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
Create a safe place for your students to express their thoughts and feelings about gun violence and school shootings.
Since the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students all over the nation have been seeking answers from lawmakers, parents, teachers, and administrators.
Middle school and high school students plan to take action in a nation-wide walkout protest against gun policies on March 14. This planned walkout is causing educators to consider ways to respond to their student's needs.
How can educators show that they respect and value their students’ freedom of thought and speech all the while ensure their student's safety and well-being?
Creating a safe place on campus for students to express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas is one way to tackle the issue. Here are four activities you can set up on your school campus:
1. Host of Moment of Silence “Walkout.”
The Women’s March Youth Empower is asking high school students to “host a walkout." The organization is asking students to sign up on its website. The plan is to walkout of class for 17 minutes (a minute for each life lost) starting at 10:00 AM on March 14, 2018.
Keeping the safety and well-being of your students in mind while still allowing them an opportunity to participate in the walkout, you can ask your schools’ leadership group(s) to help you organize a “Moment of Silence” during the walkout. Gathering your entire school community in a centrally located place that students, teachers, and staff can get to quickly.
Then, at 10:00 AM have your student leaders lead their classmates in a moment of silence for 17 minutes. After the 17 minutes are over your school community can continue with the other activities below in their individual classrooms or as an entire school community.
2. Create a Discussion Wall.
Using large sheets of paper, wrap a centrally located wall with the paper. Write down three to five questions (suggestions below). Ask students to write down their responses to the questions. Allow students access to this Discussion Wall all day. Suggestion - have a couple of school councilors present in case students need to talk about their thoughts or feelings.
3. Give Students an Opportunity to Talk it Out.
Have a classroom discussion or have students draft a letter to lawmakers on where they stand, why they feel strongly about participating in the protest, and their solution to resolving school violence.
4. Focus on Kindness.
Give your school community an opportunity to work together to create a more inclusive environment; by encouraging kindness on campus, you can help students find positive solutions. We have created several blog posts to help you promote kindness - check them out below.
Random Acts of Kindness Generator
Get to Know Your Classmates
Take a Seat & Make a Friend Ball Pit
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!
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.
Rewards for your campus...
Participating in the 21 Day Kindness Challenge, your school...
Bringing Kindness to Your Campus is as Easy as 1, 2, 3
Are you thinking about bringing the 21 Day Kindness Challenge to your school, but concerned that it might take too much time or effort? The 21 Day Kindness Challenge is easy to run and effective.
Easy Implementation & Continuous Support
The Kindness Challenge is simple to plan, easy to run, and makes a huge impact! We have kindness programs for all school levels! We offer age appropriate programs for every educational level: elementary, middle, and high school programs, as well as our cost-effective classroom program.
Be the Change: Bring Kindness to Your Campus!
We have five book picks for the month of August!! We know school is about to get real for you all and so we wanted to equip you with some books that will surely aid you with your goals of creating a kinder, more inclusive campus.
We’ve chosen books for all grade levels from pre-k to high school. These books will allow you to open the dialogue about kindness. Please let us know what your students thought of these books. Happy Reading!
Whether a student is coming to your school for the first time or they are advancing to a new grade, it is important to help everyone start off on the right foot. The beginning of a new school year is a great time to start something new by encouraging community and create a culture of kindness by getting everyone involved.
Two fun DIY kindness projects that will surely engage your students, teachers and staff in creating a culture of friendship, kindness, and excitement.
The Buddy Bench
You may have heard about the buddy bench movement; Christian Buck is one of the pioneers for the buddy bench moment in the U.S. Bucks presented a TedTalk back in 2014 about being a new student and how it was hard for him to make friends. He was feeling lonely, and so Bucks found a solution. Thus, the Buddy Bench was created. You can read more about Bucks in this Washington Post article: Kids don’t have to be lonely at recess anymore thanks to this little boy and his ‘buddy bench’
Build it, Buy it or Deem it.
There are several ways to create a buddy bench on your campus. You can build one from the ground up, buy one or deem a current bench a buddy bench. Get creative and make it inviting for all!
Create a list of questions.
Wherever you decide to put your buddy bench, we suggest you offer tools to help students engage in conversation by creating a list of questions they can ask one another. You can laminate the questions and attach them to the buddy bench.
Here is a list of questions you can use:
- Who is your teacher?
- What are some of your favorite foods?
- What kinds of games or sports do you like to play?
- What is your favorite book?
- What book would you like to read?
- What is your favorite movie?
- Do you have a brother or sister?
- How many people are in your family?
- Do you have any animals at home?
- If you could go anywhere in the world where would you go and why?
- What do you like doing when you are not at school?
- If you are new our school, tell me about your other school.
- What is your favorite TV shows?
- What is your favorite video game or App?
Take a Seat & Make a Friend Ball Pit.
This kindness project would be perfect for middle school and high school campus’. Take a seat & make a friend ball pit is a fun way to get students talking to one another. SoulPancake Street Team mission was to encourage people of New York to make friends with a total stranger. Check out their YouTube video: Take a Seat, Make a Friend.
Build it, Buy it & Place it.
If you are (or know) a carpenter then you can build your Make a Friend ball pit. Otherwise, you can simply create the same effect by using a kiddie pool. We suggest you place your ‘make a friend ball pit’ in the quad or other prominent location that students, teachers, and staff walk through.
Create a few questions.
Write a few conversation starter questions on balloons or bigger bouncing balls to help break the ice. Encourage students, staff and teachers to join in the fun! Empower your student leadership group or student club members by asking them to be the first to start participating.
Here is a list of questions you can use:
- Find something you have in common.
- What teachers do you have this year?
- What freaks you out more heights or spiders?
- What are two things on your bucket list?
- If you could visit any country, which one would you visit?
- If you had a million dollars to give to any charity, which one would you give it to and why?
- What is your passion?
- Would you rather play a sport or create art?
- What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
- Who do you get along with more… your mom or dad?
- What would you say your best quality is?
Lay the foundation.
Create an environment of togetherness from day one. Breakdown the social cliques and encourage students to get to know others on campus. The more experiences people can create with others the stronger the connection.
Let us know.
Share with us which project you are going to do on your campus by commenting on this blog post or by sharing on our social media channels Facebook and Twitter.
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Note From the Founder
Hello. I am the founder of the 21 Day Kindness Challenge Program.