Take a quick moment to think of two people who you believe are “nice.” I’ll wait…. You got them? Good.
What makes a person nice? I’m sure that we could all list nice things that people do. Sending Hallmark cards, doing favors for folks or even providing a good tip to a waiter would classify most people as nice…but doesn’t everyone do those things to some degree?
In one of my favorite movies, “Pay It Forward,” Haley Joel Osment portrays a boy whose class project ends up positively affecting the lives of countless individuals. If you have seen the movie you may remember that he had a vision of how one person could do something nice for two people and in turn those two would do something nice for two others. His vision (as drawn on the classroom chalkboard) was a simple pyramid diagram. His intention was to find two individuals that had a need that he could fulfill. The individuals he found didn’t do anything for the Haley Joel’s character in order to deserve such kindness, but that was the key to his plan. The plan was to pay it FORWARD…to give without expecting anything in return or as a responsive “thank you.”
We know that in order to teach appropriate behavior we need to catch students doing something right and praise, praise, praise. I don’t doubt that authentic praise will help to motivate students to behave properly. With continual chances to receive praise, challenging students will achieve the esteem that they so desperately need and may even learn to perpetuate kind behavior themselves. If that works (and we know that it generally does) I wonder what would happen for some students if they were treated nicely at a time when they deserved anything but being treated nicely.
Being nice when others are behaving badly is a tough concept for adults, let alone students. I ‘m not exactly sure how to teach “nice,” but I do know it when I see it. Think of the two people you first put in your mind at the top of this post. If yours are like mine, you chose people who would graciously let others cut in front of them at a fast food restaurant. You probably also chose people who run to hold a door open for another. I bet your “nice” people even greet the meekest (and meanest) individuals with warm words and a smile.
I remember a teacher (Bryan Turner) once said to me that he “over respects” difficult students. What an interesting way to think about the concept of managing students whom others seem to struggle with…
Who could you be over-nice too? Would it change their lives like the characters in “Pay it Forward”? Maybe it would…or maybe it would just be a part of many impacts made on that person which causes them to reflect and to think/behave differently… who knows?