The world can be a mean, cruel place, and too many children have experienced this first-hand. In an age when anti-bullying campaigns are a necessary part of education, the "Choose Kind" movement, inspired by R. J. Palacio's 2012 novel Wonder, is gaining momentum in schools and communities across the globe. Wonder, which was made into a top-rated movie released in 2017, tells the story of a boy who is all too familiar with others being unkind to him because of his differences. Students can easily relate to the hardships faced by Wonder's protagonist and his peers. Wonder presents countless teaching opportunities that can lead students to take small steps that bring about great social change. By taking a pledge to become a part of the Choose Kind movement, everyone can work to impact the lives of others in a positive way. For children to thrive, they need to be in an environment that makes them feel safe and feel like they belong. When kids "choose kind," they make a positive impact on others' well-being.
The main character of Wonder is 10-year-old August "Auggie" Pullman, a boy with Treacher-Collins Syndrome, which causes an obvious cranio-facial abnormality that he has lived with since birth. Up until this time, Auggie has been home-schooled, but the way he has been educated changes drastically when he enters fifth grade at Manhattan's middle school Beecher Prep. Auggie's appearance has always easily alarmed others. From little children who cross his path to the hospital staff involved with his surgeries, people have been guilty of being unkind to Auggie. The treatment he receives from those at his new school is more severe than what he has previously experienced with the world outside his supportive family.
Students can relate to the tortures Auggie endures and to the cruelties inflicted upon him by his peers. In the story, some characters initially befriend Auggie out of pity, but by giving him a chance, they quickly learn how smart, cool, and funny Auggie really is. Many readers have experienced what it is like to gain a true friend in one who others have decidedly isolated. Forming friendships is one complicated problem many students face. Students can relate to this, as well as how others may react to new friendships. While the character Jack learns that Auggie is a neat person, Jack's own self-image is damaged by Julian and his peers who make fun of Jack's new relationship with Auggie; Jack's way to cope is to say hurtful things about Auggie. These and so many other conflicts in Wonder could be avoided if Auggie's peers remembered and acted in accordance to English teacher Mr. Browne's precept for the beginning of the school year.
In a way, Mr. Browne inspired the Choose Kind movement. He begins September by introducing his class to "Rules About Really Important Things" or precepts. His students' first precept is this: "When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind." This is the pledge made by those who join the Choose Kind movement. To be a part of the movement, people make a deliberate decision to be kind to their fellow man, therefore making the world a better place.
Performing acts of kindness is easy for people of any age. They can be done for those we know and interact with daily, or they can be done for strangers with whom we have had a chance encounter. Showing respect and paying compliments are two ways of being kind. The difference about performing these and other acts of kindness when one has pledged to be a part of the Chose Kind movement is that those who show kindness as a pledge enter the world consciously choosing to be nice to others each day. It is a precept to follow, a goal to meet. Those who pledge to be a part of the movement strive to promote compassion for others. Pledges lead kinder lives. In school, it is easy to help students develop the habit of being kind to each other.
As students have seen through Wonder, saying "hi" to a peer that one does not consider a friend can make a positive impact on both individuals. Likewise, people feel good when someone is willing to lend a hand with a heavy bookbag or difficult homework item. Imagine how a child would feel inside if he or she received a standing ovation for a successful presentation! Similarly, reading a thank-you note can brighten up anyone's day and outlook on life. Time and time again, kids will find opportunities to choose kind.
When practicing choosing kind in school, students need a tangible way of measuring how often the group is choosing to be kind to others. To do this, Choosekind.org recommends creating a vessel to fill with tokens that symbolize each act of kindness that has been performed by the students. This can be a simple labeled jar filled with buttons or checker pieces. As kids see their deeds add up, they can imagine how great the impact their kindness is making in society at large. As the tokens near the brim, classes can make a creative effort to continue shaping their school into a more welcoming environment. Just as Mr. Browne posted precepts for Auggie's English class, your students can create posters with their own precepts on them. When these inspiring words are seen by the student body each day in the building's hallways, they will be reminded about how their pledge to choose kind is impacting the environment at school.
Invite your students to join the Choose Kind movement. Throughout the year, look for opportunities to build lessons that revisit discussions about why kindness matters. Together, the class's promise to choose kind can result in changing everyone's life so we become healthier and happier.