When did kindness begin? It’s a strange question to ask, isn’t it? And it really isn’t the right question to ask. The question is really more one of when did we start being INTENTIONAL about kindness.
At South Sioux City Community Schools, that intentionality started well over five years ago at Lewis & Clark Elementary. Principal Ben Schultz and reading teacher Erica Bowman, were passionate about stressing kindness with their students. Drawing attention to kind acts, talking about why kindness matters, weaving “Be Kind” into the fence surrounding the school, are examples of the intentional efforts made. Principals, teachers and staff at other buildings started to notice and adopted some of the same focus on character.
Ralston school system was serendipitously engaged in similar work to be intentional about kindness. The schools cooperated in sharing ideas, successes and even doing some student exchange activity when service projects were underway. In a short time, “Be Kind” became a statewide movement in Nebraska schools. The era of bullying, cyberbullying, and constant divisive messaging coincides with rising youth suicide rates. School leaders knew that kindness was extremely important to overcoming negative influences.
“It is a simple unified message the schools share” said Lance Swanson, Director of Communication & Foundation for South Sioux City Community Schools, “two simple words that show action and a choice.”
Swanson went on to explain that about the same time “Be Kind” was gaining focus in the elementary schools, Assistant High School Principal Tom Luxford was working with a group of high school students called the “Respect Group”. The focus was on the importance of respecting one another and valuing each person. “The main distinction between the elementary and high school was the high school was a little more action focused” said Swanson. The students engaged in a lot of community service activity as a way to develop respect for their community and the members of the community. They volunteered their assistance with Cardinal Christmas Baskets, helped put up decorations around the city, put bark around trees in park, and raked yards for individuals.
“So we had ‘Be Kind’ in elementary and ‘Respect’ at the high school level, the administrative team came together to review our school motto and it became evident these two pieces were cohesive and yet incomplete” Swanson explained.
After conducting some school surveys and holding discussions the school system motto of “Be Kind, Be Respectful, Be Better Every Day” was adopted.
“Being kind and respectful is important, and our community has embraced it wholeheartedly. But what was missing is that element that our culture here is built on – to either do it right or do it better.” Swanson explained. “Anything we do we can do better all the time, and this motto challenges us to do that. It’s a focus that is applicable to every person in our school and community.”
The community is completely behind the efforts and it shows. You’ll see reminders of kindness and respect in business windows and most importantly in personal interactions. Each person regardless of abilities, socioeconomics, or vocation can be kind, respect others and strive to take one step to be better each day.
There’s no more challenging time to “Be Kind, Be Respectful and Be Better Every Day” than in the midst of pandemic. When difficult decisions have to be made and we have differing opinions and directives about what is “right” those are the times we agree we should be kind, respectful of each person’s opinion and we are all looking to get better.
Swanson says, “What I love about it, is it allows us to be humans, we don’t have to be perfect. It’s about saying you know, we are human. We’ll have bad days, things aren’t going to work sometimes and that’s when the biggest lessons can happen. How you, as a teacher or leader react when things don’t go the way you wanted it to is what is being watched. We can learn a lot in books and on the internet, but the biggest lesson we can learn is how to get along and solve issues respectfully and with kindness. Keep in mind, kindness doesn’t mean always giving people what they want, sometimes kindness is respectfully telling people how you feel, why you disagree and listening to each other.”
Each year, since the school district has adopted the Kind focus, a Kindness Walk fundraiser has been held – until this year when it was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. The walk and activities during February’s Random Act of Kindness week raise funds for some kind of projects for the community. These have included support of Siouxland Freedom Park projects, posters, stickers and other reminders to “Be Kind, Be Respectful and Be Better Every Day.”
“The best part,” Swanson says, “is 100% of funds raised go to local student led efforts, there is no national licensing fee.”
If you are motivated by the motto and want to support the efforts at South Sioux City Community Schools, contact Lance Swanson at firstname.lastname@example.org