top of page

Top Stories

  • Writer's pictureShelley MacPherson

Southern Tier Life: Lessons Learned

Our Kindness Project

By Mrs. MacPherson, Elmira City School District Educator

As a teacher, I unpack boxes of disposable workbooks and I sort through countless math manipulatives purchased every school year. I use literacy programs introduced as revolutionary, only to be retired when the financial contract has expired.

I share my office with 21 little people, I see value in people over programs. I’m reminded daily of what fuels passion for learning … it’s not workbooks, it’s not technology, it’s not revolutionary programs. It’s relationships.

Just shy of 20 years in education, I’m still young to the retirement system; yet I consider myself one of the “old-school” teachers. I want to bring back the simplicity of the classroom.

Kindness isn’t written into the classroom curriculum, it isn’t an academically-weighted box to check on the report card, there are no standards to meet; yet kindness is a subject that weighs more heavily on the heart than reading, writing, and arithmetic combined. Kindness education doesn’t cost money.

Most of what adds up to the heart of a good education can’t be measured or tested because character can’t be graded, labeled, or dignified with a rubric. 

Part of my responsibility as an educator is to teach the assigned curriculum, calculate grades, and document data on learning goals. In addition to my job, I collect data that I’m not required to document. I don’t document the data that truly matters because I have that information in my heart. It doesn’t fade like ink on an old school report card; it sticks with me because it matters most.

Social emotional learning matters.

Kindness matters, caring makes a difference in what shows up on a report card.

Making a difference is why teachers continue to show up every day. 

I work, wholeheartedly, to help kids be mindful of their power, feel the warmth of their own light, and to believe that they can make a difference in our world.


There are days when there isn’t enough light shining on the educational system (literally and figuratively) to warm our hearts. The pacing of the academic day can lower the thermostat in our school building … as well as our internal thermostats. This past December, along with 21 eight-year-old co-workers, we chose to heat up the heart of our classroom by adopting a kindness project.

I borrowed an idea that I found on a teacher support group — 

Our Project:

“We’re starting a new holiday tradition this year. I will be giving each child a $5.00 bill. The catch is, they can’t spend it on themselves. Because they’re already blessed with wonderful people and things in their lives, I wanted them to experience the joy of helping others. Their mission this holiday season is to spread joy, compassion and happiness to someone else by using the money to do a random act of kindness.” They may use the money to do whatever kind act their hearts desire.

In January, they will be given an assignment where they will write about how they paid that kindness forward. I look forward to hearing about the creative ways the kids spread love and kindness to others, and how their families assisted with these life changing acts of kindness. 

Much love and kindness to all,

Mrs. MacPherson

Our Kindness Project put the power of giving into the hands (and hearts) of 21 future leaders; that is a priceless investment in a yet unboxed curriculum.

Writer’s note:

Although the project was initially limited to a single $5.00 bill, a grandmother from our classroom donated an additional $5.00 bill to double the opportunity for each child to make a difference in our community.

Here’s what some of the students did with their “kindness” cash. (All photos and graphics courtesy of Mrs. MacPherson):

Kindness projects in order of appearance: 1. Do you want to hear what I did with my $10.00? There was a woman, she was homeless, she had two daughters. They had no money so I gave them my $10.00. I felt so kind. 2. Guess what I want to do with my $10.00! Donate it to an animal shelter for the animals that don’t have homes so that they could have a place to live! 3. I was happy to make someone smile. My mom and I paid for someone’s lunch. They said, “Thank you!”, and it made my day happier. 4. I gave my $10.00 to my mom to buy groceries for our family. 5. Let me tell you what I did with my $10.00! I bought my mom a bracelet. 6. You will never guess what I did with the $10.00 from my teachers! I donated the money to kids that need food! 7. I think you’ll love what I did with my $10.00! I thought and thought and came up with an idea, the S.P.C.A. Finally, that is why I thought you would love what I did with my $10.00. 8. I have a good idea! I’m going to give my money to someone who needs more than me. I am blessed.

About the author

Mrs. MacPherson is a teacher and a learner. Mom to two grown daughters and a rambunctious rescue pup, Grammy to twin toddler boys and a sweet baby girl, and wife to Jim (Pfiffer), who is also a bit rambunctious.


Check back soon
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.
bottom of page