Houston Kraft is the best motivational/inspirational speaker we have brought to our school in my 11 years. He is affiliated with CharacterStrong, which is a character development program and curriculum that began right here in WA State. This is the second year in a row we had him speak to our students. Both years he also did a student leadership workshop where he worked with 40 selected students in a 90 minute workshop. With our students he talked about kindness and love. He talked about how we can choose those actions and behaviors. He teaches them skills to be more relational. His message to middle school through high school is spot on.
What he is about is creating a culture of kindness and putting an emphasis on relationships and how our experience as people is shaped more strongly by our interactions with others than by the curriculum we’re taught in school (he does this without devaluing the knowledge we teach in school). In fact, he says you can’t have one without the other in life to be successful and happy. But, he also quoted several authors who claim that a typical school only offers students about 50% of what they need and that what used to be considered ‘soft skills’ (perseverance, communication, leadership, resiliency- to name a few) are the new ‘hard skills’.
The most powerful event for me this year was he also did a 1 hour staff workshop. During this he spoke directly to us all about our responsibility and provided a much needed reminder about Why we do what we do. He quoted research about our personalities being mostly established by age 6, but our moral character can be grown and developed if we teach kids how to do it. He even asked us to come up with One Word to answer this question: What do I want my students to FEEL and Remember when they walk out of my classroom? Even if you didn’t do an all school assembly, the hour with your staff would be well worth it!
Jesse Hardt - Horizon MS
It was great to have Houston back to speak and work with our kids. Our students enjoyed his message, "Make Kindness Normal'. Our ASB officers have even ordered wristbands with his message to give to our student body. Houston connects so well with the students. He is engaging and sincere. His message is simple and yet so important. Our students relate to him and are able to make the connection in their own lives. We always love having Houston visit our school and look forward to seeing him again.
Kris Henry - Harbour Pointe MS
I was driving into Seattle late Monday afternoon and was in the usual traffic snarl beginning around Greenlake. As I passed under 50th Street, cars changed lanes to go around a stalled van in the second lane from the left.
My impulse was to pull over, jump out of my car, run across traffic, get the driver to throw it into neutral, and start pushing the van out of traffic. Just the vision of that impulse caused some minor terror- the fear of judgment, the fear of invoking someone’s anger, the fear of being seen doing something unusual. I did not stop.
And, of course, this is exactly what our friend, Houston Kraft, talked about when he visited on Tuesday. What keeps us from acts of kindness is our fear. It is a fear, he says, we are not born with, but that we develop over time as we experience, suffering, pain, loss, grief.
I have been fortunate to have been in a six-year conversation with Houston. The actual talking happens only periodically, but it feels like a place of learning where vulnerability and not being the hero in your own story is ever-present. Each reminder deepens my own meaning making, largely because Houston’s message comes through stories of his own imperfections, mistakes, and regrets.
Kindness has become a bit of a guilty pleasure, as some poets and philosophers have posited. I am not sure why it appears that way to them- kindness seems practical and necessary in a complex, and, at times, mean world. I am grateful Houston’s reminders of my own imperfections and the steady progress I am making becoming a better human.
Scott Mauk - Edmonds Heights K-12, WA
This is the second time we've had Houston speak to our students and the growth of both the message, the speaking style, and whole package of CharacterStrong to support the message has just been phenomenal. I am highly recommending Houston to my colleagues in High School Activities and Administrative positions.
We had Houston join us on our second day of school this year. We connected his message to our roll out of PBIS in our school this year. His assembly set the tone and framework for PBIS / creating a positive and inclusive school climate. Additionally, Houston stayed and spoke to our staff in a special All Staff meeting after school. We don't usually have staff meetings on Thursdays and I was nervous that staff would skip it in favor of setting up their new classes (also very important). But I was blown away that all of our staff came and so many came up to me afterwards to comment on how valuable it was to get a pep-talk / reminder from Houston about the importance of building our relationships with students - that before serious learning can happen, we have to show that we love and value the students we are trying to teach.
Since having him speak our first week, we have now rolled out CharacterDares to all students and staff are able to have a language to talk to students about character. I'm so excited for how this has invigorated this whole approach to teaching our students and it is a perfect dovetail for PBIS work!
Johanna Phillips - Shorecrest High School, WA
Houston was an awesome speaker! Many of the students said he kept everyone's attention for the entire assembly. Not an easy feat in middle school! They loved the stories he shared.
The students are excited to continue some of the challenges he put before them.
Catherine Shapiro - Hastings Middle School, OH