Although I grew up in West Tennessee, I was born in San Diego, California when my dad was stationed there in the Navy.
Some of my earliest toddler memories include playing on the beach while my dad and older brothers swam in the waves. Even though I was three or four years old, I still remember seeing my first jellyfish, finding starfish, and playing in the sand.
My dad had a unique way of building sandcastles. He would begin by gathering a mound of wet sand into a pile. Then he would scoop handfuls of sand and water. He would slowly drip the sand-water onto the mound until a small hill began to form. Drip, drip, drip… Each little drop of water would evaporate in the sun, leaving the sand behind in whatever shape it had formed. Eventually, the mound would build until it looked like a tall volcano with rippling spires.
When I think about creating and building, I’m fascinated by the small, steady actions that overtime can create something awesome.
Building a Momentum of Positive Culture
Last week one of my teachers told me she was having a bad day. Some of her students had been challenging, and she was having a hard time keeping a positive outlook. After classes that day, she visited the girl’s bathroom.
She was surprised to see someone had a left a post-it note on the mirror that said, “You are enough.” Another note said, “You are loved.” Suddenly, she felt better and smiled at the kind sentiments.
There on the soap dispenser sat a notepad of sticky notes and a pen. A note on front said, “Take a sticky note and add your own!” Underneath it read another note saying, “I just want to let whoever did this know you are an amazing person, the world needs more people like you!”
And so throughout the day, girls added more notes: “We want the very best for you!” And on and on…
Before long someone decided to expand the display. A sheet of red butcher paper was hung on the wall with the inscription, “Take what you need! Give what you can!”
Underneath sat a small table with notepads, pens, and lotion. More messages were added, and soon a rainbow of florescent pinks, yellows, greens, and blues dotted the red background:
“You are beautiful for you are fearfully and wonderfully made.”
“Good News: Nothing Lasts Forever. Push On!”
“Don’t let negative things get to you.”
A few days later, we began to share photos of these moments on Facebook, Twitter, and via email. That same day, I received a phone call from a KTUL Channel 8 reporter, Ryan Braschler, who wanted to do a story on the bathroom. He arrived right at the end of the school day and published the story for that evening’s news. Here’s a link to the video.
It was so exciting to the momentum building as people from inside and outside our community celebrated these little acts of kindness.
Good Deeds & Class Cup
I don’t believe these acts are an accident or an isolated incident as we do school. Last semester our student council began a campaign called the Class Cup Challenge (see PMP:038 Celebrating Good Deeds with Class Cup for more information). Throughout the semester, teachers submitted student names for good deeds observed. For instance, one teacher gave kudos to a boy who went out of his way to pick up someone else’s trash left on a table after breakfast. Another student was tagged for helping tutor another student.
As this practice as become contagious, our student council members meet and make award certificates for good deed recipients. These are delivered during classes so students can be acknowledged in front of their peers. Since Christmas Break, each grade has been neck-in-neck for the running totals.
What’s neat about the notes of kindness, however, is that no one has claimed responsibility for the gestures. Girls don’t sign their names when they leave notes. These are good deeds that come with intrinsic rewards.
Skills and Wills (Smarts & Hearts)
As our students and teachers have embraced new ways to inspire good deeds and acts of kindness, our teacher teams have also been talking about the importance of reaching students’ “skills” and “wills”. Or another way I’ve heard it put lately: reaching their smarts and hearts.
So each month, teachers have also been highlighting a character trait. This month we focused on Gratitude. During our first faculty meeting of the semester, I shared a story from one Tim Elmore’s Habitudes on resilience, and how the ways we respond to difficult moments reflects our character. Teachers shared the same lesson with students and used surveys to pre-test and post-test student reactions to questions about adversity or challenges.
Talking With Students
This week I sat down with students from our Student Council who have been strategizing acts of kindness throughout the year. I talked with four of them: D’mari Bell, Hannah Pike, Meg Bush, Andi Fudge, and Tayler Andersen, as well as our student council sponsor, Julie Franklin, about the momentum and movement they have begun. And they introduced me to the student who left the first little post-it-note that started the bathroom kindness.
If you want to hear their awesome comments, I suggest you also listen to the audio link at the top of this post to hear them talking directly about the power of positivity, their hope that acts of kindness will keep growing, and the rewards of treating others with dignity and compassion. Listen to audio parts 7:20 to 14:15 if you want to hear first-hand from these amazing students.
6 Reminders on Ways to Celebrate
As you look at your own school culture, let me share six simple ways we have been encouraging positive momentum. Think about ways you might try these steps:
1. Carry a camera on classroom visits.
Most of us have a way to capture moments right on our phones. I use mine to capture both photos and small video clips. Occasionally, I’ll also carry around a nicer digital camera for higher-quality resolution. Yes, check your FERPA guidelines and taking and sharing photos of students, but don’t be shy to take lots of photos of students learning. Parents love it, and it is a great way to catalog what’s happening.
2. Schedule out social media alerts.
You can do this with Facebook, but we’ve also been using Hootesuite.com, which allows you to schedule the same post into various outlets including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram.
3. Boost a Facebook post.
This week we decided to spend $5 to boost our post about the bathroom kindness. To date it has reached over 60,000 reads. What a simple way to share the great news happening in your school.
4. Share weekly newsletters.
Email your parents the wonderful happenings from your school. We use a free service through Mailchimp to keep a running list and provide a way for others to sign up for the school newsletters.
5. Connect with local media outlets.
Almost daily we are sending updates to our local newspaper editor. We also include notices through press releases, and we work with Tulsa TV news stations when they want to cover something positive.
6. Publish awards and recognitions.
Just this past week, our school received notice from the College Board that we are AP Honor Roll District because of growth we’ve had in Advanced Placement courses. Announce when great things are happening, recognize students of the month, feature your top-ranking students at pep assemblies.
Just like watching my dad build sandcastles drip after drip, a positive school culture does not happen without committing to focusing on the positive moments each class period, each day, each week, each month and each year.
As you and your team are building a school culture, think about how you can add to the momentum by capturing moments, sharing wins, boosting attention, connecting with others, and publishing the great outcomes. It is the small drip, drip, drip of these actions that begin to form patterns, expectations, and momentum over time.
And when you do, you add beauty to the school environment for everyone. And you create a moment, momentum, and a movement.
Now It’s Your Turn
What are other ways you can be adding to the momentum of positive experiences for your students and teachers? What is one action you can take today to celebrate something wonderful happening in your school or organization?
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