family, kindness, travel

Car Compassion

Having reliable transportation is a necessity in this day and age. From work to play, we all need the certainty that we can get from here to there.

My car is relatively new… well, new in my head. I received my Honda CRV on Mother’s Day 2015, a replacement for the family van I had used for my three children when my second job was affectionately referred to as “Mom Taxi.” I was delighted with the upgrade as I’ve always loved Hondas and knew it would be a great investment. (Take a peek at my Honda Civic post if you want to know more about my love for Hondas!)

For the past three years, I’ve driven this car with very few issues. Then in September 2018, while sitting at a stoplight less than a mile from our home, we were rear-ended and pushed into the middle of the intersection, a result of a three-car accident.

The first responders were gracious and kind, checking on all of us to make sure we didn’t have any injuries. Of the three cars involved in the accident, ours was the only one that wasn’t totaled by the impact.

First responders showed kindness to our kids in the backset making sure they were OK from the car accident.
First responders showing kindness as they check on our children in the backseat.

It was Labor Day and we were headed to the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. We quickly figured out alternative transportation so that our vacation day wasn’t ruined, and finally made it to our destination. Unfortunately, we missed our scheduled entrance time where we had pre-purchased tickets (five hours late!)

A photo of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

As we explained the situation to the man guarding the entrance door, he whisked us inside to look up our reservation. Then, with a smile on his face, he let us know that he refunded the cost of our four tickets. We could enjoy the museum for free! (We later learned his name was Unray Headon, the director of the museum!)

A photo of me with the the director of the International Spy Museum as he hands me a printed receipt with our admission tickets comped.
Car compassion = free admission!

Our car was rebuilt and I was back on the road again.

In October, I had my interview for the R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence to answer questions before a panel about my love for teaching, my passion for kindness, and my project proposal set before them.

That afternoon was a bit of a mad scramble as I met with a teacher after school, providing a short personalized professional development session, then had to pick up my youngest child from daycare before heading home to change clothes and drive across town to arrive in time for my scheduled interview.

As I drove across a bridge, my son safely secured in the backseat, I heard a pop and felt the car shake. I quickly guided my car to the side of the road right after the bridge and got out to assess the damage. Sure enough, my back rear tire was flat.

O.M.G.

My first instinct was to panic and scream, “I HAVE TO BE AT THIS INTERVIEW!!” Instead, I calmly called my husband, who was on his way to the high school to pick up our other son from cross country practice. My next call was to my dad.

“Can I borrow your car? I need it immediately!” It took a few moments for my words to sink in, after all, how many forty-six year old adults call their dad and ask to borrow the car? We quickly worked out logistics and I made it in time for the interview.

Best of all, my dad was there when my school district honored me as a 2018 R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence recipient. Without his kindness, I would have never made it to the interview and would not have had an opportunity to share my passions with others or win this prestigious award.

A photo of me with my dad as I'm holding my R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence certificate from my school district.
Me and my dad (Pappy)

What caused that tire to deflate in an instant? An unbelievably sharp piece of metal that could have caused even more damage to someone else.

A sharp piece of metal that was wedged in my car's tire.
This was wedged in my car’s tire.

In November, as I was in a planning meeting with two other teachers, I heard an urgent call over the loud speaker. “If you drive a Honda CRV with license number… please report to the faculty parking lot immediately!” My stomach instantly dropped because I knew it was my car.

Again.

As I approached my car, a small crowd started to gather, curious to see what happened. Apparently a truck had backed into a parking space and gave my car a little “love tap” with the hitch on the back of his vehicle. There just happened to be a police officer there in the moment who took down the information and reassured me that the damage to my car was minimal.

A photo of another car's hitch pressed against the front bumper of my car.

Several teachers offered empathy and compassion as they inquired about my car, checking in with me that day and the days that followed.

Remembering the superstition, “Bad things come in threes,” I figured I had paid my car troubles’ dues and could breathe a little easier.

Until this week, when my car wouldn’t start in the daycare parking lot.

As I sat there trying to start the ignition, a man walked past the front of my car and approached my driver’s side window. “I don’t think that’s going to start,” he said. “If you want, I can give you a jump and see what the problem might be.”

Fifteen minutes later, I was back in business, thanks to the kindness of this complete stranger who saved the day! (I later learned his name is Tyler with TowTrans – if you need a tow from kind people, check out their Facebook page!)

A photo of me and Tyler, the man who jump-started my car in the daycare parking lot.
Tyler saved the day!

I am reminded of Fred Rogers and the story he shares of his mom’s advice in times of distress: “Always look for the helpers… There’s always someone who is trying to help.”

Today, as we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. I am reminded of the importance of paying-it-forward by the words he spoke so eloquently: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: “What are you doing for others?”

Empathy and compassion are the cornerstones of kindness. May we all look for opportunities to uplift and inspire human kind.

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Innovative Kindness

In our Passion for Kindness Facebook group, we share uplifting posts and videos we see online. Often, it’s kindness given, received, or witnessed. Sometimes it’s a quote of inspiration. I love to see which posts resonate with others. I find that surrounding myself with positive people, even on digital platforms, helps to focus on the good instead of the bad.

About a month ago, I came across a video of a color-blind man receiving a gift from his family: specially crafted glasses that would allow him to see the world around him in vibrant hues of brilliance. As he eagerly unwrapped the glasses and put them on his face, his demeanor completely changed, the drastic change to his sight rendering him speechless, in tears.

The video tugged my heartstrings and made me ponder the impact of empathy and compassion as it relates to innovation. According to the Institute of Design at Stanford, known as Stanford d.school, empathy is not only an integral part of the design thinking process, it’s the very first step. “To create meaningful innovations, you need to know your users and care about their lives.” (Download “An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE” to learn more.)

I wanted to bring this concept of Innovative Kindness into the classroom, so I created a lesson that would showcase examples of innovations sparked by the kindness of others then lead into a discussion of empathy and compassion.

With students in Mrs. Cross’, Mrs. Miller’s, and Ms. Miller’s classes, we viewed the video of the color-blind man then watched another video of a cat whose owners created a wheeled attachment for his paralyzed hind legs, adding ramps throughout their house to overcome climbing steps. His owners even adapted their innovation to include a handle, so they could assist their feline when he had to climb multiple steps in a row.

We discussed those key words: empathy and compassion. For nine and ten year olds (and even adults!) the words are sometimes used interchangeably. We spent several minutes showing how empathy – that feeling of relating to someone else’s struggle or pain – can lead to compassion, which is empathy in action. We then related those words to the design process, how kindness in action sparks innovation.

Katie Martin reinforces this concept in her book, Learner Centered Innovation: Spark Curiosity, Ignite Passion, and Unleash Genius: “When we empower learners to explore and learn how to make an impact on the world, we inspire problem-solvers and innovators.”

Our classroom conversations shifted to the power of innovation in making the world a better place for others. I shared the graphic below as an introduction to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations.

SDG poster courtesy of https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs

We discussed world problems and their impact on humanity. We shined a light on our lives in the United States and the many things we might assume others have like water fountains and quality education. We pondered the challenges that children in other countries face daily.

We then decided that we wanted to change the world, too.

Offering students the choice to work independently, in pairs, or with a small group, we challenged them to identify a problem and create a solution, focusing on the who before the what.

We provided Design Crews with a note sheet to record their planning, then we set them loose in our Innovation Lab’s makerspace – free to use any materials for any purpose. The greatest constraint they faced was time; they only had 20 minutes to create a plan of action and design a prototype.

To download this FREE template, visit http://bit.ly/KindTempShare.

It was incredible to see how quickly our students dove into this activity. They were so engaged! Their collaborative efforts quickly came together as they communicated with the group, one person often refining the ideas of another after testing out their prototype.

Pondering the possibilities
Deep in discussion
Makerspace supplies
Crafting the prototype

Their excitement was contagious! They all wanted to share their innovations that would improve lives of people, land animals, and aquatic life. With the remaining time in class, we guided students in using Flipgrid (many for the very first time!) to capture their creations with voice and video.

Recording their innovations on Flipgrid
They loved seeing each other’s videos!
To view student videos, visit https://flipgrid.com/0a92a047

Many times teachers are hesitant to dive into hands-on projects citing lack of time or availability of resources. However, to transform learning experiences for students, we must make student agency a priority. In Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today, Tom Murray and Eric Sheninger challenge us to “empower kids to own their learning (and school) through greater autonomy. It is driven by choice, voice, and advocacy.” When you find value in designing lessons with this purpose, you find a way to make it happen.

Through our Innovative Kindness lesson, students had an opportunity to take grade-level state standards and apply them in new, unique ways. They made connections to prior content regarding conservation, natural resources, and recycling. They also practiced the 5 C’s of communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and citizenship, all within the confines of one sixty-minute class period.

There are many creative ways to shine a light on kindness with your students. You might design a Kindness Scavenger Hunt like Laurie McIntosh in Canada or create a month-long virtual Kindness Read-Aloud like Karen Caswell in Australia. You could even introduce kind acts to your students by having them participate in The Great Kindness Challenge January 28 – February 1 by signing up your school and downloading a printable checklist to complete at school or home. (Many more kindness ideas to come when A Passion for Kindness is released next month!)

I would love to know ways you are shifting the focus towards student agency and innovation in your lessons. Comment below and share your inspirations! Together we can transform learning, one lesson at a time!

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What’s In a Name?

Last week a dear friend messaged me, apologizing profusely for mispronouncing my name during a podcast recording. Instantly, I felt empathy for her because I know very well the internal angst you feel in that exact moment of error.

I’ve been there before.

I laughed it off with reassurance that she wasn’t the first and she wouldn’t be the last. People mispronounce my name ALL the time.

They don’t do it to be disrespectful.

They don’t do it to be mean.

They simply don’t know the way my mom decided to pronounce it when she completed my birth certificate so many years ago.

Social Backlash

There have been many posts on social media about the importance of learning students’ names and pronouncing them correctly. I agree wholeheartedly that calling someone by their name – and saying it they way they prefer – adds a level of value to their day and reminds them that their name is important, therefore they are important.

It matters to children. It matters to adults. No debate there.

What troubles me are the social media posts where conversations shift from aiming for excellence to attacking for error. Is there no compassion for those who struggle to “get it right?”

I know the importance in learning someone’s name.

I also know the importance of giving someone grace when they mess it up.

So allow me to share a little vulnerability: I really struggle to remember all your names. And how they are spelled. And how they are pronounced.

I am in awe of those people in my world who have instant recall for everyone they’ve ever met. They match faces with names like Memory cards, winning each game they play.

I’m still trying to figure out why my Memory card is bent.

Weak Link

I have a weak link for recalling names (and multiplication facts, and my assigned lines in a theatrical production, and pretty much anything else that requires memorization.) I never used to address people by name unless I had to. Yes, I knew it was the polite and respectful thing to do, but the fear of saying a name incorrectly (or even worse – saying the wrong name or no name at all) kept my conversations nameless. I avoided introductions at all costs and mentally pleaded for name tags to be provided everywhere I went.

Despite my brain block, I do know who you are.

I recognize your smile and the way your eyes light up as we speak.

I instantly recall shared memories and moments, but for whatever reason your name might remain in the shadows of the corners of my mind.

I wish I could change that about myself. I work diligently to overcome my weaknesses. And yet… they still persist.

About a month ago, I was at a district event where I had invited my dad and his girlfriend to attend. I was introducing them to an educational leader, one whom I’ve known for years. I’ve worked with her on committees and supported initiatives in her building. But in the moment of introduction, I simply couldn’t recall her name. My brain went blank.

It happens.

There was an awkward pause as I prayed for God to save me and He did – the educator smiled at my family members and introduced herself as if no one even noticed my vocal paralysis.

That’s grace.

I recently read an article about Raisa Patel whose name is constantly mispronounced and it resonated with me for several reasons. I felt her pain of a mispronounced name. I felt my embarrassment knowing I’ve caused that feeling for others. I felt a little less alone when I learned about her classmate who resorted to writing down her name phonetically to make it easier to remember.

I do that, too.

In fact, you will often find me jotting down notes in my little aqua blue notebook. It’s one of the coping strategies I’ve created for myself over the years.

What’s In a Name?

Did you know that no one in my family calls me Tamara? It’s true. That’s my birth name, but one my mother never used. (Well, unless I was in trouble. Then she used my first name AND middle name AND last name all bunched together with one breath.)

Like several of you, I grew up with a nickname. People called me Tammy, but with a catch.

Everyone spelled it differently.

My mother spelled it Tammie. My teachers spelled it Tammy. Very rarely did the two spellings align. Sometimes it annoyed my mom, but most times we just overlooked the error and didn’t get riled up.

When I moved up from elementary school to junior high, I wanted to set myself apart from the crowd, be a little different, discover my uniqueness. I decided to change the spelling of my nickname the way I wanted it spelled. I dropped the final “e” and started writing Tammi on all my papers and hoped it would catch on with others.

It didn’t.

My mother continued to spell it Tammie and my teachers kept writing Tammy. Then I met another girl who spelled her name Tammi, so I dropped an “m” and reinvented myself as “Tami.”

In 9th grade I joined the marching band and discovered a clarinet player whose name was Tami. The only difference between our names was that she was born Tami, not Tamara, therefore she had greater claim to the name.

So I added back the “e” and became “Tamie.”

I remained Tamie to all my friends and relatives through high school and into college. Then I became engaged and realized my identity would change again as I took on my fiancĂ©’s last name.

That’s when I decided to give the real name a go as I reinvented myself one more time.

Hello, Tamara.

New Life, New Name

Switching names was easier than I anticipated as I got married and moved to another state. I felt comfortable introducing myself as Tamara instead of Tamie and those whom I met were never the wiser of my 20+ years spent with a different name.

Until I moved back to my hometown twelve years later and my two worlds collided – those who knew me as Tamie and those who knew me as Tamara were now living in the same town.

Who am I anyway? 

I gave up sending Christmas cards when it became too complicated to sign them. (Who is this card going to? Do they know me as Tamara or Tamie?)

The running joke in my family now is trying to guess which way my dad will spell my name on my birthday card. Each year it’s different and it always makes me laugh.

Move On

What should we do when we make a mistake with others? When we mispronounce a name or fall into the abyss of nameless darkness? When we’re not sure how to spell it, how to say it, how to recall it?

Own it.

Take a breath. Apologize. Ask them to repeat it. Acknowledge that you may mess it up again, but you will keep trying to get it right.

Then stop fretting over the mistake. Give yourself some grace, move on, and for the love of all things sane, please don’t berate others who are trying their best.

We are all works in progress and grace goes a long, long way.

The next time you see me at the grocery store or at the end of a presentation, please come up and introduce yourself. It’s OK if you say my name wrong. I won’t correct you because at the end of the day, it’s all good. You won’t hurt my feelings by pronouncing my name wrong.

I would much rather you say, “Hi,” messing up my name in the process than never saying, “Hi,” at all.

And for those who are really curious about how I pronounce my real name, I’ll share with you my own mnemonic:

“It’s Tamara, like camera, but spelled with all A’s.”

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One Word 2019

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? How does that work out for you? Do you make it to the end of the year with completed checkboxes? Are all your line items marked off the list?

For me, New Year’s Resolutions result in failure.

Every.

Single.

Time.

I used to create a long list of goals I wanted to accomplish, my Pollyanna optimism confident in my ability to complete each one. January would start off with a bang. February would bring about some challenges. By March and April I was drowning from the riptide and by June and July I couldn’t even tell you what my initial goals were, they were so long sunk to the bottom.

When I made New Year’s Resolutions, I created a year of frustration with unfulfilled, unrealistic expectations. It impacted my self-esteem and did absolutely nothing to help me become a better version of myself.

Then, the eureka moment. As 2015 came to a close with 2016 around the bend, I embraced the concept of choosing one word to focus on for an entire year. It completely changed my perspective of resolutions.

Here are the words I have chosen the past few years:

What’s fascinating in choosing a word to focus on is that is really does become a part of your soul. When I selected “joy” for 2016, I embraced it in every way possible. I became an honorary Joy Ambassador, following the examples set by Akilah Ellison and Theresa Holloran. I referenced joy in my blog posts. I was drawn to all things joyful and it really helped me get through a tough year.

In 2017, “resilience” reminded me that I could survive the lowest of lows. I held my mother’s hand as she took her final breath, then found a way to keep moving forward.

And then, it was 2018. I wanted a word that was filled with hope for good things to come. I wanted a word that embodied the gift I wanted to share with others. There was only one word that came to mind:

Inspire.

As I reflect on 2018, I am in awe of how the word “inspire” materialized like a self-fulfilling prophecy. My boss called it “The Year of Tamara” which made me laugh every time she said it, but now looking back, I have to admit it was a crazy, incredible year. Even in my reflections, I find myself shaking my head asking, “Did all this really happen to ME?”

In 2018…

I signed my first book contract with Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. to write a book about kindness. (A Passion for Kindness: Making the World a Better Place to Lead, Love, and Learn will be released in February 2019 on Amazon and Barnes and Noble! Sign up for freebies, notifications, and more here!)

I celebrated a second year of Kindness Passion Projects at our Kindness Share Fair with forty students and their teachers, Lori Cross and Jennifer Madison, then presented with Lori and Jennifer at our district’s first Inspire conference.

Visitors at our Kindness Share Fair completed a Call to Action leaving notes of how they will scatter seeds of kindness in the world.

I was awarded Teacher of the Year for Mechanicsville Elementary School and advanced to the finalist round for our district, a first for a technology integrator in our school system.

I was interviewed by the local news not once, not twice, but three times to scatter seeds of kindness in our community. (Many thanks to Amanda McDaniel, our district’s Communication Specialist, who always helps to promote the great things happening with our schools!)

I gave my first out-of-district Keynote at the Clarke County Innovation Conference (and didn’t fall off the stage!)

I co-wrote three fully funded grants to bring creative learning experiences into the classroom, then inspired other teachers to do the same. (Many thanks to the Hanover Education Foundation and the Virginia Professional Educators for these opportunities!)

I survived a near-frigid rafting trip in a paradoxical thunderstorm down the Snake River in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, then survived five days of disconnect deep in the heart of Yellowstone AND a saw a black bear.

In person.

And lived to tell about it.

I traveled to Chicago, Illinois to learn from some of the most inspiring educators in the world at the ISTE Conference, then spent quality time getting to know many of my DBC heroes at dinner, in the city, and during the conference. I also got to enjoy a little team bonding along the way! (Many thanks to our incredible district who recognizes that those who provide PD for others need opportunities to get PD themselves!)

I love my ITRT team so much!

I completely overhauled my website and my Instagram account. I created a Facebook group about kindness and wrote 39 blog posts about my adventures throughout the year.

While writing a book.

While being a mom.

While losing half my summer break days with a job switch to an 11-month contract.

In 2018, I survived the one year anniversary of my mother’s death then mourned the loss of my precious neighbor, Ashton, who passed away at the age of 16.

16 Hope rocks created in memory of Ashton Friedl to hide around our community.

I received the R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence to cultivate kindness for global impact, which will take me across the United States and Canada in 2019 and 2020.

I presented four sessions at the VSTE conference, including a closing Ignite, while also leading the conference’s social media committee with the amazing Margaret Sisler. I presented twice at our local EdTechRVA Conference earlier in the year as well as led a multitude of PD sessions for my district.

I wrote an article for DisruptED TV Magazine and recorded podcasts with Character Speaks, Edustations, and The Kindness Podcast.

Looking back, I’m in awe of all the opportunities I had to inspire others through my words and actions. Even though I did all these things in the course of a year, my greatest insight about the word “inspire” came when I stopped to reflect on each item listed above.

I couldn’t have done any of them if I didn’t have the support of others.

See, it’s easy to view the end result and stand in awe at the person waving the flag on the top of the mountain. But what about all the safety harnesses the person wears as he scales the walls to the top? What about all the slips that occur from not having your feet firmly planted or misjudging the weight a rock can hold before it crumbles? What about the times when the top seems unreachable and you don’t know if you will ever make it through?

In my 2018 journey, I made several mistakes and encountered failure along the way. What kept me pushing through wasn’t my willpower alone, but the encouragement of my friends, coworkers and virtual PLN.

Inspiration begins in the heart one, but magnifies on the shoulders of many.

Every single thing I did last year was the result of some form of collaboration with amazing people in my world. Perhaps it was a conversation or a brilliant moment of connectivity. Maybe it was the result of weeks laden with brainstorming, planning, and preparation. Quite possibly, it was the culmination of a lifelong journey of passion, persistence, and patience.

It was in this time of reflection that I discovered the one word that will carry me through this next year:

Uplift.

This year, I want my words and actions to uplift others.

I want to cheer you on and celebrate your accomplishments.

I want to help you take that next step when you are filled with fear.

I want to help you rise, help you soar, help you make your wildest dreams come true.

I want to be here for you, in the way others have been there for me.

Together we can make 2019 the most amazing year ever!

Do you have a #oneword for this new year? Leave a comment to share your thoughts! I would love to know your focus word, too!

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Kindness Scavenger Hunt

On Christmas Day, I received a plain, white envelope from my middle child, Daniel. Inside was a cryptic note with $3 attached – money he provided from his own wallet. “It’s a Kindness Scavenger Hunt,” he announced. “It starts at Dunkin’ Donuts tomorrow!”

The next day we jumped into my car – just he and I – to jumpstart a journey of joy!

The adventure begins!
“Welcome to the Scavenger hunt adventure, but as you will see this isn’t your normal spelling bee.
Whenever you’re ready, let’s go Mommy, to buy someone’s Dunkin’ Donut coffee.”
Our first stop!

Dunkin’ Delight – RAK 1

I wrote a quick note for the stranger explaining why they were getting a free coffee, then Daniel and I walked into the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shop.

I approached the counter as the cashier smiled, ready to take my order. “I would like to buy a coffee, please, but not for myself. I want to prepay for a coffee and you can surprise someone with it instead.”

The cashier was a little confused by my request at first, so I elaborated. “I have three dollars to spend and I want to buy someone’s coffee but nobody is in here. Can I just buy the coffee now and the next person that comes in and orders a coffee is good to go because I already paid for them? You can put any change in your tip jar if you like!”

He glanced at the drive-thru window and said, “Someone just ordered a coffee! You can buy it for them!” How exciting to complete this act of kindness right in the moment! I quickly gave him my money, then asked if I could take his photo as he handed my note to the guest in the drive-thru.

My note for the stranger with cash for the coffee.
The cashier giving the note to the stranger in the drive-thru.

How fun was that? This quick RAK brought us such joy! As we turned to make our way out of the coffee shop, Daniel directed my attention to the light switch by the door.

Another clue.

Another RAK.

The adventure continues!

“Round and round the gumballs will show, but where will these four quarters go?”
Four quarters were taped to the back of the clue.

Kroger Candy – RAK 2

It was very convenient that our local Kroger supermarket was in the same shopping plaza as Dunkin’ Donuts – and the first place I could think of that still had old-fashioned gumball machines! Daniel and I headed that way and filled the machines with quarters to create a joyful surprise for some kiddos who would visit soon.

We picked the gumball machines lowest to the floor for little eyes to discover.
Then we added two quarters to this one – a jackpot win for one little kiddo!

(If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know how much I adore our local Kroger. Other acts of kindness here include Remembering Mr. Leon, First Birthday in Heaven and even my very first act of kindness for Celebrate Kindness!)

This time my next clue was taped to the plastic bag recycling bin beside the sliding doors. Where would our adventures take us next?

“A meal that kids eat a bit, and I think that they are lovin’ it!”
Money taped to the back of the clue.

Happy Meal Joy – RAK 3

If you guessed “McDonald’s” as the location of our next act of kindness, you would be correct! It was time to surprise someone with a paid Happy Meal!

Daniel and I right before we performed our next RAK.

As a mom of three, I know how excited little kids get to receive a happy meal. I also know that this RAK would bring joy to a mom or dad, too, because everyone enjoys a free meal, especially when it’s an unexpected surprise!

We prepaid for the Happy Meal with the cashier shouting to the drive-thru crew, “Don’t make that happy meal – she’s paying for someone else!”

As we started to leave the restaurant, lo and behold there was another clue hanging on the Christmas tree in the lobby, this one leading us back to our home.

“The last gift cannot be beat, located at… (our address)”

As we made our way back home, it was impossible to contain our smiles and laughter. “Are you having so much fun?” Daniel asked.

Yes!

So. Much. Fun!

Homemade Happiness – RAK 4

When we arrived home, I told Daniel we needed to take a photo by the door. He agreed, then after the fourth selfie of the day (you KNOW how much I adore selfies!), Daniel whispered, “Look down.”

There, at my feet, was another clue waiting to be discovered.

Home again!
“The ‘happy place’ is what it’s called; the first drawer is where it’s installed.”

My happy place.

Do you have a happy place in your home? A special area that you can call your own, that brings you immense joy every time you sit or stand there? A place that fills your heart, calms your soul, and reminds you that everything is right with the world?

I do.

It’s my writing desk in my Joy Room.

My writing desk

Following the clue, I opened the top desk drawer to discover… another clue!

“Happiness is found along the way… not at the end of the journey” ~Darunee Williams

“But if you want your actual present, it is located in the drawer below this segment.”

So I opened the bottom drawer and discovered a personalized gift for ME:

“This coupon is redeemable for two hours with the thermostat at 78 degrees or lower.”

I laughed so hard at this coupon, I nearly fell on the floor!

See, in my house there is an ongoing war about what temperature the thermostat should be set on. I am the ONLY person in the entire house who is constantly cold. In fact, I even wear fleece jackets in the blazing heat of summer. (Shhhh – don’t tell!)

Since my husband is a conservationist, I am never afforded the luxury of blasting the heat in my home to my heart’s content. Instead, you will often find me bundled up under blankets, curled up in the corner of my sofa, trying to stay warm.

As you might guess, winter is my least favorite season.

This coupon was a gift of indulgence.

As my incredible Kindness Scavenger Hunt came to a close, I hugged my sweet fifteen-year-old son and thanked him for the unexpected joy in the journey. His creativity, ingenuity, and thoughtfulness took kindness to a whole new level.

When you begin to live your life as a Kindness Cultivator, others take notice and want to help you scatter seeds of kindness, too.

Perhaps this story will inspire you to create a Kindness Scavenger Hunt of your own. If you do, let me know! I’m sure it will create ripples of kindness every place you go!

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Kindness Boomerang

A common question I receive about my acts of kindness is, “Do you ever hear back from the people who receive your RAKs (random acts of kindness)?”

Yes.

Yes, I do.

When I began my kindness journey six years ago, it was with intentional purpose to share the stories with others while also providing a way for kindness recipients to get an “insider’s view” of what led up to their specific kindness or why it had meaning to me. It’s a fun way to keep the conversation going, keep the kindness spreading, and also becomes a living journal of my adventures.

I also LOVE surprises and nothing beats the surprise of having someone reach out to let you know they received your kind act! It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it can transform an ordinary day into a magical moment!

While I share several of these heartfelt “kindness boomerangs” in my new book, A Passion for Kindness, (which will be released in February – just around the corner!), I had another one happen on Christmas Day and it made my heart soar once again.

As many of you know, one of my favorite kindness days of the year is RAK Friday, where I go out in the crowds of Black Friday shoppers and do lots of little acts of kindness wherever I go. One of the RAKs I completed was jotting down a note of affirmation and encouragement and leaving it inside of a “Be Kind” purse at a local store.

Photo from my RAK Friday blog post.

I took a photo of the note, tucked it inside the bag, said a little prayer that whoever would find it would be blessed, and went on about my day.

This is the message I received on Christmas Day – a comment posted to my website:

The next day I received an email from the mom, Rita, that included these photos:

Rita shared that the purse was a gift from her childhood friend for her daughter, Maria, who is “known for her kindness to others.” It was such a thrill to hear how this RAK was discovered and to know another seed of kindness will scatter to others!

Have you received a surprise act of kindness this holiday season? I would love to hear your stories, too! Comment below and let’s keep the kindness going!

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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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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.

Driving.

Walking.

Shopping.

Waiting.

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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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!

That. Is. INCREDIBLE!!

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?

Really.

Seriously.

YES!

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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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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