Written By: Hans Appel
No examination of creating an "AWARD WINNING CULTURE" is complete without a deep dive into the world of Kindness.
We’ve all seen acts of grand gestures from famous, wealthy people on tv and in the movies. Oprah’s over the top antics of “You get a Car and you get a car” made for great television and reinforced her as a positive leader in the world. People like Ellen have taken this mantle and made it a daily part of her show, with “be Kind to one another.” Orly Wahba created a youtube sensation with the Kindness Boomerang and Leon Logothetis’ “Kindness Diaries” on Netflix offers a wonderful perspective on the capacity for kindness by everyday folks. And while these mega stars and movies like “Pay it Forward” inspire us, we often overlook the impact that we can have in our daily lives.
About 10 years ago, my wife Jen, (who works, as a teacher, at EMS with me) was approached by a former student. The student was all grown up and was beginning her career as an elementary teacher. After the initial hellos and catch up, this girl began to detail a college essay that she had written about Jen. She explained that Jen was one of the chief reasons that she was inspired to become a teacher and how much she meant to this girl. Now to be honest, this girl was quiet, got good grades, and was absolutely self-motivated. Teachers might recognize this self-sufficient type student as the one who barely needs your help in class. As Jen started to think back about how she may have influenced this girl, the girl started to tell Jen a story about one day.
Apparently, one day in 6th grade, the girl had shown up to school wearing new shoes that her parents had picked out for her. They were bright and different than her usual accessories and being a middle schooler, she found herself quite nervous about what others might think. In fact, she was so freaked out by the prospect of wearing them to school, she got into an argument with her mom, before coming to school that morning. As she walked into Jen's classroom, she was greeted by Jen in the hallway, like any other day. Jen made a brief connection and commented on how “cool” her shoes were. The entire interaction took literally LESS THAN 10 SECONDS. As we now know, this 10 seconds meant the world to this girl. She proudly paraded her shoes all over the school for the next few months with my wife being completely unaware of the impact she’d made with her. And while this set off a 3-year relationship, as she attended middle school, it was this 10 second moment of kindness that made the most impact on her. As you can imagine, there were tears, laughs, and hugs as this story was shared. If a 10 second interaction can inspire someone to pursue a life of serving others; perhaps, I didn’t fully understand this “Kindness thing” very well, at all.
A few years ago, a friend at work mentioned how me unlocking her door always “made” her day. What? Made her day? I just take 30 seconds to open all the office doors near mine. No big deal! I had been doing it for years and never thought anything of it. To be honest, I started to blow off this postive feedback from her when she explained that she always has a bunch of things in her arms that she’s carrying. Not having to scramble to dig through her purse, to locate her keys, helped her to start her day in a positive less frantic way. This surprising interaction about this small simple gesture got me thinking…..
Through the years, I began to put a little more focus on practicing daily kindness. As part of our school-wide PBIS program, staff would write “Wildcat” cards to students and other staff members. These were little gestures of appreciation or acknowledgement that were delivered to unsuspecting folks with words of encouragment, grattitude, and positivity. For all intense purposes they were kindness cards. Students and parents proudly display these cards on refrigerators, walls, and social media. They take very little work but mean something special, to the person who recieves them. Over the last few years, I slowly made similar small amounts of effort to promote kindness at school (Positive Phone calls home, Intentional E-mails to staff members, etc.) BUT STILL I never really understood the full impact Kindness and culture could have on LEARNING.
Enter Houston Kraft.
Houston is the co-founder of Character Strong, and the creator of the Choose Love Movement and #MakeKindnessNormal campaign. Houston is a force of nature that literally turns anything he touches to rainbows and sunshine. He’s a speaker, educator, and kindness ambassador of the highest order! He inspires with action, words, and intention. He literally flipped all my thoughts about kindness upside down. Houston preaches that while being Nice is reactive, Kindness is Proactive. It’s action oriented and in a school system can create life altering results. Studying his life’s work, spending time with him, and developing my kindness muscle, I began to form a new understanding of Kindness.
Perhaps….Kindness is the small intentional gestures that fill others with JOY.
And in a school system, kindness is the ozone layer of emotional safety which allows students to focus on learning.
Some of the most successful schools in the country are focusing on this Whole Child brand of school culture. Harlingen High School in Texas is a leader among Kindness movers and shakers. Their student council's focus on creating a school where everyone feels safe, loved, and supported has been outstanding! Hanford High School, in Richland, Wa has created a #FalconFamily approach to school connectedness. They strive to treat all falcons with respect, care, and attention. For years, Sumner High School, in western Washington has had a group of students hold doors, at every entrance in the school. These longstanding acts of kindness have inspired schools around the country to make this form of service, best practice, in their communities. In Western Wisconsin, 26 school districts have bound together to form a network to infuse Character Strong’s Whole Child approach to kindness throughout an entire region. In fact, local Wisconsin business leaders are so passionate about helping students create cultures of kindness, they’re FULLY FUNDING the entire Character Strong program (training, curriculum, etc.) Yeah, I know! What a forward thinking community! Enumclaw Middle School, near Seattle Wa produces videos, by leadership students to remind students and staff of the power of kindness. By providing weekly teachings on the impact of Choosing Love, Enumclaw sets the standard for student voice in creating positive change.
A few months into our Character Strong journey, a co-worker asked me, “So, when do you think this culture of kindness will just manage itself?” The underling querry being, is there a point at which we can all just take a break and watch this masterpiece of culture self-sustain? If I’m being honest, I wrestled with this question for a while before falling back on a critical word: INTENTIONAL. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to tell the "right" girl, you know….the one who really needs some kindness that her shoes are “cool.” But, if kindness isn’t an intentional standard practice in our schools everyday we’ll miss out on the opportunity to positively flip other students who desperately need to feel accepted, loved, and valued. How many students or staff are just hanging on by a thread? How can anyone feel eager to learn when they’re not safe, comfortable, and welcome. Shouldn’t an emphasis on academic excellence begin with a focus on creating a community where learning is possible. It begins each day with Kindness…..
How will you create your cultural masterpiece of Kindness?
Here’s a few more Kindness EduHereos who inspire me:
**Roman Nowak, Roman is a teacher from Ontario, Canada. He's a strong advocate for Kindness through his writings and leading of #BeKindEDU Twitter Chats. He’s a teacher who believes in his students ability to accomplish incredible feats!
**Eli Casaus, Eli is a Principal, lead learner and Edu Innovator at Navajo Elementary School in Albuquerque, NM. Along with Roman Eli facilitates #BeKindEDU Chats on Twitter. Both Roman and Eli challenge me to step up my kindness game!
**Tamara Letter, Tamara is a writer, presenter and innovator who’s inordinately passionate about teaching students through kindness projects. Her warmth and compassion come through in all her student’s projects.
**Wendy Hankins, Wendy is a shining example of Kindness! In addition to being an outstanding elementary teacher and creator of @KindKidsAtKirk, and #HeardItFromHankins she's a passionate blogger, learner, and educational disrupter. She leads with heart and love and is simply raising education to it's highest level.
**Laurie McIntosh, Laurie is a Kindergarten teacher at Father Lacombe Catholic School in Alberta, Canada. Her passion for teaching and providing her students with opportunities for kindness, landed her on the Ellen Show. She’s the co-founder of The Kind-Club and an outwright kindness warrior!
**Matt Bush, Matt is an Administrator, writer, and presenter from Southport Middle School in Indianapolis. He’s the creator of the Grateful Friday Challenge and the Month-Long Kindness Challenge. Matt inspires others to believe in the power in of kindness!
**David Volke, David is an outstanding leadership teacher at Liberty Middle School, in Camas Washington. He’s a dedicated Character Strong educator who is committed to teaching his students to become kindness superstars. He also makes a really cool kindness braclet that he gives away to fellow educators he comes into contact with.
**Michelle Thompson, Michelle is an incredible teacher and agent of change in the Kennewick School District. She's a leader, innovator, and outside the box thinker. She's passionate about culture, servant leadership, and student learning. Her positivity sets her apart from the crowd and I love her willingness to do ANYTHING to make her school, district, and community a kinder place.
**Meghan Lawson, Meghan was an Ambassador of the Kind Campaign and an Associate Director of Secondary Curriculum & Instruction at Forest Hills School District. Although she's moving on to be a Coordinator of Instructional Services at a local Educational Service Center. She’s a positive dynamo who believes in the goodness in students, staff, and community.
**Nicholas Ferroni, Nicholas is a Social Studies teacher from Union High School, New Jersey. In fact, Nicholas might well be one of the best teachers in the country. His social media presence focused on going above and beyond for his students, fellow teachers, and educational profession have made him legendary. But the true measure of this outstanding leader is in the kindness he inspires around him. Check out one recent clip of Nicholas using the power of social media to impact one family.
**Phil Boyte, Phil is a School Culture consultant, speaker, and writer. His podcast: “School Culture by Design”, is recognized as one of the best sources in learning about the intentional implementation of a culture of kindness.
**Taylor Armstrong, Taylor is a systems specialist at Vestavia Hills City Schools in Alabama. He's the co-creator of #smaththesilence which focuses on removing the stigma of mental health in schools by changing the conversation, support, and secrecy around student and staff mental health.
**Dr. Jessica Stephens, Jess is a Vice Principal at Durfee High school in Fall River Massachusetts. She’s a writer, leader and forward thinker of all things love and kindness. She’s the creator of #LoveWorks and is proof postive that when we lead with our heart and trust in human connections, our schools can achieve amazing results.
**Barbara Gruener, Barbara is a recently retired school counselor, author of "What's under your cape", avid blogger, and passionate podcaster (Character Speaks). She oozes kindness and compassion by walking the walk and talking the talk. Counselors all around the country look up to her as a beacon of light and a resource for real world inspiration. This spring she'll be working with the team at Character Strong to roll out an elementary curriculum.
**Bethany Hill, Beth is a lead learner, Chief Energy Officer and Storyeller at Central Cabot in Arkansas. She's the creator of #JoyfulLeaders and #EduAr and uses her platform to share kindness, joy, and positivity with the world. I feel lucky to count her in my PLN!
Who might you inspire today...just by noticing...their “cool shoes”?
About the Author
Hans Appel has been a school counselor in the Richland school District for the past 17 years and at Enterprise Middle School since it opened. He's passionate about school culture, servant leadership, and kindness.
Enterprise Middle School received the 2018 ASCD Whole Child Award in Washington, for its award winning culture and the 2018 Global "Class Act Award" for Kindness. By creating a culture of kindness, service, and empathy we've taken student leadership to an epic level.