education, kindness

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 card stock in Braille. 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, kindness

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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family, kindness, reflection, writing

The Rocks

Months ago my eight-year-old son found a Kindness rock hidden among the bushes at my school when we made a quick visit to play on the playground. “Look, Mommy!” he squealed, his voice filled with the magical wonder of innocence. “This rock is extra-special! We should keep it!” It was painted bright green with blue words across the top. The message contained three words I needed to hear right in that moment:

Seek the treasure.

I placed the rock in the console of my car so I could see it each day, a visual reminder that each and every day holds potential for moments to be treasured. I simply had to shift my perspective to see it materialize before me.

That weekend at church, our pastor gave a sermon about the power of a rock. “If David could slay a giant with one small object, what power do YOU have to overcome the giants in your life?” That question dove deep in my soul and shook me a bit as I tried to wrap my brain around the possibility that I, too, might be stronger than I ever imagined. As we left the service, we were given a large, black rock as a reminder that we could do great things. I placed the “David Rock” as I called it in the same compartment of my car console that contained my treasure rock from days before.

As winter turned to spring, and spring slid into summer, I battled some hefty giants. I was selected Teacher of the Year for my school, spent my Spring Break writing essay after essay, only to flounder in my district interview presentation with one technology glitch after another. I relived sorrow and heartache as the one year anniversary of my mother’s death approached then passed, the weight lasting longer than the date on the calendar page. A few weeks before the end of the school year I was informed that I would now be serving two schools after a decade of only serving one.

I gave my first out-of-district Keynote presentation in June, overcoming the constant battle of perfection and fear of failure. I then transitioned from a 10-month teacher contract to an 11-month technology contract requiring me to sacrifice many precious days of summer break with my children.

But perhaps the greatest challenge I faced during this time was pouring my heart onto the page as I wrote paragraph after paragraph, page after page, chapter after chapter, my manifesto about kindness and its impact on my life.

I am growing my wings from writer to author.

There were days I sat at my computer when the thoughts were jumbled in my mind like a 500-piece puzzle still wrapped in the box. There were other days when the words tumbled out like a waterfall, rushing so quickly I could barely contain the flow.

I cried out in frustration for the words that wouldn’t come; I went through a box of tissues for the words that eventually did.

For six straight months I wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

Edited.

Revised.

Wrote again.

I doubted my ability to share my story, then sat back in wonder when the puzzle pieces came together, the scrambled shades of blue finally blending together across the horizon. I sacrificed time, energy, and quite a bit of sleep, but what I gained in the process was so much more.

By writing my story, I discovered who I am meant to be.

I submitted the first draft of my book about kindness and now the wheels are in motion.

Early 2019.

It’s really going to happen! I am going to be an author and, perhaps, you will read my story. That is such an exciting, but overwhelming, reality to come! I am overjoyed; I am terrified. Short of childbirth, this is the most difficult thing I have ever done.

For now, I keep moving forward. Keep working towards the goal.

And each day I see the rocks in my console to remind me of my purpose, their shine and shimmer dulled by the sun, but still vibrant in their meaning.

Seek the treasure.

Overcome the giants.

Excellent advice indeed.

If you would like to be the first to know about updates of my book release, join our Passion for Kindness Facebook group or subscribe below. It’s going to be quite a journey for the next six months – I would love to share it with you!

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ITRT, kindness, reflection, travel

What If?

During the ISTE Conference in Chicago this past week, Katie Martin challenged us to answer the question, “What if?” I swirled around this question during her keynote, then posted my response on Twitter:

The power of ‘What if’ is the belief in hope and endless potential! #WhatIfISTE18

Later that evening, as my teammates and I traveled through the city, I pondered this concept of “What if” as I looked at those around me.

_______________

 

What if I complimented the person making my meal?

As a tourist in the city, I knew I would have to order a Chicago style hot dog before I left. Even thought I’m not a huge fan of hot dogs, I was intrigued by the combination of beef, onions, pickles, tomatoes, peppers, and mustard. While visiting Navy Pier, I stood in line at one of the many food stands to order this local fare.

As I waited for the cashier to give me change, I was struck by the precision of the cook who layered each ingredient over my hot dog. When my number was called and my meal provided, I was awestruck at the overlay of colors and textures between the edges of the poppy-seed bun.

After my meal, I returned to the counter to compliment the cook and saw she was creating an entire tray of Chicago Dogs and I was mesmerized once again by the care she placed in her handiwork. I told her how much I appreciated the time she took into creating these hot dogs, even referencing one of my Grandma Payne’s favorite quotes: “Food always tastes better if it looks pretty.”

I asked if I could take her picture, to which she agreed, and then asked if I could text her the image. I wanted her to see just how beautiful her work was from the view of a stranger. This is the photo I captured in the moment.

What if I complimented the person making my meal? Perhaps I might make someone else smile at the beauty of their creation.

_______________

What if I spoke to a stranger on the bus? 

My teammates and I ventured to Navy Pier by bus, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. When it was time to head back, the weather had changed from warm, sunny skies to a drizzly, bleak rain. It made for a long evening of travel as we switched buses and waited at bus stops, but we huddled together and passed the time chatting and checking our Twitter feeds.
As we boarded our last bus for the evening, we sat near a young man who smiled, but was non-committed for conversation. My teammates and I were in a jovial mood despite the rain (we really are quite a happy bunch together!) and continued to reflect on our day with shared stories that made us laugh all over again.
At some point the young man shook his head and laughed at something we said, so we included him in our conversation. We asked him questions about the city, then giggled when he cracked a few sly jokes of his own. The banter between my team and him was lighthearted and fun, and it made for a great way to pass the time as the bus meandered from one block to the next.
We teased him about his tiger pants which started another round of laughter as one quip led to another, this stranger now a welcomed member of our traveling crew.
He caught my eye and asked if I liked wall art. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by the question, but I smiled and said, “Of course! I love all kinds of art! Street art, wall art, children’s art…” As I responded, he unwrapped the grey shirt in his lap to reveal a rolled-up paper cylinder held together by a rubber band.
As he removed the binds and unrolled the paper, I literally gasped at what I saw. It was a beautifully drawn face with amazing detail, right down to the perfectly drawn eyelashes.
“I made this,” he said. “Look close at the eyes. There’s a person inside.”
I leaned forward and gasped again as I saw the silhouette of a face in the small pupil of the left eye. It reminded me of the cover of Mandy Froehlich’s new book, The Fire Within, with a flame embedded deep inside.
“This is incredible!” I exclaimed as I peered again at his masterpiece.
Meet Julius. He’s 23 years old, lives in Chicago, and masterfully kept his artwork dry and safe from the rain using a plain, cotton shirt. He also received the nickname “Juice the Tiger Tamer” from our team who practically adopted him as one of our own.
I encouraged him to take photos of his work and showcase them on social media, then gave him my business card to stay in touch. This young man has potential for greatness and I told him just that. The smile on his face as we went our separate ways was priceless.
What if I spoke to a stranger on the bus? Perhaps I could inspire them to see the talent and greatness they already possess inside.
_______________

What if I gave away something of value?

When our conference time was complete, my teammates and I took the train back to the airport to head home. We each had purchased a 7 Day commuter transit card, but had only used four days. As we reached our final destination and exited the train terminal, all nine of us gave our transit cards to strangers waiting in line to purchase their own.
“Excuse me, do you need a card? It still has three days worth of credit.”
Oh, how I wish I could have captured the surprise and joy on the faces of those who received our transit cards. They were so excited! We saw expressions of awe and appreciation and one teammate even received a spontaneous hug for her kindness.
The entire exchange lasted less than one minute, but left us all with happy hearts.
What if I gave away something of value? Perhaps it might lighten the load of someone else who needs to be reminded that there is good in this world.
______________

What if I helped someone at the airport? 

Later that afternoon, as I walked down the airport terminal to stretch my legs, I saw a woman pushing a wheelchair with a younger woman inside. I assumed they were mother and daughter and started to look away when I noticed the woman in the wheelchair trying to recenter a rolling suitcase that had unexpectedly turned on its side.
“Let me get that for you,” I said as I rushed to her side with a smile. “Those luggage bags can be tough to pull sometimes.”
There was a slight protest at first, but I reassured her that I really did want to help and it wasn’t an inconvenience. I noticed the mom had her luggage cart wrapped around her arm so she could pull it while also holding the handle of the wheelchair.
“May I have that suitcase, too? I don’t mind.” The mom looked at me, first in shock, then appreciation, as she untangled herself from the constraints of the plastic and metal.
“We’re looking for a place to eat,” she replied and I offered to walk with them until they found a restaurant to dine. The airport was crowded without many options for seating, so I volunteered to scout out the chosen place for a wheelchair accessible table.
I saw a man about to sit at a long, low table, and asked if he was using the two additional chairs at his side. He hesitated, then said he was saving them for two friends. I explained that I was trying to find seating for a mom and daughter in a wheelchair and this table was a perfect height. Could they possibly sit at the end?
He agreed and as I turned to walk away and notify the mom, the most amazing thing happened. Another person sitting near had overheard our conversation and offered to scoot down so the man and his two friends could eat there, thus making the entire table available for the mom and daughter.
It was an incredible gesture of kindness! (I talk about this “kindness trifecta” in the book I’m writing, but it was such a joy to see it happen in person!) The mom wheeled her daughter to the table, then commented on the shirt I was wearing, a gift donated by The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.
“You don’t just wear kindness. You ARE kindness”
I nearly teared up at her words.
She went on to describe why her daughter was in a wheelchair, explaining she had just received surgery to relieve the excruciating pain she had struggled with since the age of twelve.
Her daughter was 20 years old.
 
The only cure for her pain was a complete hysterectomy.
 
The weight of her words and the impact of “What if” could be seen on both their faces. It was a life-changing surgery complete with the range of emotions one might expect from a young woman being told she will never have children of her own in a traditional way.
Empathy and compassion flooded my heart as I looked at her daughter and spoke from the heart. “It’s ok the grieve the loss. Give yourself permission to be sad. Sometimes life is like that. We get tossed major curve balls that don’t make any sense at all and they mess up all the plans we thought our future would be. Your future will still be bright. You will still have joy. It will just look a little different than you thought before.”
The daughter nodded her head in agreement then shared her plan to eventually become a mom through a surrogate. The smile on her face when she talked of being a mom reflected my own heart as a mom of three kids (one of whom is almost her age.) In that exact moment, the world melted away and we were just three women, connected by kindness, sharing the wonders of motherhood.
Hope.
 
Potential.
 
Empowerment.
 
What if I helped someone at the airport? Perhaps it would remind me of all the things I have to be grateful for in my own life.
_______________
What if the world could see the ripple effect of their kindness?
What if others could know the impact of a smile, a kind word, a helping hand?
What if each person reading this story did one kind thing for someone else?
What if the world could be a gentler, kinder place to live?
I believe in the power of hope and endless potential. I also believe in the power of WE.
We have the power to plant that seed of kindness in someone else to grow and flourish.
We have the power to inspire others to create a course of positivity and hope.
We have the power to make a difference in the lives of others and change the world for good.
All it takes is one simple choice, one simple action.
What if?

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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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education, kindness, reflection

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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ITRT, kindness

Leader By Action

Last week at our Region 1 Superintendent’s Professional Development Series, I had the privilege of hearing Tom Murray speak to district leaders in our surrounding area, highlighting the 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools from the book Learning Transformed that he co-wrote with Eric Sheninger. It’s always a joy to reconnect with Tom; he is approachable and genuine in his sentiments and a great presenter with an inspiring message to share. In fact, we were so excited to see him again that we crowded around to snap our customary “We are so happy to have you here!” selfie at the conclusion of his presentation:

One of the slides in his presentation lingered with me throughout the week and gave me pause: Am I a Leader by Title or a Leader by Action?

I began my journey as an educator twenty-one years ago. Since that time, I’ve held many titles:

  • Second grade teacher
  • Third grade teacher
  • Fourth grade teacher
  • Differentiation Specialist
  • Instructional Technology Resource Teacher
Just last month I added another title to that list: Mechanicsville Elementary Teacher of the Year.
I’ve also held other titles throughout the past two decades:
  • Secretary
  • Assistant Manager
  • Small Business Owner
  • Singer
  • Writer
  • Blogger
  • Screencaster
  • Course Instructor
  • Webmaster
  • Key Communicator
  • Communication Secretary
  • Grade Level Chair
  • Committee Chair
  • Social Media Conference Chair
  • Conference Presenter
  • Keynote Presenter
  • Licensed Administrator
(and I can add author to that list soon thanks to Shelley and Dave Burgess!)
Then I reflect on my non-professional life and the titles I’ve held there:
  • Daughter
  • Cousin
  • Aunt
  • Sister
  • Wife
  • Mom
  • Friend
Each title has its own set of qualifiers and each is prominent in its own right. But does a title alone make me a leader to inspire others to learn more, dream more, become more?
In one word: No.
Leaders by Title rely on the history of their position to set the trajectory of their path. Their title affords certain privileges automatically and they work within these parameters. They usually have other people who fall under their realm of management and dutifully provide direction to set the course ahead. The work gets done, and often done well, but when the task is complete the work ends. Personal growth is not a priority from a task that is guided by a Leader by Title.
There are some Leaders by Title who take their position to the extreme and abuse the automatic rights given to their position. They invoke fear in others to get the work done or, even worse, dictate the mandates for work then take all the credit, never offering so much as a “thank you” to those who gave of their time, energy, and knowledge. These types of leaders are the ones who unknowingly undermine culture, making rifts that eventually split and divide.
Leaders by Action create their own legacy. While their role specifies the path, each day is defined by what they do and whom they serve. They are willing to get in the muck and the mire with others and redefine their role depending on circumstances that arise. They uplift. They inspire. They empower. They model true leadership for others and encourage them along the way. They celebrate the accomplishments of others and give credit where credit is due.
Yesterday I attended our district’s Arts & Science Festival, an annual celebration of the amazing work the students in our district create through the year. This event is a long-standing tradition in our community and for those who have lived here a long time, it becomes a family reunion of sorts. No matter where you walk, you will most likely see a familiar face smiling back.
This event would not be possible without the tireless dedication of many Leaders by Action. Dozens of teachers and administrators have spent the past few weeks compiling student projects, printing labels, creating personalized letters for parents, all in preparation for this event. Some spent late nights double-checking digital projects, making sure nothing was misspelled and all the links were active. Friday afternoon, those same volunteers delivered all the projects to one location, set up displays, taped artwork to walls, and created interactive areas for independent exploration.
From the hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Leaders by Action arrived and volunteered their time (on a Saturday!) to do the work that most definitely didn’t align with their role as a Leader by Title.
They greeted guests at the door with a smile.
They distributed maps of the school and guided parents to student projects.
They arrived early to practice with students before their performances.
They walked the halls and interacted with guests.
They were visible. They were smiling. They showed us by their actions the joys of servant leadership.
Since my youngest son had a soccer game that morning and my oldest son had plans for the afternoon, we went to the Arts & Science Festival in the middle of the day. I was there as a mom, but as many of you know, we never quite lose our “teacher title” when out in public.
Both boys had projects displayed in the festival, so we meandered through the school, enjoying the work of other students as we walked. We were awestruck by the gallery of greatness displayed by so many students in our district.
As we made our way back to the main lobby, I saw one of my students running towards me. The smile on her face could light up a room and the surprise in her voice when she caught my eye was priceless. She embraced me in a hug and turned her head to call to her mom.
“Mommy! Look! It’s Mrs. Letter! She’s my kindness teacher!”
Kindness teacher.
 
It’s a title I never included in my list because, up until that moment, I hadn’t even considered it a possibility.
Kindness teacher. 
 
Leader by Action.
Me.
As we finished our embrace and she walked back to her mom, I heard her add as an afterthought, “Oh, and she teaches technology, too.”
Her final comment made me laugh out loud. It also made me realize what title I hold in this little girl’s heart. Being the “kindness teacher” ranked higher than my title of technology integrator, one I’ve proudly held for the past ten years.
WOW.
Let us all embrace the qualities of a Leader by Action and redefine our role to others. Don’t allow your title to limit your potential for greatness! Shine in your skills and inspire others with words and actions each day!
Each and every one of us can be a Leader by Action – dive in and lead the way!

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kindness

The Sweetest Surprise

Today I received the sweetest surprise! My doorbell rang and I saw an Amazon box sitting on my front porch. I was a little perplexed because I couldn’t remember ordering anything, but my name was on the label, so I went ahead and opened the box.

Oh my goodness! Inside the box was a sparkled, spotted gift bag shimmering in silver and grey with a perfectly tied bow at the top. Who on earth would send me a gift… and why?

It’s not my birthday.

It’s not my anniversary.

It’s not Mother’s Day, Teacher Appreciation Week, or even Christmas.

I stood there for a moment, savoring the anticipation, pondering what could be inside and who might be the giver. I almost didn’t open the bag because the thrill of suspense was so great!

When was the last time YOU received a surprise? No, not a birthday or Christmas gift. A surprise. A completely unexpected, unanticipated, little something just for you with no holiday or season attached. Did you feel a range of emotions? Did it make you smile? Did it make you want to do something nice for someone else?

I absolutely LOVE surprises, but they are few and far between. We all lead such busy lives and it’s easy to just go about our business assuming people know we appreciate them.

Today’s surprise today filled me with pure delight. I immediately felt childlike joy, knowing that someone, somewhere was thinking of me.

But who? And why?

It was then that I read the note attached to the bag.


It was a gift from a dear friend, Courtney, who used to work at my school several years ago. We’ve kept in touch through social media and even met for lunch last summer. Her note thanked me for our friendship and inspiration as a kindness ambassador.

What?? I was floored! She sent me a gift for being… kind? What in the world? Then I had to laugh at myself because I could hear her words in my ear: “Umm, that’s what YOU do, you know. You give gifts to people for being kind.”

I have to admit, it is much easier to give than to receive!

I carefully untied the bow and peeked inside the bag, my heart already bursting at this random act of kindness so thoughtfully chosen for me. Then I felt tears in my eyes as I saw what was inside.

I immediately thought of Todd Nesloney, who purchased this book as a surprise for his mom, but it was delivered after she passed away. Then I thought of the blog post I wrote back in November, reflecting on the ways we can be an umbrella in someone else’s rain.

Just yesterday I shared reflections about my mom and how the date marked 11 months since her passing. With each new month, I am reminded of loss, grief, and resilience to keep pressing on.

I opened the book and started to read, my excitement growing with each page turned. It was when I got near the end of the book that I realized this is the exact message our students (and we!) need to hear:

 

 

“Maybe I can only do small things.
But my small things might join small things other people do.
And together, they could grow into something big.”

Friends, your small things matter. Oh, they matter so much! This thoughtful gift from my friend reminded me of my purpose and her umbrella of kindness did indeed shelter me from the storms of my heart.

Go out there and be the good. Do your small acts of kindness and know that you are scattering seeds that will bloom in people’s hearts brighter and bolder than you can even imagine! And when your small things and my small things and their small things all join together… this is what changes the world!

Be blessed and share a surprise with someone you know. I guarantee it will absolutely make their day just as this surprise made mine!


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kindness

Selfie Sparkle

Today was an absolutely gorgeous day, a much-needed reprieve from the dreary, cold, overcast weather we’ve endured for several months. With temperatures rising into the low 80’s, I couldn’t wait to spend some time after work at one of my favorite parks.

I sat on the weathered, wooden bench that overlooks the lake and pulled out a book to read, feeling the breeze dance across my face as the rays of the sun sparkled across the water nearby. With each word I read, I was pulled away from the stress and strife of life and lifted up with hope and positivity. As I finished one chapter and started the next, I heard the jingle of a dog collar and looked up. To my right there was a family of three, leaning over the wooden rail, watching the fish and turtles swim in the lake. To my left was a lady with her black dog trying to take a selfie with the lake behind her.

I watched her for a moment, my gaze hidden behind my sunglasses. She was kneeling beside her pet, her phone in her left hand; her right hand holding the dog leash close. She smiled towards her outstretched arm, then tried to get her dog to look at the camera, too. The dog sat obediently, but looked this way and that, mesmerized by the sights and smells of the park.

Without hesitation, I closed my book and left my bench, a smile on my face as I approached the girl and her dog. “Want me to take your picture?” She looked up and returned my smile with a genuine “Thank you!” as she handed me her phone.

She kneeled again and I got into position, my role shifting from observer to photographer. I took several photos of her and her dog with the lake shimmering in the background. “I hope one of these works out,” I replied as I handed her phone back. As I returned to my bench, she shouted, “You really made my day! I am so happy you did that for me!” The gratitude in her tone was so pure and authentic, it made me shine a little brighter than I had before.

As I sat back on the bench and picked up my book, I started to laugh at the title that stared back at me. Perhaps it will give you a giggle as well!

Today’s random act of kindness may not seem like much to some, but I know it meant a lot to this gal and her dog. Sometimes the best way to take a selfie is to have someone do it for you.

What ways have you stepped out of your comfort zone to help a stranger in need? Comment below and share your stories so we can inspire the world!


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education, grief, ITRT, kindness

Kindness Rocks for Parkland

 

There are times in life where we can’t begin to imagine the global impact of our actions. We are focused on our one moment in time, doing what we do, thinking, “That’s it! Mission accomplished. On to the next thing.”

We have no idea how far our seeds can scatter.

Two weeks ago we celebrated Random Acts of Kindness week (#RAKweek2018), a global celebration of kindness promoted by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. As part of our year-long “Passion for Kindness” initiative, we decided that Valentine’s Day would be a perfect day to dive into a new project – scattering seeds of kindness throughout our school to remind people that they matter.

We transformed our Innovation Lab into two work stations:

Kindness Posters/Hearts of Gratitude – Students could create kindness posters to display around the school or write notes of gratitude for staff members

Kindness Rocks – Students could paint inspiring messages on rocks to hide around campus to be discovered by others

Our planning caught the eye of our local news station, WTVR Channel 6 news, and Rob Cardwell visited our lesson to showcase it on their Building Better Minds segment. It was an exciting day for us as we have continually expressed to our students the importance of sharing their story with the world and using digital communication for good. Now we had an opportunity to make it happen for REAL!

We began our lesson by revisiting the progress on Jet Stream Jax’s Peaceful Hearts Playground, as our students had donated coins in the fall for the Kind Coins campaign to rebuild school playgrounds following the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. We zoomed in to the photos Barbara Gruener provided of their kindness rocks and peeked at her Flipgrid to see an example of the messages they painted on their rocks. We also talked a bit about how kindness rocks have been used in our local community with #rvarocks on Twitter and RVA Rocks Facebook Group.

The students spent the next forty minutes creating and collaborating; it was a delight to show our visitors how seamlessly we incorporate our state-mandated content of reading and writing with character development, social emotional learning (SEL) skills, and the 5C’s of successful life skills. Our rocks were set aside to dry and we made plans to hang our posters and share our hearts of gratitude later in the week.

 

 

 

That afternoon the world learned about the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Another school shooting.

Flashbacks to Sandy Hook.

#26acts.

Now there are 17 more.

I. Can’t. Believe. This. Is. Happening.

_____________________________________

As an educator, my sweet little world of kindness came to a crashing halt.

Again.

I wrote a bit about my feelings in my I Can post as the tragedy swirled in my brain. The next day it was business as usual in my elementary school, but I felt the weight of the horror pressed against me, a dark cloud suffocating the joy from the day before. I wanted to do something, anything, to share kindness with this school community who would be forever changed by the events on Valentine’s Day. But what on earth could we do to possibly help them?

Kindness rocks.

I brought the idea to Mrs. Madison and her students to see if they would be interested in donating their beautifully painted kindness rocks to another school that might need a little reminder of hope and love and joy. They readily agreed.

We did not talk about the tragedy at hand; but rather, we talked about the impact kindness has when it is scattered and shared with others. We imagined what it would be like for others to find our rocks and how they could keep the rock as a reminder of kindness or hide it again for someone else to find.

“Can we make more rocks, Mrs. Letter? So we can send them some AND keep some here?”

More rocks.

More paint.

Hope and love and joy.

 

_____________________________________


Say their names” was a constant whisper on my heart. I decided to make seventeen of our rocks memorial rocks, one for each of the lives lost on that day. As I added their names to my bullet journal, I lifted up a prayer for each of the families whose pain was greater than I could bear.

On the back of each kindness rock, I added their names then wrote encouraging messages on the remaining rocks. I captured each rock using Flipgrid (Code: 5ea50c) so anyone who finds a rock with #kind4MSD on the back could leave a video response in return.

 

 

My assistant principal, Mr. Davis, posted the Flipgrid on our school’s Facebook page, which caught the attention of my district. They, in turn, created a video compilation of the memorial rocks to post on our district social media sites.

MES Facebook Post

 

HCPS Facebook Post

The next morning, our rocks were mentioned on the news.

By a different news station than the one who had filmed our lesson the week before.

The seeds of kindness are scattering.

_____________________________________
 

In times of complete and utter helplessness, we often feel paralyzed, like there is nothing we can to do make a difference, no action we can provide that will make things better. I felt that immobilization for a solid week before I realized that all the tools I needed to show compassion were with me the entire time.

Kind words.

Kind actions.

A heart to comfort the pain of another.

We are sending out our kindness rocks to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this week in hopes that when they arrive, someone at the school will hide them around campus to be discovered by students and staff. We will check our #kind4MSD hashtag periodically to see if there are any updates or posts from others or perhaps it will spark more kindness rocks to be created and shared around the world!

Be the good.

Share in kindness.

Inspire others.

_____________________________________

On Tuesday, March 6, WRIC Channel 8 News in Richmond, Virginia, showcased our kindness rocks during their 6pm broadcast. On Wednesday, March 14, WTVR Channel 6 News showcased our kindness rocks during their Building Better Minds segment at 6am and 6pm.

Follow Tamara on Twitter or connect with her Passion for Kindness Facebook group to join in the fun of sharing kindness. Tamara is also writing a book about kindness with Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. to share her kindness journey with the world!

For more information on kindness rocks read this post by Rachel Moravec, visit #rvarocks on Twitter, or connect with RVA Rocks on Facebook.


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