Can empathy be taught or is it genetically hard-wired? You may have heard people say; “You either have empathy, or you don’t," “Everyone is born with a certain amount of empathy,” “Girls have more empathy than boys.”
In Dr. Riess’ TEDx talk, she reveals her scientific findings that humans CAN develop greater empathy skills. As an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Riess has administered numerous studies using her E.M.P.A.T.H.Y. formula. Her formula has proven to increase empathy skills among those who use it.
Additionally, Daniel Coyle the author of “The Talent Code" states, a person can change his or her behavior and habits by growing myelin. You "grow" myelin by doing deep practice of a particular skill. Furthermore, in the book “Mindset,” Carol Dweck points out that if we develop a growth mindset, we can change the way we view and do things. In other words, you can teach an old dog new tricks if they have an open mindset.
It is important to continue to practice empathy skills with students of all ages, from pre-school to high school. We’ve put together a fun kindness activity to help you and your students improve your empathy skills.
Step 1: Open with a video
Show your students the age-appropriate video about empathy. We suggest you show the elementary video link to ALL grades K-12 before showing the age-appropriate video. Why? The elementary video is easy to understand.
Step 2: Read stories
Print off all three stories that we adapted from Character Education:
For younger grades, have a parent volunteer or teacher read the stories to the class. For older grades, ask for three student volunteers to read each story to the class. If your classroom has the capability, you could project the stories.
Step 3: Discuss the empathy formula
Write Dr. Riess' empathy formula on the board.
E = eye contact
M = movement
P = posture
A = affect or expressed emotions
T = tone of voice
H = hearing the whole person without judgment
Y = your response
You can do this discussion as a whole group or pair students into smaller groups. Discuss how the empathy formula is unfolding in each of the stories. Ask the students to come up with specific examples from each story. For instance, in the story "Puppies For Sale," the last line - “With tears in his eyes, the farmer reached down and picked up the little pup.”
Step 4: Brainstorm real issues
As a class brainstorm and write out a list of struggles that people might be going through; this can be a family pet that has just passed, a grandparent who is sick, a bad grade in class, someone who is struggling with a particular friendship, being stressed out about an exam, etc.
Step 5: Give a message of kindness
Ask your students (and yourself) to get out a piece of paper. Have them to write down a name of someone they know who has been struggling or maybe just needs a little kindness done for them. Invite your students to write a note or draw a picture for the person they wrote down. Then ask your students to give his or her message of kindness to that person as soon as it is possible.
Share your stories, pictures, and thoughts with us! #ichoose2bekind
You can bring the 21 Day Kindness Challenge to your school site next year! Simply share the 21 Day Kindness Kickstarter link (http://kck.st/2osw2tw) with your community members and ask them to dedicate the program to your school! Suggestions of people you can send the link to are, a group of local businesses in your area, parents, grandparents, caring community members, sports teams, chamber of commerce, 4-H Chapters, etc.
We want to help schools develop a safe school environment for today's youth. An environment that emphasizes respect for others, promotes responsible decisions, creates a positive atmosphere, develops empathy, strengthens the school community and increases positive behaviors.
The mission of the 21 Day Kindness Challenge is to empower youth to change their world with kindness. The 21 Day Kindness Challenge teaches today’s youth to be effective, caring and proactive leaders. Our vision is to bring the 21 Day Kindness Challenge program to 250 schools during the 2017-18 school year – reaching more than 175,000 students and inspiring more than 2.5 million Acts of Kindness!
Check it out & share our Kickstarter Campaign!
“You know kids can change the world!”
Our video pick for February will not only melt your heart, but it will inspire you to spread kindness.
Ms. Norenberg and her class call themselves the ‘kindness squad.' After completing the 21 Day Kindness Challenge elementary program, Ms. Norenberg's class is secretly doing acts of kindness for others in their community. Check out this video to find out what Ms. Norenberg and her students are doing to change the world.
Last week we shared exciting news with you about our corporate partnership program, which pairs businesses with schools to implement the 21 Day Kindness Challenge. Since then we’ve had a few questions from Kindness Coaches on how to reach out to their local businesses for smaller sponsorships and financial help in order to bring the 21 Day Kindness Challenge to their schools. Even though our program is extremely cost effective - the 21 Day Kindness Challenge costs about $1/student - we understand that budgets are very limited and in many cases already set for the school year. Some schools want to bring the program this spring and don’t want to wait until new budgets are passed to do so.
We have found that local businesses, small organizations (such as Lions clubs, Elks Clubs, Rotary Groups, Chamber of Commerces, etc.) and even parents and/or parent groups like your PTA are extremely interested in helping to pay for the 21 Day Kindness Challenge. It isn’t a difficult “ask” from them, but it is helpful to have tools in place to help! Remember, we are always here to help you brainstorm ideas, provide templates, and we can customize an estimate just for your school. Our goal is to spread kindness by bringing the Kindness Challenge to every school that wants to participate!
We have written this letter for our interested Kindness Coaches. We are pleased to share it with you as well! All you need to do is replace the information in ALL CAPS with your personal information. Everything else is ready to go for you! We recommend printing this on your school letterhead or including your school logo whenever possible.
Dear LOCAL FUNDER (this can be a local organization, business, parent group, etc):
OUR SCHOOL wants to participate in the 21 Day Kindness Challenge, a program that empowers students to change their world through kindness. The 21 Day Kindness Challenge encourages everyone on our campus to do 5 acts of kindness every day for 21 school days. The effect is contagious! Studies have shown that teaching kindness at school makes a difference for everyone with the following benefits:
We are writing to request your help in bringing the 21 Day Kindness Challenge to OUR SCHOOL. Although the program is very cost-efficient - it only costs about $1/student - we are seeking local support and funding. We respectfully ask for ($amount needed) from LOCAL FUNDER. The 21 Day Kindness Challenge provides all of the materials, curriculum, training and support that we need to run the program - all we need to do is see how many acts of kindness we can do in 21 days. We are up for the Challenge!
We would be happy to recognize your support by writing press releases to our local media, and listing your name on our school website. The 21 Day Kindness Challenge organization will also be happy to list you among their amazing Kindness Champions on their website. Most importantly, you will know that you are building a better community for all of us by creating a positive climate on our school campus. You can find out more information about the 21 Day Kindness Challenge programs at 21daykindnesschallenge.org.
Thank you in advance for your support. I look forward to hearing back from you! I can be reached at YOUR EMAIL HERE or by phone PHONE NUMBER.
It was the beginning of the school year, and Principal Denise Kelly was feeling frustrated. Despite hard work and positive efforts by her staff, her school – Sterling Elementary in Sterling, Alaska – was experiencing high levels of behavioral issues. Principal Kelly had more students in her office and had suspended more kids by October than in the entire previous school year. She wanted to break the negative cycle!
Mrs. Kelly reached out to the 21 Day Kindness Challenge with the hopes that the program would reignite her staff to feel kindness in themselves and to share the kindness with their students. She is extremely happy with the results.
“I saw changes in our students; I saw changes in our staff. When we talk about students and their difficult behaviors, we talk about how to lead them back to kindness with kindness! The focus on kindness has been infectious!”
Mrs. Kelly’s co-kindness coach is Katy McKinley. She was inspired to help with the Kindness Challenge because she has been teaching Growth Mindset in her classroom, and felt that the 21 Day Kindness Challenge is an excellent complement to the Growth Mindset. She was very excited about bringing additional positive change to their school.
Mrs. McKinley was very pleased with the impact the 21 Day Kindness Challenge has had on her classroom and Sterling Elementary. She says other teachers agreed that the 21 Day Kindness Challenge was much needed and served a necessary purpose in their classrooms.
“It is amazing how contagious kindness can be,” she said. “Students, staff, and community have been affected by our challenge!”
Mrs. Kelly concurred. “Our (kindness) chain was 931 feet and it equated to 6,571 acts of kindness!” she said. “But beyond that, we had a class who all on their own conducted their own kindness missions across the school and the world. We had a parent contact us and ask us to spread cheer with handwritten cards to the children at the hospital over Christmas to whom they provide gifts. We had numerous parents comment at how contagious our kindness challenge was!”
Sterling’s office referrals have already seen a decrease by nearly 70% since they held their 21 Day Kindness Challenge, said Mrs. Kelly.
“Students are helping each other more and are being more respectful to the adults.”
Mrs. Kelly says the best part about the 21 Day Kindness Challenge at Sterling Elementary School was watching students do kind things, tell her about the kind things they did and seeing them ask to help others “just because.” Mrs. McKinley agreed, saying that she also loved sharing the daily videos that are provided as part of the program and planning the kick off and celebration Kindness Challenge assemblies for the school, especially because they included lots of students and community members.
Sterling Elementary School really got into the spirit of the 21 Day Kindness Challenge with their kick off and celebration assemblies. They invited many guests to attend and participate. A former Sterling principal, a school board representative, their school district’s communications specialist, a community volunteer and their State Senator all made guest speeches! Their district superintendent and a former Sterling Elementary secretary helped the students celebrate at the end of their Kindness Challenge.
One of Mrs. Kelly’s favorite parts of the 21 Day Kindness Challenge was dressing up as the Kindness Queen, a role she took on during the kick-off assembly.
“For our second week, I decided that I should ensure that the students were still thinking about kindness after the weekend. So I put on my Kindness Queen costume – which is not necessarily 'Winter in Alaska' appropriate – and I went to bus duty, greeting all of the students and parents with a reminder to be kind!”
Mrs. Kelly says that anyone can and should do the 21 Day Kindness Challenge. “Any school can do it!” she says. “Focusing on kindness is easy! It is well worth the time and the energy.”
One of the 21 Day Kindness Challenge team’s favorite stories about Sterling Elementary was getting an email from an enthusiastic kindness coach from another school in California.
“I just heard the 21 Day Kindness Challenge on the Bobby Bones show!” she emailed to let us know. Sterling Elementary had received a super fun shout-out from the morning show hosts.
Listen to the shout-out on the Bobby Bones show here. The Sterling clip starts at 7:38.
The 21 Day Kindness Challenge team applauds Mrs. Kelly and Mrs. McKinley for their dedication, creativity, passion, and enthusiasm for creating a kinder, more inclusive school climate. To find out how you can make a difference on your school campus, visit our website!
Are you looking for a unique holiday gift for your children’s teachers that will be greatly appreciated and create lasting impact? The 21 Day Kindness Challenge: Classroom Edition is the perfect holiday gift for all the teachers in your life!
Your gift of the 21 Day Kindness Challenge: Classroom Edition will provide your children’s teachers with 21 days of lessons, projects, activities and team meetings that teach kindness, compassion, appreciation and caring. It makes a wonderful gift for any K-6 classroom teacher, youth group, preschool teacher, home-school, or any small group-based learning environment.
The 21 Day Kindness Challenge: Classroom Edition is a gift that will be remembered and appreciated for years to come, not only by your child's teacher but by the students for whom you will be creating lasting change. You will be gifting a four-week program that includes step-by-step weekly theme-based activities to emphasize kindness, caring, appreciation and gratitude. The program integrates seamlessly with existing curriculum so teachers won't have any extra work to do.
Give the gift of kindness today!
The 21 Day Kindness Challenge: Classroom Edition is extremely well-priced at $119 (includes shipping). The 21 Day Kindness Challenge: Classroom Edition includes a downloadable program guide, kindness bracelets, posters, kindness strips to record acts of kindness, daily videos, printable journals, and printable materials to make it easy and fun for the teacher to implement kindness in their classroom.
At your request, we will ship your gift of kindness directly to your children’s teachers. We will include a handwritten note informing them of your generous gift. Order today in time for the holidays!
“One of the most difficult things to give away is kindness; it usually comes back to you!”
By ELIZABETH EARL | Peninsula Clarion
Beyond just gifts, hugs and kind words, the teachers and staff at Sterling Elementary School are hoping students will find many ways to be kind this November.
The school kicked off its 21-Day Kindness Challenge on Monday with a school-wide assembly headed up by the “Kindness Ambassadors,” students involved with organizing the event who explained how it would work.
Boiled down, it’s simple: Be kind. Often.
Students are challenged this month to perform five acts of kindness every day and write them down on slips of paper in their classrooms or the school office. Pretty much any selfless act can qualify, from handing a friend a pencil in class to sharing lunch with someone who doesn’t have one. At the end of the month, teachers and staff will chain together all the strips and hang them around the school, celebrating the students’ accomplishments with another assembly on Dec. 1.
The practicality is very real — the program was designed as a positive reinforcement effort to prevent bullying, reinforcing positive interactions, according to the program’s website. Designed by a California mother for her children’s school, about 27 schools nationwide have used it. It is similar to other kindness programs like the Great Kindness Challenge, Think Kindness or Random Acts of Kindness, but this is the first time this particular program has been used in Alaska, said Denise Kelly, Sterling Elementary School principal.
“We believe this is the first time this particular program has been used in Alaska,” she said.
The title is based on the old idea that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. It fits in with the school’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program, an in-school program designed to help intervene with students at risk of behavior problems. The program has three tiers, the first of which is broad and is administered to the entire student population.
One current trend in PBIS is to use positive support on a schoolwide basis for cognitive goals — like kindness. Students in schools with school-wide positive behavioral support systems had fewer school suspensions than those without, and perceptions of safety improved in those schools, according to a 2015 post from the National Institute of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs.
The discussions for the event started between four sixth-grade students and two teachers, evolving from there to include two students from each class as kindness ambassadors. Teachers were asked to pick two students they thought were the kindest to be the ambassadors.
The challenge provides the older kids with a chance to be role models for the younger ones, Kelly said.
“We’ve really been pushing for the sixth graders and the kindergarteners to interact more,” she said.
The program builds on one that Sterling Elementary School put in place in 2009 in which teachers awarded students colored pom-poms as tokens of good behavior. The balls were collected into communal jars in each classroom, and when the jars were filled, the classrooms would have celebrations. When the school’s communal jar was filled, the whole school would have a party. Sterling Elementary School was the first in the district to pick up the PBIS program, according to previous Clarion reporting.
At the kick-off assembly Oct. 31 — where princesses and pirates were intermixed with students in ordinary dress — the Kindness Ambassadors demonstrated simple acts other students could do. They presented flowers and offered kind words and hugs to those in attendance. Before leaving the assembly, Kelly sprinkled all the students with “kindness” confetti.
“I’ve got kindness in my hair,” one student said, shuffling his hands through his hair, as he walked back out into the hallway.
Do you see students at your school sitting alone or having a hard time making friends? For many students, navigating the schoolyard at break or finding a lunch buddy can be challenging and overwhelming. Sitting by oneself is a lonely experience. In some cases, students who are by themselves become targets for bullying. Feeling socially isolated can also cause poor academic performance. What does your school do to encourage students to engage with others outside their groups or who may be feeling alone and ostracized? We have a few ideas below to help your students find a welcoming place at school.
For older students, a new app called Sit With Us helps students who have difficulty finding a place to sit for lunch or hang out find a welcoming group. The app allows students to designate themselves as “ambassadors,” thereby inviting others to join them. Ambassadors can then post “open lunch” events, which signal to anyone seeking company that they’re invited to join the ambassadors’ table. Sit with Us is a mobile app that is designed to create a kinder more inclusive school community. It was designed by 16-year Natalie Hampton after she experienced bullying and loneliness during her seventh-grade year. Hampton told Audie Cornish on NPR’s “All Things Considered” that the reason why she felt an app like this was necessary is because it prevents kids from being publicly rejected and being considered social outcasts by their peers. She is definitely on to something - recent studies conducted by Princeton, Rutgers and Yale University show that when students, especially the “cool kids,” stand up to bullying it has a significant impact. During a 2012-2013 school year, over 50 New Jersey middle schools provided their most socially competent students with social media tools and encouragement to combat bullying, and saw a reduction in student conflict reports by 30 percent.
We think Natalie's app is a great idea, especially for middle and high school students. For those schools where phones aren't allowed or whose students are too young to bring them to school, here are a few other ideas to give kids a chance to feel included:
We've designed our program to be extremely cost effective and budget friendly! The 21 Day Kindness Challenge School Program costs just about $1/student. Our goal is to bring the 21 Day Kindness Challenge to as many schools that want it. Here are some different ways schools have paid for the program:
We believe that giving students the opportunity to raise money for the program provides them with invaluable leadership and career skills. It can also be a bonding experience for students who may be having trouble fitting in or finding friends. Some student leadership groups have raised money by hosting bake sales, rummage sales, runs/walks and other small fundraising activities.
Many school districts have special funds set aside for anti-bullying or wellness campaigns. Check with your district office to see if this is an option for your school.
The 21 Day Kindness Challenge is also a great opportunity to reach out to local community organizations like your rotary club, 4-H, chamber of commerce, Lions Club, etc. for support. Many groups are looking for ways to make an impact for their local students and will provide small grants to your school.
Parent groups are also an excellent resource. You may want to reach out to your parent group (PTA, Home & School Club, Parent Alliance) to see if they will fund the 21 Day Kindness Challenge. We have found that parents are very supportive of programs that will have a significant impact and that directly engage their children.
We are happy to help you! Please contact us, and we would be delighted to provide you with specific funding ideas to meet your school's needs. We have videos, flyers, email, and snail-mail templates, etc. that you can use for community groups and parents.
We often get the question, "When should I hold my school's 21 Day Kindness Challenge?"
We say, "Really, whenever it works best for your school!"
The Kindness Challenge is designed to fit within your school's schedule. You and your student leaders decide when will be the best time to hold your school's 21 Day Kindness Challenge. That said, we do suggest you consider a few factors that may come in to play. Here are some of our suggestions for optimal planning:
For more thoughts on planning, or for more information about how to bring the 21 Day Kindness Challenge to your school, please join us for our LIVE Q&A session. We meet the second Tuesday of every month from 9:00 to 9:30 a.m. PST. The 21 Day Kindness Challenge team is available to answer all your questions and help get you started on making a change on your school culture! More information is also available on our website or by watching our Webinar. In just 24 minutes, we explain all about the 21 Day Kindness Challenge.
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Note From the Founder
Hello. I am the founder of the 21 Day Kindness Challenge Program.