Kindness Matters: One Simple Act at a Time

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As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindness there is at last one which makes the heart run over. ~ Samuel Johnson

It really can be the smallest of kind acts that can make your heart run over. At the end of last year, stuck to one of our school walls, I came across the small post-it note pictured above. It was a simple concept, offering up a smile to anyone needing one. I have no idea how long it had been there, or where it had come from, but seeing all of these little happy faces grinning back at me warmed my heart and made me smile. Determined to find out who was responsible for this random act of kindness (RAK), I sent a picture out to staff. However, since sometimes the best part of a random act of kindness is in the mystery, no one took ownership. Wanting to share the smile, I sent it to friends and colleagues. From this tiny post-it note, the concept spread. Some staff planned their own RAK and some colleagues followed suit with carefully posted notes in their own schools. The greatest part of a RAK is that it is hard to know how far the ripples of kindness will extend.

Rakphoto1Over the years, I have been on the receiving end of many wonderful acts of kindness. Last year, one of the secondary schools in my district planned a mass RAK for every student in my school with the purpose of simply spreading a message of love and kindness. With the effort of many, it happened over the weekend. When students and staff returned Monday morning to find the lockers, doors, and walls pasted with pink and red hearts it created a sense of happiness and joy that was palpable. The building felt alive and there was a lightness in the school that is hard to put into words.

Over the years, I have also had the opportunity to see the impact participating in a kind act can have on students and adults alike. The research behind the benefits of participating in acts of kindness is abundant. Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, argues that one of the key factors to happiness is participating in acts of kindness. The benefits of performing acts of kindness are undeniable. Performing kind acts cultivates shared happiness, builds relationships, and connects us to the larger world. In a recent study out of the University of British Columbia entitled Kindness Counts, a group of researchers studying 19 classrooms of students ages 9 to 11 found that students who performed three acts of kindness were happier and also experienced greater levels of peer acceptance at the end of the study. Performing acts of kindness also fosters a sense of empathy and compassion that is at the root of establishing basic emotional intelligence. The more a child practices acts of kindness, the more likely they are to recognize and act on situations when others are in need. In addition, they are also better able to recognize the impact of their actions on those around them. Looking at the brain science, practicing kindness also strengthens the neural pathways necessary for detecting emotions and releases dopamine, that happy chemical in our body.

rakphoto2Performing acts of kindness in your classroom can be as simple as a post-it note on a locker or require a bit more organization like creating a “Thank You Tree” for your local library or some little care packages for your local elementary school; a couple of kind acts that students in my school participated in this year. There is also an abundance of great lessons, activities, and picture books that introduce the concept of kindness and get ideas flowing.

Some simple suggestions include:

  • Read The Kindness Quilt by Nancy Wallace and have students brainstorm what kindness looks like, feels like, and sounds like.
  • Create “Kindness is…” posters and display them around the school.
  • Read The Important Book and have students create a class book entitled “The important thing about kindness.” By using the format of the book, students focus on what kindness is and what kindness is not.
  • Read Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed and create a flow chart that outlines the chain of events that resulted from one kind deed.
  • Read Ms. Rumphius and have students brainstorm a list of kind acts they could perform for others, for themselves, and for the world. Have students select and perform one of their kind acts and report back.
  • Read Have You Filled a Bucket Today. There are so many activities you can do with this book. My favorite included having students make their own paper buckets. They then wrote down a simple gratitude for each person in the class and placed it in that student’s bucket. This book lends itself to great conversations about what it means to both fill and dip into the metaphorical happiness buckets of others through our actions and our words.
  • Write and deliver thank you letters.
  • Have students research and report out on someone whose kindness made the world a better place.
  • Have students use their list of possible kind acts to create a kindness wordle like the one below (www.wordle.net). Post their wordles around the school to inspire others.

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As this week is officially Random Acts of Kindness week, I challenge you to try three things over the course of the week. First, I challenge you to perform one kind act of your own and then reflect on how it made you feel. It can be something as simple as emailing an expression of gratitude to a colleague. Second, I challenge you to take acts of kindness into your classroom. Give students ownership over planning and performing their act of kindness. Let them be creative and think with their heads and their hearts, and then give them the time needed to reflect on the experience afterwards. Lastly, I encourage you to let kindness spread. It can be hard to turn over the reigns of control to our students but the value gained from one kind act either given or received can have an immeasurable impact on the life of a child. After all, as Eric Hoffer stated, it is only through practice and experience that people discover, “That kindness can become its own motive [and that] we become kind by being kind.”

Two Days with Dan Siegel: Lessons on the Whole-Brain Child

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A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days learning from Dan Siegel when he came to Coquitlam as the keynote presenter for our district’s professional development day. With a colleague, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to collect him from his Vancouver hotel and bring him back to Coquitlam to present that evening to our district parent community.

To me, Dan Siegel is the rock star of the mindfulness education world so, not surprisingly, I saw this as a pretty amazing opportunity. So much so, that I made the effort to slip a mention of my afternoon excursion into as many conversations as I could. While my enthusiasm was lost on some, it was most certainly felt by others. As the day wore on, my shameless name dropping had somehow unexpectedly landed me with a list of “must asks”. Some questions were around how to foster resiliency, others were on specific aspects of the MindUP program, and one, from my educator cousin, was on the values of transpersonal psychology. How exactly do you slip transpersonal psychology into a typical conversation?

On the long drive back in Vancouver rush hour traffic, I had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with Dan on everything from education, to politics, to B.C. culture and travel. I also managed to touch on a couple of the “must-asks,” although transpersonal psychology did not make the cut. The car ride was just the launching point for two enriching Dan Siegel filled days. In addition to attending the DPAC parent talk that night, over 1000 Coquitlam teachers heard Dan Siegel’s keynote the following day, and a few, including myself, had the opportunity to ask questions in a smaller setting after the keynote address was finished.

With pages of notes and the rest and time that comes with Spring Break, I have finally had the opportunity to weed through all the information I had collected in order to make sense of it all. I took a lot away from Dan Siegel’s visit but, in no particular order, the following nuggets of wisdom stood out:

* Be open to who a child is and let go of who you want them to be because when we don’t accept children for who they are we are actively telling them they aren’t good enough: This was a big one for me. As educators and parents, we have dreams for our children. Recognizing that these dreams may be “ours” and not “theirs” is a key to understanding children for who they are. The potential of a child is infinite; don’t limit a child by our vision of what they could or should become.

* It is not a child’s temperament that determines success but rather how parents and adults respond to that temperament: As educators, we all know that some temperaments are easier to deal with than others. Trying to see the strengths and opportunities behind the temperaments that don’t always make our lives easier can be a worthy challenge.

* A survive moment is also a thrive moment: As a teacher, and administrator, helping some students and parents understand this one can be challenging. It is only natural to want to protect your child from life’s difficulties. Yet when we do this, we send children the message that they aren’t capable of solving their own “child-sized” problems. We can also hinder the accountability that is so necessary as they move through life, as accepting accountability for actions and trying to right our own wrongs is key to learning and making better choices in the future. This doesn’t mean we leave children entirely to their own devices. What it does mean is rather than sheltering them from life’s difficulties, as parents and educators, we need to help them understand these experiences and learn from them.

* The 3 new R’s of Education should be Reflection, Relationships and Resilience: When children are interconnected, in tune with others, and have the capacity to be reflective, it increases empathy and understanding for the self and others. The ability to be reflective and to understand the self and others is what builds resiliency.

* Education should strive to integrate the left and right sides of the brain: As educators, we tend to teach to the logical left brain and ignore the emotional right brain. Creating an interconnectedness between the two can be a challenge but is an important key to creating a whole-brain child.

Dan Siegel Brain

* We are not a singular noun but a plural verb: I love this! As educators, we need to capitalize on the brain’s built-in capacity for social interaction and create positive mental models of relationships. The “me” discovers meaning and happiness in life by belonging to a “we.” Check out one of my absolute favorite documentaries “I Am” for more on this subject. You can watch the full documentary on ITunes.

* Feelings are not facts: Students need to understand that feelings come and go. They are temporary states of mind that are ever changing. By developing mindsight, or the ability to look inside your own mind as well as the minds’ of others, students are better able to deal with ever-changing emotions. If you want to understand more about how this is done, reading Dan Siegel’s new book “The Whole-Brain Child,” is a great place to start.

* The Healthy Mind Platter: Similar to our food guidelines, which are designed to keep our bodies healthy, the Healthy Mind Platter is a great reminder of the simple things we need each day to stay mentally healthy. I heard of one teacher who labelled classroom activities based on where they fell on the healthy mind platter. This is a brilliant idea and a constant reminder to children that a healthy mind is as important as a healthy body.

HealthyMindPlatter

The list of takeaways above are really just a few of the key gems I took away from hearing Dan Siegel speak. With that said, it hopefully gives you a bit of a flavour for who he is and will hopefully inspire you to learn more about nurturing the whole-brain child. If you are interested in exploring the topic further, here are a couple of great starting points.

Whole_Brain_ChildDan Siegel’s book “The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind”

The Dan Siegel Website: Full of great resources, including more on the healthy mind platter, videos, and audio of his wheel of awareness and breathing practices.

Video Series: 6 steps to Build Kindness and Resilience in Children with Dan Siegel

A Mindful Look at Making a Resolution

new years blogIt seems as if this time of year the hot topic for bloggers is New Year’s resolutions. There is the group that write about the many resolutions they will make. They start the year with a renewed sense of optimism and hope that what they learned in the previous year will serve as the foundation for further growth and development. Then there is the group that write about the resolutions they should make but refuse to do so as it sets them up for imminent failure a month down the road when the resolution is a distant memory.

Each year, I fall into one of those two categories. There are years I whip out a new journal and record the list of resolutions I know I should make: exercise more, get more sleep, cut out bad carbs and sugar and so on. Other years, I wake up on New Years Day, give thanks for a new year, and motor on with life as I am currently living it. This year, I know I should exercise more, get more sleep, and cut out the bad carbs and sugar but, since I tell myself this on most days, it seems futile to put them down on a list. Instead I want one resolution, something that can serve as a beacon for the journey through 2013.

When coming up with a New Year’s resolution, I think we need to take time to be mindful of the experiences that come into our lives and the lessons we learned the previous year. Lately, it seems as if most things I read, stumble upon, or am sent by others revolve around the importance of making mistakes. About a year ago, I watched Brene Brown’s famous TedTalk on her book, The Gifts of Imperfection. I ordered the book shortly after but only just started reading it after the book repeatedly came up in conversations, in book recommendations from friends, and even while flipping through magazines. This is just one example of the many reminders I have had to learn to be more comfortable with making mistakes. Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something, or perhaps my discomfort with even the thought of making mistakes has made me more sensitive to the message. Either way, I have been listening.

When I was searching for a quote regarding New Year’s resolutions, I stumbled upon the wise words of Neil Gaiman. This is what he had to say:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

So this is my one and only resolution, to become more comfortable with making the mistakes that come with taking risks and to be more forgiving of myself when I do. Each day I remind middle school students, when I am teaching them in the classroom or they are sitting in my office because they have made some sort of a mistake themselves, that life is all about making mistakes, being accountable, and learning from them. I then sometimes get to remind their parents that the purpose of childhood is to make lots of small mistakes and to learn from them so they are hopefully better equipped to handle the big ones that come with being an adult or an emerging adult. I also remind kids that mistakes are a part of life and they are a risk we take if we truly want to push ourselves out of our own comfort zones, embrace challenges, and strive to be more creative and authentic people. Somewhere along the way, some of us, including myself, forgot that the same message we give kids is equally as important in adulthood.

So my wish for you this year is that you take a chance on yourself and try something new. Maybe it’s a new idea you have wanted to try out at work, maybe it’s a new hobby, or maybe it’s a trip you have wanted to take. As Robert Schuller said, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” As Nike said, “Just do it.”