Can a Kindness Campaign Truly Change Your School?

Posted
5/30/2016
Jon Konen
School Principal
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PU#151 - Kindness Campaign

After trying many things to lessen discipline referrals in our school, we had to step out and think "inside the box." What do you focus on, the discipline of a few naughty students or the kindness of the majority of students? That question alone changed the culture in our school. Instead of finding new ways to re-teach, consequent, and develop behavior plans for the few students, we decided to put most of our energy into promoting qualities that the majority of our students possess! We started with "Kindness."

In years past we spent hours sifting through discipline referrals and analyzing the data. What type of behavior was occurring the most? Where was this discipline happening? What time of day are most referrals written? Who were the students receiving the most referrals? Then, we had to decide what to do with this data. We would create behavior intervention plans for our top referral-getting students, we would move staff to cover high referrals areas, as well as more staff during specific referral times of the day. We would create procedures and rules for specific playground equipment, entering and exiting school, and even how we sit in the lunchroom. Think about how much time was spent on doing all this? We do understand that many of these things are needed in order to help run a more efficient and effective school, but we still felt like we were spending too much time on the "negative."

A change to the "positive" was needed! We started a "Kindness Campaign." This strategy decreased our discipline referrals this year by over 50% (though we can't contribute all the success to this strategy). The idea behind this strategy is to have students and staff point out specific acts of kindness they see in our school.

We started a Kindness Tree….a bare brown tree on a bulletin board that was visible for all students (See article featured image above). When a student or staff member saw an "Act of Kindness," they wrote it down with specific information: person to celebrate, kindness act they saw, and who wrote the act of kindness. Here is a picture of our kindness tree at the beginning of school in September, 2015 after our initial kickoff.

Each morning I would read the latest "Acts of Kindness" over the PA system. Kids loved hearing their name, they also loved to acknowledge other students. Giving students the power to acknowledge others made them look for specific acts all throughout the day in classrooms, hallways, recess, and even at special events.

Act of Kindness

Some variations we made on this Act of Kindness program was to have kids find other character traits that we know are powerful in building a positive culture: respect, empathy, friendship, change, growth, differences, and even heroes. Our school uses the Olweus anti-bully program and we have chosen to teach activities in the classroom each month that connect with the following topics: September/October - Kindness, November- Change, December - Be a DEFENDer, January - Making a Positive Change, February - Be a Friend, March- Make a Difference, April- Making Positive GROWTH, and May- Hidden Heroes.

Currently, in the month of May, students and adults have been finding Hidden Heroes in our school. They are taught about the definition of a hero. We then connected it to the concept of hidden heroes, and we asked them to go out and find hidden heroes amongst us in the school (adult or student). I would then read those examples on the PA in the morning. Some of these hidden hero stories brought tears to many staff member's eyes!

Actual data from our school states that at the end of April, 2015, we had 418 discipline referrals school-wide. At the end of April, 2016, our school had 192 discipline referrals. For a school of 420 students, this was quite a change. This is less than 2 referrals per day! Time to celebrate! Here is our Kindness Tree as of May 13, 2016.

Friendship Change

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Jon Konen

Jon Konen is a father, husband, K-6 elementary principal, and freelance writer in Great Falls, Montana. He has taught most all grade levels K-6, and has been a K-12 principal of a rural school. As a 5th grade teacher in 2010, he won the Presidential Award for Elementary Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST). As a principal, his school won the 2012 Blue Ribbon Award. In 2018, he won the National Distinguished Principal Award (NDP). He is the author of two guides, An Educator's Guide to Combat Bullying & Bully Prevention and Teacher Evaluation: A Transition Guide to Exemplary Performance. He has authored a children's picture book that will be released in October, 2018 titled, Principal Reads and Benjamin's Visit to the Office…Not the First!
Jon Konen

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