Secret Kindness Agents: Spreading Kindness in Schools by Making it a “Secret”
04 Oct 2019 By Kaitlyn Mosher, M.A., PLHMP
Teachers all over the country (maybe now more than ever) are struck by the age-old question, “How do we make our schools kinder?” Many schools attempt to answer this question with celebrating Random Acts of Kindness week or giving students other challenges to be kind.
Well what if I told you that in a Midwestern Elementary School there are 5th grade boys evil-giggling while plotting how to carry out secret missions of kindness? In our school we have implemented a new kindness intervention to spread kindness, reduce bullying, and re-direct energy spent on disruptive behaviors.
The group is called “Secret Kindness Agents,” inspired by the book Secret Kindness Agents by Ferial Pearson. Students were chosen for the group and sworn to secrecy the first day. Each group is a mixture of target students with behavioral concerns and students who can model good behavior. The top secret aspect of this group is highly emphasized with code-words, pinky swears, missions written on confidential paper in code, and the required destruction of their missions after reading them. Each week during a 15-minute secret agent meeting, the group processes their previous mission and receives a new assignment. Missions have included: writing an anonymous thank-you letter to a past teacher, giving 3 peers they don’t normally interact with a meaningful compliment, and offering a helping hand to someone without being asked or prompted. The students graduate after 8 weeks, receive a certificate, and are given the option of training new incoming students.
I will be honest, at first I was skeptical that a group of 5th grade boys would buy into this and not just laugh in my face or roll their eyes. However, not only do they love the exciting challenge each week of their missions and take the secretive aspect seriously, they also have grasped the importance of the group to a degree I never expected. Some of these students struggle with bullying behaviors, conflicts with teachers, and disruptive behaviors in the classroom, yet we are able to focus some of their energy each week searching for ways to be kind to others.
It may be counter-intuitive to take kindness undercover in schools as a way to increase its presence, but many of the kind acts in our society occur on a small level: paying for another person’s meal in a fast-food line, picking up a piece of trash in the park, opening a door for someone. We want to teach kids to be on the look-out for opportunities to be kind, and that sometimes the most fun and rewarding kind acts are the ones that are not shouted from a mountain top, but simply change one person’s day. We are trying to teach them that by looking for ways to be kind they can change their school and they can change the world.
When Secret Kindness Agents were asked what they have learned about kindness after being in the group they said:
“This taught me that kindness never takes a day off and how kindness is super important and can turn someone's day around. I'm very proud to be a member of the kindness agent group”- 4th grader
“When you’re kind, it helps other people be kind to everyone else”- 5th grader
“Kindness brings you closer to others so you can build a better community” -5th grader
“I realized that kindness is something you really just don’t think about, but now we think about our missions every day”- 5th grader
“I learned we have the power to make our school and world kinder and safer”-5th grader
“Being kind isn’t just a 5-second thing and then it goes away. Kindness will always stay with you, it’s a lifetime thing” -4th grader
Our research lab has been working to create a reliable and valid measure of two important constructs in bullying prevention and intervention: (1) Kindness and (2) Bravery. When people act kind, there is no room for bullying since kindness is the opposite of bullying. When people act brave, they stand up to injustices like bullying and other hurtful behaviors. Extending our work from the Born Brave Experiences (BBE) studies we gathered pilot data that helped inform our current version of our Kindness + Bravery scale. Our hope is that by 2020 we will develop a reliable and valid measure of kindness and bravery that will help people understand and evaluate kindness and bravery as important factors in effective bullying prevention and intervention.
Take the Kindness + Bravery Reliability and Validity Study!
Youth ages 13 - 18: Click here
Young Adult ages 19 - 25: Click here
Katie is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the School Psychology Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her research interests include using group and individual kindness interventions for bullying prevention and intervention and the improvement of related behavioral and mental health outcomes (e.g., anxiety, depression, academic concerns, social relationship difficulties). Additionally, Katie is interested in providing clinical services to children and families within a pediatric behavioral health setting.
Nebraska Bullying Prevention and Intervention Lab