Happy Panda Day! (It really happened)

My colleague and friend texted me today reminding me that today is actually National Panda Day. He also let me know that his kids are still talking about our Happy Panda Day celebration that came together last Thursday. For those of you who read this post, you may want to know, Happy Panda day was a success.

While I enjoyed the day, the response of students and my colleagues made it even more amazing.

It should be Panda Day Forever!

– First grader enjoying his ice cream sandwich outside

That moment might have made my day on its own, but my colleague’s post later that day filled my bucket:

“We celebrated “Panda Day” at school today. It’s a completely made up rally point to mark a year of coming together, recommitting, re-envisioning, being more flexible than we ever knew possible, and teaching through a pandemic.

There were lots of ways teachers could opt to celebrate. For our class [preschool], we decided on a few animal visits and special snacks. Older kids took hikes, did yoga, made origami, built forts…the list goes on and on.

I still get emotional when I think about this past year, and I’m trying to find the words for reflecting through a blog post. But in the meantime, here’s what I’m sure of, a year later: Love shows up. It shows up in weird, wacky, creative, uncomfortable, unfamiliar, inconvenient ways. But it always shows up.

Always.

– From Tr. Adrienne, a preschool teacher who also writes in her blog Dirt and Bricks, which is well worth the follow.

When I wrote the original post, I thought, “This is a cool idea, but there isn’t enough time to make it great. I just hope it helps a little.” Our community, however, proved again what makes it so special. They made the difference by doing what they always do – being a contribution.

The phrase “Being a contribution” is from Rosamund Stone Zander’s and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility. Being a contribution is about what you put into the world around you. Rather than measuring against other people, it’s only based on you. Anything you can add is a contribution. What made our Happy Panda Day a success is the number of people who found a way to contribute. All the teachers who added an idea to the list. Some who were able to lead activities to others that just put their idea out into the world to see where it would go. Some teachers simply offered their help, even if they didn’t get a chance to follow through on their idea. That support was contagious. It felt like every time one person offered to help, it encouraged someone else to help in their own way.

Here is what our day ended up looking like, just in case anyone wants to try their own version and would like some ideas:

  • DEAR/Pajama Day – Wear your pajamas, bring in a pillow and a stuffie so you can relax. DEAR stands for Drop Everything and Read, so bring a good book to cuddle up with, too.
  • Good News Live – If you saw John Krasinki’s Some Good News last year, we started our own. Occasionally we do live episodes. We did a quick episode with some Panda Trivia of course. In a year in which we can’t join together in our meeting room, find a way to get everyone in the ‘same space’ even virtually, can feel really powerful.
  • Food – Soft pretzels for snack, pizza for lunch and ice cream sandwiches for a sweet treat. This made the day a little easier for parents, and we made sure to provide gluten- and dairy-free snacks for students who needed it as well.
  • Food truck – we found a local food truck who has come to school events in the past. We provided coverage for teachers to order or collected orders and delivered them to classrooms.
  • Yoga – two of our teachers helped lead sessions with multiple classes
  • Tai Chi – we reached out to a parent who is a Tai Chi instructor and he offered a few hours of sessions.
  • Drama Therapy – As I mentioned, we had another member of our community offer sessions and it lined up perfectly with this timing.
  • Therapy dog visit – one of our former teachers brought her dog in for a few hours to meet classes
  • Origami – our librarian visited classes to teach them
  • Gym games – this was a direct result of asking students what they wanted to do, and our 5th graders really just wanted to play together in the gym, especially some of the games they’ve been missing this year; the unique schedule helped make this possible.
  • Hiking – we are surrounded by woods and took a wandering journey through them without any real plan or goal other than to enjoy the outdoors. One of our second grade teachers made a scavenger hunt for her class all around the campus with images students had to find.
  • Collaborative art project – our admissions director visited classes and created a Panda Playground that now adorns our front lobby.

There were a number of other things, big and small, that added to the fun. Students watched the 5th grade’s virtual musical, one teacher made all of us Panda masks to wear, our tech director made the secret code word for the day Panda, and others I’m not even thinking of. Just listing all of these things makes me appreciate all the contributions even more.

It is amazing where people will go with an idea when you share it with the world. Our purpose of celebrating students and teachers was accomplished. I hope some of you find your own ways to celebrate your students and teachers, but feel free to take this idea if you want. Just remember, one of the most important elements of the day: teachers don’t have to plan anything! This day is meant to be (almost) as relaxing for them as it is for the students. Teachers should be allowed to just show up and BE with their students.

The scheduling was a little tricky. We had a few technical difficulties during our live good news episode. Snack delivery wasn’t perfect. But I can’t think of a better way to spend our day before spring break. In a year without field trips and rally points feeling tricky at best, this is a day I won’t forget.

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