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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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
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!