education, ITRT, kindness

Special Delivery

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let that sink in for a moment.

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

His kindness brought me to tears!

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

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

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

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

But he did.

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

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

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family, kindness

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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education, kindness, reflection

Socktober

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

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

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

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

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

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

Socktober.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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grief, kindness

Hearts of Hope

Friends, it’s been a really tough week. 

Last Saturday, as I was putting the finishing touches on my Braille kindness rocks, I received the phone call no one ever wants to receive.

It was my friend, Amy, who teaches students with special needs at our local middle school. She’s also the teacher of my sweet backyard neighbor, Ashton, who was in her care for the past five years. Even before I answered her call, I already knew it was bad news. Tears welled up in my eyes before I could even say hello.

“It’s Ashton. She’s gone.”

The sob that erupted from my soul was loud and ugly, as my body shook in complete and utter anguish. Even now as I’m typing these words, the tears are back again, reminders that my heart is still raw and aching over the loss of this sweet girl.

16 years old.

Gone.

No. No. No.

I spent the rest of the weekend in a daze, the sorrow enveloping me like a cloud of darkness, no light shining through. Painting provided a brief solace, so I picked up my paintbrush and sat at the table, staring at the supplies that were never put away after Saturday morning’s devastating news.

Kindness rocks.

Ashton loved the color pink. In fact, she had her own fundraiser and Facebook Page dedicated to her favorite color: It Comes in Pink. I counted the extra rocks I had in my container and was shocked at the total.

16 rocks.

16 years.

Oh my.

That was my sign. I needed to paint Kindness rocks for Ashton. I pondered for a bit about what to create, what message to send out to the world, then it came to me.

Hope

Ashton’s sixteen years were filled with hope and promise of embracing the joys in each and every day. When her parents, Chris and Laurie, received the diagnosis of Ashton’s condition at nine months of age, they were told she probably wouldn’t live long enough to attend elementary school. Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC) disease is extremely rare with only 500 diagnosed cases in the world and no known cure.

And their precious firstborn had it.

In their heartbreak, they made the decision to live life with Ashton to its fullest. Nothing was taken for granted. They watched their precious daughter’s body slowly succumb to the limitations of this disease, and yet they still celebrated life with exuberance.

They went on vacations. Played in the snow. Rode in boats on the river and sat along the shore.

They built a playground in the backyard then added a handicap-accessible swing. They built a ramp off the side of their deck when steps became too much to manage. They replaced carpet with wood flooring and added handles to hold in their bathroom.

When Ashton started to wobble when she walked, she received leg braces, which of course came in pink. When she needed more stability, she received a walker until walking was too much of a challenge. When the time came to transition to a wheelchair, she had to have the one in pink.

Her heart radiated love to everyone she met. She had an incredible sense of humor and often got the giggles at the most inappropriate things. She was a treasure to anyone who ever had the pleasure of being in her presence.

To us, she was simply Ashton. We’ve spent the past twelve years sharing a backyard and I’ve been blessed to see this sweet girl grow up. Her younger sister, Emily, doted on her, their bond of sisterhood stronger than many siblings I know.

Despite the challenges that constantly came her way, Ashton’s determination and perseverance were unmistakable. She showed us all the true meaning of hope and unconditional love.

For Ashton’s rocks, I chose yellow as the background to represent her bright smile and the joy that radiated from the twinkling in her eyes. I painted one pink heart on each rock with the word “Hope” in white, then added a little bit of glitter inside the heart, because Ashton was always a sparkle to anyone’s day. On the back I added “For Ashton” with the date that she became healed and whole.

Sixteen kindness rocks.

Sixteen hearts of hope.


On Monday morning, as I was putting on my makeup, I couldn’t believe what I saw on my brush: one perfectly formed heart staring back at me.

I had to smile at the little Godwink I received, as my heart was still so heavy from Ashton’s passing. It was as if Ashton was sending me a hug straight from heaven.


On Wednesday afternoon following the graveside service, Laurie shared a story with me about how she had gone for a quick run to clear her mind and her digital watch beeped, displaying one lone heart.

No numbers.

No words.

Just one simple heart.


Today we shared in a Celebration of Life service and were reminded again and again of Ashton’s impact on this world in her short sixteen years. Ashton’s physical challenges never stopped her from giving the most precious gifts to others: hope and love.

After the service, we returned home and when time came for afternoon dismissal of school, I walked to the corner of our street, waiting to walk my son home from the bus stop. A car approached and it was Chris, Laurie, and Emily returning home from the service. They stopped and rolled down the window and chatted a bit, as we often do when we pass one another in the neighborhood.

As they drove away towards their house, I caught a glimpse of the sun peeking through the clouded skies above.

There was a heart in the middle of heaven.

And another.

And another.

I fumbled to open my phone and take a photo, the shapes dissipating as quickly as they formed. I watched the clouds shift and slide across the sky and felt the slightest breeze wrap around me.

I believe Ashton sent us her own hearts of hope right in the moment we needed them most.

Can you see the hearts in my photo?

Can you see the hearts in those you meet?

Look harder.

They’re there.

In honor of Ashton Friedl, the family has asked for donations to the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Fund (APMRF) at Notre Dame which is dedicated to finding a cure for Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC) disease. For more information, please visit https://parseghianfund.nd.edu/it-comes-in-pink.


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Dots of Joy and Kindness

It started with a simple dot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make your mark with time.

Make your mark with joy.

Make your mark today.


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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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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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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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