Little Things Mean a Lot
By Ellie Braun-Haley
Is it possible to alter the actions of school children?
To take the focus from bullying and that of reporting inconsequential tales of fault finding?
Well one young woman thought so and she worked a year to achieve this goal. Laurie Braun, a concerned and caring mother -- a woman with a lot of imagination and the determination to make a difference -- became the igniting force behind an avalanche of kindness in a Canadian elementary school.
Laurie wanted to help the students to focus on positive actions and words. After gaining the approval of the principal, Laurie developed and operated a program that would do just that. She set about to inspire and motivate hundreds of children to file reports on one another for their kind gestures no matter how small the deed.
"The interesting thing about it all," says Laurie, "is that it truly was the little things that they all began noticing." She picked up two reports at random and read them.
"When I was by myself, Jeffry sat on the swing with me."
"I slipped and cut myself on the ice and Sara sat with me."
These and other similar reports handed in by the school children eventually soared from the hundreds, to well over the thousand mark.
"The children revealed a lot about what their concerns are during these early school years. I saw a noticeable pattern regarding the reports," says Laurie. "They (the children) spoke a lot about their appreciation for being included, their appreciation for having someone to play with and their relief and appreciation when another student comforted them after a spill."
The response was magnificent and participation of the students increased weekly. Subsequently, the load of volunteer work for this one parent, increased leaps and bounds. Students had filed sixty reports of kindness, in one week alone.
"It became a challenge," said Laurie, "to fit everything on the bulletin board and to keep it sparkling and colorful. I think the kids loved the glitter of the displays the most!"
Ms. Braun devoted well over a hundred and seventy hours working both at home and at the school to prepare materials and build weekly displays to keep the children interested.
The elementary school took on a conspicuous change. Kids were sharing lunches and opening doors for one another. Kindness thrived! Even the crossing guard at the cross walk was reported for her acts of kindness.
"The wonderful thing about this," commented Laurie, "was that the report was put in by a youngster who was so shy he had never even spoken to the crossing guard, although the guard had spoken words of encouragement to this one particular youngster many times."
A child who held the reputation of being arrogant was suddenly helping another clean out her desk. One lonely child reported on a classmate, "When I needed a friend to play with, she was there."
The reports went up weekly, but not just as ordinary reports. Over the weekend, the innovative and artistically inclined Laurie, chose a theme so that every single report was set on special paper, highlighted with sparkling glitter. One week she placed the names of the youngsters on lightning bolts and another week every report was done on teddy bears and yet another time on little T-shirts, all hanging on a clothesline.
The bulletin board itself was always eye-catching and crowds gathered so that soon parents, teachers and other staff were also gathering around to take in the theme and designs for the new week.
When the school year drew to a close, Laurie took each and every "good deed" report filled in by the students and teachers and attached them to one long continuous roll of paper. Once posted, this was to be the final reminder to all, that little things do make a difference.
She chose a time when only teachers were at the school and she and her young daughter literally wrapped the school walls with over a thousand kindness reports.
What was it that motivated this woman? She says, "It all came about because I could see some of the younger children in the elementary school were worried over bullying. Others concentrated too much energy on reporting the wrong choices of others. I was looking for something to counteract this when I came up with the idea of reporting one another on acts of kindness. I sincerely believed, and still do, that an act of kindness should receive ten times the attention given to a deed that came about because of wrong choices. I wanted my program to encourage both students and adults to focus on the positive, on what is appreciated, not what is annoying or hurtful."
The program also had some unforeseen side benefits. The reports often indicated when problems were at hand and Ms. Braun was able to alert the school authorities.
"I noticed one week that many of the reports spoke of various individuals being helped up after falling on the ice. I contacted the school and they were able to alleviate the ice problem."
On the final day for that school year, Laurie asked the principal if the children could leave their classrooms and walk about to view this huge accumulated list of their good deeds and thoughtfulness. The students were told that any reports which featured their name could be taken home as souvenirs. Laurie watched as the excited students gathered around the reports, first reading them, then commenting and remembering and finally reaching to retrieve the reports to take them home as mementos.
"I watched those youngsters that day and felt so proud of their accomplishments. I thought, look at the huge amount of kindness you all gave to one another. You all noticed even the smallest of gestures and you have made such a difference in the lives of one another."
Choked with emotion, Laurie felt the tears and an overwhelming warmth of pleasure for the success of her quest.
Is it possible to alter the actions of school children? To take the focus from bullying and fault-finding?
One woman proved that "yes" anything is possible when you follow your instincts and your dreams.
-- Ellie Braun-Haley <ms.ellie @ eaglecreek.org>
Ellie lives in Alberta, Canada, and wrote this story about her middle child. She says, "I've always been amazed at Laurie, at her resilience and her determination. I'm proud of her for her willingness to share with others and for the care she demonstrates toward family, friends and even strangers." Ellie has a number of stories and books published and is the author of A Little Door A Little Light, a book she was challenged to write following the death of her 17 year old son, Jason. Ellie presents talks on the material from the book, hoping to help ease the pain of others due to a death. You can reach her here: firstname.lastname@example.org