Random Acts of Kindness

Ms. Cookie at Math Teacher Mambo recently posted about random acts of kindness that she promotes at her school:

I ask my students to write a thank you note (on paper I provide, with markers I provide) to a teacher in school which I then put in the appropriate mailboxes.

I fell in love with this idea. It really struck me, especially after having an especially rough week emotionally. On Thursday I talked with students, trying to gauge if this week was hard for everyone — not just me. If teachers were piling on the assessments, if there was some sort of Zeitgeisty stressful crunch that was driving everyone crazy. Almost every student said this week was the hardest since the beginning of the year. (I don’t know what about this week is so exceptional; we’re mid-quarter… maybe it is just coming off of Thanksgiving break that made this jolt especially traumatic for everyone.) Teachers agreed too.

So thinking we all needed a bit of a pick me up, and just being excited about thinking positively again, on Friday morning I stopped off at the Duane Reade and bought thank you cards. In 3 of my 4 classes, my lesson plans included doing “lecturing” work for 25 minutes, and then individual/partner work for the remaining 25 minutes. When setting the kids free to work on the chain rule (calculus) or max-min-increasing-decreasing/how-do-you-use-your-calculator work (algebra II), I gave a 2 minute talk about Ms. Cookies post, and about how we often forget to think of all the good that people do for us.

I then said that I would love it if they took 5 minutes out of their work time to write these cards, but that it was optional. And that they can go to teachers, or to fellow students, or maintenance staff, or to college counselors, or anyone. I also said that if they thought someone might find a random “thank you” to be creepy or sycophantic, they could preface their card with “Mr. Shah is doing this thing with random acts of kindness…”

Most kids took the cards (some two or three!) and wrote them for teachers. I delivered them to the mailboxes later in the day. Some took the cards and wanted to hand deliver it. Two students in the same class wrote cards for each other!

Honestly, I did feel a bit uncomfortable about doing this during class time. I’m really particular about spending class time focused on learning, and in general, I don’t like to do “fluffy” things — especially things that don’t directly relate to math content. I’m very particular about being that teacher that focuses on content at all times — every minute. However, I think that in this case — for both me and my students — it was worth the trade-off. It rejuvinated me, because it reminded me all the good I have around me. I really saw the students get into it.

One thoughtful student who was working hard on his card sent me an email saying:

Today you prompted your classes to do good deeds and make someone else’s day a bit better, but I wanted to make sure that you recieved thanks as well. I really appreciated the gesture–not only did you give us a much needed break from work, but you allowed us to feel good about making someone else feel important. I hope you feel great about what you did…

Just wanted to let you know that you made a positive impact on me and on someone that is very important to me.

That email justified it for me. Not that I will be doing things like this frequently, but I see so much value in it. Not only does it promote random acts of kindness, but things like this can help shape a school culture. It can make people appreciate those around them.

It also reminds me of the immense value that I find in blogging, and reading blogs. My bad week was turned around by reading this one post. Something great that Ms. Cookie does at her school now affects — positively — what’s going on at my school. The blogs I read are informative, primarily, but they inspire me, start me thinking, lead me to question what I do, and keep me interested in blogging myself. The extent to which we bloggers — and our stories and ideas — affect each other often goes unmentioned.

In the vein of doing random acts of kindness, Mr. K at Math Stories recently wrote about “underrecognized blogs” — in light of the recent nominations for Edublog Awards — “some that aren’t nominated, but that will stay in my reader even if they go dead and cold, just on the off chance that they may have one last post left in them.” And, with his own random act of kindness, he wrote of my blog: “Infectious love of math, and an earnest quest for self improvement. Not the same level of math that I teach at all, but somehow I end up caring anyway.” I don’t have a lot of readers. It seems that most of the hits to my blog are Harvard students looking for information on Math 55 or someone looking for some information on the Richter Scale — I’ve written posts on both. But I’m okay with not having a large readership and being unrecognized. I blog for me. An archive of my journey, a repository of ideas, random neat math things that I get obsessed with. But with that one line for Mr. K, I swelled up. Even though I’m okay being unrecognized, it’s nice to be pointed out.

I’m now all about the small, sincere acts.

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4 comments

  1. spending class time focused on learning

    I used to do this too. Then Dan’s comments about how prez blows it, and his trivia warm ups, plus a PD I went to that emphasized the importance of developing a relationship with your students as people, not as curricular receptacles, made me rethink this approach. If, by 5 minutes of time spent on non curricular stuff every day (which I still find educational, becausewe’re learning life and human interaction skills), I can buy back 10 minutes of dedicated focused learning, I get a win.

    Of course, my student demographic is different than yours, but I think this idea holds true across a lot of variation.

  2. @Greg I won’t get called out by anyone, or anything like that. My concern with that is more with my teaching style and the reputation I’m trying to build for myself. But yes, it turned out great. And a teacher who I mentioned this to on twitter did it in their class, and said it also was great. I love how good deeds propagate.

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