Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Kindness Project

I'm a third grade teacher, I'm a mom, and I really don't like it when kids are mean to each other. Unfortunately, it happens every day in schools and sadly, it is reflected so much in our popular culture. The Disney Channel is filled with television shows in which kids are really mean to each other. They call each other names, pull pranks, and hurt each other. Being mean is acceptable, and in many cases, the norm.

I have realized that as a teacher, I can play a small part in how meanness and kindness are reflected in my classroom. The day after Christmas break, I decided to start something new in my classroom. I called it the "Kindness Project." I wrote the statement: "Kindness begins with me" on the board and explained that we can choose to be kind to others and hope that in return that kindness will be shown to us.

I gave all of my students new name tags for their desks, and told them that for each act of kindness, I would draw a small, red heart with my Sharpie. Instantly, the kids began looking for opportunities to show kindness to their classmates. When a student drops their school box, book, etc, kids jump from their chairs to help the student pick up the items. When someone falls, instead of laughing as would sometimes happen, students jump up to help and ask if they are okay.
My students are constantly telling me the nice things they have done and are asking for their red Sharpie hearts. It is so much so, that sometimes I don't have the time to give them all of their hearts. I find the time though. I know that the kids are doing the acts of kindness in hopes of a small reward-the red heart drawn on their name tag. Really, it's not a huge reward, it's not much of anything, but to them it's something. It symbolizes that they found an opportunity to be kind that day. And although I do believe that being kind is its own reward and that I'm bribing them to be kind, I do think that they are building the habit of finding opportunities to be kind. Right now, it feels good to get that little heart. My hope is that for the next few months that I have them, that they will continue to look for opportunities to be kind and as a result, have built quite a habit that will be long-lasting and a natural part of their lives. Perhaps that is wishful thinking on my part, but it is my small way of doing what I can to instill the basic value of kindness.

Tomorrow, I will be giving my students these little notebooks I made. I'm going to ask them to write down something kind they did for someone or something kind someone did for them. I'm hoping they will write in their journal at least once a week. Of course, I am hoping they will keep these little journals well past the third grade and continue to look for opportunities to be kind to each other.

School is for learning, and it's my job as their teacher to teach what third grade requires. Yet, I have such a huge opportunity to encourage kindness toward their classmates and others around them. There is so much meanness in the world, and children should not have to deal with it at school. It is my hope that they will not have to deal with it in my classroom.