A staple of every school that I have taught in is the staff farewell session on the final day. Last year was no different. As the speeches started rolling in, one theme emerged and that was the theme of kindness and acknowledgement. It was great to acknowledge our peers who helped us and learnt with us but the ‘feel good’ factor was how kind and generous everyone was.
It made me think about the role of kindness in schools. Am I kind? What does that actually mean? How does that look in practice? Is kindness only talking to everyone softly? Is it just being concerned for someone when they are in your class or in front of you? Can we tap into kindness to help our wards become better learners? In the current climate and during these difficult times, instilling kindness is of the utmost importance but it all starts with you.
‘There are always better ways to deal with situations than criticism or just ignorance.’
Establish a relationship through kindness
Do we show kindness to students during their times of distress? Especially when they have not got that concept for the umpteenth time whilst the class has moved on or when they have forgotten their homework or equipment or so on. Yes, there is a need to teach them discipline, but remember forgetting a few times in the bigger scheme of things is not important. Even when you have a persistent behavioural issue, often kindness in the face of adversity can help that child become more empathetic, even though they might not show that at the time.
As Dr Stanley Greenspan (The Science of Floortime) suggests, empathy comes often when children are empathised with. Below are some direct benefits of being kind to children, according to the Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Foundation:
- Increased social and emotional skills in test situations (e.g. self-control, decision-making, communication and problem-solving skills).
- More positive attitudes toward self and others (e.g. self-concept, self-esteem, pro-social attitudes toward aggression, and liking and feeling connected to school).
- More positive social behaviours (e.g. daily behaviours related to getting along with and cooperating with others).
- Fewer conduct problems (e.g. aggression, disruptiveness).
- Lower levels of emotional distress (i.e. anxiety, depressive symptoms).
- Better academic performance (11 to 17 percentile points on student achievement test scores) – (Durlak et al., 2011).
What about our staff?
Lest we forget, the other main body in schools – staff. It is equally important to be kind to them and often this is quite difficult. I am sure there have been times when we all haven’t been as kind as we could to a colleague. Some of you might think tough love can’t be avoided at times – maybe – but there are always better ways to deal with situations than criticism or just ignorance. Often forgiving someone’s mistake is good leadership and it may be that they have punished themselves in their head countless times. We often don’t compliment people enough as it is much easier to pick on things they do wrong. As I tell my colleagues, you might do 99 things right but that one thing you do wrong often gets stuck in people’s head – don’t let it get stuck in yours. Care about your own well-being too. Don’t criticise yourself if you do things wrong.
Remember, we all are not perfect.
Is there a need for kindness or empathy training in schools?
Perhaps but there is a great deal more to gain through role modelling kindness both to students and staff from the top down. Not only will this create a better work environment but it will make you personally feel better and that surely is not a bad thing. Some practical suggestions for student-level (the staff I leave to you):
- Make an effort to recognise kind behaviour in and out of school – acknowledge when you see gestures such as sharing their lunch with others or picking up that football at the end of lunch and putting it back or helping your parents with the shopping.
- Accept homework if it is late – do accept the ‘my Internet connection wasn’t working’ reason.
- Keep spare equipment/resources handy.
- NEVER show your frustration in front of them especially for your own failure in making them understand.
- Praise them for their effort – celebrate it – no matter what the quality – it will improve.
I am sure you all can think of countless others. Feel free to tweet them at me (@KSThakral).
Durlak JA et al. (2011) The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta- analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development 82(1): 405-32.