When the 2018/2019 school year began, there was an uneasy feeling that accompanied it. After 17 years in the teaching business, I should know better than to listen to the few that could often be heard warning the 5th grade team of the level of patience that would be required to get through the year. With the random act of kindness flash mob in it’s 6th year, I couldn’t help but wonder if the rumblings were true and even more so, would these kids even buy in? After all, it is a year-long process that requires acts of kindness to unlock the flashmob song, 30 separate 8-counts of dance moves, and costume items.
On the first day of school, I recall looking out and seeing students who were eager, attentive, and ready to learn. I also remember seeing students who were argumentative about seating, unfocused, distracted, and restless. I didn’t have that good feeling in my heart that I usually do on the first day of school.
I was scared.
Could this year really be a disaster and make all rumblings of a few people come true?They were 25 kids strong. Despite my first thoughts, I looked each and every one of them in the eye and made a promise – one that I never took lightly. I said that I would treat each of them like my very own child and that I’d protect this “family”. I also directed them to my mother’s painting of a quote from Henry James:
“There are three important things in human life: The first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
I explained that in order for everyone to officially buy in to the flashmob act of kindness, we had to first learn to be kind to ourselves and to our classroom family if we were going to be able to seek out a fellow fifth grade student in need to deliver this grand act of kindness to. Most were into it, but a few boys were uneasy about the prospect of dancing in front of others. They said, “no”.
As weeks and months went by, I started to notice that the class was changing a bit. There were less arguments and uncooperative instances. I even noticed kids who weren’t normally normally associating with each other forming small groups to help with certain difficult dance moves. Also, messages from parents were coming in about random acts of kindness that were completed out of nowhere, and without direction! Maybe this wasn’t going to be a disaster!
As the costumes began to arrive, it was time to get serious about the routine and picking our flashmob target. As of March, there still were two boys who were not participating, but that all changed when one random day, BV got up to practice in our 5 minute a day window and knew all the moves. I was blown away! He actually was one of the best at the routine. I remember going home that day with a full heart as BV was coming out of his shell. One more boy to go!
With almost the whole class involved, we sat down to narrow down a “target”. This is always an eye opening experience as the students by this time are invested and honest about why some students in the other classes would deserve to be picked. Reasons for nominating a students ranged from dealing with divorce, lack of friends, to being a victim of cyber bullying. We settled on KH and the reasons students gave were astounding. After some thought, one student suggested we pick KH because of all the kids, he was quiet, isolating himself, and often stares out of the bus window and said, “Sometimes it’s the quiet ones that need the most help.”
With the target in our sights, we set out to raise money to buy some of KH’s favorite things. Students raised around $200 of their own money and with some help from me, we got a Harry Potter Lego accessory set, two Harry potter shirts, a Stan Lee ring, restaurant gift cards, Snickers, Coke, and a customized #inspirechange hat to match the ones I bought the class. We changed into our costumes, sent some students to grab KH from his class, and flashmobbed him in epic style in the central pod area. When it was over, he was led to our classroom, where he received his gifts. I remember the look in his eyes when he saw the Stan Lee ring, which was something he wanted for Christmas and didn’t get. I also remember seeing the look of pure joy in my students eyes from the act of giving. It was amazing.
There was one show left to do: the end of the year assembly. All the hard work was going to be on full display for the whole school to see. We still had one student left to join, and it wasn’t looking good. I even resorted to piling up large bags of salt and vinegar Lays chips to bribe him to join. RH finally said he would try, but in the week before the show, when we staged the whole show and had more involved rehearsals, he went on vacation. I was disappointed, but I fully understand that performing is not for everyone and we moved on.
In the hour leading up to the assembly, we were busy getting ready. In what would normally seem like a chaotic endeavor, kids were helping each other button shirts, roll sleeves, and tie ties. With 15 minutes to go, I got the surprise of the year. RH agreed to try! We quickly got him a costume, dressed, and headed for the stage for the show. My heart was beating with excitement for the show, and happiness that we will have a full show with everyone participating. This was going to be beautiful!
As the assembly program transitioned to our show, I briefly made some comments about the history of the #inspirechange flashmob, plugged into the sound system, and started the music. Game time! Almost immediately, I noticed the volume of the sound system must have been too high and a bit of distortion was coming from the speakers. I looked to around to see if anyone else noticed and hoped someone could turn it down a bit. Then it happened. The speaker blew and there was nothing left but the faint sound of my iPhone playing our song “Believer” by Imagine Dragons. I always have those thoughts at night that something will go wrong with the flash mob at the assembly and did it ever go wrong this time! When the music stopped, I thought of the student’s hard work. I thought of their parents taking time off from work to come. I thought about the teachers and students who have been waiting to see our show. I was too busy thinking these negative things to even stop dancing. The next thing I knew, they were still with me and the crowd was singing. What could have been a disaster turned into something truly memorable and beautiful. RH danced. Nobody gave up.
It was a beautiful disaster that I’ll never forget.
As I sit here in the summer reflecting on the whole experience, I am one proud “dad” of the classroom. I know we were not the perfect class, where kindness ruled one hundred percent of the time. I know things went wrong a lot more than I’d like to admit. However, with the strength of 26 hearts, we learned that we can make a difference in the life of one of their peers by letting him know he matters and can always have someone to call a friend. We learned that true beauty can rise up from a disaster and that life give you some tough blows. I leave them this summer knowing that when life gets stormy, they will dance through the rain like the true champions they are.
Links to previous #inspirechange moments: