes, that’s a cliche and to be honest, I’m not even sure what fancy-free even means, but that phrase brings instant memories of my younger years: Kevin Bacon, 80’s music, and a LOT of memory-making with my friends.

Now that I’m a mom of a college student, I have to remind myself that my daughter is creating her own “footloose and fancy-free” moments which may not mirror mine. We are completely different in so many ways. Extrovert/Introvert; my cup is fueled by crowds, she needs quiet time to decompress. One thing we share, however, is the joy of traveling.

Last week Katrina showed me a map of our state with key locations marked from east to west, north and south. “I’m going on a road trip with friends,” she announced, “We’re going to see which place has the best ice cream.”

 

If I could freeze this moment in time, I would capture it in my heart forever. The joy on her face, the excitement in her voice, was absolutely priceless. She didn’t need her mom to help her make decisions of where to go or how to get there. She was embracing a spark of exploration and making it happen. Her joy was my joy.

It was an 11-hour road trip across the state of Virginia with six stops along the way. From waffle cones to paper cups to milkshakes with straws, the girls tasted their way on the sweetest journey of their teen years. Take a peek at the video below to see their adventures!

In the book Live, Love, and Explore, Leon Logothetis shares his experiences of traveling around the world, meeting everyday people, and living life to the fullest. One of the many lessons he shared along the Way of the Traveler rings true:

Once you start being yourself, you’ll be happy wherever you go.

What makes you happy? What brings you joy? When was the last time you felt completely enraptured with the life you lead? Whether it’s walking along a path with a gentle breeze or taking an 11-hour road trip with friends to decide which shop makes the best ice cream, make your memories now. Carve out time to do the things that lift your spirit and soothe your soul.

Embrace life and all it has to offer. Do something a little crazy, just because it makes sense to you. Even on the busiest of days, take time for yourself and connect with those moments that make you whole.

Breathe.

Smile.

Love.

And if you happen to find yourself near the place where I-64 and I-81 converge, take the road less traveled and visit The Split Banana, Co. I hear they have really great ice cream.


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reflection, writing

Forced Update

It was inevitable.
I pushed “later” every time the pop-up appeared.
No. No. No.
Not now. 
 
Later. 
 
Remind me tomorrow.
 
I had broken the cardinal rule of tech savviness with more than a dozen tabs open in Google Chrome, frantically working towards a deadline when the inevitable happened.
I no longer had a choice to make. 
 
The screen went dark. A white apple appeared.
Forced update.
I stared back at the screen, the small white progress bar inching slowly to the right, my writing progress halted by the same technology that allowed it to exist.
I got up and walked a lap around my downstairs, then sat back down again.
Updating.
I refilled my coffee, knowing it would grow cold before I could finish even half of it.
Updating.
I went upstairs, put in my contacts, twisted my hair up and stared at my reflection in the mirror.
Work in progress.
I saw a few new freckles across the bridge of my nose as I peered closer in the mirror, then smiled as I remembered my childhood dream of having my freckles join together so I could finally be as tan as my friends.
Forty-five years worth of freckles. Still waiting on the tan.
I returned back to my writing desk to a screen that was nearly unchanged. Delayed updates equate to more time needed.
Time.
Summer time.
Family time.
My time.
Work.
This summer, my time is all mixed in a muddle. Nearly every second of every day is accounted for interspersed with planned activities to provide a sense of balance and reduction of guilt. I’m writing, which brings me immense joy, but working through tough topics that make my heart bleed on the page.
I am discovering I’m not as invincible as I thought.
As I look around my home, I see all the things that need my attention: the carpet needs to be vacuumed, the dishes washed, the laundry sorted, the toys picked up and put away. Then I look back at the dark screen on my laptop and ask myself aloud: “Is all this even worth it?”
Yes.
Yes.
Yes.
It is worth it.
It is worth the time to tell this story. It is worth the heartache to share vulnerability. It is worth the schedule overhaul, the shift in responsibilities, the lack of sleep, lack of strength, lack of confidence to get these words to the world.
It. Is. Worth. It.
My writing journey is unlike anyone else’s and paradoxically just the same. I’m a small town girl with big city dreams and fears that rise higher than skyscrapers.
I am swimming in an ocean of change with no lifeguard on the shore. The ebb and flow of tidal waves that crush my soul and pull me under are the same waves that bring me back to the surface to catch my breath. I have to remind myself to swim with the current, not against it. I have to remember to breathe when I have the chance.
The light of my laptop is bright again, the cursor blinking for me to log in.
Update done.
 
Restart completed.
 
Back to writing again.
There are times in our lives when we need a forced update to renew and refresh. Today I chose to embrace that which I couldn’t control and find joy in the why.
I even took time to write a story about it, too.
Writing is joy.
Sharing is joy.
Today I am thankful for those moments in our lives that force us to pause and reflect.
Today I am thankful for you, taking time out of your life to read the thoughts in mine.

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ITRT, kindness, reflection, travel

What If?

During the ISTE Conference in Chicago this past week, Katie Martin challenged us to answer the question, “What if?” I swirled around this question during her keynote, then posted my response on Twitter:

The power of ‘What if’ is the belief in hope and endless potential! #WhatIfISTE18

Later that evening, as my teammates and I traveled through the city, I pondered this concept of “What if” as I looked at those around me.

_______________

 

What if I complimented the person making my meal?

As a tourist in the city, I knew I would have to order a Chicago style hot dog before I left. Even thought I’m not a huge fan of hot dogs, I was intrigued by the combination of beef, onions, pickles, tomatoes, peppers, and mustard. While visiting Navy Pier, I stood in line at one of the many food stands to order this local fare.

As I waited for the cashier to give me change, I was struck by the precision of the cook who layered each ingredient over my hot dog. When my number was called and my meal provided, I was awestruck at the overlay of colors and textures between the edges of the poppy-seed bun.

After my meal, I returned to the counter to compliment the cook and saw she was creating an entire tray of Chicago Dogs and I was mesmerized once again by the care she placed in her handiwork. I told her how much I appreciated the time she took into creating these hot dogs, even referencing one of my Grandma Payne’s favorite quotes: “Food always tastes better if it looks pretty.”

I asked if I could take her picture, to which she agreed, and then asked if I could text her the image. I wanted her to see just how beautiful her work was from the view of a stranger. This is the photo I captured in the moment.

What if I complimented the person making my meal? Perhaps I might make someone else smile at the beauty of their creation.

_______________

What if I spoke to a stranger on the bus? 

My teammates and I ventured to Navy Pier by bus, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. When it was time to head back, the weather had changed from warm, sunny skies to a drizzly, bleak rain. It made for a long evening of travel as we switched buses and waited at bus stops, but we huddled together and passed the time chatting and checking our Twitter feeds.
As we boarded our last bus for the evening, we sat near a young man who smiled, but was non-committed for conversation. My teammates and I were in a jovial mood despite the rain (we really are quite a happy bunch together!) and continued to reflect on our day with shared stories that made us laugh all over again.
At some point the young man shook his head and laughed at something we said, so we included him in our conversation. We asked him questions about the city, then giggled when he cracked a few sly jokes of his own. The banter between my team and him was lighthearted and fun, and it made for a great way to pass the time as the bus meandered from one block to the next.
We teased him about his tiger pants which started another round of laughter as one quip led to another, this stranger now a welcomed member of our traveling crew.
He caught my eye and asked if I liked wall art. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by the question, but I smiled and said, “Of course! I love all kinds of art! Street art, wall art, children’s art…” As I responded, he unwrapped the grey shirt in his lap to reveal a rolled-up paper cylinder held together by a rubber band.
As he removed the binds and unrolled the paper, I literally gasped at what I saw. It was a beautifully drawn face with amazing detail, right down to the perfectly drawn eyelashes.
“I made this,” he said. “Look close at the eyes. There’s a person inside.”
I leaned forward and gasped again as I saw the silhouette of a face in the small pupil of the left eye. It reminded me of the cover of Mandy Froehlich’s new book, The Fire Within, with a flame embedded deep inside.
“This is incredible!” I exclaimed as I peered again at his masterpiece.
Meet Julius. He’s 23 years old, lives in Chicago, and masterfully kept his artwork dry and safe from the rain using a plain, cotton shirt. He also received the nickname “Juice the Tiger Tamer” from our team who practically adopted him as one of our own.
I encouraged him to take photos of his work and showcase them on social media, then gave him my business card to stay in touch. This young man has potential for greatness and I told him just that. The smile on his face as we went our separate ways was priceless.
What if I spoke to a stranger on the bus? Perhaps I could inspire them to see the talent and greatness they already possess inside.
_______________

What if I gave away something of value?

When our conference time was complete, my teammates and I took the train back to the airport to head home. We each had purchased a 7 Day commuter transit card, but had only used four days. As we reached our final destination and exited the train terminal, all nine of us gave our transit cards to strangers waiting in line to purchase their own.
“Excuse me, do you need a card? It still has three days worth of credit.”
Oh, how I wish I could have captured the surprise and joy on the faces of those who received our transit cards. They were so excited! We saw expressions of awe and appreciation and one teammate even received a spontaneous hug for her kindness.
The entire exchange lasted less than one minute, but left us all with happy hearts.
What if I gave away something of value? Perhaps it might lighten the load of someone else who needs to be reminded that there is good in this world.
______________

What if I helped someone at the airport? 

Later that afternoon, as I walked down the airport terminal to stretch my legs, I saw a woman pushing a wheelchair with a younger woman inside. I assumed they were mother and daughter and started to look away when I noticed the woman in the wheelchair trying to recenter a rolling suitcase that had unexpectedly turned on its side.
“Let me get that for you,” I said as I rushed to her side with a smile. “Those luggage bags can be tough to pull sometimes.”
There was a slight protest at first, but I reassured her that I really did want to help and it wasn’t an inconvenience. I noticed the mom had her luggage cart wrapped around her arm so she could pull it while also holding the handle of the wheelchair.
“May I have that suitcase, too? I don’t mind.” The mom looked at me, first in shock, then appreciation, as she untangled herself from the constraints of the plastic and metal.
“We’re looking for a place to eat,” she replied and I offered to walk with them until they found a restaurant to dine. The airport was crowded without many options for seating, so I volunteered to scout out the chosen place for a wheelchair accessible table.
I saw a man about to sit at a long, low table, and asked if he was using the two additional chairs at his side. He hesitated, then said he was saving them for two friends. I explained that I was trying to find seating for a mom and daughter in a wheelchair and this table was a perfect height. Could they possibly sit at the end?
He agreed and as I turned to walk away and notify the mom, the most amazing thing happened. Another person sitting near had overheard our conversation and offered to scoot down so the man and his two friends could eat there, thus making the entire table available for the mom and daughter.
It was an incredible gesture of kindness! (I talk about this “kindness trifecta” in the book I’m writing, but it was such a joy to see it happen in person!) The mom wheeled her daughter to the table, then commented on the shirt I was wearing, a gift donated by The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.
“You don’t just wear kindness. You ARE kindness”
I nearly teared up at her words.
She went on to describe why her daughter was in a wheelchair, explaining she had just received surgery to relieve the excruciating pain she had struggled with since the age of twelve.
Her daughter was 20 years old.
 
The only cure for her pain was a complete hysterectomy.
 
The weight of her words and the impact of “What if” could be seen on both their faces. It was a life-changing surgery complete with the range of emotions one might expect from a young woman being told she will never have children of her own in a traditional way.
Empathy and compassion flooded my heart as I looked at her daughter and spoke from the heart. “It’s ok the grieve the loss. Give yourself permission to be sad. Sometimes life is like that. We get tossed major curve balls that don’t make any sense at all and they mess up all the plans we thought our future would be. Your future will still be bright. You will still have joy. It will just look a little different than you thought before.”
The daughter nodded her head in agreement then shared her plan to eventually become a mom through a surrogate. The smile on her face when she talked of being a mom reflected my own heart as a mom of three kids (one of whom is almost her age.) In that exact moment, the world melted away and we were just three women, connected by kindness, sharing the wonders of motherhood.
Hope.
 
Potential.
 
Empowerment.
 
What if I helped someone at the airport? Perhaps it would remind me of all the things I have to be grateful for in my own life.
_______________
What if the world could see the ripple effect of their kindness?
What if others could know the impact of a smile, a kind word, a helping hand?
What if each person reading this story did one kind thing for someone else?
What if the world could be a gentler, kinder place to live?
I believe in the power of hope and endless potential. I also believe in the power of WE.
We have the power to plant that seed of kindness in someone else to grow and flourish.
We have the power to inspire others to create a course of positivity and hope.
We have the power to make a difference in the lives of others and change the world for good.
All it takes is one simple choice, one simple action.
What if?

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education, ITRT, reflection

Change is an Opportunity

Last week I had the honor of leading the closing keynote for the Clarke Innovation Conference. As several of you know, I’ve had “Keynote Presenter” on my professional bucket list for quite some time, ever since I got a taste of keynoting at a local conference several years ago.

The topic of my keynote was embracing change, a subject that is near and dear to my heart. There is so much fear and trepidation that accompanies change, both of which I’ve had to overcome this year. From transforming learning spaces to transforming mindsets, I’ve ventured into uncharted territory without a compass, without a guide, without the guarantee of success.

It’s been a year of highs and lows.

In this year of embracing change I’ve discovered a lot about myself and in the process I’ve grown in ways I never thought possible. I’ve also learned that while change is often unpredictable, it also creates opportunities that might not have existed before.

Change is an opportunity… to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. My year has overflowed with incredible eureka moments, from figuring out how to app smash green screen videos to guiding teachers and students in using programs like Flipgrid, Seesaw, and G-Suite to showcase student learning. I’ve collaborated with amazing educators to dive into coding, themed days, and project based learning and discovered the true meaning of #bettertogether.

Change is an opportunity… to face your fears and triumph over tribulation. Several times this year I have fallen flat on my face in a lesson, a presentation, or a conversation. In each situation I had a choice to make excuses or learn from the experience and apply that learning to making myself a better person. While the fear lingers below the surface at times, I’ve discovered just how resilient I can be when I give myself, and others, a bit more grace and compassion.

Change is an opportunity… to value vulnerability and inspire others. It’s one thing to say “Failure is an opportunity to learn;” it’s quite another to discuss your failures with complete strangers as you process the learning experience. By connecting with other educators on Voxer and joining book study groups like #PathtoSerendipity, I’ve learned that I’m not alone when those trees block my view. There’s always another hiker who has climbed the same mountain with tips on how I can reach the summit, too!

Change is an opportunity… to discover your passions and your purpose. For the past six years I have traveled a path of sharing kindness with others, but not always in the public eye. This was the year I decided to “cannonball in” as Tara Martin describes and embraced my calling as a writer, a kindness cultivator, a champion for all things good. I brought my passion for kindness into the classroom, collaborating with teachers on kindness lessons and passion projects, then climbed even higher to welcome news crews into our learning space, knowing that every story that is told is one more seed of kindness planted in this world.

Change is an opportunity… to embrace new challenges and soar to new heights. Next year, my role as technology integrator will shift as I move to supporting two schools instead of one. While this change was met with paradoxical joyful sadness from those with whom I serve, it made me realize just how blessed I am to have strong, lasting relationships with my current staff and students. In the words of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

As we wrap up our final week of school, I reflect on all the different ways I have been impacted by change this year and I’m simply astounded.

I never knew I was this strong.

I never knew I was this determined.

I never knew I could be so brave.

Change has been, and always will be, a constant in our lives. How we choose to embrace change is what sets us apart from others. Will we walk safely on the trail below seeking shelter from the storms or will we hike to the summit to watch the sunrise of a new dawn appearing above?

I’m lacing my sneakers and choosing the hike. How about you? We have a whole summer to ponder the possibilities and shift our mindsets for growth. Won’t you join the journey with me, too?

In the words of George Couros, change is an opportunity to do something amazing! What are we waiting for? Let’s go!


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education, kindness, reflection

A Jet Stream of Kindness

As we wind up another school year and reflect about the memory-making lessons we’ve shared throughout the year, we received a sweet surprise today!

In early October, we introduced our year-long kindness initiative by watching a YouTube video of an eight-year-old boy in Texas named Jet Stream Jax. In his video, he shared his passion for weather forecasting and storm chasing. Mesmerized by his passion, we were instantly drawn to his video clips. As Jet Stream Jax’s video continued, we were heartbroken to see the devastation that Hurricane Harvey caused to his community.

We dove into discussions of empathy and compassion as we listened to Jet Stream Jax’s call to action. He wanted to rebuild the playgrounds destroyed by the hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Puerto Rico. Partnering with Kids for Peace and The Great Kindness Challenge, Jet Stream Jax encouraged us to collect “Kind Coins” to help in the restoration. We did exactly that as we remixed relevance with our future kindness lessons.

Today, exactly two weeks after our Kindness Share Fair, we got to meet our inspiration!

Mrs. Madison and Mrs. Cross’ classes sat in wide-eyed wonder as we connected with Jet Stream Jax over FaceTime using my cell phone for portability. It was such a joy to see and talk with him virtually, even though he was several states away!

 

 

After making our introductions, he showed us their rebuilt playground which was more like an obstacle course from American Ninja Warrior. They even had a timer to track how fast they could complete the course which Jet Stream Jax did for us in 46 seconds! Wow!

He and his counselor, Barbara Greuner (who is also the author of the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind), showed us around their Peace Garden, holding up the rock they painted for our school. They also showed us a rock they received from Europe and one painted by Jet Stream Jax’s family.

 

Several students came to the front and chatted with Jax about their Kindness Passion Projects, trading stories of kindness and inspiration. One student remarked that she was born in Texas and while others shared their love for weather watching and video making.

 

 

We learned that the next playground to be built will be one in Puerto Rico, then we shared with Jax how we recently had flooding that wiped out several streets in our district. As if on cue, a roll of thunder could be heard and it was time for Jax to get inside his building for safety. We said our goodbyes and one student remarked, “I can’t believe we just met Jet Stream Jax! That was so cool!” He is already a celebrity in our eyes.

We took some time to reminisce about the Kindness Share Fair then talked about all the ways we can scatter seeds of kindness by sharing our story with others in person and on social media.

I pulled up my Twitter account and showed the students our Kindness Share Fair post which displayed all the likes, retweets, and comments. We scrolled through and read each one and discussed how far and wide our projects are reaching. Then we talked about the kindness notes a student found on the playground today, a sign that other students are joining in the fun of sharing kindness, too.

We wrapped up our lesson by crowning each student Kindness Kings and Queens, then took a class pictures to frame and display.  To quote a line from the play, Wicked, “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

Indeed we have.

 


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education, kindness, reflection

Kindness Share Fair 2018

Be the good you want to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

We have repeated this mantra all year as our fourth and fifth grade students explored various aspects of empathy, compassion, and kindness. From collaborating on service projects for charity organizations to sharing kindness with strangers in other states, our students’ mindsets about how they can positively contribute to this world have shifted from passive consumers to engaged advocates.

In February, we shared with our students that they would create a Kindness Passion Project to showcase in the spring. We spent a class period discussing various people we could bless, different locations we could visit, and all sorts of ways to show kindness to others. By allowing our students complete choice in designing their projects, we learned more about their personal passions, hobbies, and interests, which helped us strengthen relationships in the process.

Best of all, we told students that they would not only create a kindness project, but they would implement it, too, because each student in the class would receive a $10 bill to fund their project! Oh, my goodness, if you could have been in our room the day we shared that news – they were in complete disbelief! Many students had never even held a $10 bill, much less spent that much money on someone else!

In March, students researched the costs of their materials, which was eye-opening indeed. By visiting retail websites like Target, Walmart, and Kroger, students quickly discovered how to be savvy shoppers to get the best deal for their limited budget. Using a planning guide that was glued into their Kindness Journals, students made notes of their purpose, materials, and procedure. It was a great way to integrate math and science skills into our lesson!

 

The week before Spring Break, I met individually with all forty students to share a “Kindness Conference,” discussing their Kindness Passion Projects in-depth and determine what support they would need from parents. Together we customized a parent/guardian letter, explaining the details of their project and the support they would need from an adult at home. In order for the $10 to be sent home with the child, parents/guardians had to commit by signature to helping their child; otherwise, we would use the $10 to purchase supplies and help students complete their projects during the school day. We made sure to provide equity so all children could participate in this event.

In April, students scattered kindness in the world as they implemented their Kindness Passion Projects, making notes of what they did and what happened next. We encouraged them to reflect on the experience, describing how it made them feel and if they would want to continue doing acts of kindness in the future. Later in the month, we taught the students how to create a Google Slides presentation to share with the world, documenting all the various steps of their Kindness Passion Projects. This was a great opportunity for students to communicate and collaborate as well.

 

On May 8, 2018 we opened the doors to our Innovation Lab for our second annual Kindness Share Fair, inviting parents, teachers, school board leaders, and community stakeholders to visit with our students and learn more about their Kindness Passion Projects. We had an incredible turnout with a nonstop flow of visitors as shown by the three pages of signatures in our Innovation Lab guest book!

As our guests arrived and mingled with students, the room was filled with a low buzz of chatter as students shared their projects with community members. Many of the comments were priceless:

“You don’t need to go to Disney World to find joy – there is plenty of it right here!”

“When I did this act of kindness, it was the best day of my entire life because I made a difference for someone else.”

“I know I can change the world. I just did!”

We had to locate a tissue box for two our of guests, as tears filled their eyes from listening to our students’ stories of kindness. See, this wasn’t just a “project for school”… Kindness Passion Projects were born in the hearts of our students. They were passionate about their recipient and the acts they chose to give. The students saw first-hand the impact of their actions as they stepped out of their comfort zones to show kindness to others.

One student blessed a school nurse because her Grandma had just passed away. Another student cleaned up litter after learning about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch during a science lesson. A third student left toys scattered around a playground then watched as they were discovered and enjoyed by other children.

We even had one student deliver pots of planted seeds to his teachers, only to discover that seeds of kindness really do bloom and scatter!

“You need to give them water and sunlight to grow.”

 

Three weeks later we see the results of that great advice!
We had animal lovers blessing veterinary hospitals, animal control shelters, and dog parks. We had children greeting neighbors for the first time with cups of cold lemonade and freshly baked cookies. Our recipients even shared their joy on social media with posts made on Twitter and Facebook!

 

 

(If you can’t stand the suspense and want to see our student projects now, CLICK HERE!)

As our guests visited with the students and learned about their projects, we also saw them enjoying the other stations we had available around the room:

  • Read About Kindness – Our carpet and pillows area showcased kindness books we’ve read this year so others could read and enjoy.
  • Kindness Raffle – Each guest received three raffle tickets when they arrived. At the Kindness Raffle table, all prizes were displayed with a cup beside them. Guests could choose which cup they wanted to put their ticket into for a chance to win that prize. All winners were notified by email or phone that afternoon!
  • Refreshments – Mrs. Cross and Grandpa Letter donated sweet treats for our celebration to share with our guests.
  • Call to Action – Post-it notes and pens were provided so guests could make a commitment to doing at least one act of kindness, sharing how our Kindness Passion Projects inspired them to Be the Good. Guests then added their notes to our Call to Action Wall in the front of the room. We will use these notes to create a Kindness quilt for our hallway!

 

All Kindness Passion Projects are displayed on our kindness website if you want to take a peek. You can also enjoy the video our district made of our special day. It was so empowering to show that no matter your age or disposition, you can truly impact someone else in a positive way by your words and actions!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To show our students the power of using social media in a positive way, we are tracking this blog post to see how many people we can inspire with our projects. In June, we will view all the likes, retweets, and comments to gain a greater understanding of how our seeds of kindness are scattering around the world. Please use the hashtag #passionforkindness if you decide to share with your friends! The direct link to our kindness website is http://bit.ly/MESkindness.
We hope you enjoy our projects. We’ve had so much fun blessing others in creative ways! Thanks for sharing in our joy!

 

 

To view reflections from our 1st Annual Kindness Share Fair in 2017, visit http://bit.ly/kindsharefair. A special thanks to Renee’s Cheerios Memorial Fund for sponsoring our Kindness Passion Projects this year.


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family, grief, mom, reflection

On The Day My Mother Died



Today is the day my mother died.

The date has loomed on the calendar like the storm clouds of an impending storm, much like they did last year. The only difference between this year and last is knowing when the rain would fall and hearts would be shattered.

Several times in this year of mourning, I have tried to write about my mom’s final days and it’s been tough. Really tough. The emotions leave me raw and vulnerable, sometimes even rendering me speechless with no words to share.

But we all must learn to let go. We can’t keep hanging on to the past, no matter how we might try to change those events now frozen in time.

Today is the day my mother died.

__________________________________

One year ago today I awoke with a start, a panic of unknown proportions as I saw that I had missed several text messages from my mom’s husband, Bob, urging me to come to the hospital as quickly as I could.

I threw on jeans and a shirt, slid my feet into a pair of flip-flops and raced out the front door.

No makeup.

No contact lenses.

I didn’t even brush my hair.

See, when death taunts you each and every day, you must always be ready for the call. What I looked like didn’t matter a bit. There was a very real possibility my mom would be gone before I could make it to her bedside.

I drove to the hospital with tears flowing, knowing in my heart this was it. This was the day my mother would die. All the words had been spoken. All the love had been shared. It was time to say my final goodbye.

I was a wreck.

When I arrived, there was an empty parking space right at the entrance to the hospital. I parked and raced inside. It was truly like a scene from a movie: my long hair flowing behind me, my flip-flops flapping with each step as I ran with all my might. People walking in the halls stepped to the side, my path completely cleared like the parting of the seas.

I ran like I had never run before. I took the stairs so I didn’t have to wait on the elevator. I threw open doors and ran down the third floor, not caring for a moment who stared at me as I flew by.

Her door was partially shut. I literally slid into her room as I rounded the corner, completely out of breath and terrified at what I would discover.

She was there.

Sitting up in the bed.

Smiling.

My first words to my mother on the day of her death were, “What the hell, mom?!?”

Yes. You read that right. I actually cursed at my mother on the last day she was here.

Her laughter was priceless.

__________________________

 

I sat on the side of her bed and hugged her, telling her how happy I was to see her.

She was alive.

I made it.

She didn’t die without me.

We knew. Oh, how we knew. Today was the day.

May 4th.

May the 4th be with you.

 

_______________________

The night before, we had signed the hospice papers. I was packing up my things to watch my daughter’s final tennis match when Bob called me out of my mom’s room to add my signature to the page we had fought so hard to have. She would be removed from heart rate monitors and other unnecessary medical equipment so we could focus on easing her pain instead of monitoring her health.

As I crossed the Ts in my first and last name, the hospice nurse touched my arm. “Now that your mom is under our care I need to tell you… she doesn’t have much time.”

Shock.

Bewilderment.

“Excuse me… what?”

Not much time.

Death was already marching down the hall.

_________________________
Bob and I decided we would not stay the night. We wanted to give her the opportunity to pass away alone, should that be her choice. We knew of others who waited until that exact moment when everyone left the room to slip away; we didn’t want her to linger a moment longer than necessary.
My mom was in pain.
Her body was no longer working the way it should.
It was time to start letting go.
___________________________

On the day my mother died, she texted Bob at 3:58 AM. She had already lost the dexterity to hold a pen or cup and yet… in the wee hours of the night, she was able to locate her phone, unlock the passcode, open her text messages and tell Bob that she loved him.

This was his sign to come.

 

____________________________
The hospice nurse told us the night before that if we had family members that wanted to see my mom, they needed to come soon, preferably in the morning. So that’s what we did. We called our closest family members that evening and broke the news of her final demise.
The morning of my mother’s death began with a party.
Because… well, that’s just how we do things in our world.
My Dad and his girlfriend Cindy arrived. As he entered the room, my eyes filled with tears because, see, this is my full circle of life. These two people created me. There is a history between my mom and dad, with many years slashed in red, bound with turmoil, anger, and angst. Yet, with the passage of time, old wounds were healed, past grievances mended, and hearts reconciled.
 
When my Dad leaned in close to hug my mom, a part of my heart was healed as well.
_____________________________
My Uncle Buddy and Aunt Kathy arrived as did Bob’s son and we stood around chatting about old times and fun memories that made us laugh. I even had a high school friend whose father was in a room a few doors down pop her head in to say hi and we invited her to stay at our makeshift celebration of life.
My mom was hilarious, cracking one liners like a stand-up comedian on stage. How could she even find the words? How could she even tell the stories?
On the day my mother died, she gave us the gift of  joy.
_______________________________
After about an hour, her energy began to wane, her words began to slur, and her eyes started to shut like all the days before. It was her last hurrah. Each person in the room took their cues like a carefully orchestrated play, the final act halfway through. They hugged my mom, said their goodbyes, and left this space, knowing they would never see my mom again.
Bob and I remained the entire day.
______________________________
In the afternoon, the reverend arrived to check on her as she slept in the bed. He prayed over her, a final blessing bestowed on her frail, weak body.
He knew her time was near.
________________________________
Her favorite oncologist, Dr. K stopped by in the late afternoon, the shock on his face at her quick demise transparent for all to see. My mom loved Dr. K. She begged and begged for him to visit her, to call her, to talk to her, anything at all, but we never heard a response.
Until he showed up at her door.
On the day of her death.
I believe she couldn’t let go until she had one last moment with him as well.
________________________________
The nurses changed shifts. Those that had spent the day with us came back for a final goodbye. My mom adored these nurses. They adored her. They took such amazing care of her during her brief stay. One nurse even brought in her baby boy cradled on her hip:
“I believe when someone dies, a part of their spirit lives on in those who are near. I want my son to soak up her spirit. There is so much love and joy in this room.
 
 ________________________________
When the sun started to set, my cousin Amy arrived and she had an opportunity to say goodbye as well. She stayed for a bit as light turned to darkness, then rain started to fall.
Bob realized the front doors would close at 9:00 PM and we would have to exit the back of the hospital then walk all the way around the perimeter of the facility to get to our cars later. He decided to move his car to the back entrance so we wouldn’t be drenched when it was time to leave.
Somehow we knew we wouldn’t be staying the night.
Somehow we knew we would have to carry all her things home.
Somehow we knew.
_________________________________
A little after 8:00 PM, I was overcome with emotion.
I knew.
 
This was it.
Through my sudden tears, I asked Amy to leave, a rush of apologies and incoherent sentences trying to explain the urgency of the moment. She quickly said goodbye with tears in her eyes and then there were two.
Me.
My mom.
Together.
_________________________________
 
For the first time in her entire 23 month battle with cancer, I told my mother she was not allowed to die.
 “No way did we come THIS far for you to die when Bob is gone.”
“Don’t. You. Dare.”
“You can hold on just a little longer, Mama. C’mon now. Just a few minutes more.”
I stared at the clock above the doorway in complete panic mode, praying desperately that Bob would return before she took her last breath. The minutes ticked by as I held her hand and watched her face, willing her with my mind to hang on until he arrived.
I don’t think I could have survived the guilt had she left this world with me by her side and not him.
__________________________________
When Bob walked through that doorway, I felt such a relief in my soul, that I knew God was with me the entire time. Her time was here, but so were we.
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
 
__________________________________
 
Nurses arrived again, but this time it was to unhook the high-flow oxygen tube and replace it with an oxygen mask.
We watched the inside of the mask cloud with her breath, then clear when she inhaled.
We kept waiting for the breath we knew would cease to come.
__________________________________
Bob held her right hand.
I held her left.
We sat and waited, both whispering to my mom how much we loved her.
___________________________________
She took a breath.
Exhaled.
Clouded mask.
Nothing more.
____________________________________
9:01 PM.
May 4, 2017
She’s gone.
___________________________________
This year of firsts without my mom has been heartbreaking. We tried our best to make her final days complete with celebrations of love, but there were still so many milestones that carried on without her.
How does one heal a broken heart?
 
By loving those still here every chance they get.
Never miss an opportunity to tell someone you love them. Don’t turn down an offer to connect with an old friend. Live your life to the fullest, embracing each and every moment with the joy and exuberance of childlike wonder.
Make memories. Be silly. Do things that will create funny stories that will be shared for years to come.
Be passionate. Be kind. Be you.
Love yourself.
Love others.
And know that your life has meaning for those around you.
Be the star that sparkles in the darkness.
And when the darkness comes your way?
Shine even brighter.

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ITRT, kindness

Leader By Action

Last week at our Region 1 Superintendent’s Professional Development Series, I had the privilege of hearing Tom Murray speak to district leaders in our surrounding area, highlighting the 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools from the book Learning Transformed that he co-wrote with Eric Sheninger. It’s always a joy to reconnect with Tom; he is approachable and genuine in his sentiments and a great presenter with an inspiring message to share. In fact, we were so excited to see him again that we crowded around to snap our customary “We are so happy to have you here!” selfie at the conclusion of his presentation:

One of the slides in his presentation lingered with me throughout the week and gave me pause: Am I a Leader by Title or a Leader by Action?

I began my journey as an educator twenty-one years ago. Since that time, I’ve held many titles:

  • Second grade teacher
  • Third grade teacher
  • Fourth grade teacher
  • Differentiation Specialist
  • Instructional Technology Resource Teacher
Just last month I added another title to that list: Mechanicsville Elementary Teacher of the Year.
I’ve also held other titles throughout the past two decades:
  • Secretary
  • Assistant Manager
  • Small Business Owner
  • Singer
  • Writer
  • Blogger
  • Screencaster
  • Course Instructor
  • Webmaster
  • Key Communicator
  • Communication Secretary
  • Grade Level Chair
  • Committee Chair
  • Social Media Conference Chair
  • Conference Presenter
  • Keynote Presenter
  • Licensed Administrator
(and I can add author to that list soon thanks to Shelley and Dave Burgess!)
Then I reflect on my non-professional life and the titles I’ve held there:
  • Daughter
  • Cousin
  • Aunt
  • Sister
  • Wife
  • Mom
  • Friend
Each title has its own set of qualifiers and each is prominent in its own right. But does a title alone make me a leader to inspire others to learn more, dream more, become more?
In one word: No.
Leaders by Title rely on the history of their position to set the trajectory of their path. Their title affords certain privileges automatically and they work within these parameters. They usually have other people who fall under their realm of management and dutifully provide direction to set the course ahead. The work gets done, and often done well, but when the task is complete the work ends. Personal growth is not a priority from a task that is guided by a Leader by Title.
There are some Leaders by Title who take their position to the extreme and abuse the automatic rights given to their position. They invoke fear in others to get the work done or, even worse, dictate the mandates for work then take all the credit, never offering so much as a “thank you” to those who gave of their time, energy, and knowledge. These types of leaders are the ones who unknowingly undermine culture, making rifts that eventually split and divide.
Leaders by Action create their own legacy. While their role specifies the path, each day is defined by what they do and whom they serve. They are willing to get in the muck and the mire with others and redefine their role depending on circumstances that arise. They uplift. They inspire. They empower. They model true leadership for others and encourage them along the way. They celebrate the accomplishments of others and give credit where credit is due.
Yesterday I attended our district’s Arts & Science Festival, an annual celebration of the amazing work the students in our district create through the year. This event is a long-standing tradition in our community and for those who have lived here a long time, it becomes a family reunion of sorts. No matter where you walk, you will most likely see a familiar face smiling back.
This event would not be possible without the tireless dedication of many Leaders by Action. Dozens of teachers and administrators have spent the past few weeks compiling student projects, printing labels, creating personalized letters for parents, all in preparation for this event. Some spent late nights double-checking digital projects, making sure nothing was misspelled and all the links were active. Friday afternoon, those same volunteers delivered all the projects to one location, set up displays, taped artwork to walls, and created interactive areas for independent exploration.
From the hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Leaders by Action arrived and volunteered their time (on a Saturday!) to do the work that most definitely didn’t align with their role as a Leader by Title.
They greeted guests at the door with a smile.
They distributed maps of the school and guided parents to student projects.
They arrived early to practice with students before their performances.
They walked the halls and interacted with guests.
They were visible. They were smiling. They showed us by their actions the joys of servant leadership.
Since my youngest son had a soccer game that morning and my oldest son had plans for the afternoon, we went to the Arts & Science Festival in the middle of the day. I was there as a mom, but as many of you know, we never quite lose our “teacher title” when out in public.
Both boys had projects displayed in the festival, so we meandered through the school, enjoying the work of other students as we walked. We were awestruck by the gallery of greatness displayed by so many students in our district.
As we made our way back to the main lobby, I saw one of my students running towards me. The smile on her face could light up a room and the surprise in her voice when she caught my eye was priceless. She embraced me in a hug and turned her head to call to her mom.
“Mommy! Look! It’s Mrs. Letter! She’s my kindness teacher!”
Kindness teacher.
 
It’s a title I never included in my list because, up until that moment, I hadn’t even considered it a possibility.
Kindness teacher. 
 
Leader by Action.
Me.
As we finished our embrace and she walked back to her mom, I heard her add as an afterthought, “Oh, and she teaches technology, too.”
Her final comment made me laugh out loud. It also made me realize what title I hold in this little girl’s heart. Being the “kindness teacher” ranked higher than my title of technology integrator, one I’ve proudly held for the past ten years.
WOW.
Let us all embrace the qualities of a Leader by Action and redefine our role to others. Don’t allow your title to limit your potential for greatness! Shine in your skills and inspire others with words and actions each day!
Each and every one of us can be a Leader by Action – dive in and lead the way!

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kindness

The Sweetest Surprise

Today I received the sweetest surprise! My doorbell rang and I saw an Amazon box sitting on my front porch. I was a little perplexed because I couldn’t remember ordering anything, but my name was on the label, so I went ahead and opened the box.

Oh my goodness! Inside the box was a sparkled, spotted gift bag shimmering in silver and grey with a perfectly tied bow at the top. Who on earth would send me a gift… and why?

It’s not my birthday.

It’s not my anniversary.

It’s not Mother’s Day, Teacher Appreciation Week, or even Christmas.

I stood there for a moment, savoring the anticipation, pondering what could be inside and who might be the giver. I almost didn’t open the bag because the thrill of suspense was so great!

When was the last time YOU received a surprise? No, not a birthday or Christmas gift. A surprise. A completely unexpected, unanticipated, little something just for you with no holiday or season attached. Did you feel a range of emotions? Did it make you smile? Did it make you want to do something nice for someone else?

I absolutely LOVE surprises, but they are few and far between. We all lead such busy lives and it’s easy to just go about our business assuming people know we appreciate them.

Today’s surprise today filled me with pure delight. I immediately felt childlike joy, knowing that someone, somewhere was thinking of me.

But who? And why?

It was then that I read the note attached to the bag.


It was a gift from a dear friend, Courtney, who used to work at my school several years ago. We’ve kept in touch through social media and even met for lunch last summer. Her note thanked me for our friendship and inspiration as a kindness ambassador.

What?? I was floored! She sent me a gift for being… kind? What in the world? Then I had to laugh at myself because I could hear her words in my ear: “Umm, that’s what YOU do, you know. You give gifts to people for being kind.”

I have to admit, it is much easier to give than to receive!

I carefully untied the bow and peeked inside the bag, my heart already bursting at this random act of kindness so thoughtfully chosen for me. Then I felt tears in my eyes as I saw what was inside.

I immediately thought of Todd Nesloney, who purchased this book as a surprise for his mom, but it was delivered after she passed away. Then I thought of the blog post I wrote back in November, reflecting on the ways we can be an umbrella in someone else’s rain.

Just yesterday I shared reflections about my mom and how the date marked 11 months since her passing. With each new month, I am reminded of loss, grief, and resilience to keep pressing on.

I opened the book and started to read, my excitement growing with each page turned. It was when I got near the end of the book that I realized this is the exact message our students (and we!) need to hear:

 

 

“Maybe I can only do small things.
But my small things might join small things other people do.
And together, they could grow into something big.”

Friends, your small things matter. Oh, they matter so much! This thoughtful gift from my friend reminded me of my purpose and her umbrella of kindness did indeed shelter me from the storms of my heart.

Go out there and be the good. Do your small acts of kindness and know that you are scattering seeds that will bloom in people’s hearts brighter and bolder than you can even imagine! And when your small things and my small things and their small things all join together… this is what changes the world!

Be blessed and share a surprise with someone you know. I guarantee it will absolutely make their day just as this surprise made mine!


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