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.
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