As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindness there is at last one which makes the heart run over. ~ Samuel Johnson
It really can be the smallest of kind acts that can make your heart run over. At the end of last year, stuck to one of our school walls, I came across the small post-it note pictured above. It was a simple concept, offering up a smile to anyone needing one. I have no idea how long it had been there, or where it had come from, but seeing all of these little happy faces grinning back at me warmed my heart and made me smile. Determined to find out who was responsible for this random act of kindness (RAK), I sent a picture out to staff. However, since sometimes the best part of a random act of kindness is in the mystery, no one took ownership. Wanting to share the smile, I sent it to friends and colleagues. From this tiny post-it note, the concept spread. Some staff planned their own RAK and some colleagues followed suit with carefully posted notes in their own schools. The greatest part of a RAK is that it is hard to know how far the ripples of kindness will extend.
Over the years, I have been on the receiving end of many wonderful acts of kindness. Last year, one of the secondary schools in my district planned a mass RAK for every student in my school with the purpose of simply spreading a message of love and kindness. With the effort of many, it happened over the weekend. When students and staff returned Monday morning to find the lockers, doors, and walls pasted with pink and red hearts it created a sense of happiness and joy that was palpable. The building felt alive and there was a lightness in the school that is hard to put into words.
Over the years, I have also had the opportunity to see the impact participating in a kind act can have on students and adults alike. The research behind the benefits of participating in acts of kindness is abundant. Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, argues that one of the key factors to happiness is participating in acts of kindness. The benefits of performing acts of kindness are undeniable. Performing kind acts cultivates shared happiness, builds relationships, and connects us to the larger world. In a recent study out of the University of British Columbia entitled Kindness Counts, a group of researchers studying 19 classrooms of students ages 9 to 11 found that students who performed three acts of kindness were happier and also experienced greater levels of peer acceptance at the end of the study. Performing acts of kindness also fosters a sense of empathy and compassion that is at the root of establishing basic emotional intelligence. The more a child practices acts of kindness, the more likely they are to recognize and act on situations when others are in need. In addition, they are also better able to recognize the impact of their actions on those around them. Looking at the brain science, practicing kindness also strengthens the neural pathways necessary for detecting emotions and releases dopamine, that happy chemical in our body.
Performing acts of kindness in your classroom can be as simple as a post-it note on a locker or require a bit more organization like creating a “Thank You Tree” for your local library or some little care packages for your local elementary school; a couple of kind acts that students in my school participated in this year. There is also an abundance of great lessons, activities, and picture books that introduce the concept of kindness and get ideas flowing.
Some simple suggestions include:
- Read The Kindness Quilt by Nancy Wallace and have students brainstorm what kindness looks like, feels like, and sounds like.
- Create “Kindness is…” posters and display them around the school.
- Read The Important Book and have students create a class book entitled “The important thing about kindness.” By using the format of the book, students focus on what kindness is and what kindness is not.
- Read Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed and create a flow chart that outlines the chain of events that resulted from one kind deed.
- Read Ms. Rumphius and have students brainstorm a list of kind acts they could perform for others, for themselves, and for the world. Have students select and perform one of their kind acts and report back.
- Read Have You Filled a Bucket Today. There are so many activities you can do with this book. My favorite included having students make their own paper buckets. They then wrote down a simple gratitude for each person in the class and placed it in that student’s bucket. This book lends itself to great conversations about what it means to both fill and dip into the metaphorical happiness buckets of others through our actions and our words.
- Write and deliver thank you letters.
- Have students research and report out on someone whose kindness made the world a better place.
- Have students use their list of possible kind acts to create a kindness wordle like the one below (www.wordle.net). Post their wordles around the school to inspire others.
As this week is officially Random Acts of Kindness week, I challenge you to try three things over the course of the week. First, I challenge you to perform one kind act of your own and then reflect on how it made you feel. It can be something as simple as emailing an expression of gratitude to a colleague. Second, I challenge you to take acts of kindness into your classroom. Give students ownership over planning and performing their act of kindness. Let them be creative and think with their heads and their hearts, and then give them the time needed to reflect on the experience afterwards. Lastly, I encourage you to let kindness spread. It can be hard to turn over the reigns of control to our students but the value gained from one kind act either given or received can have an immeasurable impact on the life of a child. After all, as Eric Hoffer stated, it is only through practice and experience that people discover, “That kindness can become its own motive [and that] we become kind by being kind.”