Editor's Note: This is the seventh in a series of 10 weekly articles that will appear each Thursday as part of the Be Kind campaign, an initiative spearheaded by Orillia's Emergency Management Committee.
Like a pebble tossed in a pond, acts of kindness cause ripples.
A few weeks ago, Stuart MacPhee, a Grade 5/6 teacher at Bridgewood Public School in Cornwall, Ontario, tuned in to CBC Radio and heard Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke’s interview about Orillia’s Be Kind campaign.
“It really just piqued my interest, personally, because I think it’s so important to be kind and respectful of those around us,” MacPhee said. “But as a teacher, as well, I thought, wow, what a moment to use this as a resource and an opportunity to help my class.”
MacPhee found a video of Mayor Clarke and an article on the Be Kind Campaign on the OrilliaMatters’ site and presented both to his class.
“Right away, I thought this was really important. We talk about this sort of thing in class every day, as well — the importance of being kind and helping others. I thought this was a great opportunity, so we immediately did something with it that day.”
Between MacPhee and his students, they hatched a plan to write anonymous messages of kindness and encouragement. It was a Friday and they wanted the effects of the letters to linger throughout the weekend.
“I had everyone write as if they were writing to a good friend. We brainstormed some ideas, like ‘have a great weekend,’ (or) ‘thanks for being such a good friend.’”
At the end of the day, MacPhee randomly handed out the messages to students who didn’t already have a message to take home.
Gabriel Savourin and Charlotte Taillon, both 11, were two of MacPhee’s students who participated in the kindness exercise.
“I felt it was really good because it shows you are caring for other people," said Savourin. "Sometimes people need kindness in the world — it’s good when people receive a positive message like that.”
Taillon agrees. “I felt good about letting other people know that they mattered to everybody else. I think it’s important that people know—including myself—that they matter and they should be happy with who they are. I really enjoyed knowing that I made somebody’s day.”
The feedback from the exercise was affirmative.
“Some students had said on their own how much they enjoyed it and then I asked certain students about what they felt and it was all very positive,” MacPhee said.
“I think it was an important exercise because as a teacher, we’re not only teaching the curriculum, but we’re teaching these students how to be better citizens — being good friends, good family members and good students.
“That’s outside of math, language science, health, art and all of that; it’s also about character development. We do that through literacy, through the books we read where we talk about how you become a good person. What are some good character traits? How do you treat others?” he said.
“I just thought (Orillia’s Be Kind campaign) was a great opportunity to take something unique outside of our curriculum and outside of our school and apply that to what we’ve been doing here.”
MacPhee and his students feel that being kind is important no matter what may be happening in the world, but it has become even more essential during the pandemic.
“People have been feeling isolated or feeling alone or just having a hard time,” MacPhee said. “I know in school we’re always making sure you have your mask on and staying apart from each other, so this was just another way of showing people that they matter,” he said.
“We talk a lot about mental health. We don’t know who’s having a hard time. People won’t (always) say they’re having a hard time. So making sure everyone has an opportunity to hear a message of kindness—it’s really spreading this message of caring to others and making sure everyone is feeling good.”
Mayor Clarke was pleased to hear the Be Kind campaign, the brainchild of Orillia’s Emergency Management Committee, had positive reverberations.
“Certainly one of the goals of (the campaign) was to do exactly what has happened with Mr. MacPhee and his class: create a ripple effect,” he said.
“Whether it’s somebody paying it forward by buying someone coffee in a line somewhere or someone like Mr. MacPhee and his classroom taking the wonderful initiative of passing the message along, our intention was to influence that, in whatever degree we could, within our surrounding area,” Clarke said.
Hearing that his message had influenced a teacher and his classroom in Cornwall, Ontario, was a pleasant surprise.
“We weren’t really thinking it might have an effect further away in places like Cornwall, but I think it’s a wonderful spin-off. A wonderful story,” he said.
“One thing I’ve heard throughout this campaign is that being kind is always the better option,” Clarke said.
“The pandemic’s been tough. It’s been a difficult time. It’s created an atmosphere where it’s easy for people to gravitate toward the negative and we have to remind ourselves … that we’re all suffering. We’re all worrying about our physical health and certainly our mental health—our jobs and our businesses,” he said.
“It’s a time when we need to dig just a little bit deeper and remind each other that we’re all part of the same team. A random act of kindness can really brighten someone else’s day," said the mayor.
Do you know of an act of kindness or generosity that should be shared with the community? If so, please email your idea and contact information to email@example.com.