By Barbara Gruener

Fall was turning into winter last year when we realized it was time to freshen up the bulletin board at the end of my hallways. My intern Anna suggested a winter scene and I told her I wanted it to have something to do with kindness. I suggested Kindness = Global Warming. I could totally see it. A snow globe with a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting, until she said, “You want melting snowmen?” Well no, not the global warming that melts polar ice sheets and glaciers and makes life challenging for polar bears. I’m talking about the kind of global warming that warms hearts all over the world. We compromised and agreed on It’s Cool To Be Kind All Around The Globe. But that weekend, I was still wrestling with it. I asked my husband if he thought it made sense that kindness equals global warming, and he suggested that, since global warming can be a controversial topic, we refer to kindness as the real global warming. So we created that bulletin board using a huge snow globe with snowmen holding the world in their hands surrounded by Anna’s beautiful hand-drawn figures and captioned with the phrase Kindness Is The Real Global Warming.

Shortly after that bulletin board went up, Disney’s blockbuster Frozen was released. In this icy story, a young Anna heads out to find her sister Elsa, the Ice Queen whose spell leaves their kingdom trapped in an endless winter. And what breaks the spell? Kindness and caring, of course. I’ll freely admit that I’m with the millions of little girls who loved it so much that they’re dressing like Elsa for Halloween. As I left the theater I sent a text to Anna to share my surprise about how closely this movie’s theme had paralleled our work. And in the midst of all of that synergy, an invitation to deliver the keynote address at this year’s Forum appeared in my Inbox.

Overwhelmed with gratitude and joy by this opportunity, I wondered: Could I take the theme from that bulletin board and transform it into a presentation that would positively impact, influence and inspire this year’s Forum’s participants – passionate character educators who are naturally doing life-changing things – and at the same time plant some seeds that could further grow their already high-yielding harvests? I said yes to that and have spent the last year preparing for this incredible challenge.

Please join us for #Character2014 in the Nation’s Capital on Halloween for a new look at the domains of character: how empathy {head} can move your students to compassion {heart} and create 
a climate of kindness {hands}. A warm and welcoming climate in which we not only talk about and embrace kindness, but in which we habitually perform kind acts.

Intentionally. And on purpose.

A climate in which we crusade for good and cultivate ‘value-able’ citizens. Until then, an inquiry for reflection: Who are the climate changers in your corner of the world? And for whom are you a climate changer? I look forward to our time together celebrating character … and kindness, the real global warming.

Barbara Gruener is a counselor and character coach at Westwood-Bales Elementary, a 2009 National School of Character. She is also a featured keynote at the 2014 National Forum on Character Education.