How do we teach students to act in caring ways - being kind, compassionate, expressing gratitude, forgiving others, and helping people in need? Here are eight ideas educators have used with their students.
In fifth grade, sometimes students are more interested in being mean to or teasing each other than in treating people respectfully. To help promote looking for the good in each other, we do 'put-ups' at least once a week. We thank individuals for nice things that they've done for us and for others. Around the holidays [or at the end of the year] we have the students write compliments for everyone in our class. Those compliments are compiled into a full-page sheet, mounted on a decorated border, and given to the students for a holiday [or end of year] present. We've had many parents say that their students keep their gift on the bulletin board at home and are encouraged to refer to it when things aren't going so well. I love to see their reactions as they read it for the first time.
—Jan Kardatzke, fifth grade teacher, Broomfield, Colorado
Greeting with a Smile
As I personally greet each student at the classroom door, I tell students I am happy to see them and place a small smiley face sticker on them, indicating that they are my students. I found this little greeting and recognition helps break the ice the first day of school. I also have requests for stickers from former students as they pass my door. Perhaps I have started a tradition among my students. This opening day gesture costs less than a dollar and is a good investment for me and my students.
—Linda C. Garrett, business teacher, Trussville, Alabama
Survival Kits (During Back to School)
When students arrive for class, I have a brown lunch bag on each desk. In each bag is a toothpick, rubber band, Band-aid, mint, chocolate kiss, pencil, eraser, piece of chewing gum and a tea bag. These are the students' Survival Kits for everyday living. The toothpick is to remind them to pick out the good quality in others. The rubber band is to remind them to be flexible, as things may not always go as they want. The Band-aid is to remind them to mend hurt feelings. The pencil is to list their blessings and the eraser is to remind them that everyone makes mistakes but that it's okay. The chewing gum is to remind them to stick with it and they can accomplish anything. The mint reminds them that they are worth a mint and the kiss reminds them that everyone needs a kiss or a hug everyday. The tea bag is to relax daily and reflect on the positive things in their lives. This activity opens up the class for discussions on class rules and respect on the first day.
—Virginia Easterling, eighth grade teacher, Bayou La Batre, Alabama
—Arthur L. Goff, educational support professional, special education, Kennesaw, Georgia
Random Acts of Kindness
I recognize random acts of kindness in my classroom. I write the student's name, date, and act of kindness on an index card. I attach all the cards to a bulletin board titled, Miss Sally's Kindness Club. At the end of the year, I take down the cards and mail them to the parents. This is a great way for students to get recognition for being kind to each other.
—Sally Theobold, an intervention specialist, Palatka, Florida
I teach an integrated preschool and I feel this is where it begins. I read to the children from the beginning books that address issues about doing the right thing. I also lead by example.
There are no harsh words allowed in my classroom. I let them know from the beginning no "monsters chasing others," no weapons at all (even if they are made out of a block). Bullies are removed to think of other ways to handle a situation. I cannot fight what goes on at home, but in my classroom we are kind to each other no matter what. I treat my students with respect and I expect the same in return....
I also let the parents know what I am doing and why. I get good reports from my parents and even have been told that the little ones will talk to their parents when they are not being nice. It is the best I can do.
—Aimee, preschool teacher
THE most positive word a student can hear is his or her name. I make a point of saying things like, "As Whitney said…" or "To go back to Adam's comment…" This is a way to praise and encourage a high school student without the overly obvious "Good job, Whitney" or "I like the way your worded that, Adam," which can embarrass teenagers.
Using a student's name can also work as a subtle disciplinary tool. If Mary isn't paying attention, I simply add her name to my explanation: "To form a compound sentence, Mary, we have to use a coordinating conjunction." Hearing his or her name brings a daydreaming student back from LaLaLand into the classroom.
Another way to use positive language is to use a student's own exact words. If I am soliciting a list of whatever, and putting this list on the board, I write down the suggestion exactly as the student worded it, even if it is long and "chewy" and I could make it more concise. Students like to see their own words up on the board.
—csanders, high school teacher
I emphasize community and team building with periodic use of team-building initiatives from "Project Adventure." Many can be adapted for use in academic subject areas, and all are useful in emphasizing the importance of each member of the group, various roles played by different individuals, fun, various levels of cooperation, competition without meanness (i.e., with a decrease in meanness), new ways to play old games. As a wise person once said, "Find out what kids like to play and then teach them using their own games." This is useful in developing many community values and virtues, and has on occasion turned an argumentative group of 4th graders playing four-square into a positive, uplifting group of encouragers.
—Ron Kennedy, elementary school teacher