As an elementary principal, I consider it a call to action when one of my best teachers walks into the lounge and says, “I just need to get through this week. I will give myself an attitude adjustment over the weekend, but I just need to get through Friday.” Late January can be an incredibly tough time for a teacher in Michigan. It’s dark as you drive to school and it’s dark when you drive home. It’s often too cold for the kids to go outside during the day. (Our district has a policy that the windchill must be at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit to go outside. I personally hate this policy, by the way, but that is another blog post). It is the heart of NWEA testing season and Spring Break is still months away. Even with a great school culture and positive teachers, late January can be rough.
This amazing teacher I mentioned wasn’t complaining. She was simply acknowledging her feelings and sharing with supportive colleagues. Although she wasn’t looking for anyone to solve her problem, I knew I wanted to do something for her. She is an absolute rock star teacher. She always has a positive attitude. She serves on many committees, leads professional development in the district, constantly reads professional books, listens to education podcast while she works out, and is never afraid to try a new idea. If you could genetically create the perfect teacher, she would be your outcome. So I knew if she was feeling stuck in a rut, it’s likely others were feeling the same way.
I started thinking about how I could help with her self-proclaimed “attitude adjustment.” I spent quite a bit of time brainstorming ideas to lessen the stress just a little bit for her. I thought about a note with some encouraging words or maybe a sweet treat, but neither idea seemed like it would really relieve that overworked stress. I started to think about one of the best gifts I have ever received. It was from my superintendent last year. He said, “I can’t give you a big bonus, but I can give you the gift of time as a thank you.” He told the building principals in the district to take some time off and do something we enjoy. (By the way, I chose to spend my afternoon reading at my favorite local bookstore while sipping my favorite drink of choice…coffee). This ‘gift of time’ was exactly what she needed. I knew she was an avid reader and would appreciate nothing more than some quiet time to read, to recharge, to refill, and to refresh.
Each staff member at Hemmeter Elementary completes a “Favorite Things” survey at the beginning of the year. Once completed, we share the results in a Google Doc. The survey includes things like favorite hot beverage, favorite magazine, favorite snack, favorite candy bar, and many more. It’s a great resource if you want to give someone a token of appreciation or surprise them with a treat. I checked the teachers’ favorite list and picked up a copy of the latest issue of People magazine, a XL pack of peanut M&Ms, a bottle of water, Cool Ranch Doritos, a frosted donut, and a Tim Hortons hot chocolate. I put it all in a gift bag and headed down to her room.
I left the bag in the hallway and entered her room. I asked if I could talk to her class for a couple of minutes. She called her class to attention and alerted them that I wanted to talk to them. “Can you please leave your work right on your desk, push in your chair, and quietly head across the hall to the computer lab.” Everyone looked slightly confused, but they followed my instructions. The teacher was at the end of the line, but I cut her off before she could exit. I handed her the gift bag and told her the one rule: no work allowed. I then told her I’d be back to deliver her class in 45 minutes.
I took the kids over to the computer lab and I did something I love to do with the students: I played coding games with them. The students showed me the Scratch games they have been creating and we challenged each other to solve the different programs. It was a blast! About halfway through the allotted time, I received this picture from the teacher:
Based on her tears when I left the room with her students, I know the teacher was very touched by the gesture. This was about much more than giving a teacher some relaxation time. It was about more than saying thank you with some of her favorite things. It was about telling this teacher: “You are special, you are valued, you are appreciated, and when you need a pick me up, I have your back.”
I could sense the rest of the staff could use a little pick me up as well. I went back to the “Favorite Things” Google Doc. and looked at the favorite hot beverage, favorite candy bar, and favorite donut list. After a quick stop at Starbucks, Kroger, and Tim Hortons I had everyone’s favorite drink, candy, and donut. I loaded them on a cart and went to visit each person including the kitchen crew, recess aides, and custodian, in the building. It was a small gesture, but an unexpected one. I think that is one of the things that made this meaningful. It was a seemingly random act of kindness. It was out of the blue on a random Friday in January. No one was expecting it, but everyone needed it.
In the end, the kicker is that I think I ended up getting recharged, refilled, and refreshed the most. It feels good to do something nice for someone else. It especially feels good to do something nice for the most amazing group of people I know: teachers. Please share your random acts of kindness with me on Twitter @jcbailey3