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.

Giving Tuesday logo

Today is Giving Tuesday and a busy email day, so I’ll make this short and sweet.

Stand’s work in schools across the state, especially our work spreading kindness to students and educators through Teach Kindness, is only possible with the support of folks like you. Your generosity allows us to reach more classrooms and impact more lives. It’s as simple as that.

Can I count on you to support Stand’s work in the community with a tax-deductible donation today? Every little bit helps.

Thank you for everything you do to support our mission to fight for education equity and racial justice. Together, we can make the world a kinder place and continue to stand for Illinois children and their families.

Each Thanksgiving season I try to take a moment to pause and really reflect on what I’m grateful for. This year, what stands out in my mind are the many educators, students, families, and schools I’ve had the privilege to work with who have made it a priority to embrace kindness.

Even with so much already on their plates, the educators who participate in Teach Kindness make time for their students to learn about empathy, emotions, mindfulness, and other fundamental life skills because they know it will serve students well both now and in the future.

I hear from educators constantly about how Teach Kindness and a focus on social and emotional skills has enriched their school community and created a culture of positivity. Schools change for the better when kindness is made a priority.

I want to sincerely thank the school communities that have made kindness a centerpiece of their work. And I especially want to thank every person who has given their time and resources to Teach Kindness this year and enabled this program to reach children and families across Illinois.

You can just feel it when a school has made kindness one of their core values. Students seem at ease and the school’s environment is warm and welcoming.

I feel it at Palmer Elementary in Chicago where special education teacher Tracy Caronia’s positive post-it notes left for students light up their faces with pride. She sees the difference kindness makes for her students, especially the younger ones who, because of pandemic disruptions, are having their first “normal” school year ever.

And I feel it at Wagoner Elementary in Sauk Village. There, students created positive affirmation posters that are displayed on their lockers. These affirmations remind them every day that they have the power to be kind to others. Educators at Wagoner distribute anonymous Kindness Grams to each other – short notes of gratitude that create waves of positivity among the staff.

These schools have made kindness a part of their identity. They are building schools where everyone feels welcome, valued, appreciated, and seen. The results are amazing!

Teaching kindness makes an impact on students and educators alike. Up and down Illinois, schools have embraced the lessons of Teach Kindness and made a deep impact on their school communities.

I hope you will join them in making kindness part of your daily routine and spread the word that schools are more welcoming when they teach kindness.

As a special education teacher, I try to make all my students feel appreciated and important. That’s why I’ve made it a habit to place positive post-it notes around the classroom, written specifically for each child. I’ll leave one on a student’s folder or the spot they typically sit. I’ll mention how I noticed they said something nice to another child, or how I see that they’re working really hard on an assignment.

The look on their faces — how they light up with pride when they read their notes — that’s everything. With one simple act of kindness, I’m able to lift their self-esteem, build their confidence, and hopefully inspire them to spread kindness, too.

Today, on World Kindness Day, what’s one small but powerful thing you can do to spread kindness?

This is most of my students’ first normal year of school due to pandemic disruptions. Many of them are struggling with skills they would’ve otherwise developed in early grades, including empathy and problem solving. With Stand’s Teach Kindness lessons and activities my students can practice these fundamental life skills, socialize with intention, and learn how their words and actions affect others.

Through engaging and interactive exercises, Teach Kindness gives my students opportunities to understand their emotions and find their place in our classroom community. I’ve seen such a positive change in them since participating in this program.

After a student reads their positive post-it note, I often see them tuck it inside their take-home folder or slip it into their backpack. It’s a reminder that kindness has a lasting effect, and the more kindness we can exhibit toward one another, the better off we’ll all be.

Please consider what you can do today to make someone feel seen, appreciated, and important.

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.