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November 13, 2023
ASCD Blog

What’s the Kindest Thing You’ve Seen a Student Do?

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Educators share moments when students went above and beyond.
School CultureEngagement
What’s the Kindest Thing You’ve Seen a Student Do? Image
Credit: ORION PRODUCTION / Shutterstock
As we celebrate World Kindness Day today, November 13, we asked a few educators to tell us about the amazing things they’ve seen students do to make their community, and the world, a better place. Not surprisingly, our contributors had a lot to say on this. Here, we share some of the ways that young people have surprised and delighted educators and the people around them. 

A Letter of Gratitude

I had a student many years ago who struggled to get top grades in my 10th-grade English class. She was clearly frustrated by her results, and I could tell her increasingly prickly nature with me was due to her frustration at not getting As. I offered her extra help, but she didn't seem to warm to me despite my attempts to reach out and offer support. I began to feel she blamed me for her low grades.   
Fast-forward to the end of the year: there was a long, handwritten note from her on my desk on the final day of classes. She wrote frankly about how she didn't like me very much during the first half of the year and was frustrated by how hard a teacher I was. She wrote about how she grew to see, over time, that she was getting better, developing stronger writing and thinking skills. She acknowledged that she had never had to work so hard for good grades and that the A she earned by the end of the year was one of the most gratifying experiences of her life. Before signing off in the letter, she thanked me for seeing how far she could really go and pushing her to be her best. She acknowledged she had been wrong about me, and that now I was one of her favorite teachers.  
That was over 10 years ago, and I still have her letter in a box of special letters. We are still in touch, and I love to see her successes through her social media updates. On the days when it feels too hard to be a teacher, I remember this student and the lesson we both learned that year about not giving up. I'll always appreciate her kindness in writing that letter. 
—Alexis Wiggins, director of teaching and learning, upper school English teacher, The John Cooper School in The Woodlands, Texas, and author of The Best Class You Never Taught (ASCD, September 2017)

Making Everyone Feel Welcome

As a leader and introvert, I take notice of the scholars who are often by themselves. One thing that is very apparent to me is when they are eating alone in the cafeteria. One first day of school one year, I noticed a young man sitting by himself. His disposition gave impressions of uncertainty and being a little lost. I grabbed a tray of lunch and began to engage with him. I learned he was new to our high school. While I was there, some young ladies in close proximity joined our conversation. They began to “teach him the ropes.” It was pretty awesome to witness. In watching their intentions unfold, I realized I could step out and let the scholars have their space. I gestured to the counselor and shared what happened, the counselor smiled, and said, “Yeah, our babies just have a way of embracing each other.”   
Over the week, I saw these same scholars with the young man in the hallway. Throughout the year, I saw his circle of friends grow while his disposition changed to confident and still humble. It was later in the same year that this young man lost a loved one who was dear to our community as well. To our surprise, within days, we saw him return to school. He would share it was his friends who encouraged him that he would be ok if he wanted to be at school. I was proud of the scholars not only for their kindness, but also for their leadership. The kids are alright.  
—Chaunte Garrett, CEO, The Garrett Collective, LLC, Raleigh, North Carolina, and author of "Relevant Curriculum Is Equitable Curriculum"

You Are Not Alone

The first days of kindergarten are notorious. While some children will part from their families with a hug and a wave, others experience terrible anxiety and protest the separation from their loved ones. One child, let’s call her Diana, was a passionate protester. For the first two weeks, the start of the day was full of tears and clinging. Despite the difficult beginnings, she found a safe and loving environment inside her classroom, and her bad feelings dissipated within an hour.   
One morning, Diana walked up to the school doors with her mother. She turned, smiled, waved goodbye, and walked inside. Her mother, stunned, paused for a moment and then giddily left. All the adults outside, pleased to see Diana reach this milestone, continued greeting students. About a minute later, Diana came racing outside again, searching desperately for her mother. When she realized her mother had gone, Diana began to cry and said, “I just wanted one more hug.” At the same time, another kindergartener from Diana’s class, Sheila, was entering the building. She immediately took Diana’s hand and put her arm around her shoulders. “It’s okay, Diana,” Sheila whispered. “I’ll help walk you in.” In that difficult moment, Sheila showed Diana that she wasn’t alone, that she had a friend to lean on and support her. 
—Erin Shadowens, director of Lower School at Brooklyn Prospect Downtown Elementary, and author of Critical Thinking in the Elementary Classroom: Engaging Young Minds with Meaningful Content (ASCD, October 2023) 

Getting in the Spirit of Giving

During the course of my career, I have frequently observed students doing acts of kindness that inspired me. Some years ago, when I was a school principal, a 5th-grade girl came to the office one morning in mid-December.  As I looked on, she handed my secretary a shopping bag full of wrapped gifts and whispered to the secretary that the contents should be delivered to a boy named Ky. She added, “and no matter what, you can’t tell them these were from me.” The secretary promised to keep the secret, but asked, “Maria, why did you bring gifts for Ky, and why don’t you want him to know who they are from?” 
The girl explained, “Well, my mom told me the truth about Santa this year. She said that I was old enough now to have the power to become Santa, to share in the giving spirit that is the real magic of the holiday season. Ky is on my bus and in my class. I know his mom died last year, and I also know his family doesn’t have much money. He has been saying that he wants these video games, so I took my allowance money and bought them for him. My mom added a new warm hat and gloves. If he asks who the gifts are from, just say they're from Santa.”  
—Jennifer Gallagher, superintendent of the Long Beach School District in New York, author of “Let’s Bring Joy Back into Learning”

A Welcoming Environment

Kindness shows up in our schools in many forms. From opening and holding a door for someone, lending a pencil to a peer, or offering help on a difficult task in class. It doesn’t take much to be kind, yet when it happens and we see it, it can have a great impact on all involved. Creating opportunities for kindness is a great way to help students lead the way with their peers. A particular example that comes to mind is our student ambassador program at our high school. The by-students-for-students initiative allows students in upper grades to give back to their peers in earlier grades by allowing them to lead the way in creating a welcoming and caring environment. During our first week of school, student ambassadors promote kindness by engaging with students who are new and encouraging them to participate in activities, introducing new students to the school’s environment, culture, and their own experiences. This form of kindness extends beyond initial interactions to set the tone for a school year that is welcoming and rich with positive student-to-student connections.  
—Alejandro Gonzalez Ojeda, director of digital instruction and technology at Health Sciences High & Middle College, author of “4 C’s for Better Student Engagement” 

The Act of Kindness That Keeps Giving 

When I look back at my 20+ years as an educator, it is hard to find one act of kindness that resonates in my mind. Is it the boy with a flashing smile that makes everyone’s day? Is it the little girl who scoots over in the lunchroom to make room for a friend? Is it the group of children that make one more spot for the child with special needs to be able to join a group? Yes, it’s all of these people. However, I’m going to choose a student from my very first year of teaching. But the act of kindness that I want to focus on isn’t from that very first year. It’s actually a culmination of the last five years where I have watched this person take care of her colleagues. This person is now a teacher, and I serve as her principal. So not only have I been blessed to watch her grow and be successful in the field of education, I have watched her be a good human, celebrate the successes of others, be a cheerleader to those who need it, and lift up the spirits of those who are down. During this school year, one of our staff members was undergoing treatment for an illness. This teacher took it upon herself to paint the school pink, organize a fundraiser, and host a celebratory breakfast for her colleague’s accomplishments. I would like to celebrate Miss Jenna Oppedisano for her selflessness and kind efforts and for her willingness to always give 100 percent to lift others up!  
—Rhonda Pevorus, principal of Union Township Elementary School, featured in “Revolutionizing Kindergarten: The Success of the Switcheroo” 

Personalized Deliveries

During my third year teaching elementary school, two of my students asked to stay after school to help me organize what was regularly one of the most cluttered classrooms in America. As a sign of appreciation, I would toss a football with them before they went home.    
I did not grasp the impact of our extra time together until right before the school year ended. For several days I had failed to send an important letter home to families from the principal. In our final afternoon clean-up session on the second-to-last day of school, I discovered the principal’s letter buried under a pile of papers.   
I confided in Marcos and Luis about my predicament, and they offered an immediate and remarkably generous solution: they would hand deliver the letters to their classmates’ homes! I was incredulous the next morning when Marcos reported that they had been out on their scooters all afternoon successfully delivering the letters to 23 of the 27 families in our classroom. I was moved and inspired by their kindness, which reinforced my belief that students will go to unforeseen heights when they feel connected to their teacher and to each other.
—Ari Gerzon-Kessler, coordinator of family partnerships for Boulder Valley School District, and author of On The Same Team: Bringing Educators and Underrepresented Families Together (Solution Tree, December 2023)

EL’s experienced team of writers and editors produces Educational Leadership magazine, an award-winning publication that reaches hundreds of thousands of K-12 educators and leaders each year. Our work directly supports the mission of ASCD: To empower educators to achieve excellence in learning, teaching, and leading so that every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. 

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