“You clearly have the capacity to be kind,” my 5th grade daughter’s principal reads from his moving up ceremony speech. “Yes!” I wanted to stand up and cheer. Kindness is a capacity, a skill, that we can cultivate and strengthen through practice. Children learn early on the value of kind thinking and actions through watching and mimicking others. So if kindness is a capacity we can cultivate, then how might we grow kindness in schools?
First, growing kindness in schools requires deliberate action on the part of the adults leading the school. When listening to the principal’s speech I didn’t just hear a school leader wishing the children luck as they moved up to middle school. I heard a principal encouraging young people to believe that kind behavior has a powerful positive effect: “Continue to take good care of one another, it will take you farther than you can imagine.”
Growing kindness in schools takes leaders who prioritize it’s cultivation and ensure it becomes a central part of the school’s culture. Before this can begin to happen, school leaders must believe that practicing kind thinking and behavior can benefit their students just as much as reading, writing and math practice. When we put school leaders in charge who not only focus on growing students’ academic capacities but their social-emotional and relational capacities such as kindness, we begin to see school culture shift from a competitive-me focused to a cooperative-we focused. This shift is important if we want children to become up-standers. Also, this shift in school culture is important in nurturing ethical behavior.
Growing kindness is not some nice idea that we put aside when we want children to achieve. Becoming a kind person is an achievement worthy in and of itself. As we grow kindness for ourselves and others, we become more resilient, more hopeful, happier, and able to handle stress and anxiety more easily. Our children need to learn how to engage with others with whom they may disagree or see as different than them. Growing kindness helps us view everyone as humans who just like us want to be happy and (you fill in the blank). We can treat people kindly without agreeing with them or condoning their unfriendly behavior. Growing kindness supports our common humanity which supports a more compassionate and inclusive community. I have become an advocate for prioritizing the growing of kindness in schools. Are you with me?
Here are some ways schools and parents can support growing kindness in schools:
- Hire school leaders and teachers who prioritize cultivating kind thinking and actions. These leaders and teachers can be seen modeling and teaching a kind mindset through their interactions with each other, with their students, and how they support students’ positive relationships. This mindset should be supported through professional development. Click here to read my post about developing caring relationships in schools.
- Parents, if your child’s teacher exemplifies this priority, write a note to the principal sharing the impact it has had on your child. This positive feedback supports the prioritization.
- Schools can use curriculum specifically focused on growing kindness. Random Acts of Kindness Foundation and Action for Happiness has tool kits and resources. They can integrate elements of these resources into daily lessons and units. (Keep an eye out for a blog post about this specifically.)
- Classrooms can create their own kindness calendars as a way to practice skills on a daily basis. Practicing kindness is like going to the gym. We build muscle memory and these behaviors become integrated into our neural circuitry.
- Middle and High Schools can join programs for support like the Making Caring Common Project that has teamed up with the KIND Foundation to create the KIND Schools Challenge.
- Schools can team up with parent organizations like the PTA to create a #GrowKindness initiative. The PTA can support parents’ efforts to grow kindness in their families, bringing the school-home connection (worthy of it’s own blog post).
- Create a Kindness Wall. Each school can designate a space, have some art students draw a mural and provide access to sticky notes where kids post acts of kindness they witnessed, received or enacted. These notes can be shared on the school’s and PTA’s social media pages to highlight and promote this practice.
There are numerous ways schools can grow kindness. There’s not one right way, but there is a CHOICE. I was inspired by my daughter’s principal’s speech. It showed all the parents attending the moving up ceremony that this administrator has chosen to grow kindness in his school. I am excited for my son’s experience when he enters this school next year. And I plan to do as much as I can to support this principal’s efforts.
May we as parents, as teachers and as school leaders
find the courage and motivation
to work together in choosing to grow kindness in our schools.