In our world right now, there’s a lot of attention being paid to protecting ourselves from illness, specifically COVID-19. Yesterday, I experienced something that reminded me that a virus isn’t the only thing that’s contagious.
I’ve previously written about the Power of the Little Things, how even the smallest of actions can reap huge dividends for those around us. How a high five, a simple compliment, or something as small as a smile can make someone’s day, week, or even month. Yesterday, I was reminded that exercising the Power of the Little Things can be contagious.
Every morning at school, one of my responsibilities and privileges is greeting students and their families as they arrive on campus. As students walk by and get out of their cars, I make it a point to look for small compliments to give. If I see a student walking up in what appears to be a new pair of shoes, I say something like, “Wow! Are those new shoes? Those look great!”
If a kindergartener or first grade girl has a bright bow in her hair, I’ll comment on it. “Pretty bow!”
If a boy has a stylish shirt or a girl is wearing a pretty dress, I’m sure to mention it to them. Every single day I compliment students in ways like these. Why? Because chances are, they’re dying for someone to notice their new shoes, hair bow, shirt, or dress. Think back to when you were young. Remember when you got that new pair of shoes and wore them to school for the first time? My guess is you hoped someone would mention them. I know I did. And this doesn’t just apply to the early grades of elementary school. Middle and high schoolers crave this attention too, probably even more so.
But yesterday I experienced something super cool. As one car drove up before school, I opened the car door and one of our young girls got out. She thanked me and then looked at me, as if searching for something. She looked at my hat, my shirt, and finally her eyes settled on my shoes.
“Mr. Coley, I really like your shoes!” she said with a big smile.
My shoes. My ordinary shoes. My old, worn, scuffed, and need-to-be-replaced-soon shoes (see below).
It was as if she was looking for something to compliment, couldn’t find anything extraordinary, so settled on my shoes. And you know what? I believe that’s exactly what happened.
See, this isn’t the first time this has occurred. This is actually the third time this year a student has complimented my shoes. None of those times were my shoes anything special, anything that would have stood out. In fact, all three times I was wearing older, worn shoes.
Then why did I receive compliments on them from students? Simple. Because I complimented them first. I’ve modeled the behavior, and I truly believe in this case, they’re now mimicking my actions.
The lesson to be learned here? A virus isn’t the only thing that can be spread. Our behavior is contagious. Kindness is contagious. I’ve made it a habit to look for the little things -- shoes, glasses, dresses -- and make a positive comment about them. And now I have students doing the same thing. Looking for something nice to say is on their radar. And if they’re complimenting my old shoes, how often are they doing the same kind of thing with their peers? I’m guessing more than they would have otherwise.
If you’re not already doing so, I encourage you to look for those small compliments to give to the students and staff around you. Because not only will it make a difference in the life of the person you encourage, but your action can create a ripple effect that can spread to others.
Remember, not everything that’s contagious is bad. We can all be super spreaders...of kindness!
Want to hear more? I devoted an entire chapter of my book Stories of EduInfluence to the topic of how small actions can make a big impact. Click/tap here to listen to the Audible version of “Chapter 8: The Power of the Little Things."
If you’d like to purchase a copy of the book in paperback, Kindle, or Audible versions, head over to Amazon.
Sometimes the smallest things can provide the biggest reminders.
This past Friday rain was in the forecast. For those of you in education, particularly at the elementary level, you know how much joy and happiness rain can bring to the school day (yes, I’m being sarcastic). Along with its diabolical cousins wind and a full moon, there are few things that can wreak as much havoc on a school day as rain. If you know, you know.
I knew I wouldn’t have time to hit the El Pollo Loco drive-thru for lunch, and unfortunately I left the house forgetting to bring something from home. So on the way to school, I decided to stop and pick something up at the local bastion of convenience, 7-11. Please don’t judge. I was in a rush.
In the store, I grabbed a pre-packaged turkey and cheese sandwich, a bag of pretzels, and then proceeded over to the drink counter. Knowing it was going to be a busy day, I decided I’d need all the caffeine I could get, so I grabbed an empty 50-oz. Double Gulp cup. After filling it with iced tea, I moved down to the counter, grabbed a lid, and, much to my chagrin, discovered the store was out of the large straws.
Dang, I thought, knowing the little straws available were only about two-thirds the height of the mammoth-sized container holding my liquid energy for the day. While I didn’t burst into tears or anything, I was a little bummed.
I know, I know. It’s a straw, Brent. Not the end of the world. A First World problem for sure.
And then I remembered the front seat of my car.
Four days earlier, on Monday afternoon on my way home from work, I had stopped at the Starbucks drive-thru for an end-of-the-day treat -- a Trenta Strawberry Acai Refresher, my favorite. When I pulled up to the window, the barista handed me my drink...and an extra large straw. I’ve gotten used to Starbucks’ new drinkable lids, so I no longer use a straw. I casually tossed the straw onto the passenger seat and proceeded to drive home, enjoying my drink on the way.
For the next four days, driving to and from work and around town, I would look over and see the straw resting on the front seat. I should probably throw that away, I remember thinking to myself more than once. But for whatever reason, I didn’t. My car isn’t littered with trash, but that unneeded straw remained on the seat for four days, completely defying the typical lifespan of a superfluous item such as this.
Until Friday. Until I walked out of the 7-11 in need of this item and all was right with the world again. Or at least I had an appropriately sized straw for my iced tea.
So why do I share this story?
While it would be easy to dismiss this as luck, I choose to think of it in a different way. I fiercely believe, and these two related incidents beautifully reminded me of one thing -- God cares about and is involved in the little things of our lives. Even the really little things. Like a straw.
Would my day have gone OK if I hadn’t had the right-sized straw for my iced tea? Yep. Would I have survived having to remove the lid and drink the last third of my beverage straight out of the cup? Sure would have.
But four days earlier, I had been provided with a straw. A straw I didn’t need. I had been given something that, at the moment, was seen as extra, as something to be thrown away. But unbeknownst to me, I would have need of it later. How often does this happen in our lives without us realizing it? How often are we given things, often in the form of having to endure struggle, that will benefit us later?
Was getting that straw part of my destiny, God’s ultimate plan for my life? I don’t think so. But is He powerful enough to have orchestrated the events above to have provided for me in the simplest of ways, by giving me a straw? I absolutely believe so. Because that’s how much He cares for me. That’s how much he cares for all of us.
I think this is an overly simplistic example of how things often happen in our lives which we may not understand at the time, but help prepare us for something we’re going to experience down the road. In this case, it was a straw I didn’t know I’d need a few days later. In other cases, it may be something less pleasant and much more serious, like a failed relationship that teaches us how to better cultivate the next one. Or being let go of a job you loved, only to make you available for a better one that comes along.
So the next time something falls perfectly into place, seemingly by chance, maybe it wasn’t so random. Or the next time you go through a season of struggle, remember that it’s more than likely preparing you for something down the road. Because as one of my favorite verses says, “And we know that in all things” -- ALL things, even the really, really little things -- “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for 25 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
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