You are a teacher, which means you know how to give. It’s nearly impossible to find a teacher that isn’t giving, for they give far more than they are paid for in time, energy, and compassion to their students and families. According to Scholastic, the average teacher spends $500.00 of their own money each year on school supplies.
Teachers are naturally giving people, but when we live in a world of ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme’ ‘I want, I want, I want’ and ‘Mine, mine, mine’ even teachers can get a case of the ‘gotta-have-its.’ For our students, it’s virtually inevitable that they will start thinking this way at some point. While it can be tempting to think we will be happy by getting, research shows that it truly is better to give than to receive. If this is true, then teachers have a lot to be happy about. Focusing on all the good you are doing can lead to a whole lot of happiness, and hopefully, your students will follow your example.
According to a recent infographic from happify.com, the science says that when people give, the “pleasure and reward centers of the brain light up as if you were the recipient of the good deed- not the giver.” With this natural reaction to giving, it is easy to get kids hooked on giving: just provide them a few opportunities to give to others. Your brain releases all kinds of feel-good hormones, including oxytocin. These hormones can increase feelings of empathy and togetherness. So, just getting kids to be more generous to each other could reduce classroom squabbles and increase kids’ ability to practice positive social skills.
Another great benefit of generosity is the positive impact it can have on your relationships. Of course, you can be a good model by showing your kindness to your students, but odds are you already do a lot of that. In fact, if you do too much they won’t ever learn what you are trying to teach them. Instead, give them opportunities to serve. They will feel more bonded with you and their classmates. Having them go home and help their families may also paint you in a good light which certainly can’t be bad for parent/teacher relationships.
In the Classroom
There are many different activities you can incorporate into the classroom to help kids catch the spirit of giving. Some are one-time projects, and others can be part of the fabric of your everyday classroom. Here are a few ideas:
• Start a kindness jar/wall, etc. where students can write down positive things about each other which they can share in class.
• Assign a ‘secret service partner’ see how many acts of service kids can do for each other without getting caught.
• Talk about service, read books about generosity, and start the conversation about why giving feels so good.
• Older kids can give time to those outside the classroom. They can volunteer at pet shelters, nursing homes, homeless shelters, food banks, etc. Teach students about the value of service and help them learn about involvement opportunities.
• Share stories of volunteerism. Learn about current events, natural disasters, or other adverse events through the lens of the positive impact of volunteers.
• Classes can work together to complete a service project. This is a great way to build classroom community and to get kids involved in something more significant that they couldn’t do alone. It is especially important to give kids a choice in what they want to do. This can help build an authentic enthusiasm for serving others rather than leaving students feeling that it is just one more homework assignment. Service projects can be fun and are easy to integrate into other learning areas.
• Look for ideas within the classroom/school when possible. If there is a family that has recently gone through a difficult time, perhaps the class could raise money for them.
• Make it relevant. If you’ve been studying something, you can try to tie service into what you’ve been learning.
A few great projects for kids include:
• Crayola ColorCycle Program: Kids collect their used markers, send them into Crayola for recycling.
• Heifer International: Kids ‘earn’ an animal for a family in a third world country by reading.
• Collect items for your local homeless shelter or domestic violence shelter.
• Art for Hospice: Students create art and give it to those on hospice to brighten up their day.
When we are generous we are happy. Continue to practice generosity and get your students to do the same. You’ll bring happiness into your students’ lives and the lives of those they serve.
Amy Curletto has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.