The Kindness Jar
by Nieves Lepore
During my student-teaching semester, I understood that my cooperating teacher would be leaving on maternity leave and I would stay as the substitute teacher for this second grade class. Mostly everything was under control at this point except for one thing: their rude behavior towards each other. My cooperating teacher had already had a class meeting with them and an administrator had come in to discuss the harm of bullying. Although these separate instances seemed to help, it was only temporarily. Therefore, after my cooperating teacher left and I was the permanent substitute and sole teacher for the students, I decided to try something different. That is when the ‘Kindness Jar’ came into play, during which I was sure to analyze the successfulness and adjust the strategy if necessary.
I introduced the jar with a whole class discussion. I told them how concerned I was about their behavior and how it made me feel awful that my class was treating each other this way. I began this conversation by focusing on my feelings; I thought this was important because I did not want to start this discussion by blaming them for something they had done. I continued by asking them how they felt about it. To my surprise, many students felt the same way and wanted a change. Then I showed them a jar labeled ‘Kindness Jar’ on it and a large bag of stones. I then described what this all signified. I told them that for every kind act that they did, I would add a stone inside. We all discussed some examples of kind acts, and I extended it outside of the classroom. This meant that if a student displayed a kind act in the lunchroom, for example, and someone told me about it, that “kind-acting” student would put one stone in the jar.
It is very important to think something that you are adding into your classroom all the way through. One student asked if a stone was going to be removed if they did something unkind, which I hadn’t thought about. However, it did not bother me that I was not prepared for this question because it demonstrated to my students that even adults have to think before they speak. I then explained to them that their kind acts are so valuable that they cannot be erased, and so I would not remove a stone. However, I reminded them that by doing a bad act, that represented one less stone than they could have had in the jar (being that by not doing something nice, they did not earn an extra stone).
Now the reward: since this was a second-grade classroom, I knew how important it was that the students be rewarded for their actions. Therefore, I chose a democratic method and had them decide on a reward with a vote. They had decided to have an ice-cream party after filling the jar with stones.
I kept this in my classroom for the rest of the year. They were able to fill the jar! But more importantly, I noticed that the students were much kinder to each other. This isn’t to say that they were perfect, but they were more aware of their actions which was a very important lesson I wanted them to learn. There was also a sense of community among the students because they were all working towards one goal and they were supporting each other by clapping and exploding with excitement because they were closer to filling the jar. They were also more polite; even other teachers noticed it and brought it to my attention.
Still, some factors need to be kept in mind. The size of the jar and stones are important depending on the age group. Some students (typically younger students) need immediate recognition/rewards for their actions and so you may want to use a smaller jar and/or bigger stones so that the jar will fill up faster (within 2 weeks). Other students understand that reaching a reward takes time, in which case a larger jar would be appropriate (to be filled within 2-3 months). Regardless of age, I believe one factor must never change: a teacher should reward every kind act no matter how big or small and always be ready to adjust accordingly when necessary.