education, ITRT, kindness

Special Delivery

As a technology integrator assigned to two schools, it sometimes gets a little confusing to know which day I’m at which location. Even though I have my calendar linked to my email signature, and have signs in both schools letting others know of my whereabouts (and they are consistent from week to week), I am often asked, “When are you going to be here again?”

The email I received two weeks ago from one school’s secretary was brief and concise: “Please come to the office today. You have a special delivery.” Intrigued and a bit perplexed, I responded back, letting her know that I wasn’t at her school that day, but I would be there the next morning. “You received flowers,” she replied, “Come today if you can.” As luck would have it, my day was jam-packed with lessons, collaborations, and an after-school professional development session, all of which prevented me from leaving the other building until almost 5:00 pm. The flowers would have to wait until the morning.

The next day, as I made my way into the front office, I scanned the desks and caught a glimpse of a beautiful poinsettia plant. Excited that this might be my special delivery, I smiled at the secretary, expecting her to hand me the poinsettia. Instead, she handed me a box. 

A box of… flowers? This was a first for me! In my 40+ years of life, I’ve received flowers a handful of times, but they’ve always arrived in a vase with water for a specific occasion. Who sent me flowers in a box? And why?

As I pondered the mystery aloud, our systems operator (Sysop), Jason, approached me, vase in hand, and said, “I can walk with you back to your classroom and explain what happened.” This intrigued me even more! I didn’t know who sent me flowers, had no clue why, and now something “happened” that needed explanation! What in the world was this all about?

As we walked to the computer lab, Jason filled me in. “The day before Thanksgiving break, I was leaving for the day and saw a box with your name on it. The side of the box said “Benchmark Bouquets,” so I figured there were probably flowers inside. You weren’t here and I didn’t know how to get a hold of you. I knew the flowers wouldn’t make it a week in a box, so I took them home and put them in water then ordered another set of flowers to be delivered so you could still have your surprise.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

This man, who barely even knows me (I’ve only been working in their school two days a week for the past few months), spent his own money to repurchase flowers so that I might still experience the joy and wonder of surprise.

His kindness brought me to tears!

Opening the box, I discovered that the flowers had been sent from my home school, Mechanicsville Elementary, in celebration of being named an R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence recipient during a recent ceremony. Jason had saved the message from the original delivery and handed it to me as I hugged him for his incredible empathy and compassion.

We took a photo together to capture the moment and I spent the remainder of the day in awe of the kindness of others. Despite the original communication snafu, I was able to properly thank my administrators for the beautiful flower arrangement and thank my Sysop for his incredible act of generosity.

Sometimes the special deliveries we plan in our mind aren’t always delivered in the ways we expect. Perhaps that’s because there’s a greater story to be told in the process. I will always remember this moment, not simply as an acknowledgment of an accomplishment, but the humbling reminder of the power of kindness. 

Jason could have easily walked past that box without a second glance. He didn’t have to take action. When he realized flowers were inside, he didn’t have to take them home. He most certainly was under no obligation whatsoever to spend his own money to replace them.

But he did.

Stories like these are why I wrote A Passion for Kindness, which will be released in February 2019. Each day we have countless opportunities to impact other lives in a positive way! While many prefer to keep their acts of kindness silent and hidden away (and that’s great!), I’m here to amplify the good, sharing stories of real people stepping out of their comfort zones to make this world a better place for others.

These beautiful flowers remind me that there are incredibly kind people in this world. May you have the courage to be kind to others in extraordinary ways, too!

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education, ITRT, reflection

Pirate Day 2018

Arrrgh there, mateys! Welcome to Pirate Day 2018!

In our second year of promoting the pirate spirit of risk-taking, communication, and collaboration, I invited our gifted-talented teacher, Maureen Ambrose, to help me prepare the crew and transform our Innovation Lab into a sea of grand adventure. What a day we created!

We started planning in August, quickly realizing that Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19) was not an option this year as it was a half-day in our school calendar with a district-wide teacher laptop rollout that afternoon. Before we even raised our flag, we had to choose another date.

After cross-referencing several calendars and focusing on our “why”, we realized we needed to offer this amazing learning experience on two days instead of one, providing additional opportunities for teachers and students to join in the fun. As luck would have it (or perhaps it was simply the shifting of the wind?), we discovered a month later that the date we chose was the same date as our school’s Author Visit, the third grade Ag Day, and school picture day! Egads!

Did we throw our hands up in the air and rip up our treasure map because of all the unforseen obstacles? ABSOLUTELY NOT! To quote Dave Burgess, the ultimate pirate captain himself, “It’s not supposed to be easy – it’s supposed to be worth it!”

Well, friends, let me tell you – IT. WAS. WORTH. IT!! We had an AMAZING two days filled with wide-eyed wonder, active anticipation, and student engagement was at an all-time high! If you are looking for an innovative way to focus on the 5 Cs while integrating technology and instructional content, keep reading to open this treasure box of insight and inspiration!

Planning

All great pirates know that half the joy in adventure is dreaming big. Maureen and I started our planning process by brainstorming dozens of activities we wanted to do, then whittled them down to align with our state standards, district goals, and grade level expectations. We knew we wanted to promote the concept of station rotations and we also wanted classroom teachers to be an integral part of the learning process (they needed to steer the ship, too!) In that mindset, we decided to plan a 40 minute adventure with three stations, students rotating to a new landing every ten minutes, leaving time for a five minute introduction and a five minute reflection before the next ship sailed the seas.

Since the needs of kindergarteners are much different than the needs of fifth graders, we knew we would have to provide a variety of activities, but our transition time for setting up/tearing down stations would be limited, so that led us to create two pirate days – one for K-2 students and another for 3-5 students.

We created a Google Sheets sign-up and changed the sharing settings so that anyone with the link could edit the sheet. We sent our email out to teachers inviting them to sign up for a designated time and were blown away when our sheet was nearly filled the first day! WOW!

Activities

Reflecting on Pirate Day 2017, we wanted to offer new pirate-themed activities for our students while continuing the “best of the best” from the year before. Since designing an unsinkable pirate ship was a huge hit in our Makerspace area last year, we kept that activity going, but with a few enhancements based on lessons learned.

The concept was simple: Using only one small sheet of aluminum foil, one popsicle stick, and masking tape, create a ship that could float and hold all the treasure (pennies) without sinking in the turbulent sea (a plastic tub of water.)

WAIT – did I just say water? In an Innovation lab with laptops and iPads and robots nearby? Yep! You read that correctly! See, we can do amazing things if we train our crew before we board the boat. It’s all part of the preparation!

Below are the key tips to remember should you try this with your pirate crew:

  1. Buy LOTS of absorbant paper towels. Those thin, brown sheets of sandpaper masquerading as paper towels in your dispensers by the sink will do nothing more but crinkle and curl, making more of a mess than you already had. It’s worth the expense of purchasing the good stuff, trust me! We used Viva Choose-a-Sheet paper towels and each small group was responsible for cleaning up their own station, even the kindergarteners!
  2. Cover your tables with cheap, plastic tablecloths. It cost us a whopping $2.00 to provide an easy-to-wipe surface for any water spills, then when Pirate Day was done we rolled up the table cloths and threw them away for easy clean up.
  3. Buy pop-up foil sheets. Did you know you can purchase 500 sheets of foil for less than two venti drinks at Starbucks? It’s true and worth every single penny. Productive pirates know that saving time reaps great rewards so buy the box and rock on with your day!
  4. Provide pennies, but skip the cute paper plates. I bought four rolls of pennies (for another $2.00) and divided them into four cute, pirate plates I found in the party section of Target. Great idea on the pennies – complete fail on the plates. By the third class, this pirate knew she had to find another way to store her treasure as the paper plates were completely destroyed from the water on the coins. Using styrofoam plates as a last-minute replacement saved my sanity and made it easy to drain extra water from treasure fished out from the bottom of the sea. If you are reading this now, make an even better choice and use a small plastic plate or shallow bowl instead.
  5. Make a Flipgrid grid and have your devices ready to capture the fun! Since Flipgrid changed their grid set-up, we now use Student Lists with our grids. Prior to Pirate Day, I created a grid that Maureen and I could use to create topics for the stations we wanted to capture. Take a peek here to see a sample of our ships and which designs were unsinkable!

Here are the new activities we offered for each of the Pirate Days:

(K-2) Pirate Ship Creation – Using Brain Flakes, students create a pirate ship using the colorful, interlocking discs. Then, pirates count the various colors used recording tally marks and/or numbers on their recording sheet. As an extra bonus, students can share their creations on a Flipgrid topic.

(K-2) Create a Pirate – Using free coloring sheets from Quiver Vision, we printed the pirate sheet from Book Week and allowed students to color their pirate. After coloring, students used the Quiver app on iPads to make their pirate come to life, talking to them in a unique augmented reality (AR) experience. We shared with teachers how they can access more coloring sheets to use as a fun center rotation in their classroom.

(3-5) Pirates of OZ (Ozobots) – Using Ozobot robots and pre-printed coding tracks, students designed their own path from ship to treasure, using color codes to guide their robot along the way. Students were encouraged to extend the tracks or draw new shapes using a black marker. Students were able to watch their Ozobot travel and redesign courses if needed should an Ozobot walk the plank right off the page.

(3-5) Talk Like a Pirate – Using a Seesaw activity template, students joined a Pirate Seesaw class, typed things a pirate might say using the suggestion sheets we provided for inspiration, then recorded themselves speaking their best pirate-ese! Best of all, they shared their talks on Seesaw so other students could listen and learn, too!

Reflections

We wanted to create the best pirate learning experience we could with total immersion. In addition to creating space for rotations with the flexible seating in our Innovation Lab, we added blue tablecloths to simulate water, decorated from one end of the room to the other and donned our favorite pirate attire, greeting all pirate crew members at the entrance. As music from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack blared from the speakers, we guided our pirates past the pirate ship into the galley for the introduction to our day.

As I spoke with students, Maureen pulled the classroom teacher to the side and gave her a quick run through of what she would do at her station. From there it was all-hands-on-deck as we began our activities, rotating every 10 minutes, thanks to Maureen’s reliable phone timer.

After the last rotation, we gathered the energized travelers back to the galley for a reflection of our learning experiences.

Resilience. Grit. Determination. Perseverance. We saw these characteristics in our students as they worked through the various challenges they encountered in their rotations. They discovered that masking tape loses its stickiness when it gets wet. They realized the importance of making colored dots the same width and length for coding. They shared their unique insights on what it meant to be a pirate learner, a risk-taker, a success.

We didn’t have a single discipline issue from any class on any day.

Our students were completely engaged in the tasks at hand and most didn’t want their time to end. We made learning empowering, relevant, and fun. In fact, our Pirate Day was so successful, we are going to repeat it again in the spring for the classes who couldn’t attend in the fall!

We hope our grand adventures on the high seas has inspired you to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. We look forward to sharing more themed days as we continue throughout the year!


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education, kindness, reflection

Socktober

With the change in seasons, our three kindness classes are up and running and we are well on our way to learning more about empathy and compassion through our lessons. We began the month by brainstorming our #oneword for kindness, sharing in small groups, then creating a digital word cloud of our responses using the online website AnswerGarden. We will do this activity again at the end of school to see how our perspectives of kindness have changed throughout the year.

We spent the remainder of our time creating Kindness Journals and learning more about the #CelebrateMonday movement on Twitter (created by my great pal, Sean Gaillard, principal and author of The Pepper Effect.) Using my Twitter account, we saw all the positive things people posted on social media with that hashtag, which dipped into an impromptu digital citizenship reminder about words we use online and the impact they have on others.

In our second lesson this month, we jotted down acts of kindness we had seen/received/completed. We then listened to our first kindness book, Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, as we enjoyed our flexible seating around the room.

What makes this book such a powerful story are all the ways we can infer information about the main character, Jeremy. We discovered through words and illustrations that Jeremy and his grandmother didn’t have much money for non-essential items. They shopped in thrift stores. They rode through town on public transportation. They graciously accepted donations from others while still striving to do things independently.

We learned that kindness involves sacrifice which carries a variety of emotions: frustration, anger, responsibility, joy. Our discussions blurred the lines of social status and eventually led us to ponder the challenges of being homeless, out on the streets, with nowhere to go, with no one to help.

It’s then that we discovered through our own brainstorming that we can be the good and make a positive difference in the lives of others who are struggling. We listened to Kid President discuss three questions that could change the world and delighted in the realization that we, too, can join in his mission:

Socktober.

For the month of October, we are collecting socks to donate to those who are homeless. While our students’ initial images of homeless people focuseded on old men living in cardboard boxes on the side of the street, we quickly learned that most homeless families are women and small children with one in thirty American children experiencing homelessness each year. We pondered the fact that we have homeless families in our school district and quite possibly in our school as well.

With service to others on our minds, we encouraged our students to talk with their families about #Socktober and set a goal to donate 150 pairs of socks between the three classes by the end of the month.

It didn’t take long to put intention into action.

The next week our bag was filled, requiring a cardboard box to hold our donations. We then overflowed that box and had to use an even larger storage basket to hold all the socks! Even today we had students adding to our collection!

We are hopeful that our small gifts of love will brighten someone else’s day when they need it the most. If you would like to donate to our #Socktober mission, please comment below or message me on Twitter. We have two more weeks to bring smiles to others and would love for you to join in our fun!

A special thanks to Brad Montague and Kid President for their efforts in sharing kindness with others in unique and empowering ways. We are truly better together in all that we do! Check out their book Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome – you will be so glad you did!


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For the Love of Reading

“What kind of books do you like to read?”

I have to laugh when I hear someone ask this question, especially to children. Many will answer with a series or author name; a few will respond with a genre. Some will stare blankly with a shrug of their shoulders indicating disinterest in the question altogether. Even in elementary school, students have begun to label themselves by reading ability or interest. Have you ever heard one of these responses?

“I don’t like to read.”

“I’m not a good reader.”

“Reading is boring.”

My earliest memories of books revolve around my mom who was an avid reader. While we never had a formal bookshelf in our home, she would have stacks of books in her closet, under the coffee table, and in various bags in our spare bedroom. I can still see her now, curled up in a corner of the couch, covered in a blanket, hardback book opened with crisp, new pages waiting to be turned.

My mom’s passion for reading trickled down to me in small and meaningful ways. Unfortunately, my love for reading was a late discovery, as I was a product of the Red Bird, Blue Bird, Black Bird grouping of a decades-old educational system that judged my reading ability by lower-level comprehension questions and oral fluency peer comparison. According to my report card, I was an average reader. According to my passion, I was a skilled and reflective orator, retelling and correlating storylines to life lessons, emphasizing inspirational character traits with each story shared.

Since that time, I have easily read hundreds of books in a variety of genres that shift depending on my own life stages. No one requires me to take a test to prove my learning and I am freed from narrow constraints that dictate my reading selection.

I can read any book, at any time, without judgment or expectation.

I am a life-long reader.

From one of my first and favorite novels, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, to the humorous and sometimes horrific insights of Iggie’s House and Blubber by Judy Blume, my early teen years found comfort in learning about people’s experiences: their highs and lows, successes and failures.

In high school, I discovered biblical inspirations, marking my favorite quotes with colorful highlighters that occasionally bled through the other page. Handwritten notes with personal references in the margins reminded me that I am wonderfully made and bound for greatness. I was drawn to personal narratives shared in Daily Guideposts, providing inspiration 365 days of the year. Many of those verses and stories still come to mind today when I face trials and tribulations of living in an imperfect world.

In college, I bought a kit to build my own two-leveled bookshelf. It was made of cheap particle board and a bit wobbly, but it was mine. I quickly filled it with Shel Silverstein poetry books like Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic and treasured young adult novels like Where the Red Fern Grows and Bridge to Terabithia. I vowed to never watch a movie until I had read the book first.

In my twenties, I found great escape in the twisted tales spun by Stephen King and Dean Koontz, developing empathy for characters like Christopher Snow in Fear Nothing. Then my interests took a complete turnaround when I transitioned to motherhood, with a focus on baby board books like Guess How Much I Love You capturing the unexplainable love I had for the newborn baby rocking asleep in my arms.

I read to my child.

For my child.

With my child.

As I had more children, I made sure each had a bookshelf in their bedroom. The first was built by my husband, a simple 2′ x 4′ storage space crafted from pine and custom-sized to fit baby books, which was passed along to each child as they arrived. When a child outgrew the baby bookshelf, another one would appear in their room, magically filled with early reader books, graphic novels, and other books I had found at yard sales or Goodwill.

While there may not have been money to purchase name-brand shoes or the newest game console, there was always money available for books. From Junie B. Jones lamenting her first grade woes to Jack and Annie sharing their treehouse adventures, I tried my best to pass along my mother’s love for reading to her grandchildren.

Years later, when that same mother who sparked my love for reading faced her greatest battle of Stage 4 lung cancer (at the same time my mother-in-law was battling Stage 4 colon cancer), I turned to books like Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant to guide me through my loss and grief. On the day after my mother’s death, I received a package on my doorstep: Driving Miss Norma, the book my mom had pre-ordered for me as a Christmas gift six months before.

Even after her death, my mom was encouraging me to keep reading.

I am now in a season of enriching my educational practice with books like Teach Like a Pirate, Blogging for EducatorsBe Real, Make Learning Magical, Lead Like a Pirate, The Path to Serendipity, Lead with Culture, Professionally Driven and Social LEADia (and so many more – this paragraph could be a blog post in and of itself!) I am discovering the joys of reflective practice and learning from educators who stretch my thinking with their encouraging words.

I can also hear a new whisper on my heart:

“Write and share.”

In the journey from reader to writer, I see the interconnectedness of both, how words consumed and internalized are woven together into expressions and examples bursting forth to be shared. I have learned from writers before me how to scoop up fragments and phrases and mold them into visual experiences that unfold inside a reader’s mind.

To write well, you must be well read.

I am still perfecting my craft as a writer as I share blog posts like this, sparked by writing groups like #CompelledTribe who challenge me each month to keep writing, keep sharing, keep developing.

This time next year I will be an author myself with others holding my book to read. The thought is nearly incomprehensible. I am humbled to join the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. crew as an honorary pirate preparing for her maiden voyage. I can almost see in my mind’s eye my mom sitting on her sofa, wrapped in a blanket, reading my book A Passion for Kindness, her eyes brimming with tears of joy.

It’s a journey that will soon come full circle.

In celebration of #NationalBookMonth this October, I challenge you to share your experiences with books that have made an impact on your life. You may be surprised to discover that your words of reflection may inspire someone to add a new book to their collection! If you share a post, tag me, too – your words inspire me as well!


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Dots of Joy and Kindness

It started with a simple dot.

My oldest son, Daniel, caught my attention this summer as he pointed to the Braille dots located on floor numbers inside of an elevator. “I know how to read that,” he said, his voice steady and confident. I laughed and reminded him that the numbers were shown on the buttons, too. “No, really, I can read it. I can read Braille.” He traced his fingers across the raised dots and a smile spread across his face. “That’s the number 3. See? It matches the letter “c” with these four dots in front of it.”

I turned to my son and stared in amazement. We had never discussed the Braille alphabet before, nor did we know anyone who read it. I asked him how he learned Braille and he shrugged his shoulders, replying nonchalantly, “I just taught myself.”

This summer as I was presenting my Passion for Kindness PD sessions to teachers in my district, I shared this story and was delighted to meet Debra Reames, who works directly with students with visual and hearing impairments. We had an instant connection, bubbling over with excitement in all the ways we can inspire our students with joy through kindness. Towards the end of our session, she showed me her Braille bracelet and even painted a JOY rock to add to my collection.

The next week my son and I received mail from Debra which included inspirational quotes, printed Braille alphabet cards, and our names typed out on Braille paper. My son was so excited to receive these acts of kindness!

On Saturday, September 15, 2018, also known as International Dot Day for Peter H. Reynolds’ fans, I decided to make my “one dot mark” by creating joyful kindness rocks in Braille to share with Debra and her students.

Using rocks I purchased at the Dollar Tree, a little bit of paint, and a lot of precision with a toothpick, I created four JOY rocks with raised Braille dots that I sealed with a thin layer of Mod Podge on top. Now her visually impaired students can feel joy as they read it, too! (I’m sending them to her on Monday… shhh, don’t tell!)

I had so much fun painting JOY rocks for Debra and her students, I created a few of my own #passionforkindness rocks to scatter around my community throughout the week. You never know when someone may need a little reminder of joy, love, and hope!

Peter H. Reynolds encourages us through his writing to “make your mark on the world.”  While making a difference takes a little bit of effort and courage, it isn’t hard and doesn’t have to be expensive. I try to make my mark through simple acts of kindness, but your mark might be making a meal, calling a friend, or playing a game with a loved one.

Make your mark with time.

Make your mark with joy.

Make your mark today.


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education, grief, reflection

On That Day

 

On that day, I opened the door to my third grade classroom having no idea that our country would be under attack within the hour.

On that day, I marked attendance, taking for granted that every child would be present that day and the next.

On that day, I watched as students unpacked their backpacks and got settled in, waiting for me to teach them lessons they needed to learn.

On that day, I discovered just how important it was to be their teacher.


They were seven and eight years old. They had no concept of terror other than the make-believe monsters that hid under their beds and the shadows that played tricks on them at night. They slept with their favorite stuffed animals and baby dolls and wrote stories about cats and dogs, flowers and friends.

Our day was blissfully normal in every way. In Tennessee, school had begun a few weeks before; we were still getting to know one another. A knock on my door changed everything.

“A plane just flew into the Twin Towers. It’s on TV, but don’t let your kids see.”

Minutes later, I took the students to their specials class, then raced back to my room to watch the events unfold in real-time horror.

Another plane.

Fire.

Smoke.

Collapse.

Chaos.

Shock.

Students returned to class and I had to continue teaching as if nothing had happened. How could I begin to explain that day when I didn’t even understand it myself?

All I could do was hug my students a little tighter, a little longer, reminding them how important they were to me. I told each and every student that I loved them.

It’s been 17 years since 9/11 and I remember it like it was yesterday.

And each year, I receive a message from one of those eight year olds who sat in my class that day.

“Hey, Mrs. Letter. I hope all is well for you. I just wanted to say that every year I remember that day and I remember the conversation we had on the reading mat in your room. I remember the questions we asked and the confusion we all had at what was happening and why those “bad guys” would do such a thing, etc. but I also remember feeling safe in your classroom. I always knew that as long as I was in your class (even from wasps… which you taught us how to ignore when they fly in the portable) and I knew I was loved. Pretty vivid memories for a third grader but that’s the impact you left on me and I thought I’d remind you!”

Some years the message sent is long; other years the message is short and sweet. But for one day of the year we are connected again, teacher and student, with a bond that will never be broken. I am reminded of the life-long impact we have on our students’ lives with our words and actions, even in those moments of unscripted conversations that are raw and real.

We keep our students safe.

We remind them they are loved.

We put on our battle armor and shield our students from a world that is complicated and cruel at times.

On that day, I decided evil would not win.

On that day, I discovered love was louder.


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The Kindness Teacher

This afternoon as I was standing in the checkout line of our local Food Lion grocery store, I heard a sweet voice call out my name.

“Mrs. Letter! Mrs. Letter!”

I turned my head to see a young girl grinning from ear to ear, her arms already outstretched for the hug she knew would come. I stepped to the side and embraced her; her delight in recognizing me almost overwhelming us both. Her two siblings came near, and I wrapped my arms around them as well.

“Mommy, this is Mrs. Letter. She was my kindness teacher!”

The mom smiled at her daughter, then smiled back at me as she said the most wonderful words I had heard all day.

“I know.”

She knows. 

Her mom knows my name.

She knows I am her daughter’s “kindness teacher.”

Maybe there have been discussions at the dinner table of the lessons we shared. Perhaps her daughter retold one of our kindness stories or maybe they did some acts of kindness together, sparked by our kindness challenges throughout the year.

Even though I have never met her mom, and don’t teach her child’s class on a regular basis, she knows who I am and what I’m all about.

That’s the power of teaching with passion. No matter your role or title, you have the power each and every day to impact the life of a child in a positive way. In fact, you can make such a difference that a child will remember your name long after you have touched their life.

Be you with every ounce of passion, love, and exuberance you can share. Because one day there might be a little girl who shouts your name from across a grocery store, introduces you to her mom, and completely makes your day.

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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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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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