Creating a Culture of Kindness in School: The Key to Fighting Bullying

kindness classroom cover image
kindness classroom cover image

Almost all educators are used to teaching to the test. We explicitly teach reading comprehension, grammar, syntax, and complex math problems, as well as test-taking strategies. Nationally, one of the main focuses in education is moving students from below proficiency to proficiency and beyond. While this is admirable and necessary work, it shouldn’t be the end goal, as it only gives us a small glimpse into each child. Yes, students are gaining valuable academic skills, but what are we leaving behind to teach these skills? We need to be spending some time teaching kindness and empathy in our classrooms as well.

According to the Washington Post, hate crimes are up 17 percent this year, and they have steadily risen for the past three years. Anti-Semitism and crimes against minorities/ethnic groups have also risen for the past couple of years. As a teacher, these numbers are, unfortunately, not surprising. Any educator can tell you that the political climate is seeping into classrooms at an alarming rate. We see it every day both inside and outside our classrooms. So, what do these frightening statistics mean for me as an educator? What can we do to help lower these rates?

the importance of promoting kindness in the classroom cover image

Just like respect, kindness and empathy must be taught. We cannot assume that kids automatically know how to be kind to their classmates, or how to stand up for what they believe is right. Parents and educators need to work together to teach inclusion, cultural diversity, and empathy to those who may be different from ourselves. Instead of taking away from our teaching time, activities that promote kindness greatly support our students’ learning in the classroom. Dr. Judy Willis, a neuroscientist and educator, argues that

“When teachers use strategies to reduce stress and build a positive emotional environment, students gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently and at higher levels of cognition. Brain imaging studies support this relationship.”

Yes, it may seem like you are taking away valuable teaching time, but I promise that these activities will help in the long run.

How do we promote and explicitly teach kindness in the classroom? Below are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Model kindness and empathy in your interactions with colleagues and in your interactions with students. Children are sponges and pick up on EVERYTHING. It’s actually quite frightening at times.
  • Celebrate World Kindness Day or devote an entire week to Random Acts of Kindness
  • Participate in a school-wide Kindness Challenge. The Middle School Kindness Challenge has lots of wonderful lesson plans and activities that spread cyber-kindness, strengthen peer relationships, develop positive mindsets, and foster student empathy. There are similar challenges available for elementary and high schools. These lessons do a great job of promoting teamwork and emphasizing wellness in students’ lives.

As our news channels continue to be bombarded with differing opinions and horrific acts of violence, it becomes even more important for us to discuss how we can combat these problems. Lessons on kindness should be given equal playing time. As teachers, we vow to educate the whole child and this is just another fantastic opportunity for us to do so.

Culture of kindness

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Abigail Courter is a fifth year music teacher at a K-8 private school in California.  She has taught general music, band, music technology, and performing arts.

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