The Kindness Calendar, hacked

Earlier this month, I posted about the Kindness Calendar that Tania Sheko proposed hacking for education; since my return to work, I’ve taken on the challenge.

My hack is a simple one: I challenged myself to praise or pay special attention to a different student each day. I mentioned this to my wife, and she said, “Start with your most challenging student” – good advice!

This year, my most challenging students have been the quietest ones. These are the kids who easily slip under my radar because they are so quiet. So I started to think: which students struggled the most in the first semester? Which students passed but perhaps received a grade below their potential? I thought of about a dozen students whom I allowed to struggle in silence during the fall, without realizing it.

I decided that I would start by making a special effort to pay attention to these students. To document my effort, I downloaded a free blank calendar in Word, and adjusted the cells so that I could make brief notes each day about my interactions with students.

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I’ve noticed a few things.

One, keeping the calendar has re-focused my attention on ensuring that I focus on spending equitable time with each student. I am reminded that equitable interaction doesn’t necessarily mean identical interaction.

Two, I’ve taken a fresh look at some of my existing practices – for example, I frequently share student work; now, in sharing such models of excellent work (as on January 13), I’ve asked myself, “Am I sharing everyone’s strong work, or only a percentage of the students?”

(I didn’t note this on the calendar, but one student whose work I shared expressed surprise when I told her that her response was especially strong. This is extremely useful feedback: I know now that I need to spend more time building this young person’s confidence by praising her work more often.)

Three, keeping the calendar increases my sense of accountability to myself. On January 18, I realized that I hadn’t performed a specific act of kindness or praise. It was a hectic day: I had to co-chair a lunch meeting, then attend a collaboration meeting with the U.S. History team. Thus, while it was a very productive day, it was a day that saw me less focused on my classroom practice. When I sat down to fill out the calendar, I realized that I needed to re-focus my attention the next day.

These ten or so acts of kindness have not changed the world, of course, but I do hope that this effort – sustained over the course of a semester – will make a difference for my students. The process of keeping this calendar – and thinking about it during the day – has forced me to avoid being complacent about making my interactions equitable.

Special thanks to Tania for sharing the calendar and to the poster of the original calendar, Helen at Make Today Happy.

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4 thoughts on “The Kindness Calendar, hacked

  1. Michael, thank you for sharing your thoughts and your mindfulness about how you encourage and raise up your students. I was surprised how valuable my ‘share’ has become since people have taken it up and run with it, whereas all I did was share something I found someone else share on Facebook and wonder if anyone would be interested. I’ve been thinking about how I might make little changes to the way I interact with students at my school. I have a week left before we start the school year, and I’ve been jotting down ideas for myself as I take on a new form group – all final year students. I’d like to build community, and focus on the other side of things, not academic success, but how we can feel supportive to each other, so that students remember throughout all the academic stresses and performance tests, that they are first and foremost valued individuals and also part of a community. I’m afraid I didn’t express that very well but I hope you understand what I mean. The final year of high school can easily eradicate an individual’s sense of self and place in the community.

    1. I think you expressed yourself quite well! You mentioned that your group is all boys, right? While all young people benefit from a focus on emotional well-being and community, I think this may be especially helpful for boys, who are so often (at least in Western societies) socialized to privilege competition over community.

      I also teach final year students (12th grade, or seniors) in my English classes (these are 2 of my 5 classes; my 2 U.S. History classes are 11th-grade, and my Journalism students are a mix of 9th-12th), and I am intrigued by your statement that “the final year of high school can…eradicate an individual’s sense of self and place in the community.” I’ve thought about the importance of good teaching in senior English quite a bit, but never quite the way you’ve expressed it here; I would like to ponder this some more, and specifically reflect on how my classroom and school might be a bulwark against this loss of self.

  2. This is beautiful on so many levels, and a model that I need to replicate. Noticing all students, being kind and making a difference in the world … you’re doing inspiring work, my friend
    Kevin

    1. Thank you, Kevin! I think it has helped me keep my focus on striving continually for complete equity. We may never reach that goal, but we should never stop trying; and yet it’s so easy to slip into complacency! This practice has been a helpful anti-complacency tool for me.

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