My Visit to St. Michaels University School

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It was a scorching hot day as I pulled up to the front of the gorgeous brick building and emerged from my car, weighed down by bulky bags of art supplies and all of the equipment necessary for my impending presentation on kindness.

Greeted by the warm and friendly staff, I was directed to the spacious auditorium where over 160 school-aged ELL students from St.Michaels University School’s ISPY program would soon fill the seats.

“I should mention,” one of the staff members announced apologetically, “they’ve mistakenly been told by their houseparents that they are set to go to the museum this afternoon. There’s been a schedule mix-up. I have to warn you, some of the kids are disappointed to be stuck on campus for a presentation.”

Uh oh. My heart sank a little.

This was not the most ideal situation in which to greet a rather large bunch of middle-schoolers, let alone speak to them about kindness.

I have to admit, I started getting nervous.

I took a deep breath, “Ok. No problem. We’ll make it work!”

Within minutes, kids began filing into the room. Some of them entered silently and sleepily. Others jostled one another, still riding high from the endorphins after a lively game of lunchtime basketball.

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I began my presentation, pleasantly surprised at how quickly they gave me the floor. Suddenly, due to a technical glitch, the video I wanted to play was inaudible and wouldn’t play properly (despite several soundchecks)…

#worstnightmare

“Uh oh, I’ve lost them!” I thought, maintaining the illusion of calm on the outside while ripples of panic lapped at my mind.

I explained that sometimes life hands us challenging situations to test out ability to overcome them. I thanked them for their patience, then completed my presentation (with the technical support of a few friendly teachers nearby).

The thing is, these kids, many of whom had been disappointed initially at the prospect of staying on campus extended me the most generous, warm reception at the end of the talk. They demonstrated their compassion and allowed me to feel comfortable within their presence, in spite of the glitches.

Throughout the rest of the afternoon, these students, from China, Korea, Russia, Mexico, Japan, Iran, and Taiwan, cycled through break-out sessions where they learned about mindfulness (from the amazing Lisa Baylis from Awaken the Well-Being of Educators), calming strategies, yoga, and kindness.

In my session, we created Kindness Rocks (lesson linked) and practiced English language skills through writing encouraging notes for friends, teachers, and family members together.

About a week later, I received a letter from St.Michaels University School. When I opened it, my heart just about burst open. Within the envelope were a number of letters, cards, notes, and even a hand-drawn portrait expressing thanks.

What touched my heart the most was that some of the students articulated their initial disappointment about having to sit in lecture hall, then noted that they came away from the presentation with a changed perspective about kindness and happiness.

I love to see children realize that their kind acts enable people to feel valued and seen, that their generosity can contribute to a happier world, and that their influence within their learning community matters.

A big thank you St. Michaels University School and my friend Allison for having me in! It was truly an honour.

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Camping…in a Nutshell

Camping…in a Nutshell

 

Frantically searching for a buried soother in the depths of a crumpled sleep sack,

Patiently stroking a sleepless child’s hair,

Whispering empty threats, in a desperate plea for just a few more minutes of elusive, delicious slumber…

“But, I’m hun-grrryyyy…”

It’s so early, even the birds haven’t yet begun to sing cheery songs.

This is camping, in a nutshell.

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Endless lists,

Mountains of clothes, dirty dishes, filthy feet,

Argh!

Wind and rain, sunburns, broken bones,

Band-Aids,

Can’t get warm.

“I’m really hun-grrryyyy…”

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Sometimes I find myself wondering what on Earth possessed our family to commit to yet another weekend in the wilderness. (Well, perhaps “wilderness” is a stretch, but this is about as close to it as I’d venture with my lot.)

Despite the challenges, there’s something about camping on the West Coast with my family that has us coming back to it again and again:

Grains of sand cling persistently to the underside of tiny curled toes

Exhausted little arms wrap their way lovingly around my neck

Marshmallowed cheeks rest peacefully on my shoulder

Newly minted best-friends

Mesmerizing flames dance to the distant sound of laughter and delighted screeches of children

The way windswept tendrils of sun-bleached hair graze my arms as I envelop tiny shivering bodies still dripping from ice cold plunges into salty waves

When we stop doing and

Succumb to simply being,

When we trade our busy city-pace for

Island time.

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We connect.

Deeply and authentically,

We connect not only to nature,

But to the people and beings that inhabit it.

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In a comforting way, camping has a way of reminding us of

our smallness,

our insignificance.

It distills the important from the noise.

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I can’t wait to do it again in two weeks.

In the meantime, I’ll be catching up on laundry.

 

 

When You Lose Your Work…

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I’d like to wager that

every.

single.

person.

has likely experienced the bone-chill that accompanies the realization that the one thing into which you’ve been diligently pouring your blood, sweat, and tears…has vanished.

Forever.

Sometimes, all it takes is a single, fateful moment to undo hours, days, weeks, months, or even years of work, to delete precious and irreplaceable memories, or for achingly important items to go missing.

For example:

  • The near-complete set of report card comments you spend days crafting…poof.
  • Your computer crashes and important documents…gone.
  • The passport you need to board the plane back home… still sitting on the small round coffee table adjacent to the room service menu.
  • The one-of-a-kind baby photos you’ve been meaning to transfer from your phone to your computer…only a distant memory after a clumsy juggling act at your front door.

You get the picture…well, actually not any more.

Too soon?

In moments like those, my breath catches and my chest tightens, skin bristling with kinetic potential fueled by adrenaline. Frozen in time, I can sense the ever-quickening shallowness of my inhalations.

Have you ever mindfully noticed how your body reacts when it’s in panic mode?

It’s fascinatingly similar in likeness to your body being remotely occupied like a desktop computer by some tech assistant from a faraway land, who speaks an unrecognizable language, and keeps instructing you to do things you feel incapable of doing.

In other words, it’s easy to feel completely out of control.

In rapid succession, within the space of one week, three fairly-devastating events took place, delivering me to the very brink of my patience, and if I’m really honest, my sanity.

1. Just yesterday, while in the process of attempting to relocate and move my classroom resources after an extended parenthood leave, it dawned on me that due to a communication error more than 75% of my boxes had completely disappeared. Permanently. (Deep, deep freakin’ breath.)

2. Last week, after having had one of the most incredibly rewarding, gold-mine podcast interviews with a very VIP guest, my computer glitched, the software we were using to stage and record the call crashed unexpectedly and with it went the full hour-and-a-half interview. (Cue panicked hyperventilation.)

3. And, finally, yesterday morning, no sooner had the coffee touched my sleep-deprived lips, did I hear: “Moooooommmmmmyyy!”  To my horror, I discovered one of my blessed angels with ball-point-pen in hand and devious grin on face. There, laying face-up on our couch was the defaced page of Daniel Pink’s freshly-minted library-edition book I had meaning to dig into. (ARGH!!! Seriously, people?) The irony was not lost on me when upon closer inspection, the joyous scribbling had been contained to the opening page of the book, a quote:

 “Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” -Miles Davis

 

Was it a sign? Perhaps. With the intention of purchasing the book, I ripped the page out with purpose, and taped the quote to my fridge. Thank you, Miles Davis for the timely reminder of what truly matters in this world.

Although I may have lost some really important, seemingly irreplaceable items in short succession, the really important things in life will always remain intact.

These moments provide opportunities for deep practice in patience, letting go of our attachment to things, forgiveness (of self and others), adaptability, or at the very least, resisting the temptation to unleash unrelenting fury on the world.

Nestled within the struggle of ‘opportunities’ is the ability to rebuild a foundation that is even stronger than before.

Epilogue:

  1. Due to the generous nature of my podcast guest (and some reconfiguring of technical equipment), I was able to reschedule and rerecord the interview. I’d like to say that it was even better than the first.
  2. Those lost boxes enable me to enter a more minimalist approach to teaching, one I had always been meaning to adopt, anyway. No day like the present, I guess.
  3. In a way, I’m grateful for the quote. It was worth the $30 to be reminded to stay present in the now. It’s all we really ever have.

 

The Letter Every Teacher Should Write in June

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The Letter Every Teacher Should Write in June

Five years ago at the end of each school-year in the busy month of June, I started the practice of writing a letter to myself.  Like a ritual, I would seal the letter and place it in the left-hand drawer of my desk on the last day of school.  At the end of September, during the beginning of the following school year, a time when the lighthearted novelty of freshly sharpened pencils, crisp and clean notebooks, and excitement to ignite passion in the hearts of our students seems to melt like a brightly-coloured rainbow popsicle on a hot sunny day into thick greyish soup of overwhelm, lack of sleep, and a thorough sense of imposter syndrome, I would allow myself to pry open the letter. I would read each word slowly, with intention, allowing the message to sink into my skeptical spirit… reminding it that, yes, these students would get to where they needed to go. I just had to meet them where they were.

Patience. Time. Faith.

That was all I needed to keep in my mind over the coming months in order to stay afloat.

Throughout most of my career, I have had the pleasure of teaching Grade One, one of the most incredibly rewarding age-groups to teach because of the nature of exponential, near-explosive growth and learning that occurs in such a short period of time.

Like little jumping jellybeans, pint-size bodies file into the classroom in September,

eyes and hearts wide-open to the possibility of learning,

passionate about their beliefs,

sure-footed about their perspectives of the world,

filled with a desire be their authentic selves,

some students filled with trepidation,

others eager to show off their strengths,

certain children combative and oppositional,

other kids quiet and observing,

most are not yet able to

read,

write,

or do math.

There’s truly nothing like it!

It’s exhilarating.

It’s also incredibly exhausting.

But most of all, teaching Grade One (or any grade) can seem insurmountable in September.

The magic of the learning and deep growth that occurs within the soul of each child seems impossible to the rational teacher’s mind at the beginning of the year.

And so, the letter served to remind my “September-Self” that according to my “June-Self”…it would all work out.

No matter how long you’ve been teaching, the beginning of the year can seem tough. Why not take a moment now, in June, to reflect on how far your students have come, you have come together on your journey?

I urge you to jot it down on paper, pop it into an envelope and open that gift of insight and wisdom in September. It’ll alleviate some stress and create a sense of certainty for the future.

I guarantee, it’s the kindest thing you can do for yourself.

 

How These Well-Intentioned Compliments can Contribute to Devastating Inner Struggle

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“You’re so strong!”

“You’re so smart!”

“You’re so nice!”

How many times have we uttered these phrases, with the intention of bestowing our greatest admiration upon the receiver in front of us, whether a child, a colleague, a family member or a friend?

The truth is, when you’re told that you’re a certain way over and over, your identity can become inextricably linked to a particular set of traits or qualities.

What’s so bad about that?

Don’t we all want to exude a sense of effortless positive traits and be known for it?

What could honestly be so negative about reinforcing those characteristics in our loved ones?

Aren’t we being a little overly sensitive and PC?

When someone’s identity is so wrapped up in celebrated traits like emotional strength, kindness, intelligence, or happiness, it can be devastating and surprizing for that person (and others) when, for some reason, he or she can’t keep it up any longer.

The “strong” person shows vulnerability and cries.

The “smart” person gets a mediocre mark on a test.

The “nice” person shows anger.

Fixed or Growth Mindset?

Preoccupied by the desire to prove himself/herself, she might spend a great deal of energy trying to uphold the ideal of who he/she thinks she/he should be. As Dr.Carole Dweck asserts in her book Mindset, “I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves— in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?”

Just Keep Swimming

Like a duck in water, he might find himself paddling furiously underwater to keep the illusion of strength, control, discipline, or intelligence alive, when inside he is feeling anything but in control. Sooner or later, his energy wears thinner and thinner with every paddle. It becomes too hard to show up the way he wants-too exhausting. Suddenly, the fragile nature of his ego is exposed. He finds himself acting in ways that deviate from the traits with which he most identifies, which can feel confusing. The stakes feel really high. Above all, the desire to cling to certainty can become overwhelming. Hello, identity crisis.

Veterans and PTSD

Take, for example, the war veteran who has been necessarily conditioned throughout most of his or her career to be emotionally strong, overcome fear, and show up selflessly for others. These skills and traits are what a serviceperson requires in order to survive some of the horrors and trails associated with war. That being said, the after-effects associated with adverse conflict-related trauma can be devastating. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “it is estimated that up to 10% of war zone veterans—including war service veterans and peacekeeping forces—will go on to experience post-traumatic stress disorder.”What’s more, the conditioning that a serviceperson has undergone throughout his/her training often precludes him/her from demonstrating the vulnerability required to seek medical attention and support. There’s often a stigma attached to PTSD. It feels impossible to admit that he/she is struggling because his/her identity as a strong, capable, helper is so deeply entrenched in who they are.

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High-achievers = Higher expectations

Quite often in classrooms and schools across the globe, it can be easy to get caught-up in the capitalist-industrial pressure to keep improving, keep exceeding expectations. It’s pretty common for teachers to be more surprized by average to mediocre results from our high-achievers than by failure by the lower-achieving students in our classes.

We expect our high-achievers to continue high-level products, to continually be improving, but we don’t always make space for them to show up in an average or mediocre way. Quite often, childhood prodigies or high-achievers will do anything they can to avoid failure because the expectations on their achievement is so high. Perfectionism can set in, which can cause really intelligent, capable kids to seek certainty and comfort over risk-taking and creativity. According to Dr. Adam Grant (Originals), “Child prodigies usually pursue conforming achievement, following the well-worn paths to Carnegie Hall, the science Olympics, and chess championships. They succeed by expertly following the rules rather than making their own.”

Now, I am by no means suggesting that we should all start lowering the bar for some of these high-performers but do want to bring attention to the fact that sometimes these kids will strike out. They’ll produce lower quality work, once in a while. They might have a couple of bad ideas, but it doesn’t make them any less intelligent. They shouldn’t be shamed or ridiculed or pressured to do better every single time. They should be encouraged to ask interesting questions, pursue creative exploits, and to express themselves fully so that they may become originals in their own right.

Separate Traits from the Person

When we can separate the person from traits or qualities (positive and negative), we can allow for the normalization of a wide range of emotions and traits within a person, as opposed to a fixed perspective of who they are. It can be helpful to think of the power of growth mindset, which Dweck has described as “the passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well…This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

It is possible to free ourselves from the expectations of who we’re supposed to be and allow ourselves to sit within the essence of who we are, without judgement and with great admiration for ourselves and the journey that got us to where we are today.

Some practical replacements for common reinforcements:

            Instead of….                               Say….

You’re so strong!             ~                 You handled that with a lot of strength!

You’re so smart!        ~.                You solved that problem really well!

You’re so lucky!                  ~                  Way to be prepared for that opportunity!

You’re so pretty!                   ~                  That’s a lovely shirt. How do you feel in it?

You’re so organized!                 ~          You’ve thought of every detail. You must be feeling prepared.

https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-2/

Dr. Adam Grant (Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World)

Dr. Carole Dweck (Mindset)

 

Making Change, Drip-by-Drip: Child Soldiers, a Brave Citizen, and Goats

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Sometimes, we have it in our heads that in order to make impactful, positive change, we need to have some tangible finished product with a huge grand opening.

This is mostly a fallacy. It rarely exists. Big changes take time. It’s messy.

This concept of go big or go home, all or nothing makes it hard for us to want to get started in the first place. We put pressure on ourselves to have it all figured out. We think we need a roadmap with a clear destination. We think we’ve failed if the roadmap or direction eludes us.

Impact is almost always born out of a longer incubation period, where ideas, groundwork, and many failed attempts bring one closer to the goal of making a meaningful difference.

The thing I’ve realized is that the drip-by-drip, slow-and-steady approach seems to be the best way to get there, wherever “there” is.

Follow the string, pursue that thing that quickens your pulse, listen to the voice inside that tells you: this is where you need to go, be, see.

Sometimes, that voice is just barely audible. A whisper. But bit by bit, as you give it more space in your mind, it becomes amplified.

Trust it. Listen to it.

Don’t ask for it to make you money right away.

Don’t ask for it to be neat and tidy and rational. It probably won’t be.

As Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward.”

So, start at the beginning and trust that your intuition will take you where you need to go.

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I just had the pleasure of talking to Dr. Scilla Elworthy (a three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, global peace negotiator, and author) for the podcast I am recording, who told me the story of Henri Bora Ladyi, who has been called “Africa’s Schindler.” All he knew was that he wanted to prevent his horrendous experience as a child soldier from repeating itself. He knew that he couldn’t stop the practice of mobilizing children from war from happening, but he knew he could make a big difference for a few children.

Across the world, 250,000 children are estimated to be involved in armed conflict. An ex- child soldier, himself, Henri, listened to the call after having escaped, and risked his life to rescue child soldiers in the Congo. He became an ad-hoc mediator and negotiator, making it his mission to continue to save child soldiers.

At one point, Henri was contacted by militia commanders, with whom he had built a sense of trust. They had too many mouths to feed. Hoping to establish an exchange for supplies they offered to demobilize some of the child soldiers in return for goats. As a result, Henri was able to negotiate an exchange rate of 10 animals for 40 children. With the help of UK charity Peace Direct, he was able to free 100 children.

Now, Henri makes it his mission to continue going back into the bush to trade goats, at a price of $5, for a child he can bring back to their family.

Henri didn’t have a clear roadmap in his head. No one gave him license to do what he did. He was guided by the urgency to take action. He had ingenuity and an innovative mindset. He risked his livelihood for the lives of others and has made an incredible difference to the lives of hundreds of people as a result.

To learn more about Peace Direct and fund projects like Henri’s, check out their website: peacedirect.org 

 

Sources:

www.scillaelworthy.com

www.peace direct.org

Photo From: www.foreignpolicyblogs.com (Neil Thompson)

 

 

 

On this Mother’s Day…

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On this Mother’s Day… 

Let us remember to honour and hold space for those 

Who long to be mothers

Who cannot, in the way they envisioned, be mothers

Who have experienced devastating loss as mothers

Who have gained more than they ever thought imaginable as mothers

Who have broken down on their journey as mothers

Who enjoy every single moment as mothers

Who have stepped in as mothers

Who have had to step away as mothers

Who walk alongside mothers

Who

Struggle

Thrive

Teach

Learn

Fail

Succeed

Support

Judge as mothers

Who accept our own imperfection as mothers

Who strive for our best as mothers

 

We are all doing our best.

You are doing your best.

I am doing my best.

 

With Love,

Morgane

Hating People Close-Up is Nearly Impossible

Hating People Close-Up is Nearly Impossible

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It was a hectic Saturday morning. Everyone seemed in a rush to attack the ‘to-do’ list so the true ‘weekend’ could commence. There would be causalities. It was inevitable.

Grey drizzle hung low in the air, immediately dampening everything in its path. With soggy urgency, people raced from the warm comfort of their cars to the refuge of grocery and home improvement stores, lists in hand.

My friend was waiting in the McDonald’s drive-through line-up when it happened.  As he placed his order, he saw a woman on a moped cautiously turning right from the busy throughway to join the line-up. Suddenly, a man driving an enormous truck hurried through the entrance of the parking lot, cutting her off and almost causing her to lose control of the moped as he found his place in line behind my friend’s vehicle.

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The woman managed to regain her composure but was visibly shaken. She yanked her moped’s handles in the direction of his truck and pulled-up next to his window with a jolt. Screaming profanities up at him through the driver’s side window, she leaned over, and standing up, started knocking and smacking at his window, urging him to engage. And engage, he did. Back against a wall, he rolled down his window and declared war. Within moments, both were hurling ferocious insults at one-another and the name-calling was gaining momentum. Passers-by were staring and rubber-necking, but no one dared step-in to intervene.

My friend, who had been watching their conflict escalate through his rear-view mirror as he waited, felt helpless. What could he do? He had to do something. This couldn’t go on like this! It could get ugly, fast.

Perhaps, he could shame these two into submission. Pressing the button, started to lower his driver-side window, adrenaline kicking in as he prepared to jump into the fray. Abruptly, he realized that adding another angry, righteous voice to the conflict would surely worsen the situation. Quickly, he raised the window again. Now, feeling even more powerless than before.

He began thinking about the two people arguing behind him. The woman had felt legitimately threatened. Devastating accidents happen all the time. The man had been careless. It could have cost her.

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Then, my friend turned his attention to the driver of the truck. He had been inconsiderate and reckless. He could have caused catastrophic damage. But, he likely didn’t set out with the intention to hurt anybody that morning. His intent had not been to hurt. It almost never is. The momentary haste and lack of empathy had caused him to err. And now, instead of humbly owning his mistake and offering a sincere apology, he allowed his fight instinct to kick-in. Now, in a threatened state, he was out for the win.

It’s hard to hate people close-up.* Most of us don’t like to zoom in on our adversaries. When we do, we risk seeing things from their side. We risk losing. It feels much safer to take a side and fight for the win. It happens all the time. We demonize people, through-and-through. Black and white is easier. Good versus evil. It’s not easy to allow and train ourselves to see the grey area. There’s too much at stake.

It feels risky to be generous with our assumptions. When bad things happen or when people hurt us, it’s so easy to over-generalize our experience. One might create a frame of reference around the experience. It becomes easier to assume that the entire world is filled with hurtful people, that everyone is deliberately out to get us, and that we can only rely on ourselves. One can easily lose touch with the inherent, imperfect beauty of humanity.

It was time for my friend to pay for his cappuccino and muffin. Still behind him, the two continued their struggle. Although he would be incapable of solving their conflict directly, he realized he could still have a positive impact. He paid for his order. Then, glancing back, he paid for their orders, too.

*Source: Braving the Wilderness Brené Brown and Peanuts (Shultz)

My Interview with Barry-Wehmiller: the $2B Company that Chose People over Layoffs During the 2008 Recession

My Interview with Barry-Wehmiller: the $2B Company that Chose People over Layoffs During the 2008 Recession

Check out my guest-post here.

What is the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge?

In our current world filled with uncertainty, ubiquitous inundation of technology, and political turmoil, many of us are feeling more and more disconnected from the very thing that has been scientifically proven to determine our overall sense of happiness: our connection to one another. Anxiety, loneliness, depression, and suicide rates continue to rise within populations across North America. In the name of efficiency and cost cutting, many businesses focus on numbers over people. Many schools focus on grades and achievement, instead of cultivating conscientious, passionate, innovative, and entrepreneurial students. On both macro and micro levels, it feels as though our country, many businesses, organizations, and schools are in crisis.

As bestselling author on workplace motivation and behavioural management Dan Pink asserts, “individuals spend over half of their waking hours at work.” Most people want to feel like they are contributing to something bigger than themselves, that what they are doing is meaningful, and essentially, that they matter.

I believe we are all responsible for the cultures in which we work, learn, and live, and it falls on the shoulders of our leaders to show us the way.

The Small Act Big Impact 21-Day Challenge serves to promote and cultivate safe and supportive cultures in workplaces and educational organizations.  We encourage individuals from all walks of life (leaders, employees, parents, students) to intentionally commit to performing at least one altruistic act per day for 21 consecutive days, putting aside differences, busy schedules, expectations of recompense, and assumptions, to do so. What’s incredible is that it’s scientifically proven that people not only feel happier when they do kind acts, but their actions actually contribute to making those around them happier, too! The kicker? By committing to 21-days of intentional kindness, habits of perspective-taking, altruism, and gratitude are formed at the neurological level and eventually lead to significant positive, long-lasting ripple-effects in workplace and institutional cultures.

How can businesses incorporate the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge within their workplaces?

The 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Kindness Challenge starts with a conscious commitment from individual employees, employers, and/ or companies to come up with meaningful ways to add value to their corporate culture throughout a dedicated 21-day period. It can be as simple as buying a coffee for a co-worker, congratulating a team-member on a recent success, writing an appreciative email, or listening to a friend vent, without judgement.

Or, it can be as far-reaching as, CEO of $2+ billion-dollar global supplier and manufacturer Barry-Wehmiller, Bob Chapman’s legendary furlough program, through which he was able to avoid devastating layoffs in 2008 by implementing a mandatory unpaid 4-week vacation. As Chapman has said, “It’s better that we should all suffer a little, than any of us should have to suffer a lot.” The leader is responsible for setting the tone through the choices they make, not by simply plastering their walls with slogans that sound good or are ‘on trend.’ We must ask ourselves daily whether we are proud of our interactions. It comes down to choosing integrity over what feels easy.Taking care of our employees and coworkers reinforces that they matter. We should all be striving toward actively creating workplace, educational, and community cultures guided by principles of tolerance, respect, and generosity.

How did the idea for the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge come about?

I read Simon Sinek’s incredible book, Leaders Eat Last(which told the story of Bob Chapman and Barry-Wehmiller) while on maternity leave with my second child. So many of the ideas he shared resonated deeply with me. In the book, he explains effects of stress and kindness on the brain.

Cortisol, Sinek explains, is the stress chemical dischargedby the brain into our body. It shuts down all of the non-essential functions in our bodies like digestion, growth, and our immune system so that we can instantly react to danger by running away, fighting, or freezing.Cortisol also directly stops the flow of oxytocin (the empathy hormone) in our bodies.The problem is, people are feeling stressed out more and more frequently and cortisol is staying in our bodies for way too long. It’s having harmful effects on our health, mental well-being, and most importantly, our ability to connect with people.

Oxytocin, the hormoneresponsible for the feelings of love, connection, and empathy is released when we receive or perform an altruistic act. It turns out, oxytocin is also released when someone simply witnesses a nice gesture. Incredibly, neuroscientists have discovered that genuine kindness is literally contagious and has the power to counteract the effects of stress. Consequently, simply engaging in kind acts can make those around us happier and less-stressed through association.

It was the first time I had truly come across the science of kindness as it relates to workplaces and educational cultures.It felt like a powerful realization for me. As a teacher and aspiring educational leader, I naturally began thinking about the way that these theories could be adapted for implementation within the classroom and our school communities.

Teachers and educational leaders need to work actively to create supportive environments that foster a sense of belonging, especially if we wish to create cultures of innovation within our schools and post-secondary institutions. After all, we are preparing our students for the very uncertain future. We need to teach them to innovate and adapt. We need to encourage students to try new things, share their ideas, take risks, and feel the sting of failure in a safe environment.

So, I asked myself: How can we encourage individuals to become responsible for the culture of empathy in their workplaces, educational organizations, and institutions, and to do so with the intent of creating lasting change?

That’s when I came up with the idea of a 21-day kindness challenge. Intentional kind acts would result in a more positive change in culture and extending it to a 21-day campaign, would ensure lasting change.

What differentiates the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge from the random and sporadic nature of other kindness initiatives is the 21-day commitment. If we’re to create positive shifts within our cultures long-term, we need to fundamentally change our habits.

Shawn Achor, Harvard-educated author of The Happiness Advantage, states that it takes approximately 21 days to develop a single new habit. In 2008, he led a study with a large group of tax managers at KMPG to test the habits directly related to fostering optimism and happiness through kindness and gratitude. “Our brains don’t like change,” he noted. Nevertheless, the more you practice kindness and gratitude, the stronger the neuro-pathways become, which helps to make these habits become more automatic. Think of it like exercising a muscle. The more you practice perspective taking, random acts of kindness, and act altruistically, the easier it becomes. After the 21-days (and 4 months later after a subsequent retest), the experimental group’s score was much higher than the control group’s when it came to overall “optimism and life satisfaction.” This proves that practicing habits of kindness and gratitude towards others can not only create lasting habits but can also dramatically affect your own happiness.

So, I got to work. After creating a short and impactful animated whiteboard video explaining the challenge, I began touring a number of school districts, speaking in classrooms, at whole-school group assemblies, and, basically, spreading the word. That was nine months ago! The results and interest in the challenge have been phenomenal.

Currently, I am working on a number of projects that reflect the values of the Small Act Big Impact Challenge. I am in the process of designing professional development to provide teachers and leaders with a roadmap for integrating the program within their classrooms and schools in a cohesive way. I also write a weekly blog about kindness, resilience, and vulnerability. Because I am a huge fan of podcasts, the Small Act Big Impact 21-Day Challenge will be launching our very own podcast this summer! Finally, I’m putting my money where my mouth is through two projects that are close to my heart. Next year, we will be holding the Second Annual Small Act Big Impact Charity Photoshoot for single-parents through our synergy with a local non-profit organization. Ten world-class photographers have committed to providing low-income single parents from my hometown with beautiful, quality photo keepsakes of their families, free of charge. I am also currently working on developing a photo-journalism project that will tell the stories of and directly benefit the homeless population in my city. In a nutshell, this project has been tremendously rewarding!

What is “Minute Monday?” What is your hope for these videos?

Our lives are so busy! Many of us barely have 5 minutes for ourselves to meditate, eat well, or exercise, let alone time to stay up to date on the latest inspiring ideas and thought leaders out there.

My YouTube Minute Monday Series is a bite-sized, one-minute glimpse into the big influencers who inspired the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge. Generally, the videos reinforce and provide examples of the possibility of intentional, daily kindness.

My hope is that individuals will resonate with what they see and become inspired to learn more about and incorporate some of the altruistic and innovative ideas within their own lives to make their workplaces, homes, and communities more positive, supportive places. I know from personal experience, sometimes, all it takes is a spark of inspiration to make big, lasting change.

The thing is, we can all contribute to kind and resilient cultures through our actions, whether we do so publically or through the small things we do daily. We all stand to benefit from a stronger sense of connection to one another. The 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge is intended for anyone who wants to make his/her life more fulfilling and to inspire others to live in much the same way.

Together, let’s make a big impact, one small act at a time.