The flight from Raleigh, North Carolina to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport was short, comfortable and drenched in late afternoon sunlight until we began our descent. Then rain clouds abruptly reduced visibility to zero and we had a wet and rocky ride until we broke through them just above the runway. Our reward was a rainbow that appeared to have attached itself to the left wing of the plane and escorted us all the way to our gate.
Now I’m a sucker for rainbows. I’ve come to see them not only as a sign all is right with the world, but as a harbinger of good things to come as well. This particular rainbow, plucked from the clouds at 10,000 feet, did not disappoint. I took it as the gift that it was, promising a wonderful visit with the kids and teachers at John R. Tibbott Elementary School.
I was met at the airport by one of my favorite folks in education – Erin (the librarian) Preder: @ . I’ve known Erin for a couple of years now. She was one of the first to read the CritterKin books and see their potential to teach empathy, compassion and kindness. CritterKin’s mission, to integrate those story-driven lessons into real life experiences, dovetailed nicely with the school’s “Kindness Garden,” where students were learning how food is grown and finds its way to our tables.
Erin took CritterKin to her Principal, a forward thinking educator named Ana Wilson, who gave us her approval and practical support. Together Erin and I devised a system that allowed me to read, write, draw and even dance with her students using my computer in North Carolina. It wasn’t perfect, but no one was complaining. As Erin put it after our first year working together, “CritterKin was really the most enjoyable experience I have ever had in my 17 years as an educator. I wouldn’t change what we did, and I’d do it all over in a heartbeat!” Now there I was, about to meet my collaborator and friend, as well as all the teachers and kids who had become like family.
Oddly enough, the whole experience felt like deja vu. I’d seen many parts of the school before – the library, garden and a few of the classrooms – but never had the chance to see them in relation to the rest of the campus. The office and gym were smaller than I’d imagined, while the hallways and grounds of the school seemed enormous. The things that felt absolutely right in every way were the smiles of the kids.
There’s really no way to thank someone for sharing your dream and going out of her way to help you realize it. I can tell you that Erin is a committed, caring and creative educator; that her enthusiasm and ability to motivate others are inspirational; that she is an excellent writer and presenter in her own right; and all of that would be true. But you really have to experience Erin for yourself to get the full effect.
So here, without further ado, is Part I of the video I made of the conversation between myself, Erin and Ana Wilson. I hope it will help you understand what motivated Erin to push to bring CritterKin to her school, and inspire you to do something similar at yours. Our kids deserve to have educators like Erin and Ana in their lives – educators who believe in their abilities and are committed to helping them grow into caring, compassionate adults. Thank you Erin for all that you do, but most especially for who you are!
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