As a little girl, my mother and grandmother taught me to treat people how I wanted to be treated. I think most of us have someone special in our lives who taught us that lesson.

As a teacher at Carver Elementary School in Chicago, I try to model that lesson and pass it down to my students. Kindness and empathy are skills to be taught like anything else.

The Teach Kindness program allowed us to focus on an impactful way to show kindness, through a Gratitude Jar. If a student does something nice for someone or someone does something nice for them, we add a note to the jar, hoping to fill it with small acts of kindness.

Even during the pandemic when we couldn’t be together in person, we started each day with a focus on kindness. The students had time and space to talk with each other, act out scenarios to show kindness to others, or talk about kindness in their own lives.

Students felt a sense of community, even online. They felt like they belonged.

Teach Kindness worked then, and it continues to work for us now. It’s become an expectation at Carver, something we’ve all agreed to do. It is a part of our school’s culture. And that kind culture has been honored with the 2020-2021 Kind School Award, a recognition we are so proud to have!

Teach Kindness allowed us to double-down on our school’s dedication to social-emotional learning and our students and staff have benefited from that commitment.

We can all learn something from this commitment to kindness. As we approach the holidays, I hope you have something to add to your own Gratitude Jar.

P.S.: Read more about each of the schools honored with the 2020-2021 Kind Schools award. Teach Kindness is open to all Illinois schools, so any educator looking to learn more should reach out to Brandi Watts at Stand for more information.

I often find that some of the best lessons for my students are the ones that build upon each other and are built into our daily lives.

That’s definitely the case with the lessons in Teach Kindness, a program we implemented at Fiske Elementary School in Chicago. As the school year progressed, the lessons on kindness and empathy did, too.

Our students jumped in with both feet, even taking some of the lessons home with them (during both remote and in-person learning). In many cases, that got their parents involved in the kindness curriculum as well.

In fact, after a recent parent meeting we hosted here, parents left refreshed and encouraged. They said they related to the kindness topic and the positive messages we had for them and their students.

This really served as a reminder of what we should be doing on a daily basis. COVID-19 has shown us, crystal clear, that SEL supports for students are vital. By bringing those supports into daily lessons, we meet students where they are and make kindness a part of our school’s culture. And by making kindness a part of our culture, we were lucky enough to be honored with the 2020-2021 Kind School Award!

The materials are right at teachers’ fingertips. All we have to do is teach it. We all should take the time to be kind, no matter how busy we are. By investing that time, we’ll see improvements across the school, the community, and the city.

I hope you’ll join us.

P.S.: Read more about Teach Kindness and the other schools honored with the 2020-2021 Kind Schools award. Teach Kindness is open to all Illinois schools, so any educator looking to learn more should reach out to Brandi Watts at Stand for more information.

Everyone loves a good shout out, right? Especially when it’s for something that makes our community a better place.

That’s why I love the special Kindness Shout Outs we have at Beard Elementary on Chicago’s Northwest Side.

When a student gets “caught being kind” we recognize them for that wonderful act and put it on a bulletin board for everyone to see. I can confirm that students LOVE these shout outs for being a good friend to their classmates.

At the end of the week, the student gets to take home their shout out. We also share images with parents so they can celebrate their child’s kindness too.

These acts of kindness and recognition have helped bring joy and positivity to our school community, a welcome sense of happiness given the pandemic and challenges of the past year.

The Teach Kindness program helped us elevate our work and make students feel loved and connected during this disjointed time. It has really motivated them to be better in the classroom, to each other, and as a community. And our school community was recently “caught being kind” and honored with the 2020-2021 Kind School Award, recognition we’re so proud of!

For other educators looking to make a difference at their school, I can honestly say that even though this has been a difficult year, participating in Teach Kindness is not adding more work to your plate, it’s adding more joy to your day. Bringing positivity and kindness to your school is totally doable – and it really does make school a happier place!

I hope you can make shout outs like this a part of your school’s culture. I’m so glad we have. And the students and staff here at Beard continue to make the days brighter and kinder for everyone – something we could all use a little more of these days.

P.S.: Learn more Teach Kindness and the other schools honored with the 2020-2021 Kind Schools award. Teach Kindness is open to all Illinois schools, so any educator looking to learn more should reach out to Brandi Watts at Stand for more information.

With all the news and the disruption we’ve experienced these past 20 months, one simple but powerful thing helped students at Palmer Elementary make it through remote learning and return safely to classrooms: kindness.

And while things are getting better, both in our school buildings and in many of our communities, the effects of the pandemic are still being felt by many students and staff.

During remote learning, we saw an increase in students exhibiting behaviors related to depression, anxiety, and even suicide ideation. Some of this behavior has even returned this school year.

Students as well as educators were hungry for connection and support. Teaching kindness made connecting easier. Students communicated better. Bickering and miscommunication decreased. They were kinder to each other and to school staff.

Kindness helped our students deal with the uncertainty and turmoil of the pandemic. The Teach Kindness lessons were essential to our school community. They gave us a common language for everyone to share. They made it easier for students to speak up if they or their classmates were not being treated properly.

The positive impact it has had on our school culture cannot be overstated. Not only that, our hard work and focus on kindness was recognized with the 2020-2021 Kind School Award!

Making the world a kinder place has helped in the classrooms, in the hallways, and in the community. It helped here and can help in any Illinois school.

P.S.: Read more about the other Illinois schools honored with the Teach Kindness 2020-2021 Kind Schools award. Teach Kindness is open to all Illinois schools, so any educator looking to learn more should reach out to Brandi Watts at Stand for more information.

“Coming to Wagoner is like coming to a Grand Opening!”

When a new student told me they felt that way walking into school each day, it stopped me in my tracks and reaffirmed my commitment to making our school community a kind place.

As the principal at Wagoner Elementary, I can say that kindness is not just a word to us – it has truly become a part of our DNA. We talk about it. We live it.

We’ve lived kindness so much so that we were honored as the 2019 Teach Kindness National Champion, recognition for the hard work and commitment of every person in our school and neighboring community.

When the pandemic hit shortly after that recognition, it only reinforced our dedication to kindness. Through remote learning and as students began returning in-person last school year, we re-doubled our efforts in each classroom (online and in-person). It was an overwhelming time for everyone – it still is in many respects – but focusing on kindness helped alleviate some of the stress for students and staff. We’re so honored that this work was recognized again with the 2020-2021 Kind School Award!

Social-emotional learning has been a core part of our identity for years now, but the Teach Kindness program helped us elevate that work. The resources, supports, and lessons were a tipping point for our school, helping us take our work to the next level.

In fact, when you’re submerged in kindness as a matter of course, it’s so much easier to be kind in return. From our morning Community Circles to a Kindness Tree we added to our hallway, Wagoner has made kindness central to who we are. Everyone is bought in.

Our school’s unofficial motto is “you are loved and you are safe.” When a school makes a commitment to kindness, the outcomes can be overwhelming and heartwarming, just like that student’s Grand Opening feeling.

My wish is for every student, no matter their school, to have that same feeling every day.

P.S.: Read more about Teach Kindness and the other schools honored with the 2020-2021 Kind Schools award today. Teach Kindness is open to all Illinois schools, so any educator looking to learn more should reach out to Brandi Watts at Stand for more information.

With the holidays fast approaching, I thought now was the perfect time for us to highlight something we can all celebrate: kindness.

In 2017, Stand and other valued partner organizations launched Teach Kindness, a suite of best-in-class social-emotional learning activities, to help schools teach students the skill of kindness. We knew then that social and emotional skills were essential to healthy child development, but we did not know that a global pandemic would exacerbate the need for those skills both across the country and right here in Illinois. In the past year and a half, teachers have taken on more than ever, and still, many have remained committed to teaching students to be kind.

We are pleased to honor six Illinois schools with the 2020-2021 Kind Schools award, highlighting their dedication to ensuring a safe and caring environment for their students and staff by teaching kindness.

  • Daniel C. Beard Elementary School
  • Edmund Burke Elementary School
  • George Washington Carver Elementary School
  • John Fiske Elementary School
  • John M. Palmer Elementary School
  • Wagoner Elementary School

Over the next few days, you’ll hear stories directly from these schools about the impact kindness has had on their school communities. The pandemic has made personal connections and student engagement both more difficult and more important, whether learning remotely or in-person. These schools went above and beyond in their implementation of Teach Kindness, with tangible, positive results to show for it.

Teach Kindness is available to any school community free of charge. The program provides access to research-based tools and resources to schools looking to incorporate kindness into the school day and make kindness a practical, commonplace skill for students.

For the better part of my time at Stand, a huge focus of mine has been improving the course offerings and opportunities for Illinois high school students in the most equitable way possible. From career and technical education to dual credit classes, I’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing this stuff for years.

And today I’m proud to announce our latest project: the Dual Credit Advocacy Toolkit. Take a look for yourself!

This toolkit makes it possible for parents, educators, administrators, and community members to advocate for better dual credit opportunities in their school communities. Not only that, but it offers each person an individualized advocacy plan depending on their dual credit goal.

So whether you’re a teacher looking to get certified to teach dual credit at your school or a parent looking to make dual credit classes more affordable in your district, this advocacy toolkit has a plan for you. With just a few clicks and by telling us your goal, the Stand Advocacy Toolkit provides you with the steps and tips to help you achieve your advocacy goal.

This toolkit is the culmination of work put in by so many parents, students, and educators whose collective experience and dedication to equity made this possible. It’s through their work that we compiled these resources in a useful manner. We thank them and the Joyce Foundation for their continued support of our dual credit work and this toolkit.

It’s my hope, and the hope of all of us here at Stand, that the Stand Dual Credit Advocacy Toolkit provides the resources you need to grow your school’s dual credit programming. Working together, I know that we can improve the outlook for Illinois students across the state.

During this most difficult-of-difficult years, educators and parents/caregivers representing 16 Chicago Public Schools partnered with us to build trust and connections with one another.

They participated in Connection Conversations, a family engagement program of Stand. Connection Conversations is a COVID-driven innovation of our in-person, parent-teacher home visit program. It is centered around voluntary virtual visits, supported by educator training and collaboration, which helps schools and families build trusting relationships, even when they cannot meet face-to-face. 

The results have exciting implications for supporting student success. Some highlights:

  • Participants were universally positive about their experiences.
  • They reported observing more help-seeking behaviors.
  • Educators described having more capacity to inquire about, and respond to, student needs.

Schools should not be expected to tackle learning recovery on their own. And parents and caregivers want to be equal partners in their children’s learning and development. Let’s tap into the superpower that comes with building trust.

Our thanks to the educators and families who participated in Connection Conversations and to the University of Chicago Consortium for their strategic analysis.

Libraries, arts, safe and proper learning facilities, and engaging extracurricular activities. These are a few things that most parents and teachers would say all schools should have.

I agree. I had the opportunity to share my thoughts – including the need for strong extracurricular activities – at a recent budget workshop at Corliss High School in Pullman. I was joined by other Stand parents and educators, as well as a number of other parents from across the city.

The meeting had a community feel to it. Everyone was there with ideas on how to make funding our schools work better for Chicago’s students.

A priority of mine is making sure students have access to engaging activities during and after school. These are important to give the kids something to look forward to and help keep them out of trouble. Not only that, but tutoring services would help them achieve more in the classroom.

I heard plenty of other good ideas from parents and teachers. Things like adding librarians, music, and arts classes. Others mentioned the need for fun and safe facilities like gyms for sports and PE classes.

Another strong sentiment that I shared with most everyone there was the need for funding to be equitable and spread across the city, not focused in one specific area.

There were so many strong ideas discussed at the workshop. I encourage you to read more about them in this recent Chalkbeat article. I spoke with them about my ideas, and so did a few other Stand parents – see if you can spot us!

Last week in Springfield, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) hosted its third meeting for the statewide Support and Accountability Listening Tour. This series of meetings is intended to collect feedback on Illinois’ Every Student Succeeds (ESSA) Action Plan which uses key learning metrics to assess school quality.

You may remember Stand’s video, A Better Recipe, that we created back in 2017. In that video, we talk about the importance of using multiple measures like student performance and academic growth in key subjects, college and career readiness, and access to high-quality courses including the arts to evaluate school quality. Based on these ingredients, schools are then assigned a rating of Exemplary, Commendable, Underperforming, or Lowest-Performing.

A year after launching the new designations, ISBE is traveling the state to hear about what’s working and what can be improved. The Springfield event was well attended and many of the participants echoed Stand’s opinion that the state’s focus on academic growth was critically important for recognizing schools that are improving student learning. Other participants brought up concerns about the state’s Exemplary designation, fearing it’s too closely correlated to schools that are adequately or above adequately funded. Some supported the idea of broadening the Exemplary category to include mentions of schools that showed above average student growth.

You can read Stand’s full comments here, but there is still time if you would like to provide us with additional feedback! You can comment directly to ISBE here, or if you’d prefer you can simply tell us at Stand and we can work your comments and concerns into our ongoing conversations with ISBE.