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Leaving a Mark

Cantaloupe

Elbows planted firmly on the kitchen table and hands clasped contentedly around a cantaloupe rind….my four-year-old son was loving life! As his big blue eyes scanned the room the juice from the ripe orange melon that he was devouring meandered down both arms. I was taking in the scene and noted how similar his beautiful eyes were to his mother’s. I also noticed a bright green mark on his arm. Actually, it was borderline neon.  I quickly connected the dots.

Rewind 30 minutes:

The innocuous request my daughter had made just a half an hour before preparing lunch seemed like a great idea at the time.  I was wrapping up a school project and she volunteered to make lunch. She also asked if it would be ok to “be creative” while making the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. How could I refuse?! We occasionally add bananas and honey to our sandwiches, and when we really want to live on the edge we cut off the crust and make sandwich-shaped butterflies. I never saw the green food coloring and candy-colored baking sugars coming!  Never-the-less, when she surprised us with a platter of somewhat soggy green sandwiches coated in confectioner’s sprinkles we tried to embrace it. Much to my wife’s chagrin, one of my mantras is, “A mess is evidence of fun.”

Food Coloring

Back to the Cantaloupe:

As we enjoyed the remaining cantaloupe (green arms and all) I reflected on all the marks in our students’ lives. Some marks are “evidence of fun” like grass-stained jeans from an epic recess soccer game. Other marks are unseen and might be attributed to anxiety over a disagreement with a classmate or the heartbreak and fear connected to a variety of possible family circumstances.

In each of these situations the relationships that teachers have with their students serve as the underpinnings of healing, safety, and eventual learning.  The painful truth of the matter is that some marks aren’t bright green and they can’t be washed off. Nobody understands this better than the amazing professionals in our children’s classrooms. This is where hope and love enter the equation.

Just like my son’s bright green arms…there’s a story behind every mark. The most humbling thing about working in a school is that we also have the chance to leave marks on the hearts and minds of our students and co-workers each and every day. These are the kind of marks that have the powerful potential to overshadow some of the darker dilemmas that our students may encounter. Kindness continues to be one of the most powerful forces in the world, and one that cuts through the dark like a brilliant flame.

More vivid than green food coloring, the mark of encouragement, unswerving love, patience, and time can impact the very trajectory of a child’s life. In all you do…leave this kind of mark.

Image Credits: ifood.tv and bonappetit.com

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The Greatest Gift

This past week has been one of deep reflection and sadness. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut reminds us all of the fragility of life. My heart breaks thinking about the lives lost and the holes in the hearts of the survivors. It is crushing. It is difficult to know what to think or even attempt to make sense out of something so absolutely and devastatingly senseless. In fact, the only thing that truly made sense to me this past weekend was to hug my children often and to show my family abundant love.

As educators and parents we have the awesome responsibility of gifting future generations with lessons not found in most textbooks or e-readers; compassion, empathy, cooperation, respect and peace are character traits and virtues that we model and teach one interaction at a time….with our families, friends, coworkers and perfect strangers. While proficiency on the state standards and mastery of the ACT or SATs is a goal, one of the greatest gifts we can pass on to the children in our homes and classrooms is the ability to master caring and to help them be proficient in showing kindness.

“If you have the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” ~One of Mr. Brown’s precepts in Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

We are carefully reviewing our school’s safety protocols, and will continue to conduct regular crisis drills over the course of the school year. We will also do the little things that make a BIG difference. We’ll strive to make choices that impact attitudes and dispositions….lifting spirits and building community. I emphatically encourage you to join us in this important endeavor; when given the chance….choose kindness. Choose it often. Authentically. Unswervingly. Choose it when you are in a hurry. Choose it when it’s not deserved. Choose kindness because it makes a difference and impacts generations.

We never know what tomorrow will bring. Embrace the day and fill it with kindness overflowing. Let gratitude be your trademark and courage to confront callousness be your calling card.

Blessings and peace to you and yours.

Originally posted December 18, 2012

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