Learning What Kindness Looks Like

We decided to accept the Middle School Kindness Challenge because our staff noticed that our daily reminders to students about treating each other well were not enough. In an increasingly hostile world, our kids were beginning to lose sight of how to treat one another on a day-to-day basis.

We have done restorative justice circles for a few years now, and during one of these circles I asked my 6th grade class a question: How many of you have been treated unkindly in our school? They all raised their hand. Then, I asked a second question: How many of you have been treated unkindly and done something about it? No one raised their hand. It was in this moment that I knew that we needed a change.

We wanted our school to be a place where the younger kids looked up to the older ones and where the older kids could have a positive impact on them. We wanted our school to be a place where all our kids were comfortable and felt accepted and respected. And most of all, we wanted our students to know kindness for themselves and spread it among each other.

My fellow upper grade teachers and I knew from the get-go that this challenge had to be led by the older students and that they should share the message with their younger peers. We elected “Kindness Ambassadors” to visit classrooms to discuss what kindness looked like and what it felt like. They shared a new school “Pledge of Kindness” and had each student sign it and display it in their classroom. We reinforced our goal to “help spread kindness worldwide” by beginning each day reciting the pledge as a school.

“I saw many upper-grade kids become passionate about sharing kindness as kindness ambassadors. Kids reminded each other to be kind and pointed out kindness. The upper and lower grade kids connected more and were accountable for each other in a way I hadn’t seen.” – Donna Netzer, 7th grade teacher

Accepting the Middle School Kindness Challenge was one of the most important school-wide initiatives we’ve ever had. It can be so easy to turn a blind eye to unkindness and to pretend that the kids we know and love would never treat each other that way. The truth is, our kids need to be taught to be kind, just as they need to be taught to read and write. Unkindness can be seen in the TV shows they watch, heard in the music they listen to and, sadly, experienced in the homes where they live. The kindness challenge gave our students the words to express themselves and the tools to stop unkindness in its tracks. Through the activities and rituals, students came to see that they all want to be treated with kindness. Our school became a place where kindness is the norm — all thanks to them.