By Buffy Calvert
Imagine a stream of kindness coursing though the faculty and staff of a little school. A colleague hands you a gift and a notebook with the latest page dedicated to you with a brief but fulsome appreciation of your kindness to them. You glance back at previous pages to find that the whole journal is a series of accolades from colleague to colleague over the years.
All it asks of you is to play it forward. Feeling warmed by the kind words and thoughtful gift, you cast about for someone to honor. Hard choice, but you decide on someone dedicated to the students who has bent a listening ear, given you a shoulder to cry on and a cheer when you do well. You ponder the gift: A bouquet? Gift certificate? You bake their favorite pastry and wait for a moment to slip it to them. Feels great!
Believe it or not, this has actually been going on for 22 years at the Andes Central School! In 1999, First Grade teacher Jennifer Finkle was struck when Oprah extolled the warmth created by random acts of kindness, both for the giver and recipient. She checked with Superintendent John Bernhardt and launched a journal called Random Acts of Kindness. She wrote on the first page “To Jennifer Leaver,” added a celebration of Leaver’s dedication to her students and willingness to give extra hours to write grants and help the community. She assembled some “stress relieving” gifts and secretly gave it to Leaver. She pointed out her hope that she would pass it on.
Leaver chose Margaret Brown as deserving recognition, Brown chose Kindergarten teacher Susie Little as the one who marvelously “sets the mold” for our new students, and so it went through 1999. The threads shot out, quietly moved through the school with no fanfare; so secretly, in fact, that a few people who received accolades admitted they had no idea that the journal existed. Laurie Day, director of the cafeteria, thought someone had left their basket and notebook behind. When it was still there the next day she peeked inside to see whose it was, only to discover it was for her!
The chain has turned out to be a mutual celebration: the writers appreciate their colleagues, choose one and put it in writing, then get a suitable gift and find a private moment for its presentation. The recipient feels the delight of recognition by a close colleague and looks with new eyes at the rest of the staff. Who is most worthy to be tapped next?
And a magical link has been formed among ACS staff because all the accolades are still there to be read and they eagerly are.
Best of all, Jennifer Finkle partnered with Bright Hill Press to publish the first 20 years of Random Acts of Kindness. All the appreciations have been transcribed. An attractive volume, it is dedicated to John Bernhardt and illustrated with students’ watercolors. The book is on sale at ACS for $20. Copies will also be sent to all 46 schools in Delaware and Otsego Counties with the hope that the idea will be planted there.~