In a little town that doesn’t get much press is a woman who quietly goes about the task of teaching kids.
Pamela Wiese is a truancy officer and paraprofessional at a school in Henning, Minn., a town of about 800 people. I have no doubt that she shows great compassion and empathy in the hours that fill most of her days. But I get the feeling her legacy will be left through an after-school program she leads every Tuesday and Thursday where she teaches kids about kindness.
“Where does kindness begin? With the youngest of us. Last year, the theme in my room was about learning kindness and manners. We have done many acts of kindness since that first day, including leaving sticky notes on all of the students’ lockers, delivering conversation hearts on Valentine’s Day, writing thank-you notes to our custodial and nutritional staffs, and even writing and performing our own play about why it is important to be kind and have manners.
“We are continuing the theme again this year by stepping up to daily challenges. I ask the students to perform an act of kindness and then journal about their experience. It really gets them thinking about what they can do without expecting anything in return. The youngest students are in kindergarten, and the oldest are in eighth grade. I have nearly 60 kids going through the classroom, so they are bound to touch a lot of people’s lives in our little town.”
This year, the kindness in Mrs. Wiese’s classroom also includes a twist.
“We realized, until we are kind to ourselves, we can’t show this to others. So, how are we kind to ourselves? By figuring out what we like and how we see ourselves.
“We gave each student a silhouette shape of a boy or girl. Then we gave the children endless supplies of magazines and had them cut out pictures of things they thought described themselves.
“We also drew out their names in bubble letters. They again had to skim the magazines and find adjectives that describe themselves. This was harder, but a lot more interesting. I have these hanging in the hallway, and they are so wonderful.
“We have also been playing games that concentrate on speaking nicely. First, everyone lines up and you have to say something nice about the person next to you before you pass the ball. Then we time it. Then we can’t say anything that someone else has already said. It just keeps getting a little tougher and requiring a little more effort. Then comes the big one: you can’t pass the ball until you say something nice about yourself! After that, we time it, and they can’t say anything that someone else has already said. This has been challenging, but very rewarding. We play it often.”
Later this month, the kids will put that self-esteem to good use as they take the stage for a talent show. Finding each of their hidden talents involved some soul searching, but the end result is going to be amazing. The audience will see artists, hula-hoopers, jump-ropers, comedians, mathematicians, musicians, hair-braiders, dancers and taekwondo experts.
“These kids need to feel kindness, not just know what the word means. We all have it in us, we just have to figure out how to get it out and share it. To have them understand the feeling they get from giving is so amazing.”
Mrs. Wiese and her students are often given credit for acts of kindness in their community that they didn’t actually do, which means the kindness is spreading. Or as I like to say, it’s contagious.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at www.nicolejphillips.com.