It’s one thing to talk about kindness and the need to treat others with dignity and respect, but it’s another thing to practice kindness in our daily lives. It’s clear that the lessons and activities in Teach Kindness have resonated with students and staff based on what I see unfold at our school every day.

Just recently, I witnessed firsthand one of the most unbelievable acts of kindness, shown by three young students in the 4th grade. One young girl had an accident, and her three friends immediately came to the office to let us know so we could get her fresh clothes. These girls were so sweet and kind. They took the clothes back to their friend and waited as she changed and then went and got her lunch.

Any time we catch students being kind, we celebrate their powerful act by acknowledging it on our kindness tree. I wrote on there, “Thank you for being a very kind friend.”

Pearlena Mitchell, Fiske’s parent worker, told me that we often catch students doing the wrong thing. If we catch them doing the right thing, we say, “We caught you being kind,” so that the students understand what kindness is and they can continue to demonstrate that throughout their day.

Making kindness a part of our everyday routine at school has changed students’ behavior, but it’s also spread to educators and other staff members.

Kelli Charles, head teacher of the Child Parent Center, and other educators were recently talking about plans to thank the school’s unsung heroes. They’re planning a surprise party for Fiske’s maintenance and cafeteria workers to show how much they appreciate all their hard work.

If you’re an educator, I encourage you to partner with Stand for Children and check out Teach Kindness. You’ll see how it can benefit your school. By getting everyone involved — from students to parents to the entire school staff — you can make kindness a core part of your school’s culture, too.

This school year finally feels like a return to normal for many families and educators in Chicago Public Schools, but there is no glossing over how much has changed due to COVID-19, especially for Beard Elementary.

Beard Elementary is a specialty school within the Chicago Public School system, and staff were required to come back to in person learning in January 2021, before most of CPS was scheduled to return. Staff met this mandate with ease and grace. The staff at Beard were able to come back to in person learning with the accommodations and safety precautions put in place to teach students and assist them with adjusting to in-person academic and social emotional learning which included incorporating the Teach Kindness curriculum.

At Beard Elementary, over 50% of our student population receives special education support. Teach Kindness offers accessible activities that resonate with every age and academic level, from pre-K to 3rd grade, including our diverse learners.

There were several key factors to why a focus on kindness was paramount for the 2022-23 academic year. In tandem with returning back to in-person learning, there was the expansion of our school with the addition of a 10-classroom annex and new staff. The staff needed to find ways to build community and rapport with each other. Teach Kindness helped us do just that.

With the return to in person learning, and the focus on kindness to each other, the following activities were completed:

Mirroring My Feelings – Our students enjoyed the “Mirror My Feelings” activity, where they looked at pictures and studied each other’s facial expressions and body language to decipher how someone might be feeling.

Acts of Kindness – Students drew pictures of what they thought were acts of kindness and within the diverse learner population they were given a choice board to detail what their acts of kindness were.

Personal Slogan – The preschool classrooms sang songs and created word clouds that described themselves and recognized their own personal strengths. You have to be kind to yourself before you can show kindness to others. This helped boost their self-confidence within the classroom. Kindergarten through 3rd grade classrooms developed choice boards about positive statements of themselves.

Art of Apology – Through the “Art of Apology” activity, our 2nd and 3rd graders learned how to say, “I’m sorry” and mean it.

A special education teacher here at Beard, Jamie Chiostri, mentioned that a lot of times, kids become so rote in saying “I’m sorry” because that’s what they think we want to hear. This activity gave them a chance to put a meaning behind those words by first trying to understand what makes a person feel hurt in the first place.

The school counselor, Andrea Patrinos, noted that despite all the changes in the world and at school, one quality remained steadfast: kindness to others. While facilitating the engaging lessons and activities for our students, she noticed our staff started to practice kindness in our everyday interactions at school — and our students noticed.

We’ve used Teach Kindness for several years now, and each year we’ve grown and really taken the mission of the program to heart. Teaching kindness is not a single lesson. Kindness is taught throughout the school day and embedded into all of our daily activities. We have witnessed the benefits of modeling kindness to our students and the ‘ah-ha’ moments when they extend and experience kindness to their peers. We have noticed the palpable sense of community in our school, both among students and staff. It’s a big and welcome change to see how far we’ve come since the pandemic.

Our school’s story proves that every school can — and should — Teach Kindness.

Student note cards complete the "I am" wall at Palmer Elementary School.

In my role as principal, I often meet with students who are having issues navigating friendships or having conflict with their peers. When a serious dispute occurs, I’ll often invite the involved parties to my office so we can discuss what happened and work toward a resolution.

Since our school began participating in Teach Kindness, I’ve noticed that our students have not only become more adept at expressing their feelings in these meetings, but also at listening attentively to their peers and working together to find ways to move forward peacefully.

From our oldest 8th graders to our youngest preschoolers, our students know that when they make a mistake and hurt someone’s feelings, they can apologize and work to make the situation right. Admitting mistakes and resolving differences are crucial life skills, and I largely credit this ability in our students to our commitment to making kindness a cornerstone of our culture.

Our teachers were introduced to Teach Kindness during the pandemic. During remote learning, the program helped everyone feel connected and boosted morale. Since returning to in-person learning, Teach Kindness has helped to address the increase of anxiety, depression, and concern for social issues we’ve seen in our students.

The lessons that you get when participating in Teach Kindness help students develop skills that you really need for a successful life.

If there’s anything we’ve all learned from living through the pandemic, it’s that your relationships with people matter more than anything. Teach Kindness has given our school the opportunity to strengthen students’ emotional well-being while we simultaneously focus on academic recovery.

My best advice to other schools and educators: Building an equitable and inclusive school is a journey, not a destination. You don’t wake up one day and suddenly everyone loves each other and respects one another’s differences. You can do this work and issues will still arise — but the skills taught in the Teach Kindness lessons help turn those issues into learning opportunities.

Making a commitment to teach kindness will strengthen your school so that when conflict does inevitably occur, everyone is prepared to address it, learn from it, and move forward to continue cultivating a school environment that serves all students and supports all educators.

Illinois state capitol

Last week was a whirlwind at the Capitol and we’ve got progress to show for it! The pace was fast and furious all week, with a Friday deadline spurring legislators to debate bills well into the night.

The good news? Three bills in the ‘Literacy and Justice for All’ bill package passed the House or the Senate on Friday!

We couldn’t have done this without you! Advocates continue to send a strong signal to Springfield that these initiatives have deep support across the state. This month, we’ve sent over 1,500 emails to legislators in support of literacy and youth justice. (Did you send yours yet? Click these links and check it off your to-do list!)

A quick update on where things stand with these (and a few other momentous bills we’re supporting!):

  • Early Literacy: HB2872 and SB2243, bills instructing the State Board of Education to create a statewide literacy plan, and HB3147, the comprehensive Literacy and Justice for All bill to help fix the literacy crisis, passed their first major hurdle! (That is, the House bills passed the House and the Senate bill passed the Senate. Now they will switch places and work their way through the other chamber.)
  • Youth Justice: SB1463 and HB3120 passed committee and we anticipate a floor vote in the Senate this week. The bills would eliminate juvenile court fees and fines, a step toward economic justice for our state.
  • Full-Day Kindergarten: HB 2396 requires school districts to offer full-day kindergarten by 2027. It passed the House and moves to the Senate.
  • Trauma-Responsive Schools: HB 342 responds to the Whole Child Task Force, created by the Legislative Black Caucus’s historic “education pillar” two years ago. Under the bill, which passed the House, the state would develop a Children’s Adversity Index, make licensure recommendations to ensure teachers are prepared to support children with trauma, and add ratios of social workers to the school report card.
  • Dual-Credit Teacher Shortage: HB 1213 passed the House, creating a scholarship program for teachers to pursue the coursework needed to teach Dual Credit.

We will keep you posted as things continue to move in Springfield. Get ready for more advocacy opportunities to keep up the growing momentum on our legislative priorities!

Thank you for your partnership and support.

The Illinois literacy crisis is urgent and solvable.

Teachers are one of the most trusted voices on issues impacting education, and for good reason. They are in the classroom on a daily basis. They know what works.

So when a group of educators told us recently that Illinois needs to improve the way we teach literacy, it’s on us to listen.

They’ll tell you that literacy is a lifeline to future success. Literacy instruction helps build our community. The achievement gap will not go away if we do not address literacy.

Educators know that evidence-based literacy practices will help more children learn how to read. They know that Illinois needs to step up their game when it comes to how we teach students to read.

Listen to the teachers. Share this video with your friends and family. Urge them to join us and our Illinois Early Literacy Coalition partners as we continue the fight to improve literacy outcomes for all Illinois students.

teacher in a blue shirt helping student wearing a jean jacket with her school work

This is Teacher Appreciation Week, and an important reminder that in these times of “culture wars” to consider what more we can do to support educators.

May I suggest that you read the recent op-ed co-authored by Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, and Stand’s Executive Officer Jonah Edelman. In this piece, published by, Weingarten and Edelman push back against the arguments being used to try to undermine public education.

“Just as extremists have used the Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election to undermine American democracy, far-right advocates of privatizing public education are using Big Lies to undermine public schools. Supporters of public schools must see these ugly attacks for what they are and take a stand against them.”

Edelman and Weingarten highlight examples of courageous, successful efforts by parents and the public to strongly support public schools and stand up for students’ success and well-being.

They point out that, just as we are seeing in real-time with Putin’s war on Ukraine, “unchecked disinformation and dehumanization cause untold damage and suffering.”

During this Week of Teacher Appreciation and every week, please thank those who are educating our next generation and consider the ways you can stand for children.

This year marks the fifth year we have advocated for increased school funding through the evidence-based funding formula. You’ve been there with us every step of the way, and our collective advocacy has made a difference – this year, nearly $1.5 billion more has flowed through the equitable formula than when the formula was first enacted in 2017. And more importantly, it prioritizes funding for the school districts that need it most.

But closing the funding gap for Illinois schools is a marathon, not a sprint. Every year, we have to fight to keep the progress going. That’s why I offered testimony to an Illinois House committee yesterday, urging their support for $350 million in new funding. Despite all the investment we’ve made, 85% of Illinois students still attend schools that are underfunded.

We’ve got to do better for those students. Join me in urging policy makers to support an additional $350 million in evidence-based funding for our schools.

I also spoke in support of the Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship program. This work aims to attract and support teacher candidates of color to build up the state’s teacher pipeline with diverse and qualified candidates. Over half of Illinois’ student population are people of color, but teachers of color represent just 16% of teachers.

We need to support diverse educators through programs like the MTI Scholarships, and we need to support a boost in evidence-based funding for our classrooms. I hope you’ll take a minute of your busy day to contact Springfield and urge them to stand up for Illinois students and educators.

Illinois has made great strides in recent years when it comes to improving the number of students taking Dual Credit courses. Those classes help prepare them for life after high school and can earn them early college credit to boot.

As Dual Credit enrollment has risen, community college remediation rates have gone down. Dual Credit is delivering on its promise.

With a nearly 70% increase in teaching vacancies over the last five years, schools are left to do more with fewer teachers. Having enough qualified instructors remains a huge barrier to expanding Dual Credit access.

A bill introduced in Springfield would allow districts the flexibility to launch and grow Dual Credit programs with their available teachers while still respecting the quality standards of traditional Dual Credit coursework.

Can I count on you to take a quick second from your day to urge your legislators to increase equitable access to Dual Credit courses and support HB5506?

Will you add your voice and tell your legislators to stand up for equitable access to Dual Credit courses and support for educators? Just one click is all it takes.

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.