Guest post by Jill McManigal
I’ve always known that kindness matters. I’ve seen how a simple smile, a thoughtful note or a holding of the door can shift someone’s day. What I didn’t realize was how a collective kindness effort could transform an entire school.
I am a former elementary school teacher, a mother of two, an enthusiastic school volunteer (Room Mom, Red Ribbon Week Chair, Teacher Appreciation Chair, monthly character rally coordinator, etc.), as well as the co-founder and Executive Director of Kids for Peace. I was born with the desire to serve and to be kind.
Four years ago I was approached by a teacher at my children’s Title 1 elementary school. She had heard about my work with Kids for Peace and wanted to bring this positive approach to the students at Jefferson Elementary in Carlsbad, California. She acknowledged that the school climate was already good, but with bullying becoming more pervasive, she wanted to be proactive and make it even better. She wanted to create a school environment where all students feel safe, accepted, respected and happy. And research studies were confirming what she knew intuitively: kind and happy students learn better and do better.
Inspired by her enthusiasm, I met with my high school interns and Board of Directors to brainstorm ideas. Modeled after our successful project called The Great Kindness Challenge (where children around the world download a checklist of 50 kind acts and perform as many as possible in one day), we created The Great Kindness Challenge-School Edition. We designed a new kindness checklist specifically tailored for schools and extended the time-frame to one week for students to complete the acts of kindness.
In 2012 we piloted The Great Kindness Challenge-School Edition with three schools in Carlsbad, California. We made it FREE and super easy to implement. (All you need to do is make copies of the provided checklist, distribute them and encourage participation. A toolkit is also provided with lots of complementary activities.)
The week was full of joy, connection, smiles and more smiles. Students who normally didn’t interact with each other went out of their comfort zone in the spirit of a friendly challenge. Not only did the students feel the effect, the staff did too as they were thanked, helped and appreciated. The results were overwhelming with all three pilot schools raving about the positive impact of The Great Kindness Challenge. Stated one teacher, “Who knew that simple acts of kindness can make such a big difference?!”
Science supports the power of kindness. A recent study showed that every act of kindness creates a ripple effect that positively affects at least three other people. And even for those students who aren’t prone to acting kindly, science has shown that the brain can be rewired and behavior changed. Every thought and action we do fires neurons in our brain. The more these neural pathways are fired, the easier it becomes to activate them. So the more we repeat acts of kindness, the easier it is to do them in the future. Kindness creates more kindness!
That’s the beauty and the strength of The Great Kindness Challenge. As students interact with the kindness checklist and repeat kind act after kind act after kind act, kindness becomes a habit. As kindness becomes a habit, the school culture is uplifted and students are motivated to treat themselves and others with more compassion and respect.
I am humbled and buoyed by the momentum of The Great Kindness Challenge-School Edition. In three short years we have grown from the three pilot schools in California to 554,486 students in 1099 schools in all 50 states. In 2015, our goal is to engage 2 million students in 5,000 schools who will complete 100 million acts of kindness. That’s a whole lot of positive neurons being fired!
I joyfully invite you and your school to take the challenge and dedicate one week to kindness. It’s free, it’s easy and it is guaranteed to have a profound impact. One week has the power to transform a student’s life and the entire school forever. As one enthusiastic student said, “This kindness stuff works!” No doubt about it, kindness matters!
Learn more and receive your FREE Great Kindness Challenge
checklist and toolkit at GreatKindnessChallenge.org.
Jill McManigal is the co-founder and Executive Director of Kids for Peace. A former elementary school teacher, she is an active volunteer at her children’s school in southern California.