At CharacterStrong, we believe that real impact happens if there is PRACTICE alongside PROTEST. The right to assembly and protest has, and will continue to be, a foundational part of our democracy. The fact that students are engaged enough to organize today’s National Walkout should be a reminder to all of us that student voices are 1) powerful and 2) looking to be heard.
Did some students use this as an opportunity to simply get out of class? Of course. Have there been some challenging political issues to navigate as schools? Absolutely. But in a world where it seems like nothing is “business as usual,” we can anticipate more and more complicated conversations like this to occur. The work of Education is hard and messy because our schools don’t exist in vacuums - they must be responsive to the world and culture around them.
The question we always have at CharacterStrong is: “What happens next?”
How can we take a powerful, emotional experience and create sustained impact? How can we support real change through practical application and exercise?”
So, in honor of the 17 beautiful humans lost in Parkland, we want to share 17 days of practical ways to improve yourself, school, family, community, and world. We are calling it #my17 and we encourage you or your class or your school to create your own.
Day 1) I will clarify & write down what I am fighting for in this world.
Day 2) I will meet someone new and I will make sure I leave them better than I found them.
Day 3) I will make sure to thank each of my teachers - even the ones I don’t get along with so well - for their work, passion, and profession.
Day 4) I will put my phone away and engage fully with my family. I will ask them questions about who they are and what they believe in.
Day 5) I will spend an hour alone - away from social media or distractions - to remind that 1) I can be with myself and be okay and/or 2) that loneliness can be brutal.
Day 6) I will write down 10 things I am grateful for and why and put it somewhere I will see often.
Day 7) I will take ownership over my campus and find one way to make it more clean.
Day 8) I will be an encourager to everyone I see. I will lift people up and celebrate people for their talents or their character.
Day 9) I will learn 3 new names. Names are our identity and, when we take time to learn someone else’s name, it reminds us of their humanity.
Day 10) I will show up a bit early and hold the door open for people as they walk into my school.
Day 11) I will find an opportunity to serve my community by working with or learning about a local non-profit.
Day 12) I will create a Bucket List For Others by asking 15 people what would be on their Bucket List. I will save this list for a rainy day (or a sunny one).
Day 13) I will give 5 genuine compliments to people. Compliments can sometimes seem fluffy - but I believe it is the skill of seeing beautiful things in others and having the vocabulary and vulnerability to tell them.
Day 14) I will cleanse my social media of negativity. I will unfollow things that are untruthful or hurtful towards myself or others. I will make sure that what I have posted recently brings goodness, kindness, and positivity into the world.
Day 15) I will get engaged in politics by doing research. I will research how policy impacts my school. I will research who my local and state representatives are. I will clarify where my vote does or will go.
Day 16) I will write 17 Thank You cards to people in my school. Friends, counselors, administrators, teachers, school resource officers, bus drivers, custodians, lunch servers, bookkeepers - the people that make my school incredible.
Day 17) I will reflect on what I’ve done and make a plan to move forward. I will invite other people into the process. I will make a commitment to a time and place where my friends and I will meet and talk about how we can, and must, be better for each other. I will not stop growing in compassion, love, empathy, and kindness because this world deserves the best version of me.
May we all continue to fight for the things we believe in. May we continue to teach young people how and why to stand up or speak out about things that matter in a civil, effective way. And, most importantly, may we all go to work as individuals on making our little slice of world better through our daily practice of character.
If you would like to put this up in your classroom to give them practical ways to make an impact here is a poster you can print out.
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."