Kindness, not so random

Recently, I was given the opportunity to teach a course on instructional leadership to a small cohort of aspiring principals in a neighboring urban school district.  Given carte blanche to revamp the existing syllabus, I added a Random Act of Kindness assignment.

"Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty." (Attributed to American writer Anne Herbert)

You might be wondering what kindness and randomness have to do with today’s urban school principal’s concerns.  Given the relentless pressure to improve standardized test scores and meet Annual Yearly Progress goals, cultivating kindness and compassion might seem secondary to setting direction and high expectations, dissecting data, and driving for results.  At least it seemed so to me, my reviewers, and even some of my students.  But I’m nothing if not persistent and ultimately, stubbornly decided to give it a try.  The assignment stayed in the syllabus.

The course is over and I’m at the “not so much fun” part of teaching – evaluating my students and myself.   Were the assignments authentic?  Did the students learn what I hoped they would from the assignments?  Did we learn from each other?  The answers are I think so, I know so, and a resounding yes.  The assignment required students to perform an anonymous and random act of kindness, to reflect upon how it made them feel, and to write about any connections they saw to their lives as future school leaders.   The acts themselves ranged from helping a stranded motorist in a rainstorm to inviting a lonely senior to coffee.   Most were truly random.  Some were anonymous.  But the reflections were all stunning.  I learned that many already volunteered or served, knew the “helper’s high” associated with altruism, thought about kindness in nuanced ways, and were articulate in making connections to school leadership.  The students demonstrated the kind of humanity needed to build positive culture in school.  In fact, the very type of culture that makes positive change possible. The kind of culture that fosters collaboration and deprivatizes teaching.  The sort of culture that improves instruction and learning and (dare I say?) test score results.  Finally, along the way, the students taught the teacher.  A kindness assignment is not so random.  Especially in schools.  AMF


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