Dear Bystander,

Several recent conversations have caused me to ruminate on the following quote from the Dali Lama,"My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness." About a week ago, my husband shared with me a story about Trenton Gardiner, a seven year old boy in Bicknell, Indiana. What's remarkable about Trenton is he began wiping tables at McDonalds to help earn money to ensure all children received gifts during the holiday season. Click here if you would like to see the heartwarming news clip. It's well worth the investment of 2 minutes and 42 seconds.

January and February are often the longest months for teachers and students. Last year, I was having a challenging time managing the social conflicts that continued to pop up with dizzying frequency. We had multiple class conversations about inclusion and treating classmates with respect, but to no avail. One day, after yet another conflict, I spoke with my class and asked how many of them were feeling a bit frustrated and miserable. Every student raised his or her hand, and I raised my hand too. The solution to this ongoing problem required more than words. We needed action!

I instituted a kindness jar after speaking with a colleague who had done something similar. Every day, I ended class a bit early, and the students would spend the last ten minutes of the day thanking a classmate(s) for an act of kindness. Now, this act of kindness could have been observed or received. After each student spoke I would drop a stone in a jar. I promised the students a pizza party if they filled the jar three times, which they certainly did. About two months into this activity, I asked the students to reflect on whether they noticed a change in their classroom experience. One student explained how he felt the kindness jar had helped shift his focus. When I asked him to elaborate, he explained that instead of always focusing on his classmates' faults he now found himself focusing more on his classmates' acts of kindness and strengths. Another student voiced that the class was more cooperative, patient, forgiving and encouraging. A different student said that acts of kindness were "very, very, very fun." I also participated in this daily activity by thanking the entire class for what I observed in their collective behavior. On the few occasions where we had to bump our kindness jar activity to the next day, my students were quick to remind me that we had to do the kindness jar activity twice in the same day. As we approached the final week of school, one student came up to me at the end of the school day and said, "I really like the kindness jar. It's nice to feel appreciated."

We all want to feel appreciated, seen, heard and loved. I wrote the poem "Dear Bystander" to help inspire acts of kindness. As I told my students, no act of kindness is too small. I've seen how frequent acts of kindness can transform a classroom, and I have confidence that if we consistently practice acts of kindness we will not only transform our lives but the world in which we live.

Dear Bystander,

by Lauren Taub Cohen

Clamoring chaos

and ceaseless chatter

muddy the waters of

truth’s clarity.

Division slices

Bullying assaults

Deception corrodes

Frustration festers

Now what?

We stand up

and walk into

the wound.

We don’t leap over it,

run around it,

or worse,

ignore it.

We courageously walk

into the smoldering pit

of our collective pain

and let it

evolve us.

We can meet fear and hate

with kindness and connection.

We can bolster

our prayers for peace

with actions and words

in service of the

peace we seek.

We can live our prayers

out loud.

We

not me

or you

or them

but

we