Small Acts Of Kindness
Small acts of kindness change the world. The grand deeds committed by those with means are important too, but they are not nearly as powerful as the billions of little things little people do every single day to help, recognize, and appreciate others. The longer I walk life the more convinced I am that it is the compound effect of the seemingly insignificant acts that sends the biggest ripples through the universe and alters the world most profoundly.
This morning as I was about to turn onto the expressway I always take to work a woman with two dogs started crossing the street. She hesitated seeing my car come to a halt at the intersection. I could've easily just kept turning, maybe cut her off, or maybe make it just in time, but I did not. I waited. And I am happy I did. It is because of what happened next.
The woman continued walking, looked at me through my windshield, gave me a big smile, and waved. Of course, an involuntary reflex forced a big toothy grin onto my face and I waved back. And it felt damn good!
That quick, seemingly unimportant encounter started my day in such a powerful way. It showed me how easy it can be to connect to another person if you just make the effort, show a little kindness, and take the first step. It also made me think about my interactions with students. Do I take the first step often enough? Do I notice and use all of the opportunities life presents to inject a little kindness and put smiles on the faces of the kids I interact with?
No? Maybe? Yes? Depends? - Whatever the answer is...
I CAN DO BETTER. I WANT TO DO BETTER.
Emma hated chemistry since pretty much the beginning. I know, because she told me so on more than one occasion before. She wrote things like: I DON’T CARE and GUESS IT’S SUMMER SCHOOL FOR ME in big letters on her tests. She kept insisting that science is not her thing. Being “cursed” with the knowledge of how the brain learns, I kept trying to convince her that she can and she will if she puts the effort in. It was the truth. But it was not what she needed to hear then. She wasn’t ready.
After months of struggling and hating chemistry, Emma is finally coming around and more receptive to me helping. She even came in for help before school on a few occasions. And she asks for help in class too. After one such encounter in class recently, she smiled and said that she actually gets it. I smiled back.
What changed? Was it me commenting on her Nirvana shirt, talking Kurt Cobain, and arguing about which album’s best? Or maybe giving her props on the worn out Led Zeppelin hoodie and asking whether she’s heard that Jimmy Page talked about himself/Led Zep going on tour in 2016? Or that first time she came in for help and said she’s only doing it because I rock out to the Linkin Park/Three Days Grace Pandora station in my room before school starts? Or maybe my constant gentle encouragement while leaving it all up to her? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes to all the things that happened and I have not mentioned.
It took several months and a lot of little seemingly insignificant encounters to go from point A to point Z with Emma.
On April 15, a female student participating in the Day of Silence stopped by my desk after the bell rang and handed me a note saying she wants me to call her Isaiah. A few days later I asked about it and Isaiah told me that his parents make him wear his sister’s clothes to school, but that he is transitioning. I am not sure if he told all of his teachers, but I was happy and honored that he trusted me with this information. I know that he felt safe telling me because of the relationship we’ve built this year connecting with music, me staying patient not being pushy, and saying "Hi" and waving to him every morning.
One At A Time
Kids, especially teens, can be tough to reach. They have lived just long enough to have experienced the best and the worst world has to offer and some are going through things that would crush adults. And while we can’t always know and understand, we can offer them a small act of kindness: a smile, a “Hi Emma,” a conversation and an ear ready to listen, our time.
Little things are BIG, so we must guard against discounting them. Too often, we take them for granted not realizing their power.
So start your day by doing something nice for someone at home, at work, at school. Take the first step with the student who “doesn’t care” and keep giving her small non-threatening nudges repeatedly until she has no choice but to respond to your efforts. Do so until she knows you care so much, without saying so directly, that she lays all her defenses down and lets you help her.
Because everyone cares. Because everyone has feelings.
Put that on the "self" agenda for every class you teach each day. Resolve to be mindful of who your students are. Forget the curriculum and stop to say something nice to a student as he is working on the assignment. Ask another one a question to show you’re interested in what she likes. Go up to the group working in the corner and say something funny. If you’re not the funny type tell them a story about your 2 year old.
Write those things down so you remember.
Then do them.
Change the world.
One small act of kindness at a time.
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And Remember: You Have the Power to Change the World. Use it often.