In school and from the heart

Divya Choudary

No queue at counter 10! You quickly wheel your cart in and begin unloading your groceries-for-the-month on to the counter. The salesgirl rings up and bags all the stuff. You have your wallet ready in your hand. She tells you your bill amount and then adds, “It has been taken care of.” You take a moment to register that and then ask, “By whom?” “The man who was in the line before you,” she replies. You turn to look at the door but that person’s long gone. Your next question is “Why?” The salesgirl smiles and says, “He said it was time for a random act of kindness!”

This is something that really happens! There are people who with simple gestures make the day of a complete stranger – it could be by paying the entrance ticket for the person entering the park behind them, leaving a handwritten note in a book they’ve borrowed from the library for the next reader to find or by taking the time to appreciate something they see someone do every day. When you have someone do you a sweet gesture, the warmth carries you through bad traffic, long queues, and those tough days that have a way of leaving you physically and mentally drained. The only way you can actually return the favour is to carry their kindness forward!

appreciation-tree Schools provide ample opportunities for such acts of kindness. Here are a few things we can do in our schools to get started (They might not be completely random given that one is bound to come across the person again, but elements like anonymity and surprise will make up for it.).

1. Helping out – While walking to your next class or waiting for the bus to arrive you’ve probably noticed places in your school that can be improved. How about picking one out and making it a class project? It is something that students and teachers can do together over a few days, the results of which the whole school will enjoy. For instance, you could grow a vegetable or flower garden or liven up a grim corridor with artwork. (Note that the kindness here is not directed at a person in particular but to everyone who spends time in the school.)

2. Making the school a kind and friendly zone – For a new student, the idea of starting at a new school and making friends can be quite daunting. If you’ve ever been the new kid, you know the feeling. So when you see a new student (even if they are not in your class), why not show them around the school and introduce them to your friends? You can even take this a step further to bully-proof the school – when seniors pull grade on juniors, or when a particular student in class is made fun of or troubled repeatedly, how about standing up for them?

One activity that I heard about was the “make a new friend” day. On one day of every week, students have to introduce themselves to someone outside their own class. This not only helps students get over inhibitions of meeting new people, it allows students to interact with and make friends with students they would otherwise not meet. Finding out you have a lot in common with another person, or discovering that you can have an interesting conversation with a stranger will help children open up to new and kinder interactions.

As adults too, starting out at a new school would take some getting used to. As someone who knows the ins and outs of the school, you could get new staff acquainted with your colleagues and help them get settled in. This is especially helpful for substitute teachers who are stepping in to help out for only a short while.

3. Sharing kindness – You don’t have to be a professional to share your skills with someone else. If you’ve come across someone who has expressed an interest in an activity you do, why don’t you offer to involve them too! For instance, if you’ve been experimenting with your camera, you could organize a photography expedition for a small group on the school grounds itself. You could share your knowledge with them and have others teach you too. This would also work for gardening, art, and physics experiments too!

For your students, you could have a class every now and then, where one student plays an instrument for the others, shares information about a particular culture or software they’ve learned, or teaches the others how to knit, speak a different language, take care of a pet, programme, etc. Students could also be encouraged to help classmates or juniors with research for their class projects. By creating spaces where students can work together, learn from and teach one another, you are also giving them the opportunity to learn patience, empathy, and kindness. Students will begin to respect others’ abilities and appreciate their own as well.

4. Kind words on a branch – We get so caught up in assignments and assessments that we don’t often take the time to show our appreciation for someone’s act of kindness. This is where an “appreciation tree” could help. Find a short tree, preferably near a frequently used corridor for the purpose. Leave a few blank cards (with strings attached) and pens near the tree and let the students and staff do the rest! I came across such a tree on a recent visit to a school in the city. It was heart-warming to see the large number of notes on it. I would imagine that reading a sweet note, even if not directed to you, would make you smile. Students could write a note to a teacher, thanking him/her for a lesson or leave a note for a classmate who’s made a difference. The anonymity just adds to the magic!

5. Thank you! From: Anonymous – For each student you have in your class, write on a small slip of paper one date that the school is open on during the year. Pass the box with these chits around, and ask each student to pick one. That is their “secret date”. On that day, the student is to come in early and leave on each classmate’s desk a note – of appreciation, shared memories, etc. Students could also make, for each classmate, origami shapes or homemade sweet treats or even add notes with quotes from a favourite book. While this activity requires some planning, it gives each child the chance to appreciate their classmates or thank them for helping with catching up on classes missed or for being a good friend. Make sure to discuss in the class how each child felt about the notes they received. This will help them recognize and encourage positive traits among themselves and others!

Teaching kindness is more than a random act. It takes some initiative and planning. These were just a few ideas to get the ball rolling. I’m quite sure a discussion with your class would result in many more. Here are some links with suggestions for random acts of kindness for all age groups:

While your students are busy planning their acts of kindness, you could also ask them to note down the ones they observe over a period of time. Did the school bus driver stop to help someone who had an accident? Did someone’s sister save a few biscuits for the scrawny dog hiding near the playground? Did someone take the trouble to contact and return someone else’s lost book? Did a student volunteer to help a teacher carry all the notebooks to the staffroom?

Taking note of unconditional random kind gestures around them and thinking about what they themselves can do will soon get students started on a journey of doing meaningful acts of kindness for all the people they meet along the way. And if the earlier they get started, the better… then why not right from “kind”ergarten?

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Random Acts of Kindness

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