Public Education Matters

Kindness is an important skill to develop, but too often, we talk about it as an abstract concept without really explaining it in a way that a child can truly understand or put into practice in their lives. Leave it to a teacher to change that! Christina Dankert, a 2nd grade teacher in Sylvania, literally wrote the book on it. She discusses her debut children's book, "The Kindness Machine."

Show Notes

"The Kindness Machine" - Season 3, Episode 5
Kindness is an important skill to develop, but too often, we talk about it as an abstract concept without really explaining it in a way that a child can truly understand or put into practice in their lives. Leave it to a teacher to change that! Christina Dankert, a 2nd grade teacher in Sylvania, literally wrote the book on it. She discusses her debut children's book, "The Kindness Machine."
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Featured Education Matters guest: 
  • Christina Dankert, 2nd grade teacher, Sylvania Schools
    • Author: "The Kindness Machine"
    • Christina Dankert has a passion for literacy and believes that we can change the world by reading to the children in our lives. She lives in Sylvania, Ohio, with her husband, Chad, and their two children. She has dreamed of collaborating with her husband to merge their two professions of educator and artist into one meaningful product. The Kindness Machine, their debut picture book, allowed that dream to come true. 
    • Learn more about Christina at
MORE | To order your own copy of The Kindness Machine, click here.

Connect with OEA:
About us:
  • The Ohio Education Association represents about 120,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals who work in Ohio’s schools, colleges, and universities to help improve public education and the lives of Ohio’s children. OEA members provide professional services to benefit students, schools, and the public in virtually every position needed to run Ohio’s schools.
  • Education Matters host Katie Olmsted serves as Media Relations Consultant for the Ohio Education Association. She joined OEA in May, 2020, after a ten-year career as a television reporter, anchor, and producer. Katie comes from a family of educators and is passionate about telling educators' stories and advocating for Ohio's students. She lives in Central Ohio with her husband and two young children.
This episode was recorded on August 23, 2022.

What is Public Education Matters?

Ohio's public schools serve 1.6 million children - 90 percent of students in the state! What happens in the classroom has impacts far beyond the walls of the K-12 school building or higher ed lecture hall. So, on behalf of the 120,000 members of the Ohio Education Association, we're taking a deeper dive into some of the many education issues facing our students, educators, and communities. Originally launched in 2021 as Education Matters, Public Education Matters is your source for insightful conversations with the people who shape the education landscape in Ohio. Have a topic you'd like to hear about on Public Education Matters? Email us at

Intro 0:07
This is Education Matters, brought to you by the Ohio Education Association.

Katie Olmsted 0:15
Welcome back to Education Matters. I'm Katie Olmsted, part of the communications team for the Ohio Education Association and it's 120,000 members. Our members are teachers, education support professionals and higher ed faculty members who help their students develop critical life skills every single day. One of those life skills is kindness. And that's certainly something I think we could all spread more of in this world. But honestly, it's a concept we talk about a lot in the abstract. How exactly do you explain kindness to a child? And how can you help students practice their kindness skills in their everyday lives? Well, leave it to a second grade teacher to lead the way. Christina Dankert, is a second grade teacher in Sylvania schools in Northwest Ohio. And she literally wrote the book on this. Dankert's debut children's book is called "The Kindness Machine." And it's about a second grade teacher, Mr. Wilson, and his marvelous invention to help his students learn how to be kind. And to help them realize they don't need this machine to find their kindness inside. As Dankert told us, writing this book was a long time dream come true.

Katie Olmsted 1:40
Christina, thank you so much for sitting down with us. I have to say, I saw the book, I bought it for my kids. And I love this book, you should be so proud of yourself.

Christina Dankert 1:51
So thank you so much, you know, it has been a bucket list item of mine since I was finishing up my undergrad in college. I remember staring at this big library going, Oh, my gosh, I want to write a book, and I want my book to be on the children's floor. So it's definitely, definitely something I am proud of. Thank you.

Katie Olmsted 2:12
And you were mentioning that you're proud, it was a longtime dream to have in collaboration with your husband on this.

Christina Dankert 2:18
You know, it's so funny, because before we were married, I said, you know, we should write a book. I'd finish college, I had this idea. And you know, you can illustrate it because he is an artist by day, a graphic designer, and you know, life gets busy and things happen. And our COVID Silver Lining was that I actually stepped away from the classroom for one year, and took care of our family. And then it allowed us, it allowed me to pursue the writing journey, and to learn about the publishing path. And we were very fortunate that when the manuscript was accepted through Purple Butterfly Press, we were able to submit sample illustrations and they scooped him up as well.

Katie Olmsted 3:00
Where did the idea for this, the concept of the kindness machine come from?

Christina Dankert 3:05
You know, it's funny, because I think I knew that I wanted to write a book, but it took me time in the classroom, and then time is a mom - we have two children - to figure out what is the message that I really want to share with other people. And that concept came down to kindness. And I don't remember what I was doing. But I remember the idea of The Kindness Machine came into my head. And I thought, well, that's the title. Now let's craft the story. So that's kind of how that went.

Katie Olmsted 3:34
I have to say, flipping through the book, I love the illustration of the kindness machine. For people who are listening online right now, it's obviously an audio only podcast, so you can definitely find this online, take a look at it yourself. It is wonderfully colorful. It has all sorts of oddly shaped buttons and levers and a big screen on it that tells you the different things the kindness machine can do. It kind of reminds me of like Dr. Seuss's car, the cat and a hats car that is sure. Which came first, your idea of a kindness machine, or this idea of what this kindness machine would look like.

Christina Dankert 4:17
So the idea came first. And I wrote it with descriptive language of you know, colorful buttons, and it was taller than the teacher and it was bright. And then I had the buttons described that the students would push throughout the story. And my husband Chad said, so what do you, like, Do you have anything in mind? And I don't have that part of my brain that, I couldn't sketch anything for him. He took it and ran with it. And I was so pleased when he showed me the first initial initial sketch. I thought Yeah, that's what it is.

Katie Olmsted 4:50
That was a thing in your head. I love it. And spoiler alert for anybody who hasn't read the book yet, when the children touch the buttons, a word show was up on the screen, those elements of what it takes to be kind. What are some of the big takeaways that you want people to take away from this book?

Christina Dankert 5:10
Well, I was I received some excellent advice from our local children's librarian where he said, read as much as you can that is already out in the picture book world about kindness. So there's kindness and compassion and empathy. And a lot of it is how to be kind to others, which obviously, is extremely important. But in about a 50, 60 book search, only one book that I find had this idea of being kind to ourselves as well. So I felt that idea was missing. So you know, we can say Be Kind all day long, but especially young children, they don't know what it looks like and what it feels like. So my big takeaway is, this is these are simple things that you can do every day that don't cost any money. So something as simple as giving someone a smile, but then you learn how to be kind to others. And then that idea of being kind to ourselves is also spotlighted. And I really hope that the adults reading the book to younger children, they get that reminder as well, because I feel like for us to be kind to ourselves. There's certain days, it's a real challenge.

Katie Olmsted 6:19
Did you have that challenge as you were trying to write this book? Did you hit any stumbling blocks?

Christina Dankert 6:25
Absolutely. And I think anyone who is a writer, or does any sort of art, whether it's painting, drawing, you know, digital work, I think you do, we're our worst critics. And there were times that I thought, You know what, I'm just going to highlight this whole thing, and I'm going to hit delete and start over. Because there are moments where like, what am I what am I missing? And who's going to pick it up? And that was so special, when a publisher loved the idea to, you know, back me with that. So I think it is that imposter syndrome. You know, that's a real thing that we all have. And I know educators, you know, we are also extremely hard on ourselves where we hope that we've done the best that we can. So I think I had both the teacher brain, and then this author brain where you're, you're really hoping to just kind of keep moving forward, because there is that passion. You know, you get to that point where like, I have a message I want to share, let's do it.

Katie Olmsted 7:21
The bottom line message from this book to me is the kids realizing that Aha Moment that they have this kindness machine inside themselves the whole time, that they are the superheroes. Have you as an educator seen a child have that kind of moment? And what did that do to you?

Christina Dankert 7:41
I think all educators, I don't want to speak for everyone, but I think those aha moments are the reason we stay in the profession. You know, to watch a student have something that's so challenging, and then like, oh, my gosh, I get it! That I think is really what keeps us in the field. And I do love you know, when we when I wrote the manuscript, I was reading it to my kids, you know, there's no pictures yet, they would ask me what's next? And what did you add last night when you know, they went to bed? And when I finished it, or felt that it was finished, and at the very end, the teacher asked them, you know, who has that superpower? And they do have that aha moment, both of my kids raised their hands.

Katie Olmsted 8:26
And I love that so much!

Christina Dankert 8:28
It was perfect. And my husband looked at me and he goes, Oh, my gosh, that's the last illustration. So there were things that happen that were like we saw them realize without any other pictures, like, hey, I can be kind, I don't need a machine. And when I wrote the book, originally, it was written - right now, it is realistic fiction. But when I first wrote it, I had a version that was fantasy, where the kids went into this thing in this machine, and I had someone read it, and they said, do they have to do that? You know, what does that serve? And at first, I was so offended, I'm like, Oh, my gosh, it's magic. What do you mean? But then he said, you don't want a child the thing that that they can't be kind unless there are these special circumstances. And I thought, Oh my God. And when I rewrote it, I really only deleted two or three sentences that took it out of fantasy, and put it back in realistic fiction, which I'm just beyond thrilled that that's where it went.

Katie Olmsted 9:31
And there's so many moments for Ahas along the way. Looking at the book in the corners, after we're introduced to the machine, there are these guided questions like Who can you give a compliment to? Or, how can you make someone smile?Going along with the different things that the kindness machine does. Why was that something important to you to include in this?

Christina Dankert 9:53
As a teacher, we naturally practice and learn to stop and ask those questions. And I was hoping by adding those questions that it would pause the adult reader or the young reader. So it could be the listener or the reader and just take a moment and remove themselves from the pages and apply it to themselves. Because my hope is that if they can turn it into something that I could do, it's hopefully more meaningful to stick. So something that's nice is that the book is a little bit longer for you know, a three, four or five year old. But when you have those, I call them magic questions in the corner, you can just read that one page as the magic question, close the book and come back to it another day.

Katie Olmsted 10:36
Oh, you've never met my three year old. There is no stopping. It's do it again, do it again, do it again.

Christina Dankert 10:42
I love it. But if you had someone, that it's a natural pause, and then moment for discussion, and if time doesn't permit for the read aloud, it doesn't take anything away, it just that little piece can be added the next time the book is read,

Katie Olmsted 10:58
Who is the target age for this book to you?

Christina Dankert 11:03
I believe, kindergarten through third, fourth grade. I was super pleased that I was able to present the book to each grade level at my building last year. And I was the most nervous for the fifth grade group. And as a second grade teacher, I'm real comfortable, you know, k,1,2,3,4. But fifth graders, I came into that presentation and said, I understand you're fifth grade, almost sixth graders. I understand that I wrote a picture book. But when I asked them, can children and adults still learn from picture books? And they said yes, I thought all right, we're going to be good. And they had, I was very pleased with their interaction and their discussion with those magic questions, because it was very different than how kindergarten and first grade answered just because of their life skills that they have. And the, you know, the moments that they are meaningful to a kindergartener are going to be different than someone about to go into junior high.

Katie Olmsted 12:06
That's a wonderful perspective to hear about. What has the reception been? I would hope that the kids in your own building have been particularly welcoming because they know you, but I'm not gonna lie, I love this too. I read it to myself, and then I read it to my kids, and then I read it myself again.

Christina Dankert 12:26
Well, thank you. Um, the most common questions or comments that I get are, first of all, what inspired you to write it, which you've already asked. And then they Everybody keeps saying, kindness. It's so timely. And at first, I thought, yeah, kindness is timely. That's cool. And then I thought, oh, my gosh, what happened, that kindness was not on our forefront, or that kindness kind of disappeared, so that suddenly, this has become a bigger deal. And so I think that it kind of slows people down again, I hope, just take a minute in a classroom or right before bed or on a couch. It's like, we can do simple things to be kind. And they can make someone's day and be so meaningful. So the response has been, you know, I had a great conversation with my class, or I love the discussion with my three year old or my eight year old. And that, to me, that has been, that's been the best part of this,

Katie Olmsted 13:27
As a second grade teacher, are these lessons about how to be kind, something that you incorporate in what you teach to your kids?

Christina Dankert 13:37
Absolutely. So our building has a PBIS system, which is a positive behavior system throughout the building. And then we have another project that we incorporate each classroom incorporates that is called the positivity project. And that project is using all the language like empathy, kindness, compassion, teamwork, that those words don't mean anything without an adult, giving them examples, whether that's roleplay, whether that is through a picture book or a conversation. So you can say, Be Kind until you you know, said it and you have no air left, but it doesn't mean anything if they don't know what it looks like and what it feels like and what they're supposed to do with that.

Katie Olmsted 14:17
And that's something I have found, you know, I only have young kids, I have a three year old and a one year old, but it's been eye opening to me talking to my three year old when I say things like make a good decision. I think, well, of course he knows what a good decision is. But he has no idea, when push comes to shove. And I asked him okay, what's a good decision? I don't know.

Christina Dankert 14:37

Katie Olmsted 14:37
Same thing with kindness it It was eye opening to me that I told him, I don't know how many times be kind to your sister, be kind to your sister. And I don't think he understood what I was saying until we really dug into this. As his mom, I'm very happy now that we're getting into this. But as a teacher, how important is it in terms of kids Just being set up for success academically and in life, that they actually understand what kindness is, and that they feel it around them.

Christina Dankert 15:08
Absolutely. And I think you know, this idea of creating that classroom family, that classroom community, taking the time at the beginning of the year, when, yes, we have 100 things we have to do, but getting to know your students, letting them get to know you, your likes and your dislikes, and then building that time into your schedule, which I understand we have a lot to teach and get through. But you want them to leave your four walls of your classroom, yes, with academics that they need later in life and to be successful, but you also want them to be really great people. And that carries on and you know, as teachers, we have seven, seven and a half hours a day. And so the experiences that children come to our classroom with are extremely varying. And we take all of that and we blend it together, and we're able to show them that. Okay, so maybe you haven't experienced empathy, or maybe you haven't experienced kindness the same way in your home. But this is how we're going to do it here. And you just hope that that ripples out into the hallway, the cafeteria, you know, and then beyond into the communities.

Katie Olmsted 16:15
Have you seen that? Have you seen your students be kinder people to each other and outside your classroom because of this?

Christina Dankert 16:24
I think one book is not magical. I wish it was. I think when teachers select very specific picture books, and they carve out that time, that's when the magic happens. I think that picture books, they're a springboard for us. They're safe and comfortable for kids, because they can ask those questions, whether it's somebody who celebrates a different holiday than we do, whether it's somebody who uses a different tool, like has a pair of glasses, or has a hearing aid, things that maybe they haven't had that experience in their life, they're able to ask those questions in a safe space. I think, you know, kids are just curious, and they don't have that filter. And so if they ask some of these questions, they come off as like, oh my gosh, I can't believe my kid, when really, they're just they want to know more. And once you explain things, they're like, cool. Got it. And they move on. And things are celebrated, instead of appearing like, oh, that's different. You know, we want that celebration.

Katie Olmsted 17:24
So what is next? Is there another book on the horizon from you?

Christina Dankert 17:30
It becomes a little bit addictive, I have to say. I have a little notebook that just keeps filling with ideas. I have other manuscripts that I am working on, all with some sort of positive character strength that I hope to put out in the world. I think, you know, there's only one Mr. Wilson, and there's only one kindness machine, but it definitely made me excited. It has become quite a passion. And I sure hope that there's more.

Katie Olmsted 17:59
I sure hope so, too. Christina Denkert, thank you so much.

Christina Dankert 18:02
Thank you so much for having me, Katie.

Katie Olmsted 18:07
If you'd like to get a copy of The Kindness Machine for yourself, you can find the link in the show notes for this episode. And while you're there, make sure you click that subscribe button so you don't miss an episode of Education Matters in the future. New episodes come out every Thursday, but you can join the conversation anytime. Email me at or connect with the Ohio Education Association on social media. We're @OhioEA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Until next time, stay well.

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