Friday, February 24, 2017

The Great Kindness Challenge

The Kaufman Cougar standing next to 
Kaufman Elementary School's marquee advertising 
"The Great Kindness Challenge" week for 2017
Kids at Kaufman Elementary School are focused on more than just the three "R's" this school year, and the neighborhood is starting to take notice—to our individual and collective benefit.  

I have no direct ties to Kaufman; my kids are still too young to attend elementary school.  I learned about the "Great Kindness Challenge" while jogging past the school's south side along Northridge Forest Drive; the challenge was advertised on their marquee.  It readily caught my attention and as I continued my jog eastward, I began wondering what it was all about.  My curiosity being thus piqued, I decided to visit the school to learn more.

Tina Oliver is Principal at George C. Kaufman III Elementary School, a K-4 elementary school in Southeast Montgomery County where a little over 800 students are enrolled.  Principal Oliver welcomed me into her school with a smile and provided me with an opportunity to visit with her and Mrs. Stephanie Shaw—a second grade teacher at Kaufman and the originator of the initiative—in her office where I learned all about the Great Kindness Challenge and related character and leadership oriented initiatives at Kaufman.

WAVE Club Members waiting to greet their fellow students with
poster messages encouraging them toward kindness and respect.
After spending an hour with these two positive, enthusiastic, capable educators, I came away uplifted by the work being done in my neighborhood's local elementary school—the school my children are projected to attend beginning in 2018.  I was further inspired by the ripple effects for good that "The Great Kindness Challenge," and other, similar initiatives, are promoting throughout the community.

The WAVE Club

And speaking of ripples, that is where it all began—with Kaufman's "WAVE Club," a fourth grade club created and led by Stephanie Shaw, who patterned her student organization after a similar club pioneered by a friend and colleague of Shaw's who teaches at another school.

The purpose of the WAVE Club is to help students develop strong character, develop leadership skills, and serve others to thereby create productive "waves" and a corresponding "ripple effect" that positively impacts others throughout the community.  Students who join the WAVE club are well behaved, demonstrate leadership potential, are willing to invest the time and energy required by an extracurricular activity, and typically come recommended by another teacher.  The Club meets twice a month after school for 90 minutes to learn how to be a good citizens and effective leaders.  Most importantly, they engage in service projects that benefit the community.

Some of the service projects that Shaw's WAVE club has undertaken since its inception earlier this year include:

  1. Making fleece blankets for local women's shelters, children battling cancer at Houston's world renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center, and local animal shelters.
  2. Donating toys and other items to MD Anderson for families visiting a loved one in the hospital.
  3. Decorating a Kaufman staff member's home at Christmas.  The staff member has cancer and chemo therapy treatments had left her too weak and ill to do it on her own.
  4. Helping assemble shoes for children in Uganda through the Sole Hope program.
  5. Collecting rocks which the students then paint and affix kindness quotes thereon before strategically placing them throughout the neighborhood for others to find.

The Great Kindness Challenge

Avery Moss, a 4th grade student and WAVE Club Member 
at Kaufman, prepares for "The Great Kindness Challenge"
In January, Kaufman's WAVE Club sponsored "The Great Kindness Challenge."  As it turns out, The Great Kindness Challenge is actually an international movement that began in 2006 thanks to the efforts of Danielle Gram and Jill McManigal, co-founders of Kids for Peace, a non-profit organization that promotes youth leadership, community service, and global friendships.

The goal of the Great Kindness Challenge is to promote kind acts of service throughout the school and community.  Kaufman Elementary School both took part in the International Challenge held January 22-26 last month.  The Challenge's overall impact included over 500 million acts of kindness touching the lives of over 10 million students in over 15,000 schools in 90 different countries around the globe!

Shaw and her WAVE Club students led the way at Kaufman by being examples of kindness on campus throughout the week.  They also spent time outside the school near the bus loading zones before and after school greeting students and encouraging them toward kind attitudes and actions.

Dr. Don Stockton, Superintendent of CISD, at Kaufman 
examining a student's kindness project.
Principal Oliver, an enthusiastic advocate of Shaw's work with the WAVE Club, helped to further ensure a successful week by promoting the Great Kindness Challenge each day on the morning announcements.  Oliver and Shaw also invited special guests to visit the school during the week to participate in the morning announcements and further ensure its promotion and success.

These guests included:

The results of the initiative were visible throughout the school all week and beyond.  Further evidence of the program's success was seen on social media and otherwise shared anecdotally among faculty, staff, parents, and students.  Oliver and Shaw agree that a spirit of kindness, respect, and camaraderie was indeed elevated throughout the school's hallways and classrooms during the week.  More importantly, the initiative has helped students to remember the importance of kindness and respect generally speaking, so as to move beyond the confines of just one, isolated week in January.

Mrs. Stephanie Shaw with her family

Mrs. Stephanie Shaw

Stephanie Shaw — the 2016-2017 Kaufman Teacher of the Year — is originally from Huntsville, Texas. After graduating from Huntsville High School in 1994, she began pursuing a degree in business at Sam Houston State.  Early on in her college career, Shaw got a summer job at Sky Ranch (a youth summer camp) near Tyler, Texas.  Working with young people changed her perspective on what she desired from a career and she quickly changed her major from business to elementary education.

After graduating with her Bachelor's degree in 1998, she got a job as a long-term substitute teacher at Scott Johnson Elementary in Huntsville.  During the next two years, she taught at Huntsville Elementary.  The following year she was hired on at Oak Ridge Elementary in The Woodlands, where she taught for two additional years before giving birth to twin girls.  After spending a year at home with her newborns, Shaw taught for a couple more years at Oak Ridge before getting hired at Kaufman, where she has been a second grade teacher ever since.  According to Principal Oliver, Shaw is a highly valued member of a stellar faculty at Kaufman.

Shaw wishes to acknowledge Jill Martin, Missy Flanagan, and Donna Gregory.  Martin and Flanagan serve with Shaw on Kaufman's second grade team and have assisted the WAVE Club throughout the year in a variety of ways.  Gregory is Kaufman's art teacher and has allowed the WAVE Club to use her art room for many of the service projects.

An Example and Light to the Community

Freedom Focused commends Mrs. Stephanie Shaw and Mrs. Tina Oliver for the uplifting and inspired work they have undertaken at their school in Southeast Texas.  It is our hope that other educators throughout Texas and the United States (and beyond) will read about their work in this blog post and, in turn, determine tangible ways and means of promoting leadership, character, and life-skill education in their own schools, classrooms, communities, homes, and lives.

To assist educators with this grand objective, Dr. Jordan Jensen has written a book to serve as a comprehensive textbook in self-leadership and character education that administrators, teachers, coaches, and others can use in the education of our youth—as well as their own, ongoing leadership education.  

We invite you to buy and read Dr. Jordan Jensen's new book: Self-Action Leadership: The Key to Personal, Professional, & Global Freedom.  We further invite you to pay special attention to Book the Fourth (Part 4), whereby Dr. Jensen highlights the efforts of several additional educators who have found creative ways to teach and promote leadership, character, and life-skill education in classrooms in the States of Georgia and Texas.

Click HERE to Buy a Copy of Self-Action Leadership

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