Small Acts, Big Meaning.

Have you ever been next up in the drive-thru to pull up and find out that your order has been purchased for you? I remember this first happening to me about 5 or 6 years ago. I was driving on the way to my college campus, decided to pop through Tim Hortons for a caffeine boost only to have the worker tell me that the car in front of me had purchased my coffee. The look on my face must of said it all as the worker went on to tell me that she was seeing more and more people doing it. Then she went on to explain that the thought process was I should then purchase for the car behind me passing on the kindness. I will never forget how that experience made me feel that day. In a world that can be so cruel, where we can be so quick to judge, where we get bogged down and can easily become self-centered, someone who had never met me made a gesture in which they would never be recognized. They had no idea what might of been going on in my life at the time. They had no idea the lasting impact their actions would have on me. I not only went on to buy the order of the car behind me, but I internalized this random act of kindness as my own and still do it to this day.

I love doing things for others whether it may be for the best of friends or a complete stranger. But as much as I love doing them, I also love talking about them and hearing how others implement them in their life. This year one of our new teachers at HFA, Ms. Q, brought with her a RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) program she used at other schools she has taught at. There are many things she implements into her classes, but one of the most notable, in my opinion, thus far was her positive post-its.

Ms. Q picked a day a few weeks ago and had students in her classes take a few minutes to write notes to students, staff or administrators of their choosing. They were to be notes of encouragement, thanks or generalized kind words. The students could write as many or as few as they wanted and also could acknowledge themselves as the sender or leave it anonymous. She then collected all the post-its notes, separated them by teacher groups and delivered them to teachers to pass out to students. I remember hearing the buzz around school that day and seeing the smiles on the students faces as they read the words handed to them.

In my classes I took Ms. Q’s initiative one step further to reflect briefly on how our words and actions are much more powerful then we even realize. It aligned pretty perfectly with a portion of the World Literature unit I was teaching at that time. We had just wrapped up talking about whether we think we are an impactful person or not. I was surprised to hear that many of my students did not feel as if they were an impactful person because to them they have not done anything monumental. This lead to a nice discussion on how we do not have to find a cure for cancer to leave an impact on this world. I shared with them a story I remember hearing about an exchange of smiles in the check out lane and that simple one minute exchange changed a lady’s thoughts on committing suicide because the smile left her feeling like she mattered. After the discussion I asked them the same question again, if they thought they were an impactful person or not, some opinions changed while some did not. Knowing my students this was to be expected, but I left them with the thought that the impact of what they do is left in the eyes of the receiver over the giver. They may think a simple act of holding the door open may mean nothing, but to the receiver it could mean everything.

Some of the notes I received from my students:
“Thanks for being there and show you care.”
“Thank you for giving me light when I was in the dark. Thank you for helping me when I needed it the most. You are still my favorite!”
“You are the coolest and trustworthy teacher.”
“Thank you for the help on my papers.”

I love what Ms. Q is doing in her classes. I have already shared with her how I want to start to do more in my own classroom on a “purposeful” basis hoping to develop our students’ unconscious so that RAK becomes a part of who they are. This is not to just evolve our students to becoming better human beings for the world around us, but it also has many personal benefits for them as well. It is said that kindness is one of the most disregarded values, but that it is inevitably linked with happiness and contentment. But why is this so? In an article I found on Psychology Today I learned several reasons as to why random acts of kindness can increase a person’s sense of happiness:

  • Promotes gratitude, empathy and compassion
  • Releases positivity
  • Leads to a sense of interconnectedness to others (when you feel connected with others, alienation lessens and the sense that we are more similar than dissimilar is enhanced)
  • Can forward the will to live in depressed individuals who feel isolated and different
  • Can release neurochemicals that result in a sense of well-being
  • Reduces pain and stress (dopamine, serotonin, and endogenous opioids are released by kind behavior)
  • Enhances physical and mental health
  • Embodies selflessness

I have already begun to do some thinking as to how I can include RAK into my everyday classroom. While I cannot take chunks of time away from the weekly curriculum, there certainly are ways to make sure it becomes integrated. So far in my searching I found a really cool, and subtle, way to continue on with Ms. Q’s positive post-its from Joanna, who can be found on Instagram at @headoverheelsforteaching. My room windows are currently lined with dry erase board paper and I can see an easy transition to a window per block (class) for shout outs. We could then read them aloud the following Monday, kicking off our week off on a positive note.

So I leave you with this. No matter where you are in life there is always an opportunity to make someone else’s’ day brighter and I challenge you to make a conscious effort to do so. Wait 30 seconds to hold the door open for the person 10 feet behind you. Let that car over in front of you. Compliment a stranger. Exchange a smile. Buy that coffee. A simple 5 minutes (or less) can make a world of difference not only for others, but also yourself.

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. ~Aesop

Even small acts of kindness, can make a profound difference to somebody else. ~Misha Collins

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