family, kindness

RAK Friday 2018

It was one of the coldest mornings we’ve had on Black Friday, with temperatures below freezing, unusual for November in Virginia. My daughter and I set our alarms for 5:30 am and half an hour later we were bundled up in our car, heading to our first store to shop.

Black Friday.

The busiest shopping day of the year.

Friends, this is a crazy day in our country. Those of you who live across the ocean or across country borders, may not have experienced Black Friday in America, but let me tell you, it is not for everyone.

There are people everywhere.





It’s not a day for the weak of heart, the claustrophobic, or the impatient. In fact, I think they should include warning labels on the outside of retail windows, similar to those they display in front of roller coasters and high-intensity thrill rides, cautioning those who may choose to continue inside.

Decades ago, I shopped on Black Friday to get the lowest prices possible for presents I wanted to purchase for others. We didn’t have much money to spend on Christmas gifts so the discounts were a necessity, not a luxury. Being a savvy shopper, I would scour the sale ads from the newspaper on Thanksgiving Day, making my list of people I wanted to bless and gifts I hoped to purchase. I cut out my coupons and scheduled my destinations so that I could be thrifty and expedient. Then I would set out in the wee hours of the morning and hope for the best.

Long lines would form around the perimeter of stores whose doors had not opened yet, and people tried not to get trampled when they did. Some chatted while waiting; others kept to themselves.

It made for a really long morning before the shopping even began.

Now Black Friday shopping is different. Online purchasing has disrupted the retail stores’ status quo with many now shopping from the comfort of their homes, avoiding the crowds altogether. Still, for me, there is the lure of being out and about, mingling among the many who choose to do the same. But now, I continue my Black Friday shopping tradition with a twist:

Black Friday is RAK Friday – a day to scatter kindness to strangers.

Our day began at Kohl’s where we went from darkness to sunrise. I told Katrina to find the cutest children’s outfit where we tucked a 15% off coupon in a baby sock for someone else to discover.

We made our way to Michael’s and Five Below, where I found this adorable “Be Kind” purse. I wrote an uplifting note and placed it inside for the kind person who would receive it.

We drove across town to Short Pump Mall, which was quite chilly being an open-air mall. We kept our coats buttoned up as we went from one store to the next. I couldn’t resist stopping in my favorite Barnes and Noble bookstore to make sure some of my favorite books were on display for others to purchase.

I stood there for a moment, thinking about the joy I will have next year when I can come into this same Barnes & Noble and see MY book on the top shelf (making note to bring a sharpie so I can sign books for an additional surprise to anyone who might purchase it!)

As Katrina and I continued our journey, venturing in and out of the clothing stores, the crowds started to multiply and stores became packed with people. Even the arrows on the floor tried to guide people in forming orderly checkout lines, but to the mere observer it was like a cattle call.

As Katrina stood in line to purchase her items, I wandered around the store looking for ways I could scatter kindness.

I smiled at people.

I held doors open for those with handfuls of bags in their arms.

I found LOTS of clothes that had fallen to the floor, so I took the time to hang them back up – one less thing for the sales associate to do later.

About halfway through our day, we found a Starbucks and stood patiently in a line that extended past the entrance doors. After placing our order, I stood near the barista and watched him adding the enhancements for all the various drinks ordered.

His name was A.J. and he worked nonstop to make sure each drink was made to perfection, his concentration and precision almost an artform.

I complimented his skill which made a smile stretch across his face and we chatted a bit while he continued making the drinks. When he called my name, it was like winning the lottery!

Katrina and I passed by New York & Co. and as soon as I saw the sign on their window, I knew I needed to stop inside. Each year, this store partners with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, one of my favorite charities that I wrote about in my book!

We found a few items to purchase for others and got in the line that was easily twelve people deep. I caught a glimpse of the gal behind me who had the most beautiful curly hair I had ever seen. I wanted to take a photo, but didn’t want to be rude, so I simply smiled and told her how much I loved her hair. She was surprised by the unexpected compliment and I could tell by the way her eyes sparkled in return that the kind words brightened her day.

We waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And didn’t move an inch.

A sales associate made her way beside our line and explained that there was an issue with the checkout registers with only one of the four working. She offered to take our items and put them on hold so we could return later and skip the line to checkout. Surprisingly, no one took her up on her offer, choosing instead to keep standing and waiting.

About five minutes later, she came back out, her arms filled with water bottles and candy canes. “Hopefully this will make the wait a little easier!” she announced with a smile.

Her kindness was contagious!

When we finally arrived at the front of the line to make our purchases, I was reminded of my favorite charity again, gladly donating a little bit of money to an organization that does so much for others. I even got to ring a bell for my donation!

We passed by another favorite store, Carytown Cupcakes, and I decided to pay-it-forward for this marvelous #RAKFriday. I wrote a quick note and handed it to the cashier, then asked to pay for a cupcake I would never eat.

“I want to buy someone a cupcake, but I want YOU to pick out the recipient! Just give them this note when you do the act of kindness – I guarantee it will make them smile!”

It was then time to head to another mall. We found ourselves surrounded by cars everywhere we turned, so we drove a little slower, and made sure to allow people in front of us when we could. When we arrived at our destination, I skipped over several closer parking spots to allow other cars to have them instead. It felt great to wave and smile as others realized I wasn’t going to battle it out for the parking space! Besides, what’s a little more walking when we’ve been walking all day anyway?

Entering the final mall, I was delighted to see a candy kiosk on display. I pulled out my quarters and filled the machines, a small surprise that I knew would make any child smile.

I then searched through the remaining coupons I had in my purse and entered each of those stores, giving all the coupons away to people in the checkout line who might need them.

As Katrina and I finished our RAK Friday shopping for the day, we made sure to bring our traditional snowmen cookies home to the boys as a way of letting them know we were thinking of them.

While new media outlets may focus on the chaos and conundrums of Black Friday shopping, we are here to say that it’s one of our favorite days of the year.

A day to be thankful.

A day to share kindness.

A day to remind others there is good in the world.

To read more about our RAK Friday adventures, click one of the links below!

RAK Friday 2017

RAK Friday 2015

RAK Friday 2014

RAK Friday 2012

We are one holiday closer to my book, A Passion for Kindness, being released into the world! Sign up below to get monthly updates about the book release and additional blog post links, too!


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ITRT, kindness

World Kindness Day 2018

Four years ago, in the early years of my kindness journey, I stumbled across a blog post someone wrote about World Kindness Week. Inspired to embrace an entire week of kindness, I set about different acts of kindness for each day including simple, small acts that others might miss. I wrote a blog post about compliments, then continued to share other acts of kindness I completed, received, or witnessed.

Since that time, I’ve learned that World Kindness Day (not week) is a real-deal thing, created in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, and each year on November 13, I wake up absolutely giddy with joy knowing there are thousands of other people around the world sharing in kindness at the exact same time!


One way that I kick off World Kindness Day is by thinking globally. How can I make a positive impact on the world? That question alone is paralyzing if you get caught up in the enormity of it all. Positively impact the world? Who… me? Really?




See, your small acts of kindness make a difference. They matter to someone else. They don’t have to be expensive and they don’t have to be elaborate. They simply need to come from the heart.

So each year about this time, I start by filling three shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, (one in honor of each of my children). This organization will ship and deliver my box of goodies to a child in need on the other side of the world. How exciting is THAT?

When I printed my box tags, I saw it included a QR code allowing me to track which country receives my box of gifts. Bonus excitement!

Three boxes doesn’t seem like much. But when my three boxes join with your two boxes and another box over there, all of a sudden we have enough boxes to fill a large container. Add a few more from some other kind folks, and maybe we have enough to fill the backseat of a car. Another box here, another box there… all of a sudden, TOGETHER, we have made a substantial impact and we definitely need a larger vehicle!

In the blink of an eye, with the kindness of strangers, my meager three boxes magically multiplied into 850 boxes to ship.

That’s the power of collaborative kindness. It’s never really about me or you, but WE and US. That’s what makes days like this so amazing!

As I entered the Innovation Lab this morning, I caught a glimpse of a sneaky student leaving a kindness message on our laptop cart. Her smile was SO big when she realized that I caught her in the act, so I asked if I could take a photo with her. She readily agreed.

It’s not often that someone tells me I’m gorgeous, so I had to capture the joy in the moment!

A little later in the morning, I received a special delivery from a dear friend who also serves on our school’s PTA. It was the most PERFECT notepad (“Sprinkle Kindness Like Confetti!”) with a huge chocolate bar attached. Again, the kindness was so heartwarming, I had to take a photo. (If you know me well, you know that I take joy pictures quite often!)

As I finished one of my lessons today, I passed by a teacher who was returning to her classroom. We chatted for a bit, then as we approached her door I saw two post-it notes taped to her door, written by students in our school. Reading those sweet sentiments and witnessing the jubilation it brought to this teacher… well, you know what I HAD to do!

I took another picture.

During one of my lessons today, I showed first grade students how to join my Passion for Kindness Seesaw group where they could share kind acts they see or do. One student shared how she earned her “Super Kid” award by showing kindness in pushing another student on the swings.

Kindness multiplying.

As the day progressed, I met with two of our kindness classes with the mission of creating Kindness cards, inspired by Wendy Hankins and Kind Kids. When we planned these lessons weeks ago, the intent was to create greeting cards to make available for teachers in our Teacher’s Lounge, so they could share kindness with others easily. It was supposed to be a lesson filled with the joy of gratitude and giving.

But some things have changed in those few short weeks. Our evening news is filled with tragic images of uncontrollable fires and burned-down houses. On the east coast where we live, the fear and heartache is distanced as we are far-removed from threat. However, it’s our duty as educators to make our lessons real and relevant, so I knew I had to make a connection for our students.

When the lesson began, I shared our original mission of creating Kindness cards for teachers. Then I talked a bit about the recent news of wild fires and the damage they’ve caused. I showed the students a photo of Paradise Elementary, which was spotlighted in the news and from the Kids for Peace organization. The devastation was immediately felt by all the students as the room fell silent with shock and surprise.

Photo Credits: The Washington Post

One student said, “I can almost feel the sadness.” This was a perfect lead-in to our cornerstone words of kindness: Empathy and Compassion. We shared conversations about feelings and how they can become a catalyst to action.

Then I gave the students a choice.

“Sometimes we do kindness in moments of joy. Sometimes we do kindness in moments of sadness. Neither act of kindness is better than the other; both are needed and important. It’s up to you which act of kindness you do today. You can make cards for teachers to give away, or you can make a card for someone at Paradise Elementary School. Choose with your heart.”

Using donated cards, we recycled them and made them new again with words of hope, love, kindness and joy. Students decorated with markers, gel pens, colored paper and fancy scissors. They poured their hearts into their work and proudly displayed their final products, sorting them into one stack of cards for California and another stack to be placed in a gift basket for teachers.

Cards for Teachers
Basket of Kindness cards for teachers to use with new pens and envelopes, too!
Cards for Paradise Elementary

Whether you celebrate World Kindness Day on November 13, join in the fun for an entire week, or “Make Kindness the Norm” like The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, it’s always a good time to be kind to others! I hope each and every one of you experienced a ray of kindness shining upon you today.

Just thinking about that makes my heart smile!

If you or your students would like to create cards for Paradise Elementary, you can mail them directly to the address below, making sure your postmark is no later than December 1, 2018.

Kids for Peace

1302 Pine Avenue

Carlsbad, CA 92008


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SCA Election

Like many schools around the country, we host an election experience for our students as they vote for their classmates as officers in the Student Council Association (SCA). Just weeks after school begins, students in grades 4 and 5 gather references, complete applications, and record campaign speeches to convince others to cast their vote in their favor.

While I am not in charge of SCA, I do provide technological support, recording individual students with a green screen, compiling all videos in an easy-to-view format, creating a digital ballot and information sheet for students (which includes a sample ballot) as well as facilitating the election process for all students in third, fourth, and fifth grade.

Each year is a learning curve of enhancements as well as minor hiccups along the way. When election season ends, I always vow to write a blog post, yet fail to make it happen as the never ending to-do list of upcoming projects diverts my attention. However, my #oneword18 “INSPIRE” reminds me that sharing my experiences is important to help others along the way. It’s in this mindset that I take today, Election Day, to reflect on our SCA Election from this year.

Planning and Recording

First and foremost, it’s crucial to provide detailed communication to students and parents in this process so everyone knows what is expected and when. In early September, I sat down with our school’s SCA sponsor and worked backwards, identifying the election date then other checkpoint due dates along the way, making sure to include time for me to record students, process videos, and create ballots/information sheets. We also included due dates for application submissions and poster displays.

To schedule voting times, I created a digital chart of time slots using Google Sheets, then provided teachers editing access so they could add their name on a time that best fit their needs. Since we have access to several laptop carts in our building, I was able to have two classes scheduled in the same time slot, thus making Election Day more efficient.

Working directly with students is so empowering as I get to know them as people not simply names on the ballot. They described creative, unique ways to improve our schools if only we would vote for them. One student wanted to focus on kindness as a school theme, complete with identifying kind students who will volunteer to sit with other students during lunch. Another student wanted to expand spirit week to provide additional opportunities for students to work together in creating a positive school culture. Some students had grand visions of possibilities while others had step-by-step action plans to make change happen.

They shared their hopes; they shared their dreams. They poured their passions into their speeches and their enthusiasm showed. A few students were nervous to record their speeches with this being the very first time they had given an “official” speech. I reminded them with a smile that they were just talking to Mrs. Letter and we can always rerecord their speech if they didn’t like it.

Some students were perfectionists, recording again and again and again, while others were relieved to be done in one take. I offered them reassurance, positivity, and encouragement for a job well done.


Sharing and Viewing

After recording all students in front of a green screen using the DoInk app, we added a patriotic background and uploaded all videos to Flipgrid to share with students using a secure school code to ensure privacy. To keep videos in order of electoral positions, I wrote each student and position on index cards, put them in alphabetical order by categories, then used the cards to post the videos in a backwards order with the last video being first added, thus matching the digital ballot students would use to vote.

I created the digital ballot using Google Forms and created a shortcut to make it easier to access on Election Day. Then I used the form to create screen shots, compiling in a Google Doc as a sample ballot with directions for students and teachers on how to access the campaign speeches on Flipgrid.

Preparation and Voting

In Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, we are reminded of the power of instructional hooks to grab the attention of students as we transform learning into a memorable experience. For SCA Election Day, I focused on the Interior Design Hook as I modified our Innovation Lab into a polling station with tables, laptops, and testing shields transformed into individual polling booths. To add additional ambiance, I added an Election Day announcement to our memo board, brightened the doorway with a patriotic fabric banner, and covered tables with blue tablecloths. I also remembered to wear red, white, and blue!

Before students arrived, I prepared laptops to display the digital ballot (Google Forms) so they could have the full voting experience ready to go when they entered the room. I directed students to their polling booth then shared a quick overview of the voting process, explaining the similarities and differences to how we vote as adults (i.e. voters stand at a polling booth here and there, however we use a paper ballot and scanner as adults instead of a digital Google Form.) Once students understood how to complete their digital ballot, they were allowed to vote for their chosen candidate and submit their vote in the election.

There is a powerful energy surrounding SCA Election Day. It’s an experience of choice and voice where every vote counts. Some teachers use the campaign speeches as a language arts mini-lesson in persuasive speech; others use the event to showcase the democratic process of the United States versus voting rights of other countries. We emphasize citizenship and responsibility, referencing the 5 C’s as we teach. It’s a yearly event that has the power to develop future leaders within our schools.

Reflection and Renewal

As with any grand undertaking, there are key takeaways following the event that may get overlooked or diminished with time. I want to make sure I am taking time to reflect realistically on our process so that next year can be even better!

One of our teachers suggested we add a checklist to the student application so teachers know when things are due and can remind students accordingly. I thought this was a great idea! We included a list of due dates for students on their applications, but several applications were turned in without the required speeches written for review. By providing teachers a checklist of due dates, they can post to the board for students to write in their agendas, thus guiding them in being aware of upcoming deadlines.

We’ve come a long way from spending half a morning of instruction with the entire student body sitting in an assembly listening to an endless line of candidates, many whose names get muddled in their memory before they even return to class. By using videos on Flipgrid, students have the opportunity to watch, listen, and review campaign speeches, providing time for a more informed decision-making process. This year our fifteen campaign speeches were viewed 2,102 times! WOW! We will definitely use Flipgrid again as our chosen platform for sharing speeches!

One huge change this year is my availability of support for this school, which was diminished by 50% as I am only in this building two days a week instead of four. This resulted in a longer turn-around time in making the green screen videos, uploading to Flipgrid, sharing with students and providing time to view before voting. I may need to adjust a few things for next year so the process is not delayed from start to finish.

For example, I would love for students to create their own green screen videos, filming each other, but I also want to preserve the privacy of their campaigns so that all campaigns are shared at the same time with no “leaks” of information to opponents. With the reduction of my availability, I didn’t have time to record fifteen students and teach them the nuances of using DoInk and Flipgrid while also meeting the other requirements of my position. Next year, I may save the green screening for another project and simply record students in front of my patriotic fabric instead, saving a little bit of time in video editing.

I discovered that several teachers showed student videos whole group to their class on Election Day instead of empowering students to view them on their own during language arts station rotations. I may need to send additional reminders to teachers and emphasize this option next year so we don’t have additional loss to instructional time. I also need to invest in a lapel mic for our quieter students so their voices are easier to hear as they speak.

The digital ballot was a huge hit with many students arriving with their choices already marked. By having a recycling bin located near the door, students could dispose of their ballot upon exiting the polling station making voting seamless and efficient.

Unforeseen Issues

In preparing the polling stations this year I encountered two major issues that almost derailed the morning voting groups. One cart of laptops had not been used this year, resulting in an entire summer of updates being pushed down as soon as I turned them on, making them unavailable for use. Then, I discovered that sleep settings were set to 5 minutes on each laptop resulting in a constant need to log in to access the digital ballot.

Oh. My. Goodness. If you’ve ever wanted to witness a tech integrator scrambling from laptop to laptop to get them all up and running, this was your moment! Knowing I had booked several classes in dual time slots, this made for a challenging morning – thank goodness for patient students and teachers who smiled and offered their reassurance as I tried to get everything up and running in a timely manner!

As soon as I had a moment of unencumbered time, I went into each laptop and adjusted the sleep settings so by the time we had the majority of classes come through this was no longer an issue. However, next year? I am definitely checking those sleep settings and making sure each laptop has run updates prior to Election Day (lesson learned!)

All in all it was a positive experience, one of our best years yet. I’m excited to tweak the minor adjustments from this year to make next year’s election even better! I am blessed to live and work in a country where I, and others, have the right to share our voice, make our choice, and hope for a better tomorrow!

Here’s to another great year!

Ms. Biggerstaff, a fifth grade teacher, shares my joy for patriotic outfits on Election Day!


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