Each week I write an email to teachers to remind us of the values and mission that frames the work we do. This is the email I sent teachers this week.
- Last week, I noticed two kindergartens arrive at school together. One of them held the door for the other and then they held hands as they walked down the hall to the gym. There was a group of parents smiling and watching this interaction. As one mom put it, “the more mature one is helping the other one.”
- I also witnessed caring in action in third grade. One third grader escorted a student with significant learning challenges into the building and then down the hall to the gym. When they came back through the lobby in line, they were holding hands. When they arrived at the elevators, they let go of hands and gave each other a hug. One of them took the elevator upstairs while the other walked with the class.
- Some sixth graders made a mess in the cafeteria. One of them stayed behind to clean up while Nico went to get the others to help. At the end of the day, Nico and I spoke to them about their poor choices. The next day, one of them sent an email apology. Both Nico and I replied thanking the student for the apology. Then another sent an apology. We didn’t ask for these apologies; the students provided them spontaneously (or at the suggestion of parents – student one – and maybe the suggestion of student one – student two.)
Our children aren’t perfect. We didn’t get four nicely written apologies — we got two. Kids still make mistakes and can annoy each other or say unkind things. We still need dean teams and to take the time to coach our children on wise choices. They (we) are all works in progress. But these seemingly random acts of kindness happen throughout the school day. The kids don’t seem to think they are a big deal. It is just how they are and how they relate to others.
A recent conversation with a fifth grader compelled me to re-read Wonder, by RJ Palacio, the first read aloud of the fifth grade ELA curriculum. At the end of the book, the principal of the school makes a speech at the year-end ceremony. The school is named Beecher for Henry Ward Beecher and the speech references some of his ideas. (If you haven’t read the book, you should. I strived to avoid any spoilers.) Here is a bit from the speech:
“…Henry Ward Beecher was, of course, the nineteenth-century abolitionist — and fiery sermonizer for human rights… I came upon a passage that he wrote that seemed particularly consistent with… themes I’ve been ruminating upon all year. Not just the nature of kindness, but the nature of one’s kindness. The power of one’s friendship. The test of one’s courage. The strength of one’s character. … Courage. Kindness, Friendship, Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”
These qualities are evidence of our students’ caring. They learn this from the adults in their lives and from their peers. They learn it from the caring and compassion that our teachers model each day — their willingness to take time to listen and to reflect and to be humble and honest about their own growth as a human and by pitching in to support each other and our students. Our students see these acts and learn from them. I am deeply appreciative, each day, for their tremendous modeling of caring and respect.