As the classroom of 4th graders settled into a circle, Mrs. Williams asked them to close their eyes and listen while she spoke: “Think about a time in your life when someone was unkind. Just think about it for a good long while. Now, when you’ve got that person and that time in your mind, think about that person and how they might have been having a bad day, or a bad year. Think about how you act when you’ve had a bad day or when you’re too hungry or sleepy. Think about the person behind that unkind moment and think about letting that moment go.”
This activity was just one of many that Andrea Williams’ 4th-grade class participated in while they completed the Middle School Kindness Challenge in March of 2018 at Evergreen Elementary in north Spokane, Washington.
Although her class is not yet middle-schoolers, Andrea felt like they could handle it. “We’re always looking for ways to improve kindness. How do we teach positive behaviors? The Challenge provided the tools that made it accessible.”
The Middle School Kindness Challenge provides access to research-based curriculum and resources, free of charge, to those who want to incorporate kindness into the school day and make kindness a practical, commonplace skill. It is a project of Stand for Children that launched in September 2017 and has been completed by over 650 schools nationwide.
The teachers at Evergreen Elementary weren’t new to the concept of spending school time focused on improving student behavior in this way. Evergreen has been practicing PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports) for several years and has become a model for other buildings in the Mead School District.
According to Mike Danford, Evergreen’s principal: “PBIS practices at Evergreen are instructive, not punitive. Responsive, not reactive. In other words, adults in the building guide, teach and share desired behaviors before penalizing kids for making poor behavior choices. And those same adults are proactive and preventative before reacting to a student’s misbehavior.”
Research continues to demonstrate the power of kindness: “Students learn best when they are in environments in which they feel safe, supported, challenged, and accepted… [They] are more likely to engage in the curriculum, achieve academically, and develop positive relationships; students are less likely to exhibit problem behaviors; and teacher turnover is lower and teacher satisfaction is higher.” (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2016)
The Kindness Challenge has been having real-world impact on student behavior. Guilford County Public Schools in North Carolina saw a 33% drop in referrals leading to in-school suspensions for schools that participated. Andrea Williams saw similar results among her elementary students at Evergreen thanks to PBIS and the Kindness Challenge: “We had less office referrals by month and it reduced the amount of negative behavior.”
This style of educating is known by many names: The Kindness Challenge, PBIS, Social Emotional Learning, teaching the ‘whole child’, trauma-informed teaching, or restorative justice. They all address different aspects that get to the heart of the same concept: students benefit when they are supported as more than just students, but also as whole humans.
At the end of their month-long Kindness Challenge, the students of Evergreen took on their final project: creating a Kindness Board (led by Jennifer Wheeler, Mrs. Williams’ fellow teacher). To spread kindness throughout their school, students wrote post-it notes with messages of inspiration and affirmation to include on the wall, and anyone was encouraged to “take what you need and leave what you can.” One note advised others “If you’re sad, get a hug. Always be nice,” providing solid advice for anyone needing a kind pick-me-up on their way to class.
If you’re an educator and would like your school to enroll in the Kindness Challenge, let us know.