NGES challenges students to practice kindness

Teachers pose in front of the kindness-themed bulletin board they designed. From left to right, Audrey Morris, Abby Selz, Ashleigh Norris.

Throughout the month of February, students and staff at Nathanael Greene Elementary School are participating in a school-wide kindness challenge. School counselor Cyndi Korn has taken the lead on organizing this project, providing materials and training to help teachers incorporate the challenge into their daily lesson plans.

“There’s something that happens across the nation that schools can choose to participate in called the Great Kindness Challenge,” Korn said. “That’s a one week long event, you go to their website and print off a list of kind acts that you can do.”

In 2011, a California elementary school asked nonprofit organization Kids for Peace to help create a more positive, unified and respectful school environment. The resulting Great Kindness Challenge was launched in three schools and has spread across the country in the years since its founding, with students submitting completed checklists to the website for a chance to win various small prizes.

“Just a few weeks later is National Random Acts of Kindness Week,” Korn said. “So, I thought if we could just elongate it and continue doing kind acts … now we’re looking at like a five-week span of time. Research shows that it takes anywhere from three weeks to a couple of months to really firm up a new habit.”

During the last week of January, to coincide with the Great Kindness Challenge, teachers introduced the concept to their students with a video and discussion on what kindness is and what defines a kind act. Each classroom brainstormed their own list of kind deeds before the charts of individual and classroom challenges were distributed and hung in each classroom.

“Each morning on our announcements, there’s one of these squares that we’re talking about,” Korn said, pointing to one of the kindness challenge charts. “So today, the daily challenge is to be extra kind and respectful to the bus driver and people that you see on your way to and from school.”

One week into the month-long exercise, classroom doors showcased fliers of students’ individual kindness goals and hallway bulletin boards were decorated to follow the theme. Teachers and staff got involved, but they said it was the students who made it fun.

“I was talking with a student today because of the challenge about bus drivers,” Korn said. “And he was telling me ‘oh that’s my bus driver, right there; oh he’s the nicest bus driver…’ and I said, have you ever told him? Well make you sure you tell him! Be extra kind, give him that compliment, tell him what you told me.”

Each week, Korn distributes new classroom activity handouts as well as distributing videos for the teachers to show in class relating to that week’s kindness activities. She also sends “Smile Slips” for teachers to pass out with a collection box in each classroom where students could recognize another student they “caught” doing something kind. Korn collects the notes and shares selections of them during the slideshow before the morning announcements each week.

“In addition to the emails I’m sending out to teachers with the video links and ideas and questions, I made a folder that I put at each grade level’s copy machine with extra ideas for things they can do, banners they can make, kindness quotes, resources they can use,” she said.

In addition to the individual challenges, classrooms were encouraged to work together on 12 larger classroom challenges such as decorating their classroom door in kindness themes, writing thank-you notes to local first responders or cleaning up after another class at lunch.

The various charts and handouts were part of a package on a website called Teachers Pay Teachers, where user ‘Teaching To Love’ posted the suggested activities. Korn purchased the package in order to make use of the materials in the school. Teachers Pay Teachers is a resource-sharing website where teachers can share the materials they’ve created with other teachers across the country.

“Each week just to make sure it remains a conversation, each week there’s a new video to watch and discuss. They’re talking and planning about the next thing that they want to accomplish,” she said.

During the final week of the challenge, students will enjoy a spirit week, dressing up to follow various themes associated with kindness. For example, that Friday the theme is “dreaming of a kinder world,” and students are encouraged to wear pajamas to school.

“My favorite part is seeing the things that the students have created,” Korn said. “So seeing the cards that they’ve made for the principals and some of the classrooms are working on thank you cards to local first responders, and they’re proud of what they’re making and creating. Some of them have been working on decorating their doors, so they’ve hung up their individual goals or they’ve also hung up signs or posters that they’ve made with phrases and things to make you think of kindness.”

School administrators are supportive of the kindness challenge. According to a press release, these types of challenges to focus on positive and safe school environments continue to be a priority for the school division through the five-year Innovate 2021 strategic plan.

“Hopefully the ideal is that they are going to form new habits, with a regular basis with kindness being talked about in the classroom day in and day out, it’s going to become more of our everyday vocabulary and they’re going to be choosing the kind action more often,” Korn said.

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