McKinney ISD’s Live Kind Initiative is Designed to Improve School Culture

A Q&A with McKinney ISD Superintendent Rick McDaniel

These days it seems tempers are high and respect is low, whether it’s Democrats and Republicans lashing out on Facebookcommuters laying on the horn, or other shoppers making unhelpful comments when your kid melts down at TargetTroubled by this climate of disrespect he sees in our society, McKinney ISD Superintendent Rick McDaniel launched the McKinney ISD Lives Kind Initiative (“Live Kind” for short) to make sure his students experience—and extend—kindness daily. The initiative aims to promote compassion throughout the district, from students to faculty members. McDaniel, who marked his fifth year as superintendent this month, hopes that through Live Kind, McKinney kids will learn the importance of being courteous and compassionate—traits that will make for a stronger, more united society when this generation grows up. We sat down with McDaniel to talk about the initiative and his hopes for the future of our kids.

What inspired you to start the Live Kind initiative? 

Right now, it appears, at least to me, that we have some work to do in terms of getting along. It’s almost like we’ve lost the ability to respectfully disagree with someone. I just figured that in order to get adults and even high school students to learn to respect one another and treat each other with kindness, we had to start at the elementary schools. That needed to be something that we made a concerted effort to teach at the lowest levels that we have these kids, with the hopes that as they grow older, they’ll learn to respect one another for their differences and that they’ll learn to respectfully disagree.

One of the issues that has become more prevalent over the last, I would say the last five to 10 years, is students’ emotional well-being. They are under pressures like they’ve never been under before. We want school to be a safe place for all. So when they come to school, that should be a place that everyone around them treats them with kindness and dignity and respect. I think that we owe it to the students we are entrusted with daily to make that part of what we’re trying to teach them.

How are campuses implementing the initiative

Promotion of it at the high school level is really easier because you can assign different projects to your student council, student-led organizations that can take it and push it out in various forms to all of the other students. Each of our three high schools does different things with it, and same thing with our middle schools. The more time-intensive piece for us really occurs at the elementary level, because they are primarily driven by the adults in the campus—the campus administrators, the counselors—to put together rewards. If you’re caught doing an act of kindness, then your name goes on this board; enough of these, and you might get to choose a gift.

The idea is that we’re keeping on the forefront of kids’ minds that they need to practice kindness. Each of our elementary schools has a green room in which they do a newscast, so it’s mentioned every single day: “McKinney ISD lives kind.” “Are you living kind today?” Kids will do what you ask them to do. If you provide leadership in certain areas, and say, “This is important to us,” then they’ll take it and run with it.

Do you think it also serves as a preventative measure against bullying and violence? 

I don’t know that you will ever completely fix that issue but the reality is I had to do something. We are at a point now where students are facing higher degrees of stress at home, higher degrees of stress at school, and the coping mechanisms, for whatever reason, don’t seem to be there. We’ve added crisis counselors, this Live Kind initiative, just trying to make school a safer place. I wish I could say for certain that because we’ve done this, we won’t have X amount of incidents. But the thing is you can’t measure what doesn’t occur. If you don’t do any new initiatives then these numbers continue to increase, then you can measure that. But you can’t measure what didn’t occur as a result of the initiative. You just have to use common sense and say, “This is an emotional-social well-being issue that we need to find a way to address.”

What overall message do you want the Live Kind initiative to send

I think the message I want to communicate is, as adults, we can all accomplish so much more when we can learn to treat each other with respect, even in disagreement, because we can reach resolution and agreement on certain issues much faster when we do treat each other with kindness. If [kids] can embrace the idea of treating each other with respect and promoting kindness, then they, as adults, will be able to accomplish so much more than this generation is right now. We have to learn to get along.