In the book, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, she writes about Choosing Kind as the best option in life. This phrase resonated with me and sparked a new appreciation on how I discuss bullying with my 6th graders. I then came across an article on the Edutopia website titled, “Why Teaching Kindness in Schools is Essential to Reduce Bullying” and knew this was the right angle to take with my incoming 6th graders. They have all heard the lectures about how bullying is wrong. I wanted to attack bullying from a different point of view. After reading the Edutopia article, I decided to teach kindness. What does it truly mean? I wanted my students to reflect on the meaning of kindness. I wanted them to pay it forward and start applying kindness to their peers at school. How would I do this as it is not as easy as it sounds?
Our school philosophy is SPIRIT, which is an acronym for Selflessness, Pride, Integrity, Respect, Involvement, and Trustworthiness. I knew I wanted to bring this philosophy in to my classroom kindness lessons as well. After much thought, and since I teach English Language Arts, I figured the most appropriate way would be through our daily writing prompts. My goal was to share a new picture book, video clip, short article, or poem each week that spoke to us about being kind, compassionate, and showing gratitude. I wasn’t sure how the students would respond to these types of texts and media.
I visited my local public library and checked out a stack of picture books. I perused Pinterest for ideas on random acts of kindness. I went to youtube and viewed videos from all over the world dealing with kindness and compassion. I went to my Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter and found Ripple Kindness Project and chatted with @HCPSTinyTech about various ideas to make this idea become authentic.
Once I felt ready, I introduced my first text to the class. I began reading Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. This beautiful picture book tells the story of Maya, the new girl, who is made fun of by her fellow classmates. I knew it would be the perfect start to reach my goal. After reading the book aloud, I had my students return to their desks and reflect on a few points:
- What is the message/theme that Ms. Woodson is trying to teach us?
- Why do you think I chose to read this book to you and how can we apply what we learned from this book to our real lives?
I didn’t want summaries. I wanted the students to think about the story and respond about the treatment of Maya. Once they finished writing, they shared out their ideas. I was blown away. What a discussion that ensued. I knew I was on the right path.
Next week, I showed a video called “One Day” from Life Vest Inside to my students. Oh, my…what a reaction. They loved the video! I then gave them the same question prompts as last week and they wrote. This time, we talked about what it means to pay it forward.
A week later, I read The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and experienced another fantastic discussion.
The weeks went by and I continued sharing books, videos, songs and poems. Students started coming in on Mondays asking what the kindness prompt for the day was going to be. If we skipped a Monday prompt, they would be upset and beg to do it later in the week.
At the end of the year, I began to reflect on this idea of teaching kindness and asked myself this question, how do I know that students are showing kindness to each other? Did discussing kindness in class change their behavior and attitude towards one another? I decided that what I was doing this year was just the base of what was to come. I wanted to build on this and start doing quarterly projects that proved students were truly listening and changing. That is my goal for this year. I hope to update you with how I made this project even better.
AUTHOR: Justin Greene
Justin is a 6th grade Language Arts teacher from Aurora, IL. He teaches in the Chicago suburb of Plainfield. He has been teaching for 19 years and enjoys every minute of it. He is a huge Chicago Cubs fan and works as a DJ part-time. He is married and has 2 kids – Eliza and Sam, and a dog – Bailey.
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