It was a simple idea thought up by a 6th grade teacher while on a bike ride, but it sparked a national movement.
In 2012, 6th grade teacher Eric Johnson noticed increasing meanness among his students. He wanted to rebuild the community his classroom had once enjoyed, but did not want to stand in front of the room and give one more lecture on bullying. Instead, he let his students take the lead.
On a sleepy Monday, as the students began their work, Johnson cleared the whiteboard and showed a video on how to stand up against bullying. The following morning, he wrote one word on the board: meanness.
As the week progressed, Johnson and his students watched more videos and had open discussions, led by the students, about how our words can affect others and define them, as well as ourselves. Together they brainstormed words that could erase meanness and replace it with kindness. At the end of the final day, the whiteboard was filled with a rainbow of kind words, all student written, surrounding the big question “How Do You Want to Be Remembered?”
Following this lesson, Johnson blogged the impact it had in his classroom and the idea spread like wildfire. Teachers around the country adapted the lesson for their own students and within two years, an entire website had been dedicated to the cause of erasing meanness. Today, people from countries all over the world can participate in Worldwide Erase Meanness Pledge Day on September 16th, joining with thousands of others to stand against meanness and stand up for kindness.
To get the full impact of this lesson, visit Johnson’s blog, which he still keeps up today, offering insights and tips for education.
Here is what I love about this activity:
1. It is easy to do regardless of location or budget. The videos are a wonderful addition to the lesson, but the whiteboard activity alone is impactful.
2. It provides an alternative to bullying. We often teach children not to bully and not to be mean, but sometimes we forget to provide them with alternative behavior. Choosing not to bully can stop meanness, but acting with intentional kindness can change lives.
3. It encourages children to draw a connection between their words and the effect of those words in a tangible and unique way. Students are constantly told to be nice, not to bully, and to stand up for one another. However, as we all know, regardless of how important a topic is, once you’ve heard it 100 times, you begin to tune it out, and even become annoyed that you are being forced to hear it one more time. But this lesson is different. In this lesson, the children take an active role in defining meanness, as well as defining kindness. They physically walk up to the board and replace mean words with kind ones. They can visibly see how small actions of both kindness and meanness can quickly add up to create an entire atmosphere of either negativity or positivity.
4. It provides a visual reminder that small words can add up to have a big impact. I think we have a tendency to believe that our words don’t matter that much. We all know that words matter in a conceptual way, but too often forget this in practice. Most of us would never berate someone to their face or outright “bully”, but we don’t always keep track of all our words throughout the day. How often have we called someone an idiot or a jerk? How often have we been short with a cashier? How often have we ranted about another person without taking the time to consider their perspective? You might say, “But they never heard what I said!”, but with each word of meanness, you are training yourself to not think the best of others. You are attaching those negative words to that person. What may have seemed like a minor slip of rudeness to you could have been the final straw in someone’s awful day or terrible self-perception. I think that this lesson created for children can also have a huge impact on adults.
5. It is age-adaptable. As soon as children can speak, they learn words that are both kind and unkind. If they cannot write yet, write the words for them, or have magnetic pictures representing words that they can manipulate.
6. Not every mean word was erased. As much as we would like to believe that meanness and bullying can be completely eradicated, it just isn’t true, and we need to prepare our children for this reality. However, as Eric states in his blog, “… kindness and caring can overwhelm the unkind.”
Sometimes it is the simplest lessons that have the most profound impact, and I believe this lesson definitely fits in that category. The fact that this idea started with one man and has blossomed and spread into a national campaign is a testament in itself to the fact that one person can make difference!
If you love this lesson as much as I do, visit Erasemeanness.org to find the full lesson plan and accompanying resources. You can also join over 30,000 others and pledge to #EraseMeanness today!
The question we'd like you to answer in the comments is:
For another way to open discussion on bullying and meanness with young children, check out our latest release, This is A. Blob.
This is A. Blob is a masterfully illustrated picture book suitable for children ages 4-8. This is A. Blob is the first of a series following the antics of A. Blob, a slimy, purple, blob-like creature who wreaks havoc on the elementary school playground with its bullying ways. As the story progresses, however, readers learn that there may be more to A. Blob than meets the eye. Along with its powerful illustrations and rhymed verse for early readers, this story invites children to put themselves in the shoes of another. The book encourages readers to consider why bullies behave the way they do – and start to consider what can be done to help
About Laughing Leopard Press
Hello! We are Laughing Leopard Press, an independent book publisher from Akron, Ohio. At Laughing Leopard Press, we’re interested in publishing works that contribute to our understanding of this wonderful world. Through this blog, we hope to add to that understanding with commentary on life, literature, and a few things in between. We hope you enjoy the blog and take some time to talk with us in the comments or on our social media sites. Happy reading!
This is A. Blob by L. A Kefalos. $14.95
$1.00 is donated to charity for each book sold on this site--half to St. Jude's and the other half to PetFix Northeast Ohio.