Often when I am traveling and speaking, people will ask, “How do you teach about kindness when you don’t have a class of your own?” It’s the spark of a rich conversation focused on key elements of my role as an instructional coach and technology integrator. Simply put, I collaborate with teachers and administrators daily! By working together, we can create new learning experiences for students that weave kindness with skills and content they are already learning. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of my job!
This month I had the pleasure of collaborating with the librarian, Kristy Banton, and gifted and talented (GT) teacher, Maureen Ambrose, at Mechanicsville Elementary. The PTA sponsored a musical performance by the Virginia Repertory Theater based on the book, “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” by Carol McCloud and Kristy wanted to provide an extension of this experience to continue the focus on kindness. Maureen and I quickly agreed that collaborating together would maximize our impact!
Through our instructional planning, we designed engaging and meaningful station rotations (a focus for our school), offered opportunities to use technology, and included a service-learning activity. We planned one week full of differentiated activities by grade level groupings and named it “Caring Cardinal Days” to represent our school mascot and character education program. We also planned out the logistics of purchasing/securing materials, how long each station would be, and who would be in charge of time keeping so we would be fully prepared for implementation.
Our station rotations included the following (all students completed the Unmasking Kindness Quiver Masks station):
- Kindness Buckets (K-3) – Students created a paper bucket from brown lunch bags, decorated, and wrote kind compliments for others to put in buckets to reinforce writing skills.
- I Can Be Kind Digital Posters (K-3) – Reflecting on our school values to be safe, be responsible, and be respectful, students discussed how kindness fit into these categories. They used an I Can Be Kind activity template in Seesaw which allowed them to create a digital poster they could color and record examples of being kind.
- Unmasking Kindness Quiver Masks (K-5) – Reflecting on kindness books that had been read to students prior to our lesson, students discussed the power of using kind words. They colored a Quiver Masks printable and used the Quiver Masks app on iPads to record a kindness sentence from one of the books to practice reading fluency. Videos were then uploaded to Flipgrid for easy sharing with parents! (Here’s an example of one class’ Kindness Masks.)
Alternate activities for Grade 4 and 5 students included:
- Service Learning – Makerspace Blankets (4-5) – Students worked with a partner to measure and cut 3″ strips along the edge of a 30″ piece of fabric. Then students worked collaboratively to tie strips together to make ties along the edges, creating a cozy animal blanket to donate to a local animal shelter.
- Be the I in Kind Green Screen Posters (4-5) – Inspired by a tweet shared by Kelly Hoggard on Twitter, I recreated the Be the I in Kind sign into a digital poster so students could literally put themselves in the word “Kind” using the Do Ink green screen app. Students took photos of one another, uploaded into the app, cropped and adjusted the chroma key, then uploaded their finished products to Seesaw to share with others in the school.
We also made sure that we clearly articulated learning intentions and success criteria with students on easy-to-read station signs and in our conversations with students. We wanted them to know exactly what they were learning and why, and how they would know they were successful with the tasks.
By collaborating with a teacher who sees every student in the school each week, we had the opportunity to maximize our impact for talking about kindness while also integrating technology with language arts skills. Our rotations were very short (only 12 minutes!), but in doing so, our students were able to experience all three rotations and still have time to check out books from the library. Win-win!
What I love about collaborating with teachers on learning experiences is the ability to dive deep with instructional coaching. Following our first day of lessons, we quickly realized we needed to adjust our pace with instructional delivery and, for some students, we had to provide additional differentiation and support so all students could complete the tasks at hand. We also realized that we overpacked how much students could accomplish in only twelve minutes, so we looked for ways we could streamline tasks to provide more time for student creation.
For example, in the Unmasking Kindness Quiver Masks station, we originally wanted students to look through books and select kindness sentences on their own. While this opportunity for choice is wonderful for a full-length lesson, it was impossible for students to have enough time to peruse each book, choose their sentence, color their masks AND record their sentence into the app before it was time to switch groups. We decided to print out sentences from the books to provide more time for students to record their voices and for some classes, we gave them the masks to color before they arrived for our lesson.
We discovered that the fleece fabric we chose for the blankets, while super cute and cozy, left a TON of fuzz on the tables and floor. We literally had to shake out the tablecloths and vacuum the floor while students were doing library checkout in order to have the room neat and tidy for the next class. Should we do this activity again in the future, we are going to choose a smoother fabric that doesn’t shed so much!
We also reflected on some of the conversations we overheard from students, both positive and not-so-positive. We discussed ways we could redirect students to use kind words with others while also balancing the value of having all voices heard.
Flexibility and Compassion
Even in our most perfect planning, life will sometimes throw a curve-ball when you least expect it. The day after we began our Caring Cardinal rotations, my Aunt Edith passed away. Her funeral was scheduled for one of our rotation days, so we had to scramble to make last-minute adjustments with only two stations instead of three.
On another morning, I was unable to run my station due to a required training I had to attend. We even had an unplanned fire drill, too! During these times we were reminded that flexibility is essential as an educator. Kristy and Maureen didn’t bat an eye with the changes to our plans; they worked around the inconveniences and showed with their words and actions the power of compassion for others in tough times.
Caring Cardinal Contributions
By the end of our week-long lessons, our students had created kindness-filling buckets, digital posters, used green-screening and augmented reality apps, and donated a total of 15 handmade blankets to the Hanover Humane Society. WOW! Talk about Being the I in Kind! Our students rocked it out!
We even had special visitors come to our Caring Cardinal Days to learn with us and share in the joy. A special thanks to Connie Piper and Sue Maisey who made time in their schedules to stop in. We would also like to thank our sysop, Ethan Swainston, for capturing a few video clips and our district’s communication specialist, Amanda McDaniel, who put together this video to showcase our lessons with the world. (If video won’t play below, you can view it on YouTube.)
If you would like to do something similar with your students or staff, please check out the links below. We would love to know how our learning experience has sparked kindness in your buildings, too! Feel free to comment or share this blog post with a friend – we are better together when we share our #PassionForKindness!