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Teacher Revolutionizes How Kindness is Promoted Among Students

Good Samaritan: Melinda Forward

September 8, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Today, Mayor Richard J. Berry recognized Kindness Club International (KCI) Founder and Director, Melinda Forward, as this week’s Good Samaritan. Through KCI, Forward challenges teachers and students locally and abroad to build schools that are more connected, healthy, and inspired by positivity through acts of gratitude and kindness.

Since Forward was young she dreamt of becoming a teacher, a product of watching her mom who taught elementary school for over 30 years teach her students. Forward knew she wanted to teach French when her high school French teacher inspired her with stories of trips to France. In 1990, she started her dream career by teaching high school French at Redford Union High School in Redford, Michigan.

Forward went on to teach French for 27 years. Eleven of those years were spent teaching children and young adults in Title I schools, a category assigned to institutions with students who come from low income families. Working with students whose families lived in poverty revealed to Forward that some of them lacked a proper support system outside of the school setting, thereby affecting their motivation and aspirations.

In 2014, while teaching at Highland High School, Forward sought ways to empower her students who were hindered by a lack of encouragement at home. Through her organization called “We All Have a Voice”, she developed programs to build student voice by giving them new opportunities to communicate and listen to one another. She began by building with her students a huge chalkboard, modeled after Candy Chang’s “Before I Die” civic engagement project.  The wall allowed students to share their thoughts, hopes and dreams. Following the wall, Forward students engaged in innovative projects like “Sidewalk Talk”, “Take a Smile”, and “Inspiration Rocks”, where young adults write and give to one another kind thoughts on polished stones. All projects are designed to give students time to sit down and build relationships inspired by a common conversation. In 2016, Forward’s international students helped transform the wall into a blank chalkboard which they called the “DREAM Wall.” These chalkboard walls are currently being installed in other schools.

In November 2015, Forward found that she wanted to give up teaching, which required that she turn her focus away from her students and onto herself. She remembered a Thank You note written by a former student of hers. Reading the note reignited Forward’s will to teach and served as proof that she was touching the lives of her students.

Forward used her newfound inspiration as an opportunity to explore how she could further create change. She questioned what would happen if her entire school stopped for 10 minutes to write Thank You notes, an act of gratitude that could drive out negativity and a revolutionary way to inspire and engage students. She believed that by giving each other hand-written notes, students could connect with one another in a meaningful way. While she received pushback and a bit of pessimism along the way, her students jumped at the opportunity to spread kindness through the simple task of writing notes.

This past February, after connecting with a teacher in Hawaii who had started a Kindness Club, Forward took her kindness campaign to the next level and founded Kindness Club International. The premise of KCI is to connect schools from around the world through monthly kindness-building challenges. Through KCI, Forward helps teachers teach students new tools to empower themselves to spread more kindness and help build schools that are more connected, healthy and inspired.  Forward also trains groups of educators and students at two-day intensive workshops where she empowers school transformation by teaching the step-by-step process to grow relationships rooted in standing strong for kindness.

Over the past three years, Forward has successfully led nearly 100 elementary, middle and high schools from around the world to participate in kindness challenges including schools in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, and Lebanon. She has presented eight workshops at the 24-hour global online conferences organized by EdChange Global & Global Maker Day where more than 400 schools were registered. In 2015, she presented at the 2015 ASCD National Convention in Atlanta with more than 10,000 attendees. Forward is a member of an elite team of TEDxABQ Alumni after speaking at this past April’s TEDxABQ Education Event titled “We’re Done Fooling Around Let’s Talk Radical Change in Education”. Forward spread her idea of the 1,000 Thank Yous Challenge as an engagement tool to increase student and teacher morale and retention. The 1,000 Thank Yous Challenge is spreading as schools around the world celebrate #ThankfulThursdays.

Inspired by teachers at McCollum Elementary who built a Gratitude Tree, Forward started at Del Norte High School a new challenge to promote growing gratitude by celebrating people who spread kindness in schools.  She is currently working directly with APS students to train Kindness Ambassador Teams (KATs) to sprout Gratitude Trees.  The trees are being gifted in as a “Pay it Forward project where schools gift a tree to another school.  The first grove of Gratitude Trees gifted by KCI are sprouting at Comanche Elementary School, Taft, Jackson, Tony Hillerman, John Adams, James Monroe, and Van Buren Middle Schools, and West Mesa High School.

In the Spring of 2017, Mayor Berry’s ABQKindness Campaign invited Forward and KCI to be a major partner. Through ABQKindness, she works closely with the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council (MYAC) to help council members promote kindness in their schools.

Forward’s enthusiasm and desire for the betterment of students and their futures has led her to dedicate her life to this mission as the now full-time Director of KCI. It is for these reasons that Melinda Forward was recognized as this week’s City of Albuquerque’s Good Samaritan.