Partner School Stories

From Good to Great: Indian Hill Elementary and The Positivity Project

By Jeremy Mitchell

There are many valuable lessons, nuggets of wisdom, and inspirational quotes from Jim Collins’ now classic book on leadership and organizational success, Good to Great. One that sticks out, in particular, relates to finding meaning in life and work: “For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.”

The Positivity Project’s mission is “to help America’s youth build stronger relationships by recognizing the character strengths in themselves and others.” Ask any educator why they chose their profession, and it is almost guaranteed they will offer some version of positive psychology co-founder Chris Peterson’s mantra and path to happiness, “other people matter.” We are in the business of changing lives, and partnering with Mike Erwin and Jeff Bryan’s The Positivity Project has rekindled that fire.

In just the first few months of school here at Indian Hill Elementary Schoolin Grand Blanc, Michigan there have been many powerful small moments in our journey to help students build stronger relationships. On their own, these moments might possibly seem small and inconsequential, but these bright spots are compounding into large effects, and there is no sign of letting up. Collins’ “flywheel” metaphor comes to mind, and all of the little good is spinning off into big great.

This year, one of our third grade students, Ivan, was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma. He spent one day on campus with us before having to be rushed to the University of Michigan’s Mott Children’s Hospital where he has undergone surgery and multiple rounds of chemotherapy. Watching a child battle something so unfair is sometimes too much to bear.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Indian Hill has had to respond to support one of their own, but it seems that this time the language and mindset the students are armed with is helping them to respond en masse. Our staff and students found out that the number one thing Ivan was worried about was losing his hair. What else was there to do to support him, but to lose our hair too. It was a small gesture among all of the cards, meals, thoughts, and prayers, but truly a lesson in empathy and care.

Our friend Ivan showing off the character strengths of #humor and #zest in light of what he’s going through.
First grade teacher Duane Engleman has his head shaved by student liaison Nick Thomas in support of Ivan.
Over 20 students, (even a young lady), shaved their heads in support of their friend Ivan.

Almost every day this year, and sometimes multiple times a day, a staff member, student, or parent has shared an example of one of the 24 character strengths on display. Every time they share, you can see and hear the aha moment, “that’s it, there’s the good.” The good would have most likely happened, but what’s not clear is if it would have been noticed as much: that’s the power of a shift to the #OtherPeopleMatter mindset.

Indian Hill is a kindergarten through fifth grade building, and we were self-admittedly worried that some of the concepts of the character strengths would be too difficult to understand for the littlest ones, but this is simply not the case. Here’s a great story from our week focusing on the character strength of perspective that was relayed by a staff member whose daughter is a kindergartner at our school.

“So we have these Halloween decals that go on the windows and Izzy (his daughter) took one off and took it in the tub with her to put on the door. It was a witch. Nikki (his wife) comes in and Izzy asked her what she sees, Nikki said I see a witch. Izzy proceeded to tell her that she sees a little girl dressed up and excited for Halloween. She told Nikki it’s all based on their perspective.”

Kindergarten bath time lesson in #perspective from our friend Izzy.

These are only a few of the countless moments of caring, concern for others, and relationship building that has taken place at our school so far this year. We started the year as a really good school, but we are excited about flywheeling into a really great school. A school where success is measured not only by scores on tests, but by the quality of our interaction and care for one another. This is why we do what we do. #OtherPeopleMatter

Jeremy Mitchell
Leader at Grand Blanc Schools, Indian Hill Elementary Principal, Husband, Father, Airborne Ranger Veteran