Our school chose to accept the Middle School Kindness Challenge because we were starting to see an increase in student behavior problems as we settled into the school year in September. At first, we wanted to only focus on our upper grade students (4th-6th grade), but while looking at the lessons realized that students in all grades could benefit from them.
In addition, with so much political uncertainty and unrest, many of our students were coming to school fearful for their families and their livelihood.
As teachers, we believe our job is to not only to educate our students in academics but also in social responsibility and emotional intelligence. We needed to do something to help our students and improve our school climate and culture, and we found the Middle School Kindness Challenge to be an opportunity for us to spread kindness around our campus and community in such uncertain times.
Furthermore, many of our students come to school having experienced trauma in their lives. Traumatic experiences can compromise their ability to achieve academically and regulate their emotions effectively. A program like the Kindness Challenge can help students learn to become attuned with others, which can help children calm their nervous systems, allowing students to gain academic, emotional, and behavioral control.
One of the 6th grade classes took ownership over the project and their goal was to promote the Kindness Challenge around campus through posters and signs, as well as going into the younger grade classrooms to recite the pledge with the students and have all of the students sign the Pledge.
As a culminating activity, we decided to use an open garden space on campus as a Mindful Retreat for students and staff to use throughout the day. Our goal with this space is for students and staff to have a quiet place to take mindful breaths and refocus their energy on the school day. In order to make this a peaceful and tranquil space, we enlisted the students of Peres to paint kindness rocks with inspirational quotes, sayings, words and pictures to decorate the garden. In addition, we wanted to use this space to recognize a beloved colleague and teacher from Peres who passed away a little over a year ago. Students decorated the garden and presented this space to her family at a ceremony after school.
Teachers, staff, students and families all learned a tremendous amount during the Kindness Challenge. We not only learned about ourselves, but we learned about each other.
As one 5th grade teacher stated, “The Kindness Challenge was beneficial to my class. There were many moments where I observed students getting an opportunity to share personal stories. Often these stories were about hardships and hurtful times from the past. Participating in the Kindness Challenge activities provided students with an opportunity to share deeply personal stories and bond with their classmates. Students were able to reflect on how the similarities and differences in one another’s’ life experiences.”
As educators, we assume our students know and understand what kindness is. By engaging in this challenge, our students and teachers/staff had the opportunity to begin a dialogue about what specifically kindness is and why it is important, something we believe is critical in the social/emotional development of our students.
We are living in a very tumultuous time, with a lot of hatred and anger being spread around the news and media. Teaching and showing students to be kind to one another will not only create a more positive school and community, but will also produce a more loving and caring future for our children.