Don’t Change the Channel – in the Classroom
My name is Sarah McKenna and I teach 8th grade Science at Randall Middle School in Lithia, FL. I wasn’t always a teacher. In fact, I met Jenn Snyder at my very first “real” job out of college. Jenn and I were sales reps for BellSouth Mobility. We were instantly friends. Jenn is one of those people that you just feel drawn to. She makes everyone feel as if you are her best friend, in the most sincere and genuine way. Jenn was always one of our top salespeople, simply for the fact that no one could say NO to her. She just has a way about her…it’s not easy to put it into words. She has a very natural and real charisma and enthusiasm for everything she does, whether it’s her job or her friends or the most recent project she is working on, or even just going for a run.
6 years ago my husband & I had a daughter and we moved to FL in the same year. Shortly thereafter I changed careers and got into teaching. I chose middle school on purpose, because I felt that those were the most challenging years of school for me and I felt that I could have a positive impact on kids going through the same challenges that I went through. From my very first day I was hooked! I absolutely love my kids!
This is my 4th year of teaching. This year I really wanted to spend more time with my kids on “character education” and topics that I felt would really impact their lives. I had such great plans when the school year started, but of course real life then takes over and the pace of the curriculum gets in the way and I realize that all of my grandiose plans may be overly ambitious. So here we are about ¾ of the way through the year and I get a call from my friend Jenn. Of course I already knew all about Blake and her extraordinary efforts with him and his family, as well as her website. But when she explained what she thought I might be able to do with my kids, I was all ears. This is EXACTLY what I had been waiting for, the ideal example of “kindness” that my kids needed to hear along with the opportunity for them to contribute.
At the beginning of each of my 5 classes on April 1, 2010 I sat down and told my kids that I needed their help. You may not know this about 13 year olds, but when they hear that you need their help they drop everything so that they can do whatever you need them to do. They really are amazing. I then proceeded to tell them about my friend Jenn, about the kind of person she is. For probably the first time in 4 years I had all eyes on me, unwavering! By the time I got to the story of Blake they were HOOKED! The story of what happened to Blake really touched them. Most of my kids were visibly moved by the situation. So then I proceeded to tell them all the amazing things that Jenn did for Blake and his family. By now I’d been talking to them for about 15 minutes and then still hadn’t looked away once. They couldn’t believe that one person, much less a person that their science teacher is friends with, could accomplish so much for someone she didn’t even know.
From there I showed my kids Jenns website and explained that Jenn just wanted to provide a forum for people to share their stories. I told them that most people aren’t able to perform such monumental acts of kindness as Jenn had done for Blake, but that what makes life so great is the small things we do everyday that we may not even consciously think about. I shared some of my own “everday” stories of kindness with my kids so that they could then start to relate some of their own experiences to an act of kindness and they could see that we all really do a lot of little things everyday to perpetuate kindness. Once we had navigated her site the kids begged me to read some of the stories people had submitted. They kept asking for “one more story” every time we’d finish another story.
Then the hands started going up. “This one time….” Or “when I was a kid….” Or “I know someone who…”. They had so many stories to share. So I handed out index cards to each student and asked them to write one anonymous story (it could be something they did for someone else, something someone did for them or their family, or something that they had witnessed that inspired them) on the card. Some kids asked for a second card to either continue their story or to share a second story. There was not one negative comment the entire time we discussed this topic (and for 8th graders, that is a HUGE accomplishment!). They were all on board, they all realized the importance of what Jenn had done and they all felt proud of their own stories. (Click here to read their stories.)
I will tell you, I felt that this lesson would go over well. But I didn’t expect it to go over as well as it did. They were fully engaged for a full hour (every one of my classes). They were asking me if their stories were “good” stories. They wrote SO much! And their stories, for the most part, were heartfelt and genuine. Out of 120 students, maybe one or two didn’t take it seriously, every one else did. And their stories….unbelievable! I was truly moved by many of their stories. I’ve known these kids for close to 8 months and I was shocked at some of the things they are going through that I had no idea about. If it weren’t for an opportunity like this one to share all the “good things” going on in our lives, I may never have known what some of my kids are dealing with. And how grateful they are for the things people do for them and how willing they are to go out and do something nice for someone else.
After I had compiled close to 120 stories, I typed them all up so that their stories were truly anonymous (I told them this ahead of time so that they wouldn’t hold back) and their friends wouldn’t be trying to decipher whose handwriting belonged to which letter. We then put together a “Don’t Change the Channel” bulletin board where we posted all the stories for our whole school to read!
I feel so grateful that Jenn called me with this idea! What an amazing and inspirational experience to share with my kids. I feel that I know them so much better now and I feel that they all will be on the lookout for their chance to not”…change the channel”. This very likely could be the one experience they remember from their middle school years…and I’m so proud to have been a part of it!!!!