California Teacher-of-the-Year Promotes Kindness in Her Class

August 31, 2020 Updated: August 31, 2020

On Aug. 31, Mandy Kelly’s 6th grade class in Trabuco Canyon, Calif., sent out their first kindness challenge video of the new school year.

Kelly started challenging her students to do random acts of kindness in 2016, and the idea gained traction not only in her school, but in schools across the country. She and her students now create videos with kindness challenges to send out to over 300 schools. 

It’s part of what earned her the title of California Teacher of the Year last year—she was one of five to earn that title statewide. She was also named Orange County Teacher of the Year last spring. 

“They need to leave my classroom being a better person, and that’s what I want them to do,” she told The Epoch Times. 

The video format works as well for the virtual classrooms amid COVID as it did in previous years. The nature of the kindness challenges has changed slightly, she said: “We have to think about what challenges people can do from their own home that’s safe. And watching them rise to that occasion, I’m excited to see what they come up with.”

The Power of Small Acts of Kindness

In 2016, Kelly assigned each of her students to do one random act of kindness everyday during the month of December. “I wanted to find a way just to show my students how powerful a small act of kindness can be,” she said.

She was happy to see her students started to “take everyone into consideration, not just themselves.”

“We started with holding the door open for someone, or writing a thank-you letter and sneaking it in someone’s desk. We had them write inspirational messages around their community, helping out around the house, thanking a community employee,” Kelly said.

Her plan was to finish up the assignment and move onto others, but her students wanted to continue it. “I had a bunch of students who were like,‘That was actually really fun, can we keep doing it?’”

SEAKers

Kelly decided she “wasn’t about to quash their passion for kindness.”

Her class took on the name “The SEAKers” (Students Engaging in Acts of Kindness). They recognized that no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

The other teachers at the school noticed a change in Kelly’s students and wanted to follow her class’ example. 

“There’s a need for this. There are teachers that are looking for a way to actually intentionally be teaching kindness,” Kelly said.

So she started sending out a weekly kindness challenge for students each week, via email and videos posted on social media. Teachers could sign up on a Google form and be part of an email list. 

Within three weeks, she had 70 classes, from preschool to high school, in different schools throughout the country. She currently has over 300 classes in 30 states, plus two outside the United States.  

“All the teachers have to do is push play, and it’s my kids talking to their kids. It’s our 6th graders talking to kids around the world,” Kelly said. 

Long-Term Impacts

Kelly’s students from previous years have told her the initiative had a lasting impact on them. 

“It changed the atmosphere of the classroom, but it was more powerful to see that it had that long-term change in a lot of students,” she said.

One former student remarked, “We weren’t just doing it for us, but we were role models now that we had to be the model of kindness.”

Another former student told her: “I continued volunteering at my church, because it was something that I started in your class. It felt amazing, and I just continued to do it.”

Kelly said it’s a team effort to raise good people. “It’s the kid, it’s the parents or the guardians, and it’s the teacher. And all of us need to be working together. … I have a little bit of power as a teacher to influence kids, and why not use that to kind of help them be good people.”