Thursday, February 25, 2016

Promoting a Culture of Kindness

There is something inspirational and fulfilling about engaging in a selfless act for the benefit of others. Innate kindness it a trait we all possess and desire to foster in others. As a long time middle school teacher, I have often found that simple kindness is the trait that my students struggle with the most. Kindness seems to be overshadowed by selfishness and self-consciousness. Middle school students are overwhelming concerned with fitting in, yet they desperately want to stand out from the crowd. They spend so much time wrapped up in their own heads, that they often neglect to acknowledge simple signs of appreciation, or they adamantly don't want to be the first one to be kind because it would make them conspicuous in a way that is not often glamorized on Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram.

One of the easiest ways to promote selfless acts of kindness in middle school students is to simply REMIND and ASSIGN them opportunities to be kind. As the old saying goes, "INSPECT what you EXPECT." If we expect and desire our students to be kind, we have to take the time to create opportunities for them to engage in acts of kindness. We must also check back with students and have them reflect upon and share their experiences with being kind.

Introducing assignments such as Random Acts of Kindness or Pay It Forward cards is a wonderful way to promote kindness in your classroom, on your campus, and in your community. Every year I show my students the video clip from Pay It Forward where Mr. Simonet (the Social Studies teacher) challenges his students to change the world and Trevor explains to the class his idea of repaying each act of kindness he receives with three new acts of kindness. The policy of paying kindness forward results in the world becoming an ever widening circle of acknowledgment, appreciation, and acceptance. Here is the you tube clip:

After showing the video, I have my students get into small groups and reflect upon the message behind the video clip and the power of Pay It Forward. Next, students brainstorm at least three kind acts they could do for someone else. After brainstorming, I have students share out portions of their lists. The sharing of lists is powerful because it allows students the opportunity to pull on their own experiences with being kind (or having others be kind to them), and develop a substantial number of ways to be kind. Lastly, I challenge/assign my students to create their own circle of kindness by doing three random acts of kindness for others. I pass out this handout (which I print on card stock and have the students cut out and glue together).

The students have one week within which to pass out the three cards. At the end of the week, I have students write a one-page reflection explaining each kind act they engaged in, who the act was for, the recipient's response, and how completing the act made them feel. I have students get into small groups of four to five and share out their kind acts from the week. Each groups then picks what they feel were their three favorite acts of kindness, or their three favorite responses to the acts of kindness, to share with the class. The sweetness and sincerity with which students share their acts and the responses always serves to remind me just why I LOVE teaching middle school students so much.

So, challenge your students to take a week and promote a policy of "Pay It Forward." I promise the effects of this one week will be long-lasting and far reaching.

Happy teaching!


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