Interviewer: Nadine Marshall,Year 2000
Debbie Riopel is a teacher, life coach and personal historian. Since 1994, Debbie has been promoting Random Acts of Kindness Week in Edmonton and area. She is also Co-Founder of the Canadian Kindness Movement and World Kindness Movement and has been promoting World Kindness Day since 2000.
Update since interview:
The Canadian Kindness Movement merges with KindActs.
Debbie completes her Faces of Kindness World Tour and joins KindActs in British Columbia.
Why is kindness important?
Kindness is the universal language of the heart that bonds us as human beings - bringing hope and understanding in our connections and ultimately leading us to a more peaceful world.
What would a kinder school look/feel/sound like?
You would see people helping each other, working together, smiling, laughing and playing together. There would be a feeling of safety, belonging and happiness. You would hear phrases like "Do you want to play with me at recess? Will you be my partner? Would you like some help?"
How long have you been involved in the kindness movement in schools?
My sister, Colleen Ring, and myself have been promoting Random Acts of Kindness Week in schools since 1995.
How has the kindness movement in schools grown since you first started?
We started off promoting and practicing kindness in our own classrooms. When we received the support of our colleagues and principals, we were then able to expand our reach to district schools. With the support of the Alberta Teachers Association, the Edmonton Community Foundation and corporate partnerships, we now reach, on a yearly basis, 30,000 teachers in Alberta with kindness programming ideas.
What were some of the key milestones in reaching this level of success?
- In 1995, the Edmonton Community Foundation supported us in spreading the message of kindness by sponsoring posters, bookmarks and promotional tools. Also in 1995, the Mayor of St. Albert proclaimed Random Acts of Kindness Week (RAK Week) and in 1996, the Mayor of Edmonton proclaimed RAK Week.
- In 1997, the Alberta Teachers Association came on board, enabling us to reach 30,000 teachers in Alberta with a RAK Week newspaper supplement. This supplement is now produced on a yearly basis and provides teachers with the inspiration and ideas for implementing kindness activities in the classroom, school and community.
- Starting in 1997, and running for three consecutive years, the Edmonton Journal, Epcor and Royal Bank held a kindness story charity contest. The way that the contest works is that the writer of the winning kindness story gets to choose which charity will be the recipient of the $10,000 prize.
- Presentations at teaching conferences such as the Safe and Caring School Conference also presented us with a valuable venue for promoting kindness.
What prompted/inspired you to start a kindness program?
In 1994 a random act of violence took the life of a young mother and left our community searching for meaning and justice. Wanting to provide children with hope and an empowering way of responding to this crisis, my sister Colleen was inspired to develop the Kids for Kindness program. The program not only inspired children but also parents and teachers and won the Hilroy Fellowship in 1995. Colleen then received the Random Acts of Kindness book published by Conari Press as a gift and wrote away to the publishers for kindness posters and ideas.
What are some key steps to implementing a kindness in the school program?
Create a Climate For Kindness
You may want to begin by creating a climate for kindness so that there is a framework for your program. A simple way of getting started is to:
- Establish a classroom rule, like "be kind to others". You can use this rule to stimulate discussion and understanding of what being kind means and the impact it has on people.
- Establish a kindness pledge or creed. These can be created as a group or the teacher may choose to compose several options and have the kids choose their favourite.
Example of a pledge from St. Vladimir School in Edmonton:
I pledge to myself, on this day,
To try to be kind, in every way.
To every person, big and small,
I will help them if they fall.
When I love myself and others, too,
That is the best that I can do!
Example of a creed:
We will cheer people up,
Help others when they are hurt,
Share with others,
Use good manners,
Ask others to play,
Greet others with a smile,
Be a good friend and
Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Communicate with Parents
Once you have created the climate for kindness, another important step is to communicate with the students' parents so that they can reinforce the learning and encourage the kindness habit at home. You can include information and invite participation through a school newsletter or letter sent home to the students' parents.
The next step is to encourage action. Kindness activities can be implemented in the classroom, school and community. A simple example of a classroom activity is building a kindness tree where kind deeds are written up on a paper ornament and hung on a tree. A school-wide project may involve declaring the school a Kindness Zone. People entering the School Kindness Zone may be greeted with candies and kindness quotes and drawings posted on the walls. You could also start up a kindness club devoted to community service projects. A highly successful model of such a club is the Seize the Day Club, which was voted number one by students, over sports and other clubs, at the Richard Fowler Junior High School in St. Albert, Alberta.
For project ideas suitable for different grade levels, click here
When do you perform these activities?
Our main focus is Random Acts of Kindness Week, although we like to encourage kind action all year long.
What changes in behaviour or school atmosphere have you noticed since the implementation of your kindness programs?
As the kids have a chance to practice kindness, their level of understanding deepens. The school climate seems friendlier, more hopeful and proactive. In a project called the Kindness Keeper, a project which encourages kids to pay attention to and record acts of kindness they experienced on the playground, there was a noticeable shift in the types of games kids chose to engage in. Games tended to be more inclusive.
Parents have also reported changes in behaviour at home. They notice their kids making more of an effort to get along.
What are some of the challenges you faced in your kindness career?
As a teacher, it has been an interesting and exciting journey. On the whole, kindness programs have been well received by parents, administrators, school districts and students. While they do require extra planning, it is well worth the effort.
As a founding member of the Canadian Kindness Movement, I feel that there is so much more that I would like to see happen but lack the time and resources necessary to implement these ideas.
What keeps you going?
Ghandi's words, "Be the change you want to see in the world" have always been a source of strength and inspiration to me. There have also been many highlights along the way that have kept me motivated to continue this work.
I have been inspired by:
- how our communities have embraced the concept of kindness and how quickly the kindness movement has grown
- the power of kindness in bringing people together
- my involvement with the World Kindness Movement and its Conferences (the pre-Conference Meeting for WKM in Alberta in 1999; the invitation to attend the Small Kindness Movement in Japan in 1996, the launch of the first Singapore Kindness Week in 1998)
- having RAK Week proclaimed by the Mayors of our communities
- winning the International Woman's Day Award in St. Albert and the Women of Vision Award through ITV in Edmonton
- the opportunity to participate in UNESCO's 1998 Living Values Program in Oxford, England, along with 93 delegates from around the world
- participating in KindActs' millennium North American Cycling for Kindness journey by hosting a Cycling for Kindness Conference in Edmonton.
- networking with new members who want to join the kindness network
What advice or tips would you give a teacher starting a kindness program?
Jump in. It is worth the effort. How people interact in the community of your class ripples out to the wider community and to the future...
What's next for you and the kindness movement in schools?
I would like to continue to improve the web site with more interactive components, ideas and down-loadable materials so that I can support teachers in their kindness activities.
What's your dream for the kindness movement generally?
I would like to see more communities involved in the national and global kindness network. I would also like to be involved in hosting a World Kindness Conference with our KindActs colleagues in Vancouver.