from Bill Hudson, head of school

Several weeks ago, I spent over an hour on the phone trying to clear up an issue with the automatic payment for our cell phone. We suspected possible fraud and had canceled the credit card on file, but I forgot to update my payment method with the service provider. I like to think of myself as easygoing and patient. Still, my frustration grew to anger as I tried to navigate the online customer service portal. Later, after spending more time than I had on hold, I wasn’t very kind to the customer service representative I spoke with. It wasn’t my best moment.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Christine Porath of Georgetown University says there’s been a definite increase in angry, uncivil, and obnoxious behavior in many workplaces around the world, including businesses, hospitals, restaurants, airlines, hotels, stores, and schools. In a 2005 survey, about half of workers said they were treated rudely at work at least once a month. In 2011, the percentage rose to 55%, in 2016 it was 62%, and in 2022 it was 76%, with 78% saying they witnessed incivility in their workplace at least once a month. Incivility is harmful both physically and mentally.

The number one cause of incivility? Stress. In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world, complete with social and political divisiveness, it’s not a surprise. According to Porath, the antidotes to incivility in the business world are hiring well, training and coaching, empathy, recognizing and rewarding civility, and modeling. These interventions are similar to what might occur in a school community. It is my experience after working with, and in many different schools, the culture of kindness at MPA is the strongest I’ve encountered. I believe it is in the cultural DNA of MPA.

If you look kindness up in the dictionary, you will find it defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. Over the last week or so, and in anticipation of Valentine’s Day next week, I’ve witnessed kindness manifested in both big and small ways, and I’d like to share a few of these with you.

Kindness was front and center recently in Lower School, as students joined 18 million students from around the world in the Kindness Challenge. Students focused, learned, and practiced the many small actions that have a significant impact. Each Lower School student received a Great Kindness Challenge checklist and was encouraged to complete as many acts of kindness from the checklist as possible during the week of January 23. The motto is “Together, we lift each other up, cheer each other on, and show that KINDNESS MATTERS!”

As an additional challenge and motivation, Mr. Purdy told students that if 50 or more turned in their Kindness Challenge checklists at the end of the week, he would color his hair pink and blue at the February Monday Morning Meeting. In the end, students turned in 75 Kindness Challenge checklists.

In Middle School, students took time during advisory period to express their feelings about one another. Laminated sheets of white paper with each student’s name were posted throughout the room. Classmates moved about the classroom writing words and sentiments like, “You’re kind, funny, and smart,”  “You are an original in the best way!” and “I love how supportive you are.”

In his senior speech Tuesday, Upper School student Justin Choi told of his experience as a frightened new ninth grader, having recently arrived from Hong Kong. He kept to himself his first few days at MPA, terrified of his new environment. He overheard a classmate talking about basketball, Justin’s favorite sport. He took a risk and blurted something out but rather than being dismissed or ignored, his classmate engaged him in conversation. Justin’s confidence began to grow, and within a week, he had introduced himself to everyone, began sitting with a group of boys at lunch, and joined the basketball team a few months later.

The kindness of our parent community reminds faculty and staff of the gratitude, esteem, and partnership of families. Over the past week, our outstanding Parents Association sponsored Faculty and Staff Appreciation Week. Special themed days, like nachos with a plethora of different salsas or cannoli chips with cream cheese dips, gave teachers an extra lift as they prepared for and led parent-teacher conferences.

Kindness alone won’t address our society’s stress and anxiety, but it is a start. According to author Daniel Coyle, a strong culture addresses and answers the most basic questions: Are we connected? Do we share a future? Are we safe? True kindness is not “Minnesota Nice.” It is intentional and authentic. Practicing self-care, showing gratitude, developing empathy, and being kind are important steps toward civility. But we must set the bar higher. At MPA, we strive to nurture a culture of kindness each and every day.

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