Inspired by the Girl Scouts: Leaving a Place Better Than You Found It

Girl Scout cookies arrived last week and I’ve never seen such a mix of emotions from people.  I’ve heard, “this is my favorite time of year, it’s better than Christmas!” On the other hand, I’ve heard things like, “ugh, I’ve got 300 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in my garage right now and can’t even get the car in there, this is the worst time of year!”  Personally, I like the latter group because they’re the ones who show up with boxes of cookies to share every time you see them!!  

All this thinking about the Girl Scouts reminded me of something I learned from a former student a few years back.  She was telling me about the badges she was trying to earn and she was explaining the “Girl Scout Way” badge, if I recall she was in the Brownies at the time.  The part that made me the happiest was when she explained to me that one of the requirements for this badge was to demonstrate a mastery of the understanding that “Girl Scouts leave a place better than they found it.”  

I couldn’t have been more excited when she explained this to me; it has long been a value of mine that I’ve tried to model and foster in all of my school communities over the years.  It’s quite a simple thing to do really. If you’re walking in the park/hallway/your neighborhood (anywhere really) and you see some trash, pick it up. If you borrow someone’s classroom, you put the chairs back the way you found them and tidy up.  If your friend loans you their car for the day, you fill it up with gas and maybe even get it washed. This value is all about demonstrating concern for the greater good of the community. If we can just do a little bit to help make something better, and we all commit to that, then the world will be a much better place in general.

My examples above were all physical examples, things you can do to improve places or items.  However, this value of “leave a place better than you found it” holds true to emotional or intellectual spaces as well.  Are people at the party better off after you’ve been there? Did you add value to the conversations, make people laugh, or offer a good piece of advice to a friend?  What about at school? Did you contribute positively to your collaborative team meeting? Were you able to help a colleague today or pay a compliment to someone who usually goes unrecognized?  The concept of leaving a place better than you found it takes many forms, if the whole world would just follow this model we’d all be a lot better off!

Last week I talked about the power of kindness, I guess this is a specific extension of that concept.  The Girls Scouts inspired me this week. I’ve been inspired to eat a lot of cookies (I like the peanut butter sandwiches the best!)  I’ve also been inspired to renew my focus on leaving a place better than I find it, as well as spreading the message.  

I’d like to encourage you to share this message with your students, encourage them to embrace this value, and then let them see you modeling it too!  

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