Studies now show that compassion is not just a characteristic you’re born with; it can actually be learned.
One teacher takes the notion that compassion can be taught very seriously. Justin Parmenter is a middle school teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina who has always tried to instill kindness in his curriculum for the 7th graders he teaches, but when a school shooting occurred in the very hallways of a school in his district, he knew he needed to step up his efforts.
“Twenty plus years of experience teaching prescribed character education lessons have shown me that an adult simply talking about character or modelling positive behavior does not often lead to the changes we want to see in our children,” Justin stated on his blog. Instead of modeling kind behavior and hoping it catches on, Justin created a new assignment for his students called “Undercover Agents of Kindness” that has changed the way his kids think about being kind.
The exercise started with students randomly drawing a classmate’s name from a bowl. The students then had 2 weeks to perform a secret act of kindness for that person. The only rules are that the act of kindness shouldn’t cost anything, and the deed had to be big enough to be noticed by the recipient. After the deed was done, students had to write a reflective “mission report” to describe how it felt to perform their act of kindness.
It didn’t take long after the kids drew their names before Justin started seeing evidence of those random acts of kindness in the school.
“Soon I began to see encouraging sticky notes on lockers in the hallway,” Justin revealed. “Batches of homemade cupcakes and bags of leftover Halloween candy made their way onto desks in my classroom, as did origami, inspirational quotes, and hand-drawn portraits.”
Students reported on their mission reports that they enjoyed the assignment more than they thought they would. Not surprisingly, kids were hesitant to reach out to other students whom they didn’t know well, but once they performed their good deed they were incredibly glad they’d done it.
“It was my students’ reflections on the kindness activity that revealed its impact most,” Justin described. “Again and again they acknowledged that it was difficult and felt awkward to approach someone they didn’t know well and do something for them. But almost every time they added that they were proud of themselves for doing it anyway and felt the power in brightening someone else’s day.”
The project was a tremendous success, and Justin plans to make it a monthly exercise in his classroom. Now he’s hoping that more schools will hear about “Undercover Agents of Kindness” and pick up the assignment in their own schools.
“Sometimes our world seems dark and scary and we feel powerless to change it. Together my students and I are learning that there are steps we can take to make things better. We can find ways to break down barriers, build stronger communities, and normalize compassionate behavior. We can be intentional about creating opportunities to practice kindness and make it more likely people will treat each other with compassion on their own. We can be the change we want to see in the world.”
What a terrific approach! We love the idea of teaching children to think of others and do whatever they can to help light someone else’s way. It’s crucial for kids to get out of their own heads and realize that every one of us is fighting our own unique battles; extending compassion and kindness could literally change someone’s life for the better.
Please share Justin’s idea to spread the concept of teaching compassion as far as we can.
Share your story & inspire the world.
If you have an uplifting story we would love to hear about it! Share it with us here.