When it came time to pick the next “high five” winner in her classroom, Jaworek Elementary School first grade teacher Justina Mailly turned to her students. She asked them to not only name someone but also support their opinion with evidence.
It turned out to be an easy assignment. The students from the Marlborough, MA, school quickly named someone and gave their reasons. One chose someone who made her laugh. Another picked a hard worker. And yet another explained simply that the candidate was a nice friend.
All year long, Justina has been looking for new ways to incorporate the Choose To Be Nice Program throughout the school day and find ways to encourage the students to think about how they treat others. One day it was developing a friendship recipe. On another day, it was creating a story of courage. On Earth Day, the students first heard about the importance of keeping the earth clean, and then they went out and picked up trash around the building. Their grins showed how proud they were to put their lessons into action.
Justina has been working with other teachers at the school to make the program a part of their daily activities since they launched it with the start of school in September.
“What I like is that this program is something that is easy to use and can really be incorporated into so many of our lessons,” said Justina, who is the school’s Choose To Be Nice Ambassador in addition to being a teacher.
Principal Ron Sanborn discovered the program during a conference. He mentioned it to teachers, who expressed an immediate interest.
“What’s great is that the premise of this program is about how we should conduct ourselves,” he said. “It’s really about creating lasting change.”
The school held an assembly at the beginning of the year, and staff along with students signed not just one but two promise banners. They were both hung up in the hallway to serve as a constant reminder to students and staff.
Throughout the year, teachers have been using the curriculum and finding ways to apply the lessons all day long.
“This is really a sustainable program,” Ron said. “Initiatives get rolled out and then they roll away, but this is something that the group has embraced.”
The program provides a common language for staff and students to talk about kindness and what it means in practice, Justina said.
“Really, it’s more than a curriculum. It’s a lifestyle.”
The program provided a framework for third grade teacher Claire Nicholson when she noticed some behaviors of concern in her classroom. In March, often a tough month as students prep for standardized testing, she noticed that there were hidden conversations and kids mumbling under their breath.
She brought it up to the students during their morning meeting.
“I told them that I was feeling like there wasn’t a lot of niceness going on in the class, and they agreed,” she said.
One of the students suggested hitting the reset button, but Claire didn’t think that was enough.
“I felt that we needed to stop the negative behavior right away, and we had signed the promise banner at the beginning of the year, so it should be part of the solution,” she said.
She created a renewal Choose To Be Nice poster with the promise at the top. Then, she asked the students to do two things:
- Write about a time when someone was nice to you.
- Think about a time when someone wasn’t nice to you.
After they had talked, she invited them to sign the new poster.
“It was very serious,” Claire said. “They really thought about it and they took ownership.”
The experience helped to make the students more aware of their impact on others and the positive feelings that come from treating others well.
When issues came up after, it was easy to step in with a gentle reminder that they had just renewed their promise.
“This is a good group of students, but meanness can crop up,” Claire said. “Having this program helped in giving us the tools to talk about what was going on and how the students could make changes. That really made a difference.”
Learn more about the Choose To Be Nice School Programs.