Educator and children’s author, Jeff Kubiak, identifies how we as teachers can focus on empowering students with stories of failure, success, and resilience. Thoughts and resources for random acts of kindness are explored.
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Steve: 00:33 A kindness challenge: inclusion, equity compassion. Today we are joined by Jeff Kubiak, a current school administrator and the author of, One Drop of Kindness” & “It’s Me.” Welcome Jeff.
Jeff: 00:50 Good morning, my friend. How are you?
Steve: 00:52 I’m great. I’m great. I’m excited to have you with us.
Jeff: 00:55 Likewise.
Steve: 00:56 Jeff, your website describes your beliefs about equity, social justice, and opportunities for all and it says that you combine that with a love of children’s literature and sharing stories of failure, success, resilience, and empowerment. I’m wondering if you can give us a little bit of your background and your history and how that led to you being focused on the work that you’re dealing with today.
Jeff: 01:25 Yeah, thanks for asking Steve. You know, I was brought up in an incredible household, two loving parents, a sister. And throughout the first 18 years of my life, we had over 30 foster youths living with us. My parents just really wanted to help and give to others, right? And so that being said, school didn’t work for me traditionally. You know, I struggled. It was hard. Hard to learn, I couldn’t sit still, you know. I would have been like the ADHD master back then. And you know, teachers had a hard time seeing me. And so, you know, I started kind of reaching out for attention and becoming kind of a troubled kid. And you know, as I matriculated through different things, my parents got me into swimming at an early age and that really helped with the ADHD and focus and you know, I got to be pretty good.
Jeff: 02:28 And so swimming really helped get me through. And also my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Sherry, was the one that really finally believed in me and saw me. And so you know, then I became a teacher and a coach and started to look at my successes, my failures, which I had tons, you know, even though a lot of people say, “oh, wow, Jeff, you know, you almost made the Olympic team in ’88 and I was like, “well, to me, I missed the Olympic team by 12 hundreds, right?” And so, I don’t know, you could kind of view it any way you want. But then you work in schools and working with kids, you really start to see who is seen, who is missed and who is not treated with an equitable and inclusive lens. And with that, it’s so important that we truly use our lenses, our gifts, and our empowerment to tap into every single person. We don’t have to agree with all their beliefs and everything, but we have to see people and dig in and understand what makes them tick.
Steve: 03:38 My word is it’s all about knowing. K. N. O. W. I. N. G. Whether I’m a teacher, a coach, and administrator, or whether I’m just looking at my next-door neighbor, it’s unpacking that knowing.
Jeff: 03:57 Yes, agreed. Very much so.
Steve: 04:00 Jeff, I’m wondering if we could take each of those three words – inclusion, equity, and compassion, kind of one at a time and have you gone to a little bit more detail of how do you describe what it is we really need to make happen. So how about kick us off with inclusion?
Jeff: 04:18 Yeah. You know, it’s kind of become, you know, the buzz word in education and, you know, social justice and things. But if we can be seen, be heard, and empowered no matter what and not have any sort of marginalized reasons, then that’s being included. So, you know, looking at economic, political, social, educational rights and opportunities. It’s like, is everyone actually looked upon with a lens that they will be empowered and helped no matter what? And that’s so important, especially in today’s political, social climate, educational climate, and, you know, with all the social, political, racial unrest we have, we have to do that if we’re going to continue moving forward.
Steve: 05:15 So the second word being equity then, as I’m listening to you describe inclusion, I’m sensing – so check me on my thinking here, but I’m sensing as I listen to you, that equity becomes a necessity in order to have inclusion?
Jeff: 05:32 100%. And so, it’s equity – you know, do you have the freedom from any bias, right? So each person given what is needed to thrive and you know, equity and equality, and fairness are not the same thing. And so, for Steve to be treated equitably, you know, is he perhaps given a stool to be able to reach something? And not only does he have shoes, but do his shoes fit and allow him room for growth and comfort, right? And so, what are you given and why are you given it to help the actual you thrive?
Steve: 06:19 So how’s compassion fit in with that then?
Jeff: 06:23 You know, and that’s another, you know, kind of word like people use compassion, empathy, passion, you know, just all sorts of things. But to me is, you know, if you break it down like com-passion, so it’s like with-heart. So a conscious understanding of another’s distress or troubles and then wanting to help remove or reduce that. And so, am I able to see through your lens or at least have an understanding of what’s going on, I now empathize and consider your distress and let me find a way to help remove that or reduce that.
Steve: 07:08 I was coming back with the question as to, I thought I was hearing empathy in there and so you brought the word in. So I’ve worked with some people that talk about a school program that connects empathy to caring action. And I guess that’s the part I was hearing you go on to. The empathy is insufficient if it doesn’t lead to caring action?
Jeff: 07:37 Agreed. Right. And the other word too to me is intentional, right? And am I just kind of laissez faire saying, “oh, you know, I hope you’re better. I care about you. Can I help you?” Like, but are you really seeing through your heart and connecting to someone’s, you know, mind, body, soul, physical physiology, chemistry, and truly delving in to what makes them tick? And you don’t have to understand, but why can’t we like
learn to empower and perhaps you’re growing yourself and then you’re helping that person attain what they need as well.
Steve: 08:16 Jeff, I’m wondering if you want to give us a little insight into your two books then as to how they connect back to those terms that you’ve just walked us through?
Jeff: 08:29 Gladly. So, you know, I’ve been in a lot of different schools and around a lot of different people. When you step on foot of a campus, you can really feel and sense if it’s a kind compassionate, empathic, or empathetic campus. And, you know, just by seeing like, you know, is it clean? Are people smiling, laughing, having fun, sharing, opening doors, cleaning trash, right? Or, you actually walk and you can feel like the purple, heavy cloud of despair. You see arguing and you know, graffiti and people not having a good time. And so all that kind of combined with everything that was happening in the world is like, we can use more kindness. And it’s easy, it’s free and it really can focus on the ripple effect to make life better for everyone.
Jeff: 09:27 And so I, you know, I came up with “One Drop of Kindness.” It akes place with a broken boy who’s been abandoned and kind of moved around from schools to houses. And he’s broken and he’s not seen or heard. And then he goes through different iterations and lessons and all of a sudden he remembers that his mother, before she left him said, “there’s always one drop of kindness in your heart.” And that’s all it takes to fill a heart with love and to kind of change the world. And so it’s a big transformative book. It’s easy and it comes with a lot of different ways to help spread kindness. It’s it’s been a fun ride. And then, “It’s Me” looks at biased, prejudiced, labeled and oppressed people and groups and helps to empower and give them voice. They’re 21 different vignettes written by real students, educators, people that that we all don’t see. And, you know, we’ve got to get rid of that colorblindness and help understand and really empower people. You know, it might be in a wheelchair, black male educator, second language learner, Muslim Americans, you know, just so many different areas that have been labeled and we’ve got to remove that bias. And it’s been a joy because it’s all – these are all real people and I’m just trying to help spread that message.
Steve: 11:13 A chance to share real stories. That’s powerful. I noticed on your on your website Jeff, that we’re coming up on a random acts of kindness day, February 17th. I’m wondering if you’ve got some thoughts or ideas of what teachers might do to to explore that possibility there and beyond. Sure – one day, but I guess like one drop of kindness, one day is a start.
Jeff: 11:40 Totally, you know, random being, you know, not planned like, hey, you happen to be in a crowded area, why not open the door for someone? And here’s a bottle of water. Let me buy you a coffee, here’s a smile. So, you know, they can be free. Smiles, kind words, kind gestures, just, “hey gosh, Steve, you know, I really I really dig you know, the way you trimmed your beard, it gives you a totally different outlook. I didn’t even recognize some of your cool facial features.” But it’s intentional, you know, you’re doing something with intention to make someone’s life better and to maybe give them more meaning, because we want that ripple, that domino, that chain reaction so that, wow, Steve felt empowered. Steve felt really good about himself. I’m going to spread this and do it to someone else. And so, you know, teachers can pass to their students and get them to do it with their own families and communities. And it’s overlooked but completely underrated and underutilized the power of kindness.
Steve: 12:48 Thanks. Thanks. Jeff closing us out here, I wondered if you’d talk to folks a little bit about how to find your website, your books,
and the opportunity to follow up with you with questions that they might have.
Jeff: 13:03 Great. Thank you. Yeah, you can connect with me at jeffkubiak.com. There is some ways that you can get in touch with me. Both books are on there. Both books can also be found on Amazon Barnes and Noble and Good Reads and you know, reach out to me. I’m always available. I love to help, I love to speak, I love to do author read alouds and anything I can do to help you know, try to make life a little bit better for everyone. And like I said, I’m blessed to even be here and have a chance to speak with you, my friend.
Steve: 13:36 Well, thank you Jeff. I appreciate your kindness. And we will we’ll put your website in the lead-in to the blog in case people are listening while they’re walking and don’t get a chance to to remember it, they’ll catch up with you. So, thanks so much for joining us today.
Jeff: 13:57 Thank you. I’m blessed and grateful. Have a great day.
Steve [Outro]: 14:01 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.