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Have you realized the power of Twitter and Voxer in building a professional learning network (PLN)? These two platforms have allowed two elementary school Principals who have actually never met face-to-face (yet…fortunately, this will be remedied in April at @lead3!) to share best practices, learn and improve upon each other’s successes and mishaps, provide encouragement and support, and challenge each other’s thinking! Through the course of becoming connected principals, educators, and lead learners over the past year, the two of us banded together as we learned that we had much in common, both personally and professionally. It led to a series of conversations (including one hysterically failed attempt to organize a Google Hangout) about our respective focus on character education on our sites. It has included implementation of national programs like Rachel’s Challenge to the incorporation of John Wooden’s Pyramid to Success through a partnership with Harper for Kids. We both have made concerted efforts to incorporate the importance of mindfulness, kindness, and empathy within ourselves, students, and staffs. Jeff Kubiak (@principalkubiak) is the principal of Cordelia Hills Elementary School (@cordeliahills) in Fairfield, CA. Todd Schmidt (@tsschmidty) is the principal of Harbor View Elementary (@harborviewelem) in Corona del Mar, CA. This is our story…

It seems as though every school has some sort of “character and/or kindness” program in it, what are you doing in this regard?

JK: I don’t like “one off’s” or “one and done’s”. If I am going to invest the time, and I am to expect students, staff, and parents to do the same, then I want something that will stick and has a value added take away for the students. As a school, we participate in Jumprope for Heart to raise money for the American Heart Assoc. We also help raise money for Lymphoma and Leukemia Society through Pennies for Patients.

Our students are recognized for their contributions daily as well. We have “Coyote Paw Pride” for “doing the right thing” and a Student of the Month award given to students that follow our monthly block focus on the pyramid. Parents are invited to join their kiddos at our monthly lunch celebration!

TS: We try to create opportunities for students to give back to their community. For example, every March, we partner with Team Kids (a nonprofit organization that focuses on inspiring students to take ownership and enjoy community service and bettering their communities) to create a carnival. Organized by the students, this carnival raises money for a charity of the students’ choosing. Last year, our carnival raised over $2500 for the World Games held by Special Olympics. In addition, we use John Wooden’s Pyramid to Success as part of our Student of the Month program. Each month, we recognize a student in each class that best embodies a specific block on the pyramid. We bring in their parents, the teachers, and the recipients for a special monthly lunch where we tell the parents and the students why they were chosen!

Why John Wooden’s Pyramid to Success?

JK: Coach John Wooden was the most successful basketball coach in the history of the NCAA. Not only did he develop amazing athletes, he helped to sculpt amazing young men that would become upstanding citizens. His 15 Pyramid blocks are used all over the world and in so many different arenas today. Corporate, Sports, and Schools all benefit from this model. As a swim coach, I learned from Warren Lager’s Marin Pirates how to instill this in young athletes and began incorporating it with my students and staff at school.

TS: John Wooden broke down the key components of being not only a good athlete but a good human being as well. He showed that these were not isolated characteristics, but rather, a series of blocks that are necessary to building a strong foundation that lead to each of us being our personal best.

How did you establish the partnership with Harper For Kids?

JK: I was introduced to Tim Harper and Peanut Louie by a mutual friend. After meeting with them and understanding the “Harper for Kids” way and motto I was hooked. They came in and presented some assemblies to my school, and it then took off! All of our classrooms have the poster of Wooden’s Pyramid. Each student was given one, and we have a large mural painted for all to see as you enter our school! The connection that the students get with the “real life” athletes, and Harper for Kids messaging is awesome! Peanut co-wrote a book with Coach Wooden called “Inch and Miles” which is used to teach lessons throughout our classrooms

TS: When I first came onto my campus, I was amazed to see beautiful murals already painted on our walls of characters from Inch and Miles, the children’s book based on the Pyramid to Success. My predecessor made sure that every teacher had a copy of the book. During my first year, I was contacted by Tim and Peanut personally to come do a series of assemblies. Over the last four years, they have visited several times. They have brought professional and collegiate athletes to talk to the students and showcase how the Pyramid to Success is applicable in their lives. Every time they come, our students are inspired and excited to implement the blocks of the Pyramid to Success

Why do you believe that mindfulness, empathy, and kindness should be emphasized on our campuses?

JK: There is really no other way that it should be. If we can instill these values into our kiddos at the Pre-K and TK level, then with continued implementation and focus, children will really have an acute awareness of mind, body, and soul at all times. This teaching allows a person to focus on how and what they are feeling at all times, and to be aware of changes in feelings, behavior and self. Being empathic will enable a child to fully understand how words and actions can negatively impact another. Kindness of course, is the root of all traits in my belief. If a child is truly kind all the time, they not only feel better about him/herself, but others too.

TS: I completely agree with Jeff…we have a mandate to ensure that our students are not only scholars but solid citizens as well. Being mindful of your words and actions is a key skill for all people, especially elementary students. Recently, one of my teachers sent me an article on the importance of Teaching Kindness to elementary students: As part of our PBIS roll-out, we chose to emphasize empathy as one of the cornerstone traits we want to see in our students.

What do you see as one of the biggest challenges in implementing a school-wide kindness program?

JK: Whenever you have a really cool idea, or something you believe will benefit ALL STUDENTS, that requires buy-in or at least participation from the staff, parents, and community. I HATE adding anything more to a teacher’s plate, and many times protect them as best I can. With that being said, it is the time, whole school community buy in and embracing of it, and then…..what will drive the momentum and keep it alive? It can’t be just me, and it can’t be just the students, or staff…it must be all of us…together…with fidelity!

TS: I agree that one of the biggest challenges is adding ONE more thing to teachers’ plates. For me, I also see a big challenge of keeping the momentum going. At a previous site, we did Rachel’s Challenge with high school students. The assembly was well-received and several students were interested in joining the club afterwards, but unless you have someone at the front willing to make it a priority, you tend to lose steam. Also, I think
students especially need to see that they are being part of something bigger. It needs to be systemic and ongoing throughout the year. We have a lot of opportunities on our respective sites for students to help their communities and be kind to one another. It is just missing that cohesive piece to tie it all together!

We hope you will join us, as we travel and explore the power of empathy, kindness and mindfulness on school cultures and communities. Let’s see how it can positively impact the attitude, behavior and values in today’s youth.