The Woodbury Positive Behavior Support (WPBS) team didn't have to put on the hard sell to principal Danny Young when they pitched their idea for the 2017-18 school year theme: "Be kinder than necessary." The 15-teacher team borrowed the phrase from Bald Benevolence, a kindness movement founded by Shaker parent Martha Mahoney, who passed away earlier this year after an eight-year battle with breast cancer.
"Besides knowing all the Mahoney kids, both Martha and her husband John just always had kind words to say to me and to everyone else here at Woodbury," explains Mr. Young. "When the team came to me with the idea, we just jumped all over it."
Mr. Young says the idea dovetailed neatly with the team's desire to build compassion among students and staff and to bring the word "empathy" to life. So to kick the year off right, Mr. Young and and WPBS committee members Carmelina Muttillo and Stacey DeYoung invited Gus Mahoney (SHHS '17) to speak to all students about Bald Benevolence and its mission to challenge people to extend an extra dose of kindness to everyone they meet.
“Gus mentioned that he had said mean things in the past to other students,” says Ms. DeYoung. “And he talked about how he would never do it again. Then when we got back to class and asked the kids about their reactions, they said he was ‘inspirational,’ and brave to share. They were impressed that he had just graduated from high school and worked so hard to keep his mom’s legacy alive.”
Woodbury students will have ample opportunities to practice being kinder than necessary in class this year during “Circle”—a time for students to share comments, ideas or reactions. Classes will have regularly scheduled Circles on specific days, but teachers also have the flexibility to use them as needed. (Students at the Middle School also practice “Community Circles” in this way.) Circles begin with students taking three deep breaths to focus, explains Ms. DeYoung, and then proceed when students speak one at a time, passing along a “talking piece.” Students can choose to speak or to pass, but everyone has the opportunity to share if she or she wishes. “The whole idea behind circles is that the more we know about each other, the less likely we are to hurt each other,” Ms. Muttillo says.
Circles have an additional benefit for teachers. “The teachers who embrace circles have fewer disruptions,” explains Mr. Young. “Because they know their kids and they can react and adjust. Woodbury has always been known for possessing a true sense of community and we want our teachers and kids to embody the idea of family. That’s what we’re about.”
Circles are further evidence that the District’s strategic plan goal to build the Shaker experience is embedded in the schools. “We’re not just looking at the academic side of our kids. These Circles also help us to support the social-emotional side of students,” Mr. Young says.