Retired elementary teacher Lisa Eline is determined to replace initiatives that focus on bullies with new initiatives that emphasize kindness and empathy.
“Anti-bully week always bothered me as a teacher, because you give bullies all the attention, and that’s what bullies want: attention,” she said. “There’s even a week named after them!”
During 35 years as a kindergarten and first-grade teacher in the Milford School District, Eline said she always incorporated teaching kindness when discussing characters in literature. She retired in 2015 to care for her father until his death.
“I had no kids of my own, so I wanted to do something for kids,” she said. “[Milton Elementary Principal] Beth Conaway was my principal in Milford, and we’re friends, so I told her I had an idea about a curriculum theme that could help make a different climate and be no extra work for teachers.”
Conaway agreed to try it out, and the program kicked off in September 2019. “She gave me the opportunity to get the message out, and I’ll never thank her enough,” Eline said. “We have got to change this world.”
At the kickoff event, students painted more than 400 rocks with encouraging words, and placed them in the courtyard for classmates to find.
In an after-school art program, Eline worked with students to make kindness bracelets, keychains with Scrabble letters and kindness cards for teachers. She said she spoke with other district elementary principals in January and February to discuss launching programs at their schools, but the COVID-19 pandemic halted those plans.
“So I did kindness videos,” said Eline, who would send the videos to Conaway so she could send them to students along with attached activities they could complete or replicate at home if they couldn’t print them.
Every Wednesday, she said, a kindness challenge goes out to students to help them understand the world. Students were recently challenged to thank a doctor, nurse, grocery store clerk and other COVID-19 community heroes by writing them thank-you letters. Students photographed their letters and sent them to Conaway to complete the challenge.
Conaway said when school was in session, teachers would begin each day with a morning circle to build classroom community.
“They embedded kindness in these meetings,” Conaway said. “Children discussed what kindness looks like and sounds like.”
Conaway said as issues arose during the school year, kindness conversations were revisited to restore relationships between children as needed.
“Students then began taking ownership of kindness in the classroom,” she said. “Each morning, a ‘kindness catcher’ was identified. This child gave out coupons to students they saw demonstrating acts of kindness. It really took over the whole school. This program has truly been amazing.”