Students who show kindness to cafeteria staff, the lunchroom and the planet are rewarded with the “Golden Spatula,” just one of many activities that promote kindness at Academy for Academic Excellence in Apple Valley.
Kindness is golden
A collection of ideas for teaching kindness throughout the year
January 29, 2024
The following article was written by Lisa Longoria, elementary vice principal for Academy for Academic Excellence.
“Kindness is always an option!” I hear first-grader Moises yell across the courtyard to me from where he’s standing in line for lunch. I’m returning to my office, and this quick exchange fills my bucket on an otherwise draining day. Being his vice principal since he was in TK, I’ve witnessed the kindness grow in his heart and spread to others.
Since becoming vice principal in 2018, my goals have been to improve social-emotional learning outcomes, increase student engagement and increase positive peer relations. These goals became daily visible markers of success.
When one enters our campus, vivid glass cases around campus are bright and engage students with a reminder to be kind every time they walk by. Visitors know this is a campus with a culture of kindness.
Every October, we celebrate “Kindness Month.” The month of October is selected as Anti-Bullying Month by many schools across the nation. I felt that it put a highlight on bullying in general. So I flipped the label to highlight kindness and activities that encourage positive behaviors and activities. Each week in October, we have a different focus: Week 1 is “Kindness to Others.” Week 2 is spent at home for Fall Break, so we focus on “Kindness to Family.” Week 3 is focused on “Kindness to School,” with efforts directed towards support staff like custodians, lunch ladies, proctors and teachers. Finally, the last week coincides with Red Ribbon Week, which is “Kindness to Self.”
Staff bingo cards that encourage random acts of kindness are given out each October. This morale booster is a staff favorite, and I love seeing shared photos. Taking someone’s playground duty or surprising a colleague with a coffee are just two opportunities for staff to model kindness toward others.
The activities below are in more than just October. They are initiatives that are used throughout the school year.
Staff bingo cards that encourage random acts of kindness are given out each October. ... Taking someone’s playground duty or surprising a colleague with a coffee are just two opportunities for staff to model kindness toward others.
Recess: Our campus safety officers handle recess activities that promote kindness. We ask students to make cards, bookmarks and posters during recess to hand out or hang up.
Positive office referrals: Positive office referrals are used to bring out the best in our students. I ask teachers to do a couple a month so I can make positive calls home to parents, thanking them for their student’s hard work, big efforts and kind hearts. I also make a point to call the students out of class to express my gratitude and reinforce their kind leadership.
Spirit Wear: We are a uniform school, but on Fridays, students may wear shirts featuring our school name or logo, Spirit Wear. I uploaded our school logo on CustomInk.com with our slogan, Kindness is Always an Option, and fundraised to help pay for playground games, stencils and equipment. Students have Kindness Spirit Shirts to wear on Fridays, and we’ve raised money. I’ve had design contests with our high school art classes to get more students involved.
Stickers: Who doesn’t love a good sticker? For kids of all ages, I’m amazed at what a cute sticker can do to motivate, uplift, encourage and even help calm an overwhelmed kiddo. Cute stickers can be found everywhere. My favorites are “Spread S’more Kindness” and “It’s Cool to be Kind.”
Read-alouds: Read-alouds are one of my favorite things to do. Some of my favorites are “Be Kind,” “What Kind of World Would it Be?”, “Kindness Starts With You,” and “What Does it Mean to Be Kind?” Scheduling to come to a classroom doesn’t always work out, so I started recording them. I set up my phone, hit record and read the story. I send the videos to teachers, which opens up a great classroom discussion.
Secret Missions of Kindness: These are fun and give students a way to be kind that they may not have thought of before. I’ll go out to recess or lunch and pass out a 2-inch-by-4-inch slip of paper with a task to spread kindness. Some missions are to sit with someone at lunch who you don’t know yet or write a thank you note to someone you appreciate.
SEL curriculum: We use a social-emotional learning curriculum called Second Step. Each week, I provide the morning message for the focus of the lessons. I always sign off with, “And remember, kindness is always an option!” This mantra has stuck around long enough that if students are ever brought to me for discipline issues, my first question is always, “What do I always say?” Students repeat the five golden words back to me, and I can direct a restorative conversation.
Video series: My site has a few school days between Thanksgiving Break and Winter Break. There are so many activities that I didn’t want students to forget about kindness during this busy time of year. To engage in kindness activities, I created the 12 Days of Kindness, a video series for the last 12 school days of the calendar year, with specific tasks. Teachers play the minute-long video, and students hear their task: “On the third day of Kindness, the kids at AAE … use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when going through the lunch line. Our lunch ladies work hard and would love your smiles and manners. Let’s spread kindness at lunch today!”
Golden Spatula: Kindness should extend to all areas of our school. Showing kindness to our cafeteria staff, the lunchroom and our planet is rewarded with the Golden Spatula. I spray painted a $1 spatula with gold metallic paint and sent it to classes that show kindness at the cafeteria. Students want this plastic trophy, and I’ve even bought more spatulas.
Caught Being a Leader: Caught Being a Leader tickets are passed out during lunchtime. It’s throwing away your trash at breakfast and lunch, encouraging classmates to do the same and showing excellent manners at lunch. We don’t yell, scream or make messes. We use “please” and “thank you.” We are Knights, showing courage, generosity and honor. Let’s honor our campus and work hard to keep it beautiful.
This month, I’m presenting at the Southern California Kindergarten Conference, attended by educators and administrators nationwide. I’m looking forward to sharing these initiatives with everyone.
“Developing social skills with peers is also essential to the growth of school readiness. Several studies have shown that the peer experiences of children in kindergarten and primary grades are an important predictor of children’s academic success and school adjustment. Children who experience greater peer acceptance and positive peer relationships tend to feel more positively about coming to school, participate more in classroom activities, and achieve more in the classroom.” (Buhs and Ladd 2001; Ladd, Birch, and Buhs 1999; Ladd, Kochenderfer, and Coleman 1996, 1997; O’Neil and others 1997)
“The ability to initiate peer sociability and smoothly join others in play; to cooperatively and spontaneously share with others; to coordinate one’s behavior with that of one or more other children; to communicate in ways that other children can understand; and to spontaneously enlist procedures (such as turn-taking) that reduce the chance of peer conflict.” (Howes 1987, 1988; Vandell, Nenide, and Van Winkle 2006)
Lisa Longoria, Ph.D., is elementary vice principal for Academy for Academic Excellence, a charter school in Apple Valley, Calif.
The “Be Kind” fence at Academy for Academic Excellence.
Positive office referrals are one way to recognize and encourage more kind behaviors in students.