I worked at Mattson Middle School in Kent, WA and one of the district employees pulled me aside after my workshop. His name was Brad. Brad said he wanted to learn about ways to sustain the message now that the speech was over. This is, of course, always music to my ears. YES! The speech is not where change happens - the speech is an opportunity for change to begin! Change blossoms when staff and students adopt the new vocabulary and new mindset that any keynote is supposed to impart. When staff repeatedly reference stories or concepts from an assembly - when they provide regular opportunities for students to reflect - the impact doesn’t disappear alongside fading feelings of inspirational stories. Impact lives on through the repeated conversations and shared vision/mindset/vernacular that stories create!
That’s why I loved Brad’s next question: “Houston, when you work at a school that is doing things right, what is immediately evident to you? Where do you see the fingerprints of kindness throughout a building?”
What a beautiful visual, right? What are the things that successful schools do or say that leaves evidence of their culture - whether you go to the school, work at the school, or are just visiting the school?
Here are a few things I notice, right away, at schools I think are doing it “right.” These are all FIRST IMPRESSION fingerprints I notice...
- The front desk staff isn’t surprised by my visit. (A bad sign of things to come is, “Oh, we have an assembly today?” They are excited about today’s event because a culture of excitement has been cultivated. When the secretarial staff is just as excited as your seventh graders, you are building a community that gets excited for each other.
- The admin staff takes time to say hello and share why they are excited about the day and how it aligns with their vision or their purpose for building a better community. When those at the helm are passionate about their purpose, it is contagious.
- When the bell rings, staff are in the hallways leading the charge. They are at their doors. They are using names. They are smiling. They know that real connection happens in the hallways, not during their power points.
- Student work is showcased and celebrated. Learning is hanging on the walls. Culture is reflected in student artwork in the halls. Every student should be able to walk through the halls and see something that inspires them and something that they created. They are part of the fabric of the place.
- Greatness is expected. When a staff member introduces me and says, “We are the best school in America and the speaker today will brag to his friends about how attentive and kind you are,” I know we are off to a good start. Saying, “please be quiet. Please don’t disappoint us,” isn’t as effective. Saying nothing at all and letting your students talk over you is even worse. Great schools expect their students to be great.
I could go on and on! For you and your school, where do you see the fingerprints of kindness?
Houston Kraft is the co-founder of CharacterStrong. He is a professional speaker and kindness advocate who has spoken at over 600 events internationally. Student Body President in High School, Class President at Bowdoin College, Leadership Camp Staff for 14 years in Washington - he is a lifelong learner of character, culture, kindness, and leadership. He was featured in 2019 on BBQ Lays Potato Chips and his mom's lasting life lesson is "Hug like you mean it."