Our kids are coming to school this school year from a world driven by polarization, aggression, lack of civility, and bullying, among other ills. All the more reason to inject more kindness into the classroom day. Kindness is an instinct that is found in babies, but it needs stimulation from the environment to grow and mature. Here are some simple tips at the beginning of the school year to bring more kindness into your classroom:
- Model compassion in your own teaching. If you’re telling your class to be nice to each other and meanwhile you’re blowing up at them for not following school rules or classroom instructions, then you’re sending them a double message. It doesn’t take much to model kindness. Simply show concern for your students. Ask them how they are, if they’re getting enough sleep, if they had a bad night last night, if they have any great plans for the weekend. And when you do feel like you want to criticize or scold, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are the number one learner in the classroom and need to be an example for all the other learners.
- Consider bringing a pet into the classroom. Pets naturally evoke feelings of caring and compassion from students. For some kids, they might represent the one thing they look forward to most in coming to school. Set up routines where students can take care of the pets, feed them, change their cages, and keep track of their welfare. Then, at some point, you might point out that we all deserve the kind of kindness and care that we give our furry friends. To set up a program, contact Pets in the Classroom, which offers grants to purchase and support animals in school.
- Engage students in community service projects. This is a great way to expand your students’ sense of caring to a wider circle of people. Projects might include: canned-food drives for a local pantry, fund-raising to support the building of wells in third world countries, regular visits to elders in nursing homes, or community-wide ecological projects such as a clean-up-the-highway campaign. These projects often integrate very well with the curriculum as kids write, read, calculate, and collaborate to make significant positive changes in the lives of others.
- Have regular class discussions. Communication is key in showing kindness to others. And a classroom that has regular whole-class discussions to start off the day, or to arbitrate difficult issues, gives students a chance to deliver positive and caring statements to fellow classmates. This can be a place where students address key issues like bullying, teasing, racial bias, and other uncivil practices. They can also support fellow classmates who may be having a hard time (one strategy is called ”strengths bombardment” where everyone in class thinks of a positive thing to say about a selected student, and then ”bombards” him with kindness!
- Practice affirmations and visualizations of kindness toward others. Many mindfulness programs also have kindness initiatives connected to them, and one key strategy is to have periods in the school day when students send out compassionate thoughts to their classmates, others in school, and beyond to the community, state, country, and world. One simple formula, directed outward is: ”May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be peaceful.” Picturing acts of kindness towards others can translate into kind behaviors.
- Put into place a ”random acts of kindness” program in your classroom. Invite your students to do simple things during the school day that show kindness to others: smiling to brighten the day of a friend, helping a student clean up after a project, sitting with a student who is often shunned at lunch, telling a classmate how nice their new hairdo or outfit is. For more information on setting up a kindness program, go to the website Random Acts of Kindness. For an entire curriculum for preschoolers designed around kindness and mindfulness, click here.
There’s a kindness crisis in our achievement-oriented culture,and teachers need to meet this challenge by considering kindness as important or more important than doing well on tests and homework assignments. Research suggests that kindness and compassion are associated with positive outcomes such as greater feelings of well-being and higher levels of popularity. Every child deserves to feel cared for during the school day, and following these tips can help make every student’s day a positive one.
For more information on programs and projects in the schools designed to encourage compassion and kindness, as well as ideas for supporting mindfulness in the schools, read my book, Thomas Armstrong, Mindfulness in the Classroom: Strategies for Promoting Concentration, Compassion, and Calm (ASCD).