PMP:138 Middle Level Kindness Challenge – Interview with Daniel O’Donnell

Recently, Education Week shared a post, A Look at How Principals Really Drive School Improvement, with a summary of a study conducted by by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.

Photo by Tim Marshall – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions

Researchers studied over 600 elementary and secondary schools over a seven-year period “comparing student test results with surveys from teachers and students about their experiences in school. Then the group conducted 12 deeper case studies, comparing elementary and high schools with rising or declining test scores.”

Co-author, Elaine Allensworth, summarized the findings by saying: “We just keep finding over and over again, the more students feel safe and supported in school … the stronger the learning gains and the bigger the improvement in learning gains. It’s easy to get caught up in all the other things you could be doing as a principal and lose sight of the importance of students feeling safe and supported.”

As you launch a new semester, consider the way you are cultivating positivity in your school culture. Whatever level you serve, I’m excited to introduce you to the ideas promoted through the Kindness Campaign being led by Daniel O’Donnell.

Meet Daniel O’Donnell

Daniel is the Director the Kind Schools Network, a national campaign with focused on “teaching kids to practice kindness on a regular basis and manage their emotions, actions, and statements, they become better equipped to navigate our complex world.”

Daniel was raised in Springfield, Tennessee, the youngest in a family that strongly valued education. He attended public schools through high school, then graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in Political Science and Music. He joined Barack Obama’s campaign in the summer of 2007, leading efforts to register, organize and mobilize voters in seven states. After the 2008 election, Daniel joined President Obama’s administration as the Deputy White House Liaison to the US Department of Energy. Moved by the love of his hometown and the desire to make a difference more locally, Daniel returned to Nashville in 2012. Among his many responsibilities, Daniel now directs the Middle School Kindness Challenge Campaign.

In this week’s podcast interview, Daniel and I discuss the following:

  • How he became involved in the Middle School Kindness Challenge campaign and why it’s important for school leaders
  • What influences middle schools currently face that warrant a national campaign to foster kindness
  • The student outcomes by schools involved in the challenge (over 26,000 lessons have been used by schools across the nation)
  • How educators can participate in the challenge and see improvements in student behavior and performance
  • Feedback from schools where the Kindness Challenge is making a difference
  • How can principals and educators can connect to find out more information

Let’s Wrap This Up

It is no secret that schools with strong cultures see greater gains in student achievement, but sometimes we need reminders or resources to keep cultivating those cultures. You can sign-up now to participate in the The Middle School Kindness Challenge for this new semester by visiting the website If you’re not serving the middle level, consider how to use these resources in creative ways at your level. And pass this challenge along to someone who may be leading at the middle level.

For Oklahoma listeners, Daniel will be presenting at the upcoming OASSP/OMLEA Leadership and Learning Conference, February 7-8, 2019. Register soon as we only have a few seats left for this event!

Now It’s Your Turn

What are some positive steps you will be taking this semester to encourage strong culture? How can you embed practices or lessons for students that cultivate more kindness? Check out the Kindness Challenge website for more ideas.

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School leaders are very busy, so each of the twenty-four chapters is designed as a quick-read and followed with take-action questions for follow-up or reflection. If you want practical ideas on understanding your purpose, managing school teams, dealing with challenges, and leading with courage, action, motivation, and teamwork, go HERE to pick up a copy for you or your team.

Messaging Matters

Harness the power of messaging to create a culture of acknowledgment, respect, and celebration. Written specially for leaders, this title is divided into three parts, helping readers to maximize their role as chief communicators with students, teachers, and parents and community. Each chapter includes suggestions for using digital tools to enhance messaging and ends with reflection questions and practical next steps.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker