Skip to content
ascd logo

October 1, 2018
Vol. 76
No. 2

Tell Me About

author avatar
Social-emotional learning

Sunny Money

Our school has a positive behavior support program in which we give out "sunny money" to students who demonstrate an admirable character trait of the month. Kindness, compassion, empathy … they are all on the calendar. As you can imagine, students love getting rewarded for doing something positive—not only because it feels good, but also because they can redeem the money at the school store for various items. One 6th grade student (who had been a frequent visitor to the office throughout his time at our school) asked our principal one day if he could use his "sunny money" to buy clothes and other necessary items for students affected by the erupting volcano on Hawaii's Big Island. He had seen images of the lava destroying their homes, and he really wanted to help. After word got out about this student's plans, faculty and staff were eager to shower him with additional "sunny money," knowing he was going to use it for the benefit of our neighbor islanders. We were all happy to support this student's act of kindness to send new clothing and school supplies to those in need with his ow n earned "sunny money!"
Lisa Higa, principal, Nānākuli Elementary School, Waianae, Hawaii

It's a Kind World After All

I chaperoned a high school choir trip to Disneyland. I was assigned a small group of upper-level students, and a freshman girl with mild autism joined their group. I watched as these students accepted the girl and were extremely patient with her cognitive and personality differences. They did not shun her or exclude her in any manner. It moved me to tears when I thanked them after the fact for their kind treatment of the girl. Probably best of all: They did not understand what the big deal was. Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if everyone just automatically treated others with kindness, compassion, and empathy without any awareness of how amazing that behavior is?
A. K. Anderson, program improvement coordinator, New Mexico Higher Education Department, Rio Rancho, New Mexico

The Little Things

When I co-taught 5th grade, about once a month we had students engage in "Give, Get, Pass." Sitting in a circle, each student chose to either give a compliment to a classmate, ask to get a compliment, or pass. Any Passer had to Give or Get next time around the circle. In exchanging compliments, students rarely mentioned some extravagant deed; rather, the compliment in the Give or Get was much more often something adults might mislabel as small: "When I dropped my pencil during the test, you picked it up and gave it back to me." The most meaningful acts of kindness don't have to be hard to do, public, or unusual. No act of kindness is too small. Significant deeds are the ones whose subtext is: "I care about you and your well-being. You are a valued member of this classroom community. I am thinking about you."
David Downing, elementary grades teacher, Belmont Day School, Belmont, Massachusetts

Animal Instincts

One day a scared rabbit found its way onto the playground during recess. Disoriented, the rabbit started going in all directions, even into ongoing games and students running and playing. One of our 5th grade students circled the rabbit with his friends and then gently and slowly walked toward the edge of the fence line where the canyon was located to release the rabbit. I asked him why he did that. He said he understood what it felt like to be lost and scared.
Adria Brown, school counselor, San Diego Unified, San Diego, California

Making the World a Little Neater

An 8th grade girl saw my frustration at the end of class. She knew I was disappointed that most students threw their math journals anywhere but the correct bin. Instead of running out the door to break like everyone else, she silently organized all the notebooks. Even when the class got better at respectfully placing their notebooks, she still took the time to organize and leave the area better every day.
Maura Mecchella, math and coding teacher, Pajaro Middle School, Watsonville, California

Goal, Scored

On the field during recess, a few 1st grade soccer stars were telling one little girl that she was bad at soccer. Another good player stood up for the girl and told the group, "That is not kind!" He went and got the student and told her to come back and play on his team. We have really worked on social-emotional learning in the classroom, and this boy taught the others a lesson on kindness. I'm proud to be his teacher.
Page Gianella, elementary school teacher, North Marion School District, Aurora, Oregon

Putting All Your Eggs in Someone Else's Basket

When my daughter was in kindergarten, her class participated in an Easter egg hunt. After the students had collected most of the eggs, one little girl fell down, and all her eggs spilled out of her basket onto the ground. Several rambunctious boys ran over and began taking her eggs, which caused the little girl to cry. As my daughter witnessed this scene unfold, without anyone saying a word to her, she slowly walked over, removed eggs from her own basket, and placed them in the other little girl's basket. That was the day we discovered our daughter's super power was empathy.
Mitchel MacNair, global employee development and learning strategy leader, Dow Chemical, Houston, Texas

A Special Blessing

I was teaching 12th grade English to Canadian students in Switzerland, and we often went on field trips. One young woman made a point to visit every church we passed to light a candle in memory of her father, who had been killed in an airplane accident. On weekends, students travelled independently and kept an ongoing travel journal as a personal memoir for my English class. One day, a young man told me he had to meet his father and would be away an extra day. I just reminded him to update his journal, and he dutifully submitted it after the long weekend. As I skimmed it, my eyes widened to learn that he had joined his father in Rome—and attended a ceremony with His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. However, in what is the most remarkable example of empathy I have ever seen, this young man had recognized how his bereaved classmate's faith comforted her, so he asked His Holiness to bless a rosary for his friend. She was trembling as she showed me her treasure, and I have remembered the boy's act of kindness as the most impressive example of empathy which I have ever seen among teenagers. To this day, this memory reminds me that there is hope for humanity.
Sheri Henderson, tutor, Organization for Literacy in Lambton, Watford, Ontario, Canada

Coming Together in Mourning

Our community lost three people in one week due to war, a car accident, and suicide. I saw my entire school come to a memorial service to hug, cry, and hold each other. They drove to school, walked hand-in-hand, and rode the bus together. They honored the losses at school events and at graduation. But the most touching thing they did was recognize those lost at their reunions. They came together to raise money and to do housework. They tutored brothers and children of those lost. Our little school, in our small rural valley cried, prayed, and then held each other for all the time we needed.
Casey Jakubowski, associate director, Sidney CSD, Sidney, New York

Recess Rescuer

Once when I was a school principal, a four-year-old girl playing on the playground saw a classmate fall off a swing. She immediately dropped her ball and ran over to help her friend up off the ground. I was struck by her kindness and empathy. I told her how proud I was of how she cared for others. I also called her mother, who was so happy and proud she cried. It is imperative that parents hear when their children do such wonderful things!
Rebecca Solomon Pinchevsky, director of curriculum and instruction, Center for Creative Education, West Palm Beach, Florida

Habits of Humanity

During spring break, about 70 high school seniors were headed toward South Carolina for a Habitat for Humanity trip. One senior was unable to afford the cost of the trip, so she had decided not to go—even though she truly wanted to participate. A compassionate classmate took action, requesting a nominal donation from the other seniors on the trip. As a result of her kindness, enough funds were raised for the other student to join the Habitat for Humanity trip.
Annette Jones, assistant director for school leadership, National Catholic Educational Association, Arlington, Virginia

Good Sports

Our 4th grade girls were competing against the boys during field day. The boys lost all three rounds of the tug of war. All of the students did their best but the boys were bound to be disappointed. One 4th grade girl, who tended to be disrespectful, told the other girls to high-five the boys. They all agreed. There was no mocking at all, and the boys responded appropriately. Witnessing this empathetic and kind sportsmanship was a highlight of field day. Their teacher had created a positive collaborative community of empathetic students.
Todd Feltman, assistant principal, New York City Department of Education, Bronx, New York

Share your response to upcoming questions.

EL’s experienced team of writers and editors produces Educational Leadership magazine, an award-winning publication that reaches hundreds of thousands of K-12 educators and leaders each year. Our work directly supports the mission of ASCD: To empower educators to achieve excellence in learning, teaching, and leading so that every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. 

Learn More

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
Related Articles
View all
Social-emotional learning
Numbers of Note / The Rising Demand for "Soft" Skills
Educational Leadership Staff
2 months ago

Related Articles

From our issue
Product cover image 119036b.jpg
The Promise of Social-Emotional Learning
Go To Publication