Positivity breeds positivity. That’s a phrase that most don’t use often enough. Chris Ulmer is a 26-year-old teacher at Mainspring Academy who has taken that simple phrase and created a worldwide movement. All teaching styles differ, but Ulmer’s way of teaching is special. He has successfully found a way to improve the lives of his young class of kids with special needs while at the same time changing the lives and minds of people globally.
Originally, Ulmer is from Philadelphia where he attended Penn State. He spent two years at a satellite campus where he played soccer, and eventually made his way to coaching soccer in Kentucky. The school he worked for paid for him to get his masters degree, where he decided to go the special education route after speaking with his mother who was already a teacher.
His time as a soccer coach proved to be more valuable than Ulmer could ever imagine.
“What I learned from coaching is how I shaped my teaching style. We had 50 guys on the team from 30 different countries,” said Ulmer. “About 10 percent of the team didn’t speak English, and two of them were starters. With that being said, you really have to learn to adjust. What I learned there is that 90 percent of communication in nonverbal. So, with a smile or with my body language, I can show or lead someone without speaking a single word.”
During his job search for something in the teaching world, Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville was the first school to email him back. He hopped on a Greyhound bus and made his way to Duval County. He started teaching full time in May of 2013, and has been with the same group of kids ever since.
“When I got here, it was my first time working with students with autism. I loved it right away.”
While teaching these students, he decided to create a blog called “Special Books for Special Kids” where he shares the stories of these children and their diagnosis.
“These children deserve to be heard, loved and appreciated,” said Ulmer. “The world needs to understand that in many ways, the children have it right. We need to learn from them.”
The worldwide recognition of Ulmer and his class came with one simple video post. Every morning at school, Ulmer spends 10 minutes complimenting his students and telling them how wonderful and valuable they are.
“It’s something we do everyday, so I didn’t think anything of it when I shared the video,” said Ulmer.
The rest is history. The video received the attention of big name media channels like BuzzFeed, ABC, the “Rachael Ray Show” and many more. With millions of views and positive feedback flooding the Web, Ulmer now has thousands of messages daily from people across the world who are praising him and relating themselves or their children with his students.
“The answer is really simple, just be nice to people,” Ulmer said. “If you’re nice to people, the world will change. I don’t feel like I’m that great at what I do, I’m just nice. And when you’re nice, people are receptive.”
It turns out, being nice is all it took to eventually make these children, who are normally timid and some even nonverbal, to begin complimenting each other and communicating in ways like never before. At a recent trip to the Mayor’s office, one student who was normally extremely introverted stood up and said, “My name is JR and I’m a great student!” Ulmer was blown away.
“The change is unbelievable,” said Ulmer. “One of the children in my class had never verbalized with any of the kids. He used to be in a shell; writing lists during free time and playing Nintendo. Now, he just seeks the other students.”
The once small blog has now become an enormous platform for these children who normally didn’t have a voice. Ulmer has single-handedly been able to create positive momentum inside his classroom and beyond. He plans to travel on a nationwide road trip, meeting people of all different disabilities and learning about them and their struggles. He also plans to write a children’s book and an adult chapter book both telling stories of these incredible children and the struggles they face because of their disabilities.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Ulmer. “What else do I need? I have a salary from my teaching job, I live on the beach, I have made these kids lives incredibly better, and that’s all I need.”