Recognizing Honor, Respect and Compassion in Peers

Head of Lower School Michael Simpson writes about student recognition at the weekly Lower School assemblies.

Like any office desk, mine has its share of clutter. You are welcome to see for yourself next time you walk past the fishbowl that is my office—peek inside and you will see papers, some neatly arranged, others not so much. The tallest pile of papers is green and yellow. It was born the first week of school and has grown ever since without slowing down. I have not counted, but surely that stack is in the hundreds by now.

Each sheet in the heap is a completed core principles recognition form. Students or teachers can turn in one of these forms anytime to the shoebox on the floor outside my office. On the form, a student can tell a story recognizing another for his or her respect, honor, or compassion. Each Friday, the fourth graders in charge of leading the following Monday’s assembly select four or five of the stories to share in front of the whole Lower School Monday morning. When this happens, the fourth grader begins, “Will_________ please stand up.” The story is read, everyone claps their hands, and the recognized person sits down again.

As you can imagine, this is a very warm-feeling routine. It is new this year, something we decided to try, and we have had some questions about it from the beginning; some have been answered, others haven’t.

-Will the number of recognitions turned in each week slow as the year progresses?

No. Judging from the pile on my desk and the decisions the fourth graders have to make each week, this routine is showing no sign of slowing.

-Will students be upset if their recognition of another is not chosen to be read at assembly?
I don’t know. My guess is that while it is great to have your own words read aloud in public, each student who submits a form feels pretty good just for having written and submitted it. I have talked about this at our assemblies a couple times, displaying a fistful of green and yellow papers and explaining why we cannot read them all, thanking the students for taking the time to write them regardless.

-At the end of the year, what do I do with all these green and yellow forms piling up on my desk, some of which have been read, but most of which haven’t?
I’m still not sure. Should I wallpaper a hallway with them as a concrete example of the multitude of acts of kindness? Should I distribute them to the students named? I cannot imagine just recycling them all.

-What effect is this recognition of large and small good deeds having on our students?
I have no objective metric to figure this out, but something tells me there must be some kind of effect. Judging from the enthusiasm the fourth graders have for choosing the stories and spotlighting someone else, and listening to the enthusiasm with which our students applaud for their schoolmates, I think it must surely be good. My hope is that it is contributing to every student’s sense of a school identity, which includes: at Greenhill we care about each other, we help each other, and we do the right thing even without being asked to.

Common sense and the positive psychology movement say that the most important part of this process is when one student notices another doing good, and says to him or herself: I appreciate what that other person did, I’m going to tell people about that.

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