A Culture of Kindness

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We have all heard the saying, “Kindness goes a long way”. How far does it go in a school? What is our role in teaching kindness? Should it be part of our role? It isn’t part of the Common Core Standards, or required state standards. Where does it fit in our school day? We all know the answer, because it is simplistic in nature. Kindness is a state of mind and a true “feel” we get when we are around particular people or in a specific place. It’s either there, or it is absent. There may be moments where it is overshadowed, but if kindness is truly centered at the heart of a school culture, it will prevail. So…how do we get there? 

A culture of kindness in a school starts and ends with the adults who serve the building. Our kids are watching every move we make, even when we think they aren’t. The question is…what will they see? Will they see adults expressing empathy, smiles, encouragement, shout outs, and genuine care for one another? A true culture of kindness within a school is completely dependent on the adults. How we treat each other must be how we expect our kids to treat each other. Empathy, vulnerability, and giving are three ways adults can model kindness for kids. 

Empathy

IMG_0283“Walk a mile in her shoes.” We have all heard this, but what does it truly mean? We can never know exactly what someone is going through or what someone feels, but we can make a conscious effort to try. We can listen, observe, and raise our awareness of the people around us in order to model empathy for our kids. If we want them to be patient with the actions of others, we must make modeling empathy with adults and kids a priority. Empathy creates opportunities for kids to become stronger internally, which helps them avoid taking everything so personally. It helps kids learn to think about the situations of others before passing judgement, and before making assumptions.

Vulnerability

IMG_3669Being vulnerable is down right tough! It places us out of comfort zone, and can cause stress. It is when we are vulnerable that we can learn and grow the most. Kids need to see this side of us. They need to know that we don’t have all the answers, and we need others to help us become better. We simply cannot stand alone in our profession, for if we do, kids suffer the consequences. We owe it to the children we serve to face our weaknesses and rely on the strengths of others in order to become the best we can be for OUR kids! Pride can build a wall between ourselves, our peers, and our kids. Be brave. Be bold. Be uncomfortable. Do it for kids.

Giving

IMG_7676This morning I was sitting in my office, preparing for the day. It was right at 7:30, when the doors of our school open and kids begin filing in. As I prepared to leave my office and head outside to greet kids, one of my kiddos appeared in my doorway with a cup of coffee. A week or so earlier he approached me to tell me that one day he would bring me some coffee to school, and wanted to know how I liked to drink it. As he walked into my office with a huge smile on his face, full of pride, he said to me, “Mrs. Hill, I have your coffee just like I said! It has french vanilla in it,and I counted to five when I pushed the button.” As he stood there grinning at me with pride, I could not help the tears that surfaced as I hugged him so tight. This young man wanted to start my day with a gift. He wanted to make me smile. That’s not his job! I consider it my priority to make HIM smile, along with every other child on campus. He reminded me how important it is to model giving, whether it is a smile, a hug, or someone’s favorite drink! What a way to start my day. I couldn’t stop smiling, and neither could he. It was a win-win.

A culture of kindess doesn’t take a program. You can’t buy it in a package and try to implement it. The people within must bring it to life with authentic moments and interactions. It must be seen, heard, and most importantly, felt. It requires an empathetic nature among adults, vulnerability with one another, and giving. It starts with adults, because our kids are watching. They see our interactions with others, and they will use those to interact with their own peers. What do we need them to see? More importantly, if they see something they shouldn’t, how can we make it right? We are human, and we will fail kids at times. What we do with those mistakes is what will speak to our kids the most.

Remember…we do it for OUR kids!

Bethany

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Content After Relationships: The #CARInitiative

I am very honored to have collaborated on this post with John Riley, an amazing educator and friend. John and I are likeminded in many areas, but our most common link is passion regarding what is best for kids (BFK), and the power of social media. We hope you will benefit from our collective thoughts, and share this initiative with us!


The power of social media is priceless. It’ a crazy piece of the puzzle that can connect two educators in completely different states and inspire them to collaborate on blog. What you are about to read is just that. Bethany will share some background about how we got connected and introduce the concept of placing content second. I (John) will finish up with some scenarios and how to in order to help implement this change.

Becoming a connected educator is one of the most important decisions I have ever made. Three summers ago, I decided to enter the Twitter world in order to keep up with my son’s activity. Little did I know that a whole new world of professional learning was waiting on me. One of the first people I connected with that fall was John Riley, an educator from Ohio. We connected in No Box Thinking Chat, and I quickly knew we were like minded. Since then we have learned from each other and grown in our profession. I consider him a friend even though we have never had the honor of meeting face to face.I cherish the relationships I have formed and the empowerment I have gained from my connections.

IMG_5995.JPGThere are so many aspects of education that spark my passion, but the most important belief I possess is the fact that we must love kids first and foremost. The very first meeting between myself and a child is one of my most cherished moments, for it is the moment when I “get” to make that individual a priority. I have an opportunity to show appreciation for who that child is, which is not a “student”, but a real person who deserves to be noticed. Kids have to feel that initial connection early, because they don’t have time to waste. The sense of urgency is imperative–we must form relationships with authenticity early in order to reach them. Our ability to teach them will be enhanced tremendously by our ability to connect with them first. There is simply no other priority that trumps this one! All educators should have this as their number one objective each and every day. Connect, care, and collect information about them. Use this to inspire and empower kids with confidence, knowledge, and life skills. These are the traits that will give them the ability to tackle content.

As an adult, I can quickly think back on my student life of 19 years (from kindergarten through graduate school) and my mind immediately separates my teachers into two categories: those who connected with me, and those who did not. When I first began my career in Cabot, Arkansas as a first grade teacher, I made myself a promise to work diligently at the task of being a teacher that kids would remember in the “connected category”. I have never wanted to be anything less! What if all educators felt this charge each and every moment they spend with kids? I can honestly say that I have not taken advantage of every single opportunity, and I deeply regret those moments where I missed out on a chance to make a strong connection with a child. I am proud to say that those moments are few and far between, but they do hold a mass of regret in my heart. I challenge you to have little or no regrets when it comes to chances with kids. Take every opportunity, and seize every moment. Don’t get lost in the content you teach. Get lost in who you teach each and every school day. Get personal. Get connected. Get attached. It will be worth every moment of time you spend.

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Bethany, what a great wait to start thinking differently about how we approach teaching from a different lens. Have you ever heard the story of the circus elephant? From the time it is born it is tied to a stake with a heavy chain. No matter how hard it pulls it can not get free. The older it gets the bigger the chain. It struggles to get free but no matter what it does it can not. By the time it is full size it has been conditioned to the chain. It is mentally beat and accepts the fact it can not get free. It could simply break the chain as an adult but because of years of being exposed to negative results it simply gives up and gives in to the chain. The elephant limits itself and no longer takes a chance on getting free. By heavily relying on content and placing priority on it, we are basically chaining our students and not allowing them the freedom to express creativity, perseverance, originality, or the ability to real world problem solving. We are creating carbon copies in world that needs individuality.

Now, we are not saying that content is bad.  We are educators, we are to help our students make sense of the curriculum. What we are saying is that content should be a second thought. Let’s start with the foundation. Relationships! In working with the Focus 3 organization this school year and learning about the R-Factor, they stress the importance of owning your 20 square feet. Because if we own our classroom and build relationships with our students we start the process of TRUST. If we reword the Teddy Roosevelt quote for the classroom it would read…Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  

kidsdontknow.jpgOne of the greatest privileges as a teacher is to serve our students. If they don’t need service then we need to teach them how to serve others. This should happen before content. We should be building culture in the classroom. Not one centered around content but one centered around the potential of each student. How do we do this?  First, you need to buy in. We can all talk about it but you must do it. It could be change for you and yes that could be uncomfortable. We all know that personal growth begins outside your comfort zone. A colleague of mine likes to say….If it’s not in you it can be used through you. Second, it needs to come from your heart. If I asked what the most electric producing organ is in your body what would you say? Most answer the brain. But it’s actually the heart. Some quick facts about the heart from www.heartmastery.com:

  • The heart begins to form in the fetus before the brain.
  • The average heart beats 110,000 times a day, 40 million times a year, 3.5 billion times in a lifetime.
  • Your heart produces enough power in 1 hour to lift 2,000 pounds 3 feet off the ground. In one hour and 15 minutes the heart could lift a Toyota Prius!
  • The source of the heartbeat is in the heart, not the brain. When they do a heart transplant ,they cannot reconnect the heart and brain. The heart beats on its own.
  • The electrical impulse of each heart beat can be measured 3 to 4 feet from the body.
  • The electrical impulse of the heart is 40 – 60 times stronger than the brain. It is many more times stronger than any other electrical impulse in the body.
  • The heart sends more information to the brain, than the brain does to the heart.
  • The heart’s vascular system is 60,000 miles long and can wrap around the earth twice.
  • Different people’s (or even animal’s) heart cells, will all beat in unison in a petrie dish. Different people’s brain cells in a petrie dish will not communicate with each other and die.
  • The electricity generated by the heart can be detected and measured in the brain patterns of another person nearby.
  • The heart works without interruption for 70-80 years, without care or cleaning, usually without repair or replacement. Do you need energy or stamina? Access the heart!

tribe.jpg  So, why all this data on the heart. Because the heart is what connects you to others and they can detect you heart energy. Our hearts will naturally sync with others when they are in our presence and the opposite is true. Think about it. Have you ever been in a room with someone and you thought…their energy is contagious. I feel energized just being around them. Then there is that instance where you left a room feeling drained because an individual was so negative.  If we bring into our classroom positive energy from the heart we will transform the relationships we have with our students and they will in turn learn more from you. Again, content second. Lastly, we must multiply our efforts and influence others. Your vibe attracts your Tribe! If you have bought in then I dare you to not teach anything for the first three days of school. Work on heart level engaging activities. Build relationships and show students that they can trust you. Grow in understanding every aspect of what makes each student special. Think of the 3M approach. Model…what you want to see. Mentor…as others begin their journey from watching what you are doing. Multiply……by sharing your contagious energy and empowering others to embrace the #CARinitiative.  

John Riley

CHALLENGE: We wanted to end this blog a little differently. We want to challenge you to try this for a day or start doing it as much as you can. Generate some buzz by sharing what you are doing using #CARinitiative. Tag us in your post so we can share what you are doing with our PLNs. We can’t wait to see your posts! Let’s inspire others as we challenge ourselves.

Thanks for reading!

Bethany and John

Connect with us on Twitter

@bethhill2829

@mrrileyjo

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The Best Homework EVER

Homework. Who invented it? I have always wondered about where homework originated. I believe whoever initiated the concept had great intentions of helping kids. When I speak with some families who have multiple children, it saddens me when they tell of spending hours at the kitchen table helping kids with piles of homework. Doesn’t this defeat the purpose? Will this help or hinder kids’ attitudes and dispositions toward learning and school? What about the children who do not go to a home when they leave the schoolhouse…the children who stress about whether or not they will eat dinner, or have to wait until they get to school the next morning for a meal? It is important for educators to remember that not all kids come to school ready to learn. Some come to school for the consistency, the hugs, the food, and the safety. How does homework fit into the lives of these children? 

A few minutes of practice is perfectly fine, but families shouldn’t have the added stress of hours of work into the evening, missing out on great conversations, family time, extra curricular activities, and PLAY.  My hope for all of our kids is to have moments of joy, relaxation, unstructured play, investment in them by adults, and participation in extracurricular activities in the community.

So…what is the best homework EVER? Here is what I suggest:

Reading 

 Reading is crucial to the success of kids. Studies show that when kids can read without much struggle, other areas of learning will increase. Reading for enjoyment is something that schools cannot foster alone. We need the help of people in the home to support kids as readers. Families can do this by reading aloud to your kids, providing time for family reading where everyone drops everything and reads something for enjoyment, and keeping books available for your kids to read. Visiting the local library is a great way to have new books in the home all the time! Read to, with, and beside your child at least a few times weekly. It WILL make a difference! It is OUR responsibility to teach our families about the importance of reading in the home. We must share with them ways to build the habit. For the children who do not have books at home, or the structure for adult support, we need to find ways to get books in their backpack…books they can call their own. 

Games

 Games are a wonderful way for families to laugh, talk, and interact with each other. It provides time to TALK to your kids! Our kids get lots of screen time in today’s world…tablets, smartphones, laptops, gaming systems, and television are very appealing to our little ones. Technology is important and our kids need to experience it under supervision of adults, but they also need to interact with others in the home. Family game nights are a great way to do this. Many games promote problem solving and critical thinking skills. They also teach kids how to win and lose. We need to share with families the importance of setting aside a few times a month for a family game night. It’s fun for all, and provides time for conversation, winning/losing, and strategy! 

Play

 Kids spend a vast amount of their time involved in structured activities. Unstructured play is one of the greatest opportunities for learning we can provide for our kids. They need time to imagine, create, and discover. Unstructured play allows kids to learn who they are. They face conflict and can learn to solve problems. They also learn how to use their imagination to enhance their fun. Sometimes all we need to give them is time outside! Other times they may need an item to help them build or create. We are looking for ways at school to allow all kids more time for unstructured play, and hope families will look for opportunities at home.

I encourage you to look at your resources for communicating with families and find time to share the best homework EVER with them. We owe it to our kids to teach their families to make time for reading, games, and play! Not only will our kids enjoy this, they will learn from these experiences as well! It isn’t the job of the families to raise kids on their own. They need our help. It is the responsibility of all adults to invest in children in multiple ways. This is what supports the whole child. 

Bethany