Words: When They Uplift and Inspire

The following is the third installment in a series of blogposts written by two principals on opposite ends of the state of California (you can see the last two here: http://tsschmidty.blogspot.com/2016/03/a-conversation-on-charactercontinues.html and http://principalkubiak.blogspot.com/2016/02/a-conversation-on-character.html. 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.

Words are powerful. They can break down walls as well as build them up. On our campuses, we have been working with our communities to show the impact of how #wordsDOmatter.

Have you seen an example of your students seeing the ability of words to inspire, uplift, or support?

TS: Sadly, this year, our community has been rocked by the untimely deaths of two of our parents. Especially at elementary school, dealing with the death of a parent is incredibly hard. What amazed me was how the students responded in finding ways to remind their peers that they were special, valued, and being thought of and prayed for in this very challenging time. Students put together a book where each student contributed a page indicating the reasons they loved their peer. One of my favorites said, “You always put a smile on whoever’s face that comes up to you. It’s like you drank a vial of awesome juice!” The book was included with flowers and small gifts into what was called “A Box of Sunshine.” This child in particular let me know how the words from her peers has a special place near her bed where she can refer to it when her days seem gray and sad. It reminds her of all the special people who care about her and think she is pretty amazing!

JK: At Cordelia Hills, we have had a few students or family members fall ill, or see untimely deaths. We have also had many students come and go this year. Either by family choice, or because our school is running at capacity and students are overflowed to other schools. With that being said, our students, staff, and community have responded with cards, letters, pictures and positive phone calls. Many times these amazing actions have been student lead. It seems when a student or someone is caught feeling down, or low, “YOU ARE AWESOME”, “I REALLY LIKE YOU” can be seen or heard at just the right time!

How do you encourage your students to focus on using their words to build positive relationships on a daily basis?

TS: This is one of the biggest challenges I face as a site leader. With social media, especially with Instagram and Snapchat, there is more of a risk for issues that range from harsh words and unkind pranks to cyberbullying. We spend a lot of time focusing on digital citizenship at the beginning of the year and then revisit the topic frequently as issues arise. Because we are in the first year of implementing the Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS), we try to have activities and lessons that touch on our school acronym that Vikings are BRAVE (Bold, Respectful, Accountable, Empathetic) Through motivation found in the #principalsinaction PLN, I try to have different books that I read to classes that touch on one of those five traits. I try to also work in how words of the author as well as the characters can inspire, uplift, and motivate as well as demoralize, frustrate, and anger. In addition, we try to remind students of the power of words through motivational speakers who touch on the power of words in their lives as well as actively promoting individual events like #PositivePostItDay and #KindnessMatters. I really want to organize a full week’s worth of different activities that highlight the power of words.

JK: This is my focus at AND away from school 24/7. Either through our Pyramid of Success assemblies, morning announcements, Paw Prides, Positive phone calls home, Positive Office Referrals, or in our new PBIS program, there is nothing more important to me than students recognizing each other in a positive and kind way. Kiddos are already exposed to enough negativity away from school that our staff really tries to spread this message on a daily basis.Digital Citizenship is also another place we emphasize positive words, and kindness. We use Common Sense Media to guide a lot of our lessons, and really put the huge task of responsibility on each student with HIGH EXPECTATIONS. I ask each staff member to model, share, or teach a 5 minute KINDNESS lesson each day, so that students have an ultra positive Mo-Jo to start the day!

Recently, both of us participated in #PositivePostItDay. How did this day impact your campus?

TS: The day was simply amazing! Having heard about it via Eric Ewald and Tony Sinanis, two rockstar principals I have had the privilege of learning with and from, we wanted it to be a day where teachers, students, and parents (and the principal) were armed with post-its! Like, Jeff, I didn’t have many expectations for the day. What happened was simply incredible as our community put positive notes ALL OVER the campus. The smiles were huge as students ran all over campus, leaving notes on teachers’ doors and staff members’ desks, on windows in our multi-purpose room, and even on the rain gutters! Teachers took the opportunity to let students and colleagues know how great they are! Parents left notes for their kids as well as their kids’ teachers. I ended the day by putting a #PositivePostIt on every staff member’s mailbox. Several kids (and teachers) walked out of campus that day plastered in the positive post-its that had been written about them! It was such a great day and underscored the need for us to make sure these types of events happen throughout the year!

JK: This was a phenomenal day and activity! I first heard about it from Eric Ewald, superb Principal and friend via Twitter, Voxer and #Principalsinaction. I did not have any expectation except to ensure that I was in all 23 classrooms that day! The staff were all given a pad of Post It notes and I asked they they share positive messages to any student, staff, friend, or community member. Myself, I wrote about 230 #PositivePostIt’s during the day, beginning with one on each classroom door.

I was overwhelmed by what took place during the day! Students on the blacktop and lunch room were running up to me and giving me notes, students had Post-it’s all over desks, books, clothing and HAIR! It was truly amazing! The smiles and positive vibes throughout our campus that day was truly moving and heartfelt. It was fun sending and receiving them to my #PLN peeps as well via #Voxer and @Twitter as well! This was honestly one of the best school days I have had as an adult!

We even send virtual ones to each other…gotta show that power of #wordsDOmatter!