Things I Know 312 of 365: I’m Kickstart(er)ing the holidays

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.

– Lao Tzu

One of the best gifts for those who have everything is to give to those who have nothing in their name.

I’m a proud member of Team Shift Happens, I’ve gifted a pig, and I’ve let donors choose. Each gift has led to some wonderful holiday conversations around the purpose and work of these tremendous philanthropic organizations.

This year, I’m welcoming a new property into my charitable portfolio – Kickstarter.

For the uninitiated:

Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. Every week, tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.

A new form of commerce and patronage. This is not about investment or lending. Project creators keep 100% ownership and control over their work. Instead, they offer products and experiences that are unique to each project.

All or nothing funding. On Kickstarter, a project must reach its funding goal before time runs out or no money changes hands. Why? It protects everyone involved. Creators aren’t expected to develop their project without necessary funds, and it allows anyone to test concepts without risk.

Each and every project is the independent creation of someone like you. Projects are big and small, serious and whimsical, traditional and experimental. They’re inspiring, entertaining and unbelievably diverse.

Though Kickstarter doesn’t currently support gift backing, I’ll be pledging in my recipients’ names. My thinking here is this – The recipient of the gift will receive whatever rewards are connected with the project I choose, and the project will be receive much-needed funding toward following their passion.

As a teacher and fan of passion following, this appeals to my sense of doing good in the world.

Kiva, Heifer, and DonorsChoose are still on the list this year. I’m just opting to diversify the giving portfolio.

Things I Know 290 of 365: Write a teacher a thank you, and you’ll make their day

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making some suggestions of possible sources of gifts for the teachers in your life. Some will be products for purchase. Some will be ideas of things to make. All of them will be meant to help remember teachers as worthy of thanks.

At each schools year’s finish, I gave the same assignment. Rather than asking my students to write about what they’d learned in the school year as part of some essay that would be far from cherished and not have the time for attention as our other writing projects had, I had them write a letter.

I showed them an manilla folder that travelled with me from my first classroom. “This is the good stuff,” I’d say. “These are the cards, letters, sticky notes and snapshots from kids across the years I’ve taught. On days when I get to the end and I’m pretty sure I’ve screwed all of you up, I read one or two of these. It helps.”

The folder now lives on the bottom shelf of my bookcase. I think of its position as the foundation.

Then, I told my students about Mr. Curry, and how he taught me math in high school and also how to be a caring teacher. I told them about the e-mail I sent Mr. Curry once I was a teacher and realized how much of him was in my teaching. I told them about how he replied and told me it wasn’t nice to make old men cry.

And then I told my kids to think of a teacher in their lives who was their Mr. Curry or who had inspired them or whom they’d like to make proud. “Write a letter to tell them how you’re doing and what you’ve learned.”

And they wrote. They looked up addresses to old schools, addressed envelopes, and sealed their letters inside.

If the teachers were from my school, I got to deliver them and watch as they were read. They were narrative report cards holding only the good stuff – moments of reminders that what they did mattered, and they hadn’t screwed the kids up too badly.

Do that this holiday season.

If you’re a parent, write a letter to one of your kid’s teachers letting them know just how much you appreciate and honor the work they do each day to help your kid (a complete stranger) understand a little bit more about the world and their place in it.

If you’re a teacher, write a letter to one of your colleagues letting them know you see how much they do for your students, your school and your faculty.

If you’re a student, write a letter to a teacher telling them how they helped you learn.

Maybe you’ll be the first entry in their Good Stuff folder.

Things I Know 278 of 365: UncommonGoods and Etsy are goto sites for teacher gifts

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making some suggestions of possible sources of gifts for the teachers in your life. Some will be products for purchase. Some will be ideas of things to make. All of them will be meant to help remember teachers as worthy of thanks.

I’m a fan of the unusual, useful and responsible. If I can find all three in a gift, I go for it.

Two online sites can be counted upon to give me options in this regard – and

Here’s what defines UncommonGoods apart:Shopping either site for a gift for a teacher will head you in the right direction.

Featured Artist: UncommonGoods highlights the stories of our artists and designers throughout our website as well as our print catalog.

Handmade Goods: Look for the blue hand icon throughout the website to find our handmade goods.

Uncommon Knowledge: UncommonGoods posts surprisingly uncommon information and facts related to certain product categories or featured items on the site. For example, did you know that early candles were often eaten rather than burned? Or that Leonardo da Vinci invented the scissors?

Our Commitment to the Environment: UncommonGoods strives to work in harmony with the environment: our print catalogs are printed on recycled paper (30% post consumer waste) and all our merchandise is produced without harm to animals. Look for the green recycled icon throughout our website for products made of recycled materials.

Better to Give Program: We donate a portion of each order to your choice of non-profit organizations: American Forests, AmeriCares, City Harvest, and the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

And Etsy:

Our mission is to empower people to change the way the global economy works. We see a world in which very-very small businesses have much-much more sway in shaping the economy, local living economies are thriving everywhere, and people value authorship and provenance as much as price and convenience. We are bringing heart to commerce and making the world more fair, more sustainable, and more fun.

Both Uncommon and Etsy had the added benefit of supporting creative communities and independent artisans. Each time I make a purchase from either site, I have the feeling I’ve just purchased a gift that will be unique and special to the individual for whom I’m shopping.

The range of prices on both sites allows for diversity of choice without getting too spendy, and I’ve never felt as though my purchase was anything less than high quality.

Any gift for a teacher from UncommonGoods or Etsy has the added bonus of sending the message that you see the teacher as unique to your or your kid’s education. And that’s a message worth sending.

Things I Know 274 of 365: Letters make great teacher gifts

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.

– William James

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making some suggestions of possible sources of gifts for the teachers in your life. Some will be products for purchase. Some will be ideas of things to make. All of them will be meant to help remember teachers as worthy of thanks.

It sits on the shelf in my bedroom – a manilla folder that should be a box, but whose contents I haven’t taken the time transfer. The tab of the folder bears the faded name of a former student, but the work inside isn’t his.

If I were to give it a name, I’d go with something like, “The Good Stuff.” This is the folder that holds the notes and letters received from students over the last eight years. I don’t have them all, but I have enough.

When I was teaching, this file lived in a drawer in my classroom. On days when I felt like the last thing I should be doing with my life or to the lives of my students was teaching, I’d flip through it and convince myself there must be some good there.

The folder inspired my annual end-of-year assignment that asked students to write a letter to a teacher who had inspired them giving an update on their lives and letting them know the impact their teaching made.

The folder is also what inspires my recommendation for a holiday gift for a teacher. Write a letter – a real letter – letting them know the effect they’ve had in your life or your child’s life. The only thing it will cost you is time, but it will be more valuable to the receiving teacher than you can know.

Take it a step further, write a letter of appreciation about the teacher and send it to the principal.

One of my favorite parts of having my students write their inspiring teachers was the chance to write letters to my own. Even if you are not a student or the parent of a student, consider giving the gift of a letter of appreciation this year to a teacher who’s made a positive impact in your life.

I know from experience how much those letters can mean and how their contents can sustain us in moments of doubt.

Things I Know 270 of 365: Blissmo boxes make great teacher gifts

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making some suggestions of possible sources of gifts for the teachers in your life. Some will be products for purchase. Some will be ideas of things to make. All of them will be meant to help remember teachers as worthy of thanks.

A few weeks ago, a small cardboard box showed up at my door. While I didn’t know what it held, I knew from whence it came.

It was my first blissmo box, and I recommend it for your consideration as a gift for a classroom teacher.

The Basics:

  • for $19 US each month, you choose from one of three themed boxes curated by the folks at blissmo
  • each box is filled with between $25-$50 (or more) worth of merchandise
  • the products are “either certified as organic or eco-friendly, or that have a people & planet positive approach in the DNA of the business”
  • either keep all the products for yourself or hand them out to your friends as gifts

I was gifted 3 months of blissmo boxes by a friend, and I loved the first one. Guest-curated by the folks at Good, it included:

  • a $25 gift from PACT underwear (I used it on socks)
  • a miir water bottle ($1 of each bottle sold “provides one person with clean water for one year)
  • organic, small-farm-grown tea from the folks at runa
  • a set of To-Go-Ware bamboo utensils in a pouch made from upcycled plastic bottles (it lives in my backpack and has already saved me from using at least 10 sets of plastic silverware)
  • a 3-pack of notebooks from Scout Books made of 100% recylced paper, printed with soy ink and sourced from local paper mills (think eco-responsible moleskins)

I was a little worried I wouldn’t dig every item that showed up. My worry was misplaced. You can gift a blissmo box here or sign a recipient up directly here. While my thinking is running along the lines of teacher gifts, these would be a great monthly care package for college students as well.

Things I Know 268 of 365: I loved teacher gifts

A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.

– Lucius Annaeus Seneca

One of the things I unexpectedly missed when I moved from teaching middle school to teaching high school were the little gifts from kids (read parents) around the holidays.

Something about a carefully chosen gift from the families I served meant I was doing okay.

Even when I was teaching older kids, it was special to get a card on the day before break with a few sentences letting me know I was cared for.

One family consistently included a gift card to the Trader Joe’s up the block from SLA. More than once, those cards came in handy when I was out of cash or another student needed some money for a meal after school.

For me, any gift or card from a student or parent was a sign I wasn’t in it alone, that the work I was doing meant a little bit more. It meant, when they sat down to think about who they felt compelled to appreciate, who I was in that student’s life meant enough to be remembered.

When I was in school, I remember creating holiday gifts for my teachers with my mom. One year we bought each of them a coffee mug and made homemade hot chocolate mix. I think there was a tea towel thrown into the mix as well. As I got older, I didn’t see why the gifts were important. They seemed childish or uncool. Still, my mom insisted, and I would hall a shopping bag full of small gifts in to dispense just before break.

When I was a teacher and my mom and sister Rachel prepared gifts for Rachel’s teachers, I could empathize with what it meant to be remembered as someone worth receiving a gift. I got that it wasn’t childish, but part of what we do when we want to say to others that they are worth our gratitude, worth our remembering.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making some suggestions of possible sources of gifts for the teachers in your life. Some will be products for purchase. Some will be ideas of things to make. All of them will be meant to help remember teachers as worthy of thanks.