How a Middle School Teacher is Teaching Compassion

By Rita Templeton 

Teaching his 7th grade students to be compassionate to one another was already a priority in Justin Parmenter’s classroom – but when a high school freshman in his district shot and killed another student in the hallway over a personal conflict, it hit too close to home. He knew that he had to tackle the challenge with a new sense of urgency; the question was how to do it in a way that students would really respond to.

“Twenty plus years of experience teaching prescribed character education lessons have shown me that an adult simply talking about character or modelling positive behavior does not often lead to the changes we want to see in our children,” Parmenter wrote on his blog.

Citing evidence that compassion can be learned, he created an assignment called “Undercover Agents of Kindness” that would allow his students the opportunity to practice that critical skill.

He had them draw a classmate’s name from a bowl, then gave them a two-week time frame in which to perform a secret, random act of kindness with only two stipulations: it couldn’t cost any money, and had to be big enough for the recipient to notice. Afterward, they were to write a “mission report” about what they did and how it went.

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