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Here’s an idea: Kindness meters

Teacher of the Year Serena Pariser shares tips for enhancing character education in schools.

4 min read

Voice of the Educator

Be kind


Do we make it easy for kids to be kind in schools? The internationally growing trend of kindness meters might have the power to promote the spread of kindness in schools. What would that be like?

I recently read an article about kindness meters popping up around North County San Diego, Calif. The premise of kindness meters is to provide the public with fast and accessible opportunities to do something good for others, even complete strangers. The meters around North County are even equipped to take credit card payments, allowing people to do something really nice for others in just a few seconds. This kindness made convenient makes it easy to spread benevolence.

A colleague and I pondered whether these meters would work in a school setting. Students are very visually driven, so we naturally wondered what kindness meters in schools might look like. I instruct a Social-Emotional Learning for School, Home and Work class at the University of San Diego. There, educators are repeatedly stunned by the same statistic: According to the article Social and Emotional Learning Research Review, when schools integrate social-emotional learning (SEL) into the curriculum, academic achievement increases an average of 11 percentile points. The benefits of SEL in the short and long term now have been proven quantifiably in academic success as well as emotional wellbeing.

SEL doesn’t necessarily have to take more time to teach. It’s about giving students the opportunity to practice activities that foster respect, responsibility, compassion, courage, trust, perseverance, honestly, gratitude, self-discipline and citizenship. These are elements central to the “Badges of Character” of the Character Development Center of University of San Diego.

Beyond direct practice in SEL classes, are we giving kids sufficient chances to show kindness in school?

In my classroom teaching experience, I’ve observed that sometimes the kinder students are the quietest in the classroom. Often, this leaves the quieter students patiently waiting for opportunities to be kind. What if a school-based kindness meter could create the tipping point of “hearing and noticing” all students equally in schools, providing equal access to opportunities for exercising kindness?

There’s a key element missing in bringing the idea of kindness meters to a school — a common goal the kids could work for with the money raised by the meters.

I imagine we could mimic kindness meters and set them up around the hallways. Student artists could decorate the meters, create fun variations of them or organize zones with inspirational quotes and artwork about kindness, giving back, generosity, and other related areas.

Imagine the following: Each grade level of students has their own labeled area and version of kindness meter set up for donation. The class would establish a specific goal to work toward. For example, their goal might be a trip to the zoo to learn more about the animals they are studying in biology class. Three or four leaders in each grade level would monitor and count the donations weekly and post the running totals, helping their fellow classmates gauge their progress. Students could organize student-led activities and fundraisers throughout the year to grow their kindness fund. Students in each grade level would then be able to vote on how the money is used towards the end of the school year, or even throughout the school year. Instead of “kindness meters” I would propose a name such as “Freshman Bank.” Having said that, students love the chance to be involved, and would surely appreciate the opportunity to vote on what the meter would be called.

The following lists just a small spectrum of all the wonderful character education elements a kindness-meter project could teach:

  • Leadership
  • Democracy
  • Charity
  • Gratitude
  • Compromise
  • Goal setting
  • How a bank account works
  • Healthy competition
  • Patience

The key is providing students with opportunities to be heard. Give them opportunities to take leadership.

So next time you are in North County San Diego, drop a few spare cents into a kindness meter and think about how you can bring the concept of opportunities for kindness to your school, classroom, and community.

Serena Pariser ([email protected]) served as a middle- and high-school English language arts teacher for 10 years, where she earned Teacher of the Year. Serena now facilitates courses in character education, is a National Evaluator for Schools of Character, presents locally at educational conferences, and was recently accepted to Botswana as a Fulbright Scholar. If you enjoyed this blog, read more of her work and receive her free e-guide at Follow her on Twitter @SerenaPariser or Facebook at


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