Last week, I dropped my first-grader off at school after vacation and couldn’t help but think about the Parkland school shooting. I was still shaken. But these kids were happily running into school, dragging musical instruments along the sidewalk, enormous backpacks slapping against their coats. They were holding their parents’ hands. Everyone was smiling. Life hummed along with reassuring normalcy.

But then I looked up and saw the teachers standing along the sidewalk. My son’s principal was at the curb, greeting kids getting dropped off. A few other teachers stood at the entrance. I looked at the crossing guard and the assistant who helps get the kids out of their cars and through the doors. I’m sure they harbor worries, probably even terror and dread, that these first- and second-graders can’t begin to fathom. Yet they show up every day. And they smile. They teach. They convey a sense of optimism and hope; they teach kids how to be kind, and how to be strong, and how to be confident in a world that often undermines these lessons in the cruelest of ways. I always get a throat-tightening sense of heartbreaking, fleeting innocence walking through my son’s school, looking at the murals teaching skills like friendliness and hope. And these people—these people who don’t get paid nearly enough—maintain that innocence against all odds. They impart and preserve a sense of wonder for kids. In this world, it’s a gift more valuable than learning to do science or read.

I know that sweeping change must come on a grander scale, through marches and movements (and legislation). It’s easy to feel lost as just one person. What can I do? How can I change the reality? I stopped my car and thought about this for a minute before driving off to get my coffee.

I don’t know. But I do know one thing: Next time I’m rushing in or out of school, late for something, double parked, I’m going to make sure to stop for a minute and thank a teacher.

After that, I emailed his principal. A few of my friends did the same. One of my friend’s emails was even read at a school committee meeting to staff.

I know parents have divergent opinions on how much to tell their children about school safety. But in a world where it’s easy to feel powerless, these small gestures go even further. Gratitude matters more than ever. It’s not a nicety. It’s a currency of kindness that we need to share to make reality a little bit easier to bear.