At Tech & Learning, we have been incredibly inspired by the unique ideas educators develop to engage students, highlighted in our Innovative Leader Awards.
From the recent Maryland regional leadership summit, we chat with Jenna Whitney, a STEM teacher from South Allegheny School District in Pennsylvania, who won for Best Example of Teacher & Student Wellbeing Programs for her Kindness Club, Random Acts of Kindness program, and other positivity initiatives.
“We are always hopeful we can be helpful and make the lives of others easier,” says Whitney, who shares tips to help other educators and administrators interested in creating a kinder and more supportive school environment.
1. Start Small: Create a “Random Acts of Kindness” program
“Our Kindness Campaign was created on the basis of making our school a literal nicer place to be,” says Whitney. “We were inspired by our local legend, Fred Rogers, and his work in supporting the healthy development of children through wonder. At South Allegheny, we work hard to treat everyone like they are your neighbor.”
Students involved in the Kindness Campaign meet two to three times per week during a flex period to brainstorm ideas and then execute the acts of kindness. The group creates random acts of kindness boxes (snacks, pencils, trinkets, friendship bracelets, stickers, etc.) to give out during the day or make notes of encouragement to give to students and staff.
2. Use Social Media for Good
“Our Kindness Campaign asked if we could start our own Instagram account to promote kindness,” says Whitney. “We post quotes within our daily stories about kindness and pictures of our work. The plan is to continue to feature people we find doing kind things in the school on our @sakindnesscampaign account. We have a nice following from our students and community members right now, but would love to see it grow. The most important part of this is having our team understand that being kind has a ripple effect and doing things for others also makes you feel good.”
3. Make Others Feel Seen
Whitney’s Random Acts of Kindness Club extends beyond students and ensures that every member of the school community enjoys a moment of recognition for the good work they do.
“The impact of that acknowledgement dramatically changes someone's day,” says Whitney.
The Kindness Club serves staff by doing small jobs they cannot find the time for, puts smiles on students' faces, and gives a nod to school support personnel often forgotten, such as referees and umpires, by publicly thanking them for their efforts on the field or court.
4. Get Creative with Funding
“Many of the supplies we use are school supplies like stickers, construction paper, markers, and notecards,” says Whitney. “However, when we make our Random Acts of Kindness bags and teacher appreciation gifts, we do have to get creative with funding.”
The club hosts mini fundraisers within the school and also receives donations from the community when they hear about the program. The group has also been funded through the Donors Choose platform to replenish materials.
5. Look Outside the School Building
The students have looked to spread kindness beyond the walls of the school by volunteering with partners in the community
“We are looking to get involved with our local animal shelter and food bank,” says Whitney. “We are also part of a program in the Pittsburgh area that has provided school supplies to our district for free for years. We were finally able to give back and volunteer at their warehouse helping in preparations for their teacher giveaways.”
5 Simple Steps to Promoting Wellbeing in the School Community
In addition to working with community groups, Whitney offers other suggestions to spread kindness:
- "It seems so simple but just saying hello and smiling at people when you see them,” she says.
- Include people. “We want to make sure everyone knows they have someone in the building to go to when they need it,” she says.
- Send little notes of encouragement to friends and people who you aren't friends with yet.
- Support students and teachers in their life outside of the building by asking about their interests and following up with them after a big event.
- In general, just be a good friend, show up, listen, care, and exhibit all the other qualities that make people feel loved.
“We are very lucky at South Allegheny to have such flexibility in our schedules and understanding from our administration of why initiatives like this are so important,” says Whitney. “I look forward to watching our Kindness Campaign grow into a much bigger piece of our culture.”