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.

Before you get your weekend started, I wanted to get a quick note out to share an opportunity for you to lend your voice to the discussion of Chicago’s elected school board. The State Senate’s Special Committee on the Chicago Elected Representative School Board has added dates for five upcoming hearings:

  • April 5, 4PM – George Westinghouse College Prep (3223W. Franklin Blvd.)
  • April 6, 11AM – Imani Village (901 E. 95th St.)
  • April 12, 4PM – Copernicus Center (5216 W. Lawrence)
  • April 13, 4PM – National Museum of Mexican Art (1852 W. 19th St.)
  • April 17, 6PM (Virtual)

The first step in the process to transition to an elected board is to create boundaries for the new subdistricts. These hearings seek public input on the drawing of these new areas.

Are you interested in sharing your ideas with legislators about the elected board? Or in attending a hearing to learn more? How can I help support you to get involved?

Many parents and teachers I’ve talked to are hungry for more information about this monumental change in CPS’s structure. They have questions like: How will this impact the role of LSCs? Is a 21-member board too big? How can we ensure equitable representation on the board?

Here is a great chance for us to add our voices to this conversation and be the change we seek.

Reply here if there is anything I can do to support you as you raise your voice for our students.

When I look back on 2022 and all we achieved together, I see so many positive sparks of change for our children. Your gift of $5 today will help spark the next change.

Schools became kinder, more welcoming spaces for students and staff through the Teach Kindness program.

Educators thrived as they helped improve school climate and parent engagement through the CAFE Coaching program.

More children in underserved neighborhoods got the tools and programs they needed to become better readers.

We gained important insight into perspectives on Dual Credit courses through our community survey. We know where to work and build support to expand access to this critical high school resource now.

Our Payton Parent Fellows grew as leaders and helped put parents and caregivers at the table when important issues were discussed at the state and district level. All of this work – really, all of it – is possible only thanks to the support of folks like you. Your generous support allows us to make a difference every day across so many issues, programs, and relationships.

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.