Earlier this week, we discovered online an animated video that tells the story of how Barry-Wehmiller dealt with the recession of 2008-2009. It was shared as part of the “Minute Monday” series from Small Act, Big Impact, the brainchild of Morgane Michael, a teacher and education leader.
On her website, Morgane challenges her readers to a 21-day kindness challenge. Kindness is so central to the values we teach at Barry-Wehmiller, we wanted to introduce our readers to Morgane and her challenge. In addition to speaking in schools to spread the word, she is in the process of designing professional development to provide teachers and leaders with a roadmap for integrating the program within their classrooms. She also writes a weekly blog about kindness, resilience and vulnerability and will be launching her own podcast this summer.
Here’s a short Q and A with Morgane Michael:
What is the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge?
In our current world filled with uncertainty, ubiquitous inundation of technology, and political turmoil, many of us are feeling more and more disconnected from the very thing that has been scientifically proven to determine our overall sense of happiness: our connection to one another. Anxiety, loneliness, depression and suicide rates continue to rise within populations across North America. In the name of efficiency and cost cutting, many businesses focus on numbers over people. Many schools focus on grades and achievement, instead of cultivating conscientious, passionate, innovative and entrepreneurial students. On both macro and micro levels, it feels as though our country, many businesses, organizations and schools are in crisis.
As bestselling author on workplace motivation and behavioral management Dan Pink asserts, “Individuals spend over half of their waking hours at work.” Most people want to feel like they are contributing to something bigger than themselves, that what they are doing is meaningful, and essentially, that they matter. I believe we are all responsible for the cultures in which we work, learn and live, and it falls on the shoulders of our leaders to show us the way.
The Small Act Big Impact 21-Day Challenge serves to promote and cultivate safe and supportive cultures in workplaces and educational organizations. We encourage individuals from all walks of life (leaders, employees, parents, students) to intentionally commit to performing at least one altruistic act per day for 21 consecutive days, putting aside differences, busy schedules, expectations of recompense, and assumptions, to do so. What’s incredible is that it’s scientifically proven that people not only feel happier when they do kind acts, but their actions actually contribute to making those around them happier, too! The kicker? By committing to 21-days of intentional kindness, habits of perspective-taking, altruism, and gratitude are formed at the neurological level and eventually lead to significant positive, long-lasting ripple-effects in workplace and institutional cultures.
How did the idea for the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge come about?
I read Simon Sinek’s incredible book, Leaders Eat Last (which told the story of Bob Chapman and Barry-Wehmiller), while on maternity leave with my second child. So many of the ideas he shared resonated deeply with me. In the book, he explains effects of stress and kindness on the brain.
Cortisol, Sinek explains, is the stress chemical discharged by the brain into our body. It shuts down all of the non-essential functions in our bodies like digestion, growth, and our immune system so that we can instantly react to danger by running away, fighting, or freezing. Cortisol also directly stops the flow of oxytocin (the empathy hormone) in our bodies. The problem is, people are feeling stressed out more and more frequently and cortisol is staying in our bodies for way too long. It’s having harmful effects on our health, mental well-being, and most importantly, our ability to connect with people.
Oxytocin, the hormone responsible for the feelings of love, connection, and empathy, is released when we receive or perform an altruistic act. It turns out, oxytocin is also released when someone simply witnesses a nice gesture. Incredibly, neuroscientists have discovered that genuine kindness is literally contagious and has the power to counteract the effects of stress. Consequently, simply engaging in kind acts can make those around us happier and less-stressed through association.
It was the first time I had truly come across the science of kindness as it relates to workplaces and educational cultures. It felt like a powerful realization for me. As a teacher and aspiring educational leader, I naturally began thinking about the way that these theories could be adapted for implementation within the classroom and our school communities.
That’s when I came up with the idea of a 21-day kindness challenge. Intentional kind acts would result in a more positive change in culture and extending it to a 21-day campaign would ensure lasting change.
What differentiates the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge from the random and sporadic nature of other kindness initiatives is the 21-day commitment. If we’re to create positive shifts within our cultures long-term, we need to fundamentally change our habits.
What is “Minute Monday?” What is your hope for these videos?
My YouTube Minute Monday Series is a bite-sized, one-minute glimpse into the big influencers who inspired the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge. Generally, the videos reinforce and provide examples of the possibility of intentional, daily kindness.
My hope is that individuals will resonate with what they see and become inspired to learn more about and incorporate some of the altruistic and innovative ideas within their own lives to make their workplaces, homes and communities more positive, supportive places. I know from personal experience, sometimes, all it takes is a spark of inspiration to make big, lasting change.