User Generated Education

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Posts Tagged ‘Acts of Kindness

Creating Conspiracies of Kindness

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conspiracies of kindness

A simple truth – kids will tend to do those things for which they are rewarded – both extrinsically and intrinsically . . . and another truth – schools reward individual achievement.  Most schools award individual achievements. Kids mostly work on individual school assignments and get individual graded for those assignments.  In essence, school is a culture that promotes the rise and success of the individual.  Sure, group work and collaboration does occur but when it comes down to assessment and grading, it is most often on the individual level.

Another truth – giving to others, for most of us, is wired into our DNA.  What I mean by this is that many of us receive extreme states of joy and satisfaction by giving or even viewing acts of kindness.  I’ve tried to figure out the whys of this but have fail to identify the why.  In thinking about personal need fulfillment and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I cannot figure out which human needs are being fulfilled.  All I can say is that it just feels really, really good. Watch the following videos for some evidence of this:

The following video is what sparked this post.  The reactions and joys of the givers are just as priceless as the receiver:

Sadly, some kids (some adults) just never have experienced the act of giving and kindness nor the rewards it brings.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, school environments and often society-at-large do not promote nor reward, in a significant way, acts of kindness.  So for some kids, experiencing being part of a conspiracy of kindness may act as visceral, innately rewarding experience and become the impetus of future acts.  One of the most powerful statements of the Michigan Middle School Football Team’s Life Changing Play came from one of the middle school kids:

I kind of went from being somebody who mostly cared about myself and my friends to caring about everyone and trying to make everyone’s day and everyone’s life.

I propose that educators and administrators introduce the idea of creating conspiracies of kindness initiated and carried out by the students themselves.  These wouldn’t be for a school assignment or grade.  They would just be promoted as a way to give back to their communities, that doing good for others . . . just feels good.  The ultimate goal would be that the students become involved in and develop a culture that promotes conspiracies of kindness just for the innate and intrinsic rewards; and this would carry over into a lifetime of increased giving, of kindness.

Resources and Stories to Help Motivate Students to Create Conspiracies of Kindness:

Photo Credit:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 2, 2014 at 8:36 pm

A Culture of Kindness: 26 Acts of Kindness – 2013

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Why on earth would a rational person give money to charity–particularly a charity that supports strangers? What do they get?

A story.

In fact, every time someone donates to a good cause, they’re buying a story, a story that’s worth more than the amount they donated.

It might be the story of doing the right thing, or fitting in, or pleasing a friend or honoring a memory, but the story has value. It might be the story that you, and you alone are able to make this difference, or perhaps it’s the story of using leverage to change the world. For many, it’s the story of what it means to be part of a community.  Seth Godin

This Seth Godin quote provides a solid rationale why adults give to charities.  Kids and young people don’t have nor do many of them think about charity in terms of dollars and cents.  A precursor to giving both time as a volunteer and money as an adult, I believe, is creating a culture of kindness and giving in kids’ home and school lives.

We need to create a “culture of kindness,” encouraging a spirit of generosity and love where differences are accepted and celebrated, rather than targeted. In a culture of kindness, students stand up for and next to one another, all for one and one for all.  A dedicated effort to teach, advocate, and model kindness will work much better than efforts to punish meanness. Michael Josephson

One of the best ways to create a culture of kindness is to model and live one.  Last year, in response to the Sandy Hook travesty, Ann Curry propose 26 acts of kindness to honor the 26 children and teachers killed at the elementary school. My post of last year’s acts, Living a Life of Kindness: #26acts.  I plan on making this a yearly occurrence and posting about it – hopefully to inspire others to add a little more kindness into their own and their kids’/students’ lives. (Note: I actually have been doing acts of kindness for years especially around the holidays when I get a break from my college teaching.  I never told anyone of these acts as they are personal and I don’t do them for any need of acknowledgement.  But as I’ve stated, I hope telling this story inspires others to be proactive in their acts of kindness.)

Below are the beginning of my 2013 list as a response to Black Friday – they are my stories of giving kindness.  They begin with acts that were not financial based and then with acts of giving money to charities.

#1 – Clerk with Autism

I went to the local Hastings to buy my brother some books for the holidays.  I asked for a specific genre – WWII – because this topic is a passion for my brother, who has Aspergers.  I explained this to her.  She said that she has Asperger’s, too.  I told her that she was doing well as a clerk and she said sometimes it is hard for her.  That night there was a special event at the mall.  The center of the mall was set up to host live bands and some of the local restaurants were giving away free appetizers.  I explained this to the clerk who did not know of the event.  I asked her if she had a break to go check out the event.  She said she did not as she was only on 5 hour shifts.  At the same time, two of the young Hastings clerks, early twenties possibly, were going on break and headed towards this event.  The clerk asked them as they were leaving, “Can you get me some food?”  They totally ignored her.  As soon as I finish paying for the books, I headed to the event, grabbed several appetizers, went back to Hastings, and handed her the food.

#2 – Birthday Party for Kim

20131106_165623Kim is a very sweet and dedicated spin bike instructor.  She is giving is time, energy, and resources . . . goes way beyond what one expects or gets from a fitness instructor.  She told us a birthday was coming up.  I got party decorations and a decadent chocolate cake and set up the spin room prior to class.  She celebrated through three of her classes.

#3 – An Unexpected Hug

I take a pottery class at the local community college.  There about 15 in the class including an older woman from Germany.  She is abrupt in her comments and thoughts; and lacks the humor that most of the rest of us have in the class.  She is not well-liked due to this.  I have somewhat befriended her talking to her about her pots.  We had a long break coming due to Thanksgiving.  She was leaving and wished me a Happy Thanksgiving.  I asked her for a hug before she left expecting a little, slight embrace.  The opposite occurred.  She gave me a strong, long, caring hug – such an unexpected treat.

#4 – Donated to Save the Children disaster relief efforts for Typhoon Haiyan right after the typhoon.


#5 – Supported the amazing Black Girls Rock by Tweeting about their sheros show and purchasing a t-shirt.

#6, 7, 8, 9, 10 – Donated special gifts through Save the Children – 2 goats, school clinic, clean water clinic, community book bank, 14 week supply of ready to use food


#11 – Selected a Donors Choose program for a local classroom teacher to buy books, The Fault in Our Stars and Thirteen Reasons Why, for her teen students.


#12 – Another donation to help with those in the Philippines affected by the typhon


#14 – Donation to help in Haiti’s Beyond the Borders to help end childhood slavery there.

#15 – Donated to Indiegogo project – Afrimakers: Empower makers in Africa to develop sustainable projects and use making to solve local challenges and create an exchange of best practices between locals.

#16 – Gave a Hug & a Chocolate Treat

I have a fitness instructor who is amazing in fitness but lacking in social skills.  She often runs her group fitness classes like a drill sergeant – making everyone be there on time and yelling about form the whole time.  Many don’t take her class due to this.  But I like her routine, so I put up with her “meanness”.  That day someone in class mentioned it was her birthday.  After class, I took a deep breath and went up to her to give her a hug.  During her barely touching me hug, I said that I appreciated her classes and was happy I got to take them.  That day I went to the local bakery and bought her chocolate brownies and gave them to her as a birthday/Christmas present a few days later.  She seemed genuinely appreciative.

#17 – Donated to Be K.I.N.D. to a Girl in Malawi. Provide a School Scholarship.


#18 – Ceramic Sponges to My Pottery Buds

Bought and gave out specialized ceramic sponges to my pottery buddies.


#19 – Toys for Tots Zumbathon

Attended a Zumbathon where the entrance fee was a toy for tots.

20131214_122444FYI – I bought the Black and Decker kids’ toolkit seen in the front.  It supports my belief that kids’ toys and play should involve creating, making, innovating.

#20 – Holiday Treats for My Brother and His Family

I have been disconnected with my youngest brother and his family for about three years – no calls, presents, or cards.  It was not precipitated by anything.  It just happened.  I bought and am sending his family a basket of baked treats for a local bakery for Christmas.

#21 – Donated and Supported (through Tweets) to Project for Awesome

Donated to get a t-shirt and a signed copy of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (score! in many ways).


#22 – Donated to Pencils of Promise to Help Build a School

2013-12-17_1917#23 – Helped 80-something Betsy learn how to shape a pottery bowl

I rented some studio space at Santa Fe Clay for the month of December because the college where I do pottery is closed for the winter break.  Studio space costs some $$$ – it has as such become a place where retired and a bit wealthy patrons make pots.  I have been going in a few hours several days a week.  I tend to just focus on my work.  I did notice a woman probably in her mid or late 80s working on some bowls and asked her about it.  She told me that she made pots in her 20s and wanted to get back into it.  She explained that it was NOT like riding a bike and that she was struggling a bit.  I have a great handmade wooden tool, called a rib, that’s great for shaping bowls.  As she was working on a bowl, I asked her if I could shape her bowl to show her how.  She watched intently and asked some questions.  I told her to try the rib on her next bowl.  When she got to the point of shaping with my rib, I went over and talked her through using it.  Her bowl looked good – much better than the bowls she made earlier – and showed me as such.  She thanked me and said it was probably the best tip she’s gotten since going back to pottery.  A little bit of my time made a difference for her AND for me as the gift in giving is priceless.

#24 – Donated to Unicef USA as an end of year matched donation

2013-12-31_1037#25 – Donated to Save the Children

2013-12-31_1115#26 – Donated to International Rescues


Parting shot . . .


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 1, 2013 at 10:42 pm

Living a Life of Kindness: #26acts

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Tens of thousands of people answered Anne Curry’s call and thus began the 26 Acts of Kindness campaign to honor the 20 children and six teachers lost in the shooting at Sandy Hook, according to NBC.  A Facebook page has been set up to promote the 26 Acts of Kindness campaign. It already has almost 83,000 “likes.”

Here is an example of the 22 acts of kindness a 22 year old did to celebrate his birthday, not part of this project but a great example how one person took the initiative to do some of his own acts of kindness.

If I was still a classroom teacher, I would have my students do this as a year long project and record their acts of kindness via a photo essay or video.  I believe that this era of education should include learning about social good and global stewardship.  Students should be encouraged to be change makers in the world. This is why this post is included in my series on user-generated education.

Some teachers have started acts of kindness campaigns with their students:

What follows are my #21 acts for Holiday, 2012 (five more are forthcoming).  I try to live a life of acts of kindness, trying to give charity to others all year long through my actions (e.g., helping a senior citizen) or making contributions during catastrophes.  During Christmas time, I make my big contributions and try to do some volunteer work – helping deliver meals to homebound, packing Christmas treats at the Salvation Army, etc.  I never tell anyone about my acts as they are personal and I do not do so to get any pats on the back from anyone else.  I am sharing this year’s acts due to the #26acts movement, and to inspire, motivate, and challenge others to do so.

#1 – Lifted Spirits at the Post Office

I was in the post office to mail some Xmas presents. As expected, the line was extremely long. We took our numbered tickets upon entering the PO and found our places for the inevitable waiting. I have very little patience for lines and based on the reactions, attitudes, and comments so did the other people waiting. I took a deep breadth and dove into my iPhone. An older lady (she looked about 80) a few people away from me kind of joked about being #67 as they had just called out #17. I realized I had picked up a lower number #33 from the counter leaving me with both #33 and #41. I handed her #41 saying it is a good time to engage in acts of kindness. She yelped with joy and asked me for a hug. A man then stated loudly that he forgot to get a ticket. The older lady handed him her #67. We had started a game of pass it forward. A majority of the 30+ folks in the Post Office started laughing and commenting – a potentially miserable time at the PO became joyful and fun. I left the PO smiling – the first smiles I had since hearing about Sandy Hook. A very small act of kindness changed the entire climate of a “grouchy” situation into one that touched my heart.

#2 – Gave Homeless Man My Lunch

I went grocery shopping. In the roasted chicken section was a roasted turkey breast. I bought it for my lunch today – nothing like hot roasted turkey. It cost $9. At the stop sign off of the highway, on the drive home, was a homeless man (I assume) with a cardboard sign that said, “Anything would help.” He was an older man with very long grey hair and beard. I stopped to consider giving him a few dollars. I asked him if he smoked. I don’t give the guys with signs money for fear that they would spend it on cigarettes. He said he did and I told him that I didn’t want to give him money for cigarettes. With very said eyes, he asked, “Do you have anything to eat?” I grabbed the roasted turkey and handed it to him. He stared in disbelief and could only say “Oh my goodness” a few times. I yelled Merry Christmas and drove off.

#3 – Bought an iTunes Gift Card and Made a List of Recommended Apps for My Brother with Asperger’s.  He is getting an iPad for Christmas.

#4 – Donated to John Green’s (Fault of Our Stars) amazing Youtube fundraiser, Project Awesome 2012


#5 – Promoted Sandy Hook Snowflake Project on my social networks.

#6 – Donated $26 dollars to the Sandy Hook PTA for their Snowflake Project.

#7 – Donated to Beyond Borders because we should not forget about Haiti,  Beyond Borders is an international nonprofit working to end child slavery, guarantee universal access to education, end violence against women and girls and promote dignified and life sustaining work that recognizes and reinforce Haiti’s strengths.

#8 – Bought Merchandise to Support and “Advertise” Pencils of Promise


#9 – Bought a MiiR Water Bottle – $1 of every MiiR bottle purchased provides one person with clean water for one year, one4one.

#10 & #11 – Donated a Year of School for Two Girls through International Rescue


#12 – Donated a New Classroom through International Rescue


#13 – Donated a Pair of Goats through International Rescue

#14 – Donated  A Women’s Health and Wellness Kit through International Rescue

#15, #16, #17, #18 – Contributed to four classroom projects through Donors Choose for classrooms affected by Hurricane Sandy


#19 – Provided Kiva loan to the agriculture Mahinga Group in Kenya as I believe we are all global stewards.

#20 – As I do every year, I donated a substantial amount of $$ to Save the Children.


#21 – Planned a Surprise Birthday Cake-Card for Fellow Potter Who Turned 70.  During our holiday pottery show, I gave Mimi, who was turning 70, a chocolate cake and a card signed by the group members.  Her son and grandchildren came to the show so I gave it to her when they were there.  She told me that it had been years and years since she had a birthday cake.


#22 – Paid $20 of a Senior Citizen’s Grocery Bill.  She was really grateful and asked me for a little kiss.


These are my acts for the 20 children and for Sandy Hook Principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and teacher, Vicki Soto.  The other four acts will occur when an act of kindness is needed and I can provide such an act.

I do not live a life of trying to give acts of kindness as a ticket to get into an afterlife.  I live it because it feels good.  It is the right thing to do.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 26, 2012 at 1:02 am

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