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.
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.
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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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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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.


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.


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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grief, kindness, reflection

I Can

Today was a difficult day.

I arrived at school, the hearts of gratitude created by our students still sparkling on my table, their endearing messages and sweet sentiments reminding me of our kindness lesson the day before.
Students entered the building and several peeked in the Innovation Lab, seeking me out, smiles and open arms reaching for the hugs they receive each day on the way to class.
To an observer, it was a typical day.
To an educator, it was anything but.
My heart is heavy.
I feel guilty that I could tuck my kids into bed last night when others faced empty bedrooms.
I am heartbroken that there are students in this world who feel so unloved, filled with so much pain, tortured by so much hate, that taking the lives of others is acceptable in their minds.
Today I looked around at the students entrusted to my care and made a point to show them respect.
Show them patience.
Show them love.
In times like this, I feel completely overwhelmed and helpless. Who am I to think I can change the world? How could one little act of kindness truly make a dent in all these horror stories that fill each news channel I see?
I can’t fix yesterday.
I can’t bring back lives lost.
I can’t ease the pain of a grieving parent, nor can I mend the broken heart of a family who will never see their dad again.
But instead of focusing on the cant’s and can nots, I will chose to embrace I can.
I can call a student by name with a smile.
I can stop in the hall and listen to a story a child is bursting to tell.
I can remind students that they matter, that I care about them, that they have value and worth in my eyes.
I can choose to believe in the good and the power of positivity.
I can believe my planted seeds of kindness will one day sprout into a heart of compassion and empathy for others.
I can look for the good in others and trust that the ripple effect of your kindness and my kindness and the kindness of many will spread far and wide to make this world a better, safer place to live.
I can.
And so can you.


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RAK Week 2018 – The Gift

Today is the start of Random Act of Kindness week in the US! I’m so excited!! Promoted by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, based out of Denver, Colorado, this is a week-long celebration of kindness ending on National Random Acts of Kindness Day (February 17). The week spans over Valentine’s Day which is a perfect holiday to show the world a little extra love and joy.

I absolutely LOVE this week, because the RAK Foundation does such great work in showcasing all the different ways people around the world are being kind. (For this year’s RAKs, check out the #RAKweek2018 hashtag on Twitter!) As a RAKtivist, it’s my joy to share my experiences with the world!

Yesterday, as I was making my final plans for all the little ways I would show kindness this week, a package arrived at my door. I looked at the return address and saw it was sent by a dear childhood friend. I vaguely remembered her asking for my address a while back, but I hadn’t given it another thought at the time.

I carefully opened the package and pulled out a handwritten note with a tiny silver box, taped shut. It’s not very often that I receive gifts like this, so I was equally perplexed and intrigued.

My heart started beating faster as I opened the handwritten note, tears filling my eyes even before I got to the bottom of the page.

My sweet friend,

I’m so proud of you! Your constant love for others shines and inspires me. It’s time for me to pay-it-forward with a RALLY – a Random Act of Lasting Love for You! My newest project if you will, has been taking older antique/vintage watches and turning them into something new. So far, I have only done things for family. Who am I kidding – we’re Secret Sisters, we’re family, too! You’re the first that’s not “blood.” 

As you embark on this new journey, I wanted you to have something special. Though time marches on (the watch case) – look to the stars in the heavens (the white stones inside the case) – and your sweet mother is smiling down on you (the garnet to represent her birthstone.) It’s delicate – not an everyday piece. Clean with a silver polishing cloth. It’s 14kt gold filled – most of the vintage cases were then – so don’t get it wet if you can help it. 🙂


With love,

Jennifer McMillen

Friends, there are times in our lives when the kindness of others is so overwhelmingly beautiful, so pure and real, that you honestly feel like you are being wrapped in the loving arms of God himself.

I share this story with you today to inspire you to listen to the whisper on your heart.



Don’t wait for the perfect time, the perfect place, or the perfect way. Just follow that prompting and make it happen. You just never know how important your act of kindness will be for someone else!

What my sweet friend, Jennifer, couldn’t possibly know (nor anyone else for that matter) is signing my first book contract with Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. this past week was more than a dream come true. It was my mom’s dream as well.

The entire time she was battling cancer, she would check in periodically and ask, “How’s that book coming along? Have you written any more lately? What chapter are you on?” Each time, I answered with another excuse, a side-step to avoid the mother-daughter lecture of being brave and having confidence in my writing. It wasn’t until she was lying in a hospital bed days before her death that I promised to write the book that was planted in my soul.

A book about kindness.

A book for me. 

A book for you.

 A book for her.

And now, I have this little reminder from my kind and thoughtful friend to celebrate a promise fulfilled.


Celebrate kindness! Embrace the joy of doing nice things for others! This is a week to be the good and share the joy! And, if you happen to be on Twitter Monday night around 9pm EST, you can join me in the #tlap chat as we talk about the heart of kindness! Can’t wait!


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First Birthday in Heaven

Today is my mom’s birthday.

In my memory, she is frozen in time.





In my first motherless birthday post from September, I described some of the birthday memories my mom and I shared over the years. One of my favorites was from her 60th birthday where I surprised her with a birthday brunch at The Jefferson Hotel. Her radiant smile and infectious joy is what I miss most from that day.


In this year of firsts without her, each day is a reminder:

Time is short.

Small acts matter. 

Life goes on. 

Today I wanted to put a little joy in this world by doing a few acts of kindness to celebrate my mom’s special day. We had an unexpected day off school – the sixth snow day this month – so I decided to make a quick run to the grocery store up the road and sprinkle some kindness while I could.

My first stop was the little Starbucks kiosk where I asked the barista if I could buy a drink to be given to the next stranger who ordered one. He looked at me a bit perplexed, so I glanced at his name tag and tried again.

“Hi Eric. I’m doing small acts of kindness to celebrate my mom’s birthday today. She passed away last year, but I wanted to add some joy to the world in memory of her, so I wanted to buy a stranger’s drink. Can you help me with that?”

Another barista named Keayanna overheard our conversation and shared her experience with acts of kindness.

“Somebody did that for me once. It completely changed my day.”

Eric was still a bit skeptical, but I persisted, determined to make someone else’s day brighter. “What’s in it for you? Are you sure you don’t want to order something for yourself?” At this point, I was laughing. I couldn’t wait for him to experience the joy of playing a role in someone else’s kindness surprise.

He rang up my purchase and handed me the receipt which I taped to the back of my handwritten note. I passed the note back to Eric and said, “Just give this to the next person who orders a drink and let them know it’s free!”

I walked away empty-handed, but filled with joy.

My free coffee note


Eric and Keayanna at the Rutland Kroger sharing kindness with others.
My next stop was the bakery. What’s a birthday celebration without cake? I saw a woman at the counter placing a cake in her cart and without hesitation I went up to her and introduced myself.
“Hi. My name is Tamara and I’m doing acts of kindness in celebration of my mom’s birthday today. Since she passed away last year, I can’t buy her a cake… would it be OK if I blessed you instead by purchasing the cake in your basket?”
The woman looked back at me in surprise then said, “Are you sure? That is so nice of you!”
I walked with her to the checkout line as she shared with me that her husband had lost a parent this past November. “It’s too fresh to really talk about it…” and no more words were needed. She shared that her husband, Jimmy, was having a tough time today with it being his first birthday without his mom. I knew exactly how he felt.
It was obvious that she and Jimmy needed this act of kindness today.
And what joy! Jimmy and my mom share the same birthday and Jimmy shares the same name as my grandfather. Some coincidence, huh?
I paid for her cake, returned it to her cart, then we went our separate ways. My heart was lifted yet again.
The birthday cake for Jimmy


Purchasing Jimmy’s cake with my handwritten note
The remainder of my trip to the store was leaving little surprises for others to discover. What kinds of things would I have bought my mom on her special day?
Ice cream treat.
Nutter Butter cookies.
For each item, I included enough money to purchase the items with more handwritten notes attached. It brought me such joy to imagine how my mom would squeal with surprise had she discovered such acts of kindness during a mundane chore of grocery shopping.
“What would you do for a Klondike bar?”


My surprise hidden in the frozen foods section of the store.


Doesn’t cost much to make someone smile! (Yes, I included change for tax, too!)


Maybe a child will find this one! (Hopefully not a child with a peanut allergy!)


My mom always loved flowers, big and small.
As I finished up my grocery shopping and headed to the self-checkout lane, I had to laugh when I saw the number above:
Of course.
Today is January 18.
My mom’s first birthday in heaven.
Happy birthday, Mama.
My last birthday celebration with my mom – January 18, 2017
So much birthday love! Mom and Bob – January 18, 2017


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Bakery Birthday


One of my favorite memories from our day in New York City was the kindness surprise shown to my sister-in-law, Dee. We had been walking around the city in 14 degree temperature, our faces numb by the chill of the wind with hands long since frozen in our gloves. Our legs were stiff, but our hearts were happy as we approached our final destination: Carlo’s Bakery.

Now if you are a fan of the TLC show Cake Boss, you are probably familiar with Carlo’s Bakery, known for their sweet confectionery delights. It’s a tiny little bakery on the corner of 8th Avenue and 42nd Street right along the fringes of Times Square. (There are other locations in NJ and around NY, but this was the closest to our travels.)
The place was PACKED! Just trying to open the door was a challenge as people were lined up from wall-to-wall, but it was exciting to finally mark another item off our must-see bucket list!


They had a small glass window where you could peek in at the bakers and cake decorators as they prepared items for purchase. Oh, how I wish photos could capture aromas! There is no sweeter smell than that of freshly baked treats!



The cases of delicacies stretched across the entire front of the store. Cakes. Cannolis. Cookies. Brownies. What a perfect place to celebrate a birthday! Such an endless array of options!





My personal favorite – the black and white cookie – a shout out for all the Seinfeld fans out there!
Every now and again there was a worker who would hop on the corner of the checkout stand and shout to the crowd in a fun and jovial way. The crowd would shout back and for just a moment you forgot that you were in a crowded city of strangers – everyone felt like family.
As the line inched forward, I tried to plan out my birthday surprise for my sister-in-law. I pondered what to do to make her day even sweeter when another worker approached me to take my order.
“Do you do anything special for birthdays?” I asked.
It was a simple inquiry, one without expectation, but the smile on the worker’s face let me know that he had an idea of something he could do.
“What’s her name?” he questioned.
“Her name is Dee and today is her actual birthday!” I replied.
I pointed to my sister-in-law in her long red coat, her attention drawn to the cupcakes in front of her, and the worker nodded, then returned to the business of placing my order.
I had no idea what to expect, but there was an energy of anticipation as I waited to see what, if anything, would happen.
I didn’t have to wait long.
Without warning, the other worker hopped back on top of the counter again and shouted to the crowd.
“Anybody in here have a birthday today? Where’s Dee?”
I fumbled with my phone as I tried to capture all the fun of the moment, my sister-in-law completely surprised as the entire shop wished her a happy birthday. I panned around and the one thing that struck me about all the strangers packed like sardines in this tiny bake shop was this:
Everyone was smiling.
It was a simple act of kindness, from Carlo’s Bakery to us, but – wow – what an impact it had on our day! Check out the video to see it all unfold!

Their kindness continued as they made special arrangements to meet the needs of my niece who has a peanut allergy. Then, when Dee’s name was called to pick up her purchases, they presented her with an extra cannoli – free of charge! What a delightful birthday surprise!

Shortly after our visit to Carlo’s Bakery we made the long trek home with our sweet treats to share. Our joy continued the entire way; a reminder that we mattered, even in a crowded corner bake shop in the city.

Check back throughout the month of January when I spotlight various acts of kindness in the city. I would love for you to comment below with your experiences, too! 


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Kindness in the City

Last week I spent 24 hours in New York City, only my second time visiting the Big Apple. It was a whirlwind trip, a Christmas gift from Grandpa Letter to the granddaughters to see The Rockettes perform at Radio City Music Hall. As one of the two moms, I was just along for the ride.

I constantly joke with my family that I’m a city girl at heart. Oh, how I love the hustle and bustle of a thriving metropolis! I get caught up in the energy of people going this way and that; there’s a unique feeling of being alive in the crowds of people as they go about their daily business.

Now some of you may be shaking your head at the absurdity of my joy and that’s ok. Not everyone thrives in densely populated areas and there’s no judgement whatsoever if your happy place is far, far away from lights, people, and noise. Rock on in your solitude! For me, the city is the place to be.

One of the stereotypes I’ve always heard is how rude people are in the city. Horns honking, people yelling, nobody taking time to acknowledge anyone else. If you are a small town girl such as myself, you might be inclined to agree; after all, the busy city life is a far cry from driving through the streets near your home, waving at people you know.

But I’ve never been one for stereotypes, so they don’t matter much to me.

I love New York City!

I made it my mission to break the stereotypes for the short amount of time I was there. As many of you city-goers know, traveling by car can be a bit of a nightmare, so alternative forms of transportation are a must. We did a little bit of everything on our trip. We drove from Virginia to New Jersey. We traveled by train to Penn Station. We took an Uber from our hotel to the heart of the city and walked, walked, walked for miles in between.

One of my favorite things about this trip was chatting it up with our Uber drivers as they navigated through crowds where buses, taxis, and even rickshaws battled for ownership of the crowded streets. I was mesmerized by their expert navigation skills and intrigued at the stories they could share.

I learned their names.

I asked about their profession.

I inquired about their families.

I made the effort to learn about them, because everyone has a story to share!

Today, I have the pleasure of introducing these kind-hearted people to you!

Jared, our 1st Uber driver in NYC
Meet Jared.
He has lived in New York all his life and loves 5th Avenue as “the place to be” for the holidays. He laughed at our novice mistake of walking 10 blocks in the wrong direction, then showed kindness with his words as he acknowledged that the city streets could be confusing. Jared shared his knowledge of the hot spots to see in the city which inspired us to see some new sights!
Jagdeo, our 2nd Uber driver from Guyana
Meet Jagdeo.
He was born and raised in Guyana and became a jewelry maker in his Caribbean town. His home had 10 acres of land with dozens of fruit trees; just the memory of his homeland brightened the smile on his face. He came to New York City for safety and security. He was fearful from several robbery attempts and knew he could find a better life here. Currently, he lives with his wife and two small children and enjoys his job in the city. The photo above is him showing me the wedding band he made. (He made his wife’s wedding band as well!)
Vadim, our 3rd Uber driver who trained us in all things Uber
Meet Vadim.
Vadim was born in Russia, but when he was three years old his parents had a choice to move either to Australia or America and they chose America (Lucky for us!) Vadim stays busy with his thriving Uber business and two six year old twin boys (which instantly made me think of my dear friend, Annick!) He often thinks about moving somewhere warmer, but doesn’t want to give up his business as he’s built strong relationships with his local clients. He was a great help giving us the insider scoop on using the Uber app so all six of us could ride in the same car for the remainder of our trip. The photo above is of his boys (he also showed us a photo of his $100,000 Mercedes that he has at home, lol.)
Kevin, our 4th Uber driver whose smile could light up a room!
Meet Kevin.
Kevin was born and raised in Brooklyn and has actually been to Richmond, VA! We chatted about his travels up and down the East Coast and what keeps drawing him back to New York City. “You just can’t find any other place that feels like home. All those other cities are just too quiet for me.” He has two young daughters, so we gave him the inside scoop on The American Girl store and laughed about how expensive toys can be.
Each week this month I will be spotlighting the various ways I experienced kindness in the city. I hope this may inspire you to show kindness to others as well! And the next time you are taking an Uber, get to know your drivers! Their stories will bring a smile to your face!


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education, kindness

Serving Others Unseen


As many of you know, I am passionate about random acts of kindness. Well, ok… that’s probably an understatement. I am BEYOND passionate about kindness – it is my life’s purpose! I truly believe with all my heart that simple acts of kindness are the threads that keep us woven together in fabrics of peace and joy.

I love sharing my passion for kindness in the lessons I teach with collaborating teachers and their students. Whether it’s writing prompts or multi-step word problems, I can usually find a way to showcase the power of kindness in most things I teach each day.

Sometimes, however, I am provided an opportunity to devote an entire class period to kindness and that’s when my heart SOARS! It’s usually an integrated lesson where the standards of learning mesh with at least one of the 4 Cs (critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity). Recently, at a district innovation meeting, I was introduced to a 5th C: Community Service.

There are so many ways we can use kindness to give back to our local community! Sometimes we see a need and decide for ourselves the best way to assist. Other times we haven’t a clue where to begin. All you have to do is ask one question: “How can we help?


Then act.

When we asked our students at the beginning of the year how they could show kindness to others, many mentioned feeding the homeless. They referenced seeing people on the side of the road with “Help! Hungry!” signs and giving food as an easy way to help them out.

Our conversations since then have continued to cycle back to the homeless, so my collaborating teachers, Mrs. Cross and Mrs. Madison, decided that this holiday season would be a perfect time for us to show our students the power in serving others unseen by assisting a charity organization in their preparations to feed the homeless this spring.

Caritas is a global organization with community outreaches that care for homeless individuals for a week at a time. They provide a safe place to sleep, access to hot showers and basic supplies, three hot meals a day and lots of opportunities for playing games, chatting with others, and meeting others who can provide resources and advice for getting back on their feet again.

Simply put, they use kindness to give people hope.

We decided we would help their mission of kindness as we focused on the power of giving versus receiving.

We transformed the Innovation Lab into work stations with two separate tasks. One station would focus on creativity as students decorated plain place mats with inspiring messages and illustrations. The other station would focus on communication and collaboration as students worked in an assembly line to wrap plastic silverware in napkins, securing with a small rubber band, which would be given to homeless individuals as they sat down at a table to enjoy a warm meal with others.


When students entered the Innovation Lab, we discussed the purpose of our service and how our small acts of kindness would impact others on a larger scale. We also talked about the stations and how there is joy in the journey of working together for the common good.

The room quickly filled with chatter as students got to work on their designated tasks. Students in one group brainstormed things they could draw and write while students in the other station discussed the most productive way to organize and wrap silverware.



Time passed quickly. We only had a limited amount of time, so our stations were short – only 20 minutes for each. Our goal was simple: make as many place mats and silverware bundles as we could in the time we had. Inevitably, we ran out of forks, so our silverware task members joined back in with the place mats group to create even more inspiring works of art.



When our time came to a close, we had students count the place mats and silverware bundles. We then took advantage of the teachable moment to toss in a little math as we added the totals between the classes for a grand total. How many people would be touched by our acts of kindness?


Our students were in shock as we stared at the final sum:

428 bundles of silverware.

62 place mats.

You could hear the cheers of our students all they way down the hall! They couldn’t believe how much they had accomplished in such a short amount of time. It was such an empowering lesson!

We heard comments around the room:

“I wish we could do more fun activities like this.”

“I bet this is like some kind of world record!”

“I want to do this when I grow up – it feels so nice to give back to other people who need it most.”

A few students asked if they could share their thoughts on the board:





We packed all our items to donate, serving others unseen:



Even though these items won’t be used until spring, we know that someone will be touched by our acts of kindness and generosity.

Today that person touched by kindness is me.

Kindness inspires. Be the change! Seek out opportunities to give back to your community and make a difference in someone else’s life.

Small moments matter, even if unseen.


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