“ I love the premise of the kindness week because obviously we need more kindness in the world. And I think the intention behind them is let's set aside a week where we're sort of intentionally practicing, which is wonderful but I think those listening know as well as I do that kindness should be more than a week. Kindness should be all year long. Kindness should be a lifestyle.”
— Houston Kraft
- John: All right, everybody. Welcome to the CharacterStrong Podcast, Season Two.
- Houston: Here we go.
- John: We are season two. We are so excited. What, 55 episodes, I think it was, in season one. Houston, great to be on with you to talk and to kick off season two. It's been a blast, man. Talking with educators and experts around the country about things that are so important to school wide climate and culture work, what we're doing to support the whole child. It's been a blast, man.
- Houston: Yes it has. I think it's one of my favorite things we do. We did a tight 55 episodes season one. The most long form bingeable Netflix series I think you can imagine. So if you haven't caught up, 55 episodes, they're about 10 minutes each. So 550 minutes of pure stuff. We say cut the fluff right to the stuff. So it's all good stuff.
- John: Yeah. Yeah. And we noticed a couple of times we kind of inched over that 10 minutes, so we're going to really work hard to keep it around that and it's been awesome. I mean we want to do the same with this one and not let it go too far, but just like the response has been pretty amazing and people are like, that's exact amount of time that I have or if they have more time they're like, "Man, I totally binge listen." Every week I'll be I need to catch up so I'll listen to four in one. And they love the shorter because they get to hear different perspectives from different people. One of my favorites was a principal who said, "I listen to your podcast every week as I drive my motorcycle into work." And I'm just, that just feels cool. Which is great.
- Houston: Well, here we are in season two and this is one of my favorite things that we get to do, because I know a lot of times either you're hosting them, you host them a lot, you are the voice of the CharacterStrong podcast. I get to make guest appearances every once in awhile, but we get to do these together now and again where we just chat about the things that we've seen or learned between the two of us being in nearly a thousand schools, and CharacterStrong now working with over a thousand schools all over the country. So this is the topics podcast.
- John: Yeah. So let's get right into it, man. So some topics, if we were to throw it out for you. We talk a lot about different character traits, social, emotional learning. And I know that kindness is something that we hit on a lot that you speak beautifully about, powerfully about. So let's talk about like even just because we're going into the year, Hugh. Let's talk about like kindness weeks.
- Houston: Yes.
- John: That's the topic.
- Houston: The infamous kindness week. I love the premise of the kindness week because obviously we need more kindness in the world. And I think the intention behind them is let's set aside a week where we're sort of intentionally practicing, which is wonderful but I think those listening know as well as I do that kindness should be more than a week. Kindness should be all year long. Kindness should be a lifestyle. And I think some of the things that we butt up against when it comes to putting on something like this, at number one, one of the things I share a lot with students is just to me, I think the idea of kindness is so big. I think about it like the menu with the Cheesecake Factory, it's like there's so many choices to practice kindness that sometimes when our brain gets overwhelmed, we tend to default to the things that we know and feel familiar with. There's sort of this collective consciousness around kindness in our country that would tell us that the only three ways to practice kindness is high fives in the hallway, Post It Notes on lockers, writing inspirational things on mirrors, making sure everyone gets a tee shirt or a clothes pin that says you're awesome. And don't get me wrong, I think those things are wonderful.
- Houston: But I also think that there's like a whole lot more rich ways to practice kindness if we know how to think about kindness in maybe a more specific way. So one of the things we talk about it at CharacterStrong as its specificity drives action and specificity drives meaning.
- John: That's good.
- Houston: And when it comes to kindness, I think that's huge, right? Because the more specific the kindnesses to the person, the more meaningful that typically is.
- Houston: So when it comes to to setting up a kindness week, number one, my challenge would be how do we break out of that box of the traditional five, the same thing we ordered at the Cheesecake Factory simply because we're used to ordering it.
- Houston: And so I like to think about maybe it's not so much general things, but maybe we can spend not even just a week, but maybe it's a whole month or each day or each week, we focus on different groups of people so that those acts of kindness are more specific. So maybe it's day one is kindness towards our lunch staff or our cafeteria staff. Day two is towards the front office staff. Day three is kindness towards our bus drivers. Day four. So you kind of start to break it up into specific groups of people and then brainstorm using those people as the vehicle to brainstorm specificity. So what's the most kind thing we could do for the bus drivers? Well that changes the way that we think about that whole week. So that'd be sort of like one philosophical approach. And then part two, obviously if we believe that kindness is more than a week, I love what Lewisville High School or Lewisville School District in Dallas, Texas has been doing where they recruit different groups on campus to own each week of the school year.
“...what are you doing to welcome your new students intentionally to make the time? Because when they become upperclassmen, when they become the older students, they will far more be likely to want to sign up to welcome the new students that are coming in. They'll also far more likely treat them with kindness and respect during the year because they were made to feel that way collectively as a new member of this community.”
— John Norlin
- Houston: And their responsibility is two fold. First of all, that group should be to school early and they're greeting at the doors in the morning so that every entrance has people welcoming students in and staff. And then the group is supposed to plan something during lunch to promote kindness or the practice of kindness in your life or at school. And what I love about how I've seen that play out over the past year is groups start to get competitive about it, right? They start to try to figure out what's the, how do we be, how do we create an act of kindness or a practice of kindness that's even more interesting or cool or worthwhile or exciting than last week's group. And it's a really simple setup. The principal does sort of organizes, or the student leadership advisor organizes a little spreadsheet. People sign up, they record who's going to stand at what door when and what the idea for the practice of kindness is that week. And then you not only get all sort of stakeholders involved in the practice, but now it's not just a kindness week, it's a whole kindness year. That's what I'm talking about.
- John: I love it. Yeah. And if you're not, I mean if someone listening is on Twitter, you need to follow #LISDkind because-
- Houston: #lisdbekind.
- John: ... It is like awesome. The work that they're doing all over. Yeah, I mean it's inspiring to see and I've never seen a district better brand what it is that they're doing to get energy around it. So kudos to you Lewisville and the work that you're doing. Cool, man. That's a good topic to start season two. Anything for me?
- Houston: Well, one of the things I know you did a number of times while you were teaching was sort of that back to school for students and staff. What do you do as people are transitioning back to school?
- John: Yeah, I mean I think the frame here is that we only get one chance to make a first impression and to be very practical and very quick on this podcast to get people thinking. One is the idea of our staff comes back before our students. So on the staff's first day back, what are we doing intentionally? Now I know a lot of people will plan what they're doing in the first staff meetings and other things, but I would say get students at the door, get students at all the main entrances greeting staff as they come back to kick off the year.
- John: Talk about a way to motivate. Here are the people that we are serving. Here are the students that we were serving who are saying, "We are so excited that you're coming back to start the year." And you can do that a lot of times through your potentially student leaders or student representatives of different clubs and groups that will gladly come back to have that. What a great way to start the year.
- John: What are we doing for our new students? So having a really intentional freshman, if it's at the high school level or maybe sixth graders depending on how you have your middle school or junior high set up, but that transition program utilizing mentors in the school. One of our favorites that we promote is Link Crew and Web Crew. They do an amazing job of training the adults to be able to then implement that program for their students. And we know that those transition years are critical.
- John: So one, it's a school and district making time for those new students to transition. If your school or district does their transition program where it's before school starts and you need to show up in an evening to an event and you are only getting half the population to attend, that's not a transition program. That is like an option night where you can come and learn about the school.
- John: So we need to make time on that first day. So we always would, the majority of day one was only the new students and we had over 200 and some odd mentors, upperclassmen or older students who were spending that first half of the day, transitioning them in. So welcoming them, taking them through their schedule, doing fun activities with them and making that statement that is so critical, which is "We are so glad that you're here. You are a part of our community. You matter." And alleviating many of those anxieties that they have early on. Even like "Where's my locker?" if a school uses lockers. "Where do I go from point A to point B? If you're not taking the time even to do that while building connections is a huge miss. And so taking the time, making the time to do that. And then our upperclassmen would come in after lunch and they would do a quick 15 to 20 minutes in each class or 15 minutes in each class, meet their teachers and then they were gone and then the next day we would start kind of an official first day at the school.
- John: So I think that's maybe for now, on today is what are you doing to welcome your new students intentionally to make the time? Because when they become upperclassmen, when they become the older students, they will far more be likely to want to sign up to welcome the new students that are coming in. They'll also far more likely treat them with kindness and respect during the year because they were made to feel that way collectively as a new member of this community.
- Houston: I love it. Yeah, we know the data around those transition years are huge. The critical critical times, anxious times for a lot of students. So the ability to have upperclassmen, immediate connections is such an anxiety reduce on those first couple of days.
- John: Cool. Well that's our time, man. We said we're going to try to keep it around 10. Let's do another one of these so that we'll have a couple of topics sessions in the first week or two of season two. But by the time this episode airs, we will have 45,000 unique downloads, so people all over, thank you for listening.
- John: If you haven't rated and reviewed on Apple Podcast, we love hearing where people are listening from, what you think about it and it helps us be able to keep putting these episodes out and reaching out to people and getting really cool guests who are doing really cool things. So Houston, let's do another one here in a moment. Great to talk with you again, man, season two.
- Houston: Season two.
- John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong and how we are supporting schools, visit characterstrong.com thanks for listening. Make it a great day.
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The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.