January 29, 2020

A Michigan high school teacher challenged her students to perform 100 acts of kindness

This first-time experiment at Anchor Bay High School in suburban Detroit taught kids how to create new habits that have a positive effect on themselves and their relationships.

Spreading kindness is easier than you think, according to students at Anchor Bay High School in New Baltimore, Michigan. Photo by Randalyn Hill/Unsplash

Editor’s note: Kindness is all around us. Even in today’s polarized political climate and sometimes toxic social media landscape, it’s not hard to spot genuine acts of kindness and generosity. That’s why we launched the Kindness Chronicles, a regular series on The Renewal Project that exposes the goodness that we know exists in every neighborhood. Submit your story to us at info@therenewalproject.com or tweet to us @therenewalproj, using the hashtag #kindnesschronicles.

Anchor Bay High School, located in New Baltimore, Michigan, ended 2019 on a high note with the help of teacher Denise O’Hearn and a group of dedicated students.

O’Hearn has been a teacher for 17 years and as the National Honor Society advisor, she guided students during a kindness week in fall of 2019. That event inspired her to bring even more kindness to Anchor Bay. She decided that her National Honor Society students would perform 100 acts of kindness from Oct. 23 to Dec. 20, and track each and every one. We spoke to O’Hearn about how the experiment came about and lessons learned from this kindness mission.

What inspired you to undertake this project? What was your lightbulb moment?

The lightbulb moment, it was just one of those things where I thought, what can we do? I’d like to do something different every month with the group. I thought, well let’s just expand on Kindness Week. Let’s expand on the idea of doing things for others. So, it was just off top of my head, there it was!

How many students participated?

50 kindness trackers were returned. I thought that was pretty good for a first-time experiment.

How did students react when you told them about the assignment and the goal?

I think they were more hesitant. I had one girl say “I was really timid in the beginning because it seemed like a lot to accomplish.” But as she filled out the sheet, she realized how easy it was to complete each task. Most of the kids said kindness doesn’t have to be a huge act of charity, it’s just a way to radiate positivity and it can be as simple as saying good morning to someone. A lot of them said, “I realized that I’m kinder than I gave myself credit for.”

I just wanted them to be more aware of themselves and others at school. I think sometimes they get so inward that they don’t think about others as much as they could.

Did you notice a mood shift with your students during that time period? I know the end of a school semester can be an intense and stressful time.

I did. I come into school pretty early, and I had kids making eye contact and smiling and saying good morning, where normally in the morning the kids are rushing from here to there and not really looking. But I had more kids just making a tiny communication, and I thought that was huge.

With my group, when I talked to them about it, they were saying that it doesn’t have to be really big, that something small can make someone’s day. Everyone appreciates an act of kindness and as long as you’re genuine about it, it can make a huge difference in someone’s day.

What were the most common acts of kindness that people performed? Were there any trends?

They kept it pretty simple, some of them gave to charity. Most of them tried to tackle smaller things. I think it was because it seemed so enormous, but I did have a few students go above and beyond the 100 [acts of kindness] and go into their second tracker sheet.

What were the students’ reactions after they completed all 100 acts?

I think they were pretty excited to show they had accomplished it. They were excited to say, “hey look what I did!” I think it was so enormous at the beginning, they kind of had a little bit of panic on their faces. At the end they were pretty proud of themselves that they tackled it and that they did a good job.

You said it’s likely going to become an annual event. When you do it again, what changes would you make to boost impact?

We’ll roll it out to the whole school and advertise it more and have one for staff as well. Have the staff keep track of kind acts. Make it a little bit more visible.

What advice would you give people looking to add more kindness to their lives?

I talked to my group and they said, “Being polite, being selfless, and making it a habit.” They said when you start to get into a habit of doing nice things, you don’t notice it anymore.

One of my girls, a small goal she had was to compliment two people each day. Take some small goals and expand on that. But if you get into a habit of kindness I think that’s a great goal.

Caitlin Fairchild

Caitlin Fairchild is the deputy editor of The Renewal Project.
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