I teach junior high math. Junior high is a tough place for many kids since there is often drama among the students. As a teacher I usually try to keep my distance from it but one day, I could tell some of the students were extra anxious and upset. It was affecting our classroom work, and I had to stop it. 

Advertisement
So, I asked the kids to take out of a sheet of paper and list all the other students in the class. Then I told them to write down next to the name of each pupil the nicest thing they could say about them. For the remainder of the class, the students sat silently and wrote down nice things about each other. As they left for their next class, they handed in their papers. 

That night, I created a paper for each student and copied onto it what their classmates had written about them, keeping each comment anonymous. The next day, I gave each student their list. As the students sat and read through them, I could see smiles emerge on their faces. I even heard whispers like "Wow" and "I had no idea."

The students seemed to get along better after that. I never discussed these lists after that day, and none of them ever mentioned those papers to me again. Perhaps they discussed them amongst themselves or with their families, but it didn't matter to me because the exercise had done its job. 

Years later, I got a terrible call about one of my favorite former students, Evan. He had died in Iraq. His funeral was the next day, and his parents asked if I would attend. Many of Evan's former classmates and others from the community would be there as well. 

After the funeral, Evan's parents came up to me. They thanked me for coming, but they also said that they wanted to show me something. Evan's father took a piece of paper out of his pocket. "They found this on Evan's body after he died." 

Without looking at the paper, I knew what it was. It was the paper on which I had written all the nice things Evan's classmates had said about him. 

"Thank you so much for doing that," Evan's mother said to me. "Evan really treasured it." 

As Evan's former classmates came over, they all mentioned that they still had their lists as well, and how much it meant to them. One woman was even carrying hers in her wallet.

Finally, I had to excuse myself. I sat down and cried. I cried for Evan, but I also cried because I had had no idea that this little exercise had such a positive impact on so many of my students' lives.

Now, I do this exercise every year with all of my students. I encourage other teachers to do the same. And I suggest your child's class do it, too! If children are going to learn together, they must learn to coexist happily together as well.