By Naomi Drew, M.A., author of Create a Culture of Kindness in Elementary School.
As teachers, we are charged with one of the most important tasks of all: shaping the futures of young people. It’s more important than ever to make our classrooms places of respect, decency, hope, and possibility. All of this begins with kindness.
Integrating the teaching of kindness into our daily plans can be pretty simple. In fact, the process of fostering kindness can inspire and lift us up.
Begin by emphasizing that our words and actions create ripples touching the lives of everyone we know: family, friends, schoolmates, and more. Words of kindness generate more kindness. Hurtful words generate more hurt. In a single moment, we can brighten someone’s day or darken it. We get to choose.
One of our most famous peacemakers, Mohandas Gandhi, also known as Mahatma, once said, “If we are to reach real peace in the world . . . we shall have to begin with children.” The kids we teach today will grow up to be the adults of this world. If we foster compassion, kindness, and respect, hopefully our kids will bring these qualities with them as they go out into the world.
Kindness not only benefits our culture, it also benefits us personally. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Social Psychology cites a direct correlation between kind acts and increased happiness. With each act of kindness we perform, the happier we become. The same goes for kindness to ourselves and kind acts we observe. Every act of kindness counts.
Acts of kindness change the brain. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Being kind boosts serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters in the brain that give you feelings of satisfaction and well-being.” Endorphins, our body’s natural painkillers, are also released through acts of kindness. How wonderful to know that something as simple as kindness has so many benefits!
We can foster kindness in our kids by showing how much we value it ourselves. Don’t wait! Get started now.
Here are seven simple ways you can integrate kindness into your teaching.
1. Start Every Day with a Message of Hope and Kindness
Tell your kids how happy you are to see them. Let them know that their presence makes a positive difference in your life. Tell them that our world is a better place because they are in it.
2. Model, Teach, and Expect Kindness
Share these guidelines with your kids and use them yourself:
- Use put-ups rather than put-downs.
- Choose kindness over meanness every minute, every day.
- Show kindness through words, actions, gestures, and intentions.
- Remember that it’s cooler to be kind.
These guidelines apply to how we treat ourselves too. Kindness to others starts with kindness to ourselves. Get that critical voice out of your head! Replace it with a voice that’s reassuring, kind, and accepting.
3. Teach Your Kids to Be Kindness Detectives
Be on the lookout for kindness and compliment your kids for kind acts. Together, brainstorm acts of kindness they can look for: helpfulness, good listening, willingness to share, words of affirmation. What else? Encourage your kids to not only notice these things, but to offer compliments accordingly.
4. Brainstorm Kindness Role Models
Kindness role models can be people we know or people we’ve learned about through films, books, or the internet. How did each person demonstrate kindness? How can we follow their example? Talk about it, write about it, lock it in your brain.
5. Give Kindness Homework
Write a short note or text thanking someone for a kind act.
Do an anonymous act of kindness for someone. Afterward, write a paragraph describing what you did, how it felt, and any reaction you observed from the recipient.
Write about a story character who shows kindness, generosity, empathy, or inclusiveness. What can you do to be like them?
Set a kindness goal for yourself. How can you be more kind in the next twenty-four hours? Write it down. At the end of twenty-four hours, write about how it made you feel.
6. Teach Your Students That Listening Respectfully Is an Important Act of Kindness
Feeling truly heard is a rare gift. Poet John Fox expresses this beautifully: “When someone deeply listens to you it is like holding out a dented cup you’ve had since childhood and watching it fill up with cold, fresh water.” We can do this for each other by following these guidelines:
- Look directly at the speaker.
- Focus on what the other person is saying rather than what you want to say next.
- Resist the urge to interrupt. Take a deep breath when you want to jump in.
- Reflect back what the other person says. For example, say, “Sounds like you really enjoyed _______. I’d like to hear more about ________.”
Give your kids a copy of these guidelines and have them practice good listening with someone at home. Remind your kids that listening intently makes people feel valued, and what could be kinder than that?
7. Share Kindness Memories
Have your kids write about a special memory of kindness—kind words or actions they received or offered to someone else. Have your kids create new kindness memories for people in their lives.
Encourage your kids to keep kindness going day after day, year after year. Remind them that they will one day be the adults of this world. What they learn now will shape the people they become.
As the United States’ first National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, said in her inspiring poem “The Hill We Climb,” “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” Each time we are kind, we are the light, and we spread it. What a special privilege it is to bring the light of kindness into our classrooms.
Bonus! Download a kindness activity called “Coach Poggi’s Golden Rule.”
Naomi Drew, M.A., is the award-winning author of eight books. She is recognized around the world for her work in conflict resolution, peacemaking, and anti-bullying. Her work has been instrumental in introducing the skills of peacemaking into public education and has been recognized by educational leaders throughout the world. Naomi has served as a consultant to school districts, parent groups, and civic organizations and headed up the New Jersey State Bar Foundation’s Conflict Resolution Advisory Panel for nine years, training K–12 trainers to develop more harmonious schools. She lives in New Jersey.
Free Spirit books by Naomi Drew:
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