If you have a problem with anti-social or bullying behavior in your classroom, I urge you to consider including kindness in your back-to-school curriculum. We’ve been advocating for teaching kindness, or more specifically, social-emotional learning (SEL) to improve wellbeing, self-esteem, mental health, social connection, and academic results for years. And, these are just a few of the benefits of teaching kindness at school.
We’re very happy to see that many teachers now embrace and incorporate these concepts into their classroom curriculum. You’ll notice I said “incorporate” and that’s because SEL shouldn’t be an add-on. Teachers now have access to an array of wonderful resources that make it easy for them to switch out traditional lesson plans and worksheets for those that cover academic requirements but also build emotional intelligence.
Why Kindness Should be Taught in the Classroom
Over the years that I’ve advocated for kindness, one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard is that it’s not a teachers’ job to teach kindness at school. I’ve heard over and over that parents should be the ones to nurture positive character traits.
First, let me say that I wholeheartedly agree, but if we’re realistic, we can’t turn a blind eye to the many children who are not blessed to have positive guidance and support at home. Many kids with anti-social behavior can’t be expected to know better if their daily lives are filled with insecurity, neglect, or abuse. If we want to address the issue of bullying, then we must acknowledge, investigate, and support these kids who desperately need someone in their corner to guide them and help shape their character and behavior.
Second, apart from the fact that all kids need to learn to be kind, traditional means of curbing bullying has mostly proven ineffective because damaged kids need support, not punishment. Given the time kids spend at school and the influence that educators have, it's obvious that teachers have an opportunity to help build kids up and change the course their life may be taking.
A well-rounded education has evolved to include nurturing emotional intelligence and there is evidence to show that kindness and SEL works and CAN change the outcome for kids! Not only does it improve emotional intelligence, which by the way, is shown to be more valued than intellectual intelligence for a successful and happy life, but it helps to connect kids to make them want to help instead of hurt one another.
3 Ways to Introduce Kindness to Your Students
To create a classroom of kind students, it’s not enough to read a book about friendship or have kids complete a few worksheets. Like reading and writing, kindness is something that needs to be practiced daily to become a natural and instinctive part of who they are. And, like everything else in life, students will learn better by experiencing it.
Patty O'Grady, is an expert in neuroscience, emotional learning, and positive psychology, specializing in education. She reports that “the neuroscience and social science research is clear: kindness changes the brain by the experience of kindness. Children and adolescents do not learn kindness by only thinking about it and talking about it. Kindness is best learned by feeling it so that they can reproduce it. Kindness is an emotion that students feel and empathy is a strength that they share.”
When kids are participants, they have an opportunity to personally experience the difference kindness can make. And when kindness is woven into each of their days, it has the power to transform by making their thoughts, words, and actions positive ones.
1. Nurturing a Growth Mindset to Change Thoughts
You might have heard the phrases fixed mindset and growth mindset, coined by psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck. Carol explains someone with a fixed mindset as believing their abilities, personality traits, and basic qualities are set in stone. Whereas someone with a growth mindset believes their brain, abilities, and talents can be cultivated through effort, perseverance, and input from others.
She says that people can change their mindset from fixed to growth and when they do they behave differently.
That's why schools are particularly interested in lessons and activities that cultivate a growth mindset. They understand that opening the minds of their students can increase optimism, confidence, and resilience, which results in better grades and changes the outcome for the long-term. When kids see they are capable of more and know their brains can grow, they start to believe in themselves, which gives them a passion for learning and a willingness to try! When they're challenged, they’re not afraid of failure as they know it fuels their growth.
With a growth mindset, kids can change the dialogue in their heads. Instead of telling themselves they can’t do something or don’t like someone, they’re open to trying something new or giving someone the benefit of the doubt. This is a big step forward for those who are challenged by negative thoughts and behavior. And, those with a growth mindset are more willing to consider why someone’s being unkind, forgive them, and even be nice to them.
Encouraging a Growth Mindset
One way to encourage a growth mindset is with affirmations which are a great way to help change negative thought patterns. Affirmations are essentially positive words that are absorbed by the mind to create a belief system. The right affirmation can build self-esteem, self-belief, self-regulation, and self-awareness.
Roxanne Wilkins is the creator of Nurture Cards for Children. She has worked with schools and shares how she introduces children to affirmations.
“Introducing affirmations to young children in the classroom, provides them with such important tools for life. They help bring awareness to their thoughts, how those thoughts create their mindset, and how that mindset can effect their beliefs and behaviour.
It is a good idea to talk to your students about using affirmations so they understand what they are for and how they work. Keep it fun and encouraging.
Here are some examples of what to say...
‘Affirmations teach you new and positive ways of thinking. They can help you believe in yourself, feel happy, and help you to feel better when you are angry or sad. Let’s try them and see what we think!’
‘Affirmations encourage kind and happy ways of thinking. You will remember them when you need them most.’”
Many teachers see wonderful results using Roxanne's Nurture Cards. She says it's best to start the day by choosing an affirmation (during a morning circle is ideal) and having the class say it 3 times. You might like to have a short discussion about the affirmation and an activity that is related. If you need help, there is a teacher's guide available to assist with discussion questions and activities for each card on the website.
When students understand the idea of affirmations, have a discussion about recognising and acknowledging that there are things that most people would like to overcome or improve. Ask kids to think about the things they'd like to be better at or worries that they have and have them create their own tailored affirmation cards. These can be taken home and adhered to a mirror or wall in their bedroom for them to look at and repeat each day.
For example, if a child has low self-esteem or trouble making friends, they may write an affirmation something like this:
"I am a wonderful person capable of a lot more than I think!"
"I look forward to trying something new today."
"I will get involved in activities so I can make new friends."
Read more about affirmations here.
2. Changing the Dialogue in a Morning Circle
A positive internal dialogue encourages children to express themselves in positive ways and a morning circle provides a safe place in which to practice.
The power of classroom circles for fostering emotional intelligence, improving well-being, and creating a culture of kindness is well documented. Circles are important tools for nurturing relationships and feelings of community but can also be a platform for sharing and practicing speaking kindly, praising, and offering support.
Schools with a focus on social and emotional learning often use circles to build a positive culture to reduce bullying. Circles work because they help all children to feel loved and encouraged while creating bonds between peers. They are especially important for nurturing feelings of belonging, acceptance, and stability for troubled children.
Circles help to acknowledge and celebrate, explore and share ideas, offer encouragement, or address problems. They provide regular opportunities to develop empathy, practice respect for others, encourage mindful listening, and share appreciations and feelings of acceptance or loneliness. Children learn to communicate, discover commonalities, problem-solve, and adopt positive values and behavior.
Circles can also offer support and healing for children suffering a loss or be effective in addressing difficult or bullying behavior.
Read more about using circles here.
Promoting Kindness During Circle Time
Your morning circle is the perfect time to encourage children to report the kind behavior they've experienced or witnessed. By having them talk about the things that make them feel good, they're reminding others how they can be a good and supportive friend.
Ask about kindness that kids could give during the day and have them share something nice they've done for someone else. Talk about the good feelings that they experience when they're kind or when someone's kind to them. Ask what kindness means to them and why it's important.
Teachers can also use the opportunity to point out impressive behavior. Kids generally want to please so these small moments of praise can encourage them to look for opportunities to make their teacher proud.
3. Changing Behaviour by Participating in Acts of Kindness
When kids participate in acts of kindness, they see the results of their actions first-hand. Helping someone or doing a random act of kindness releases chemicals in the brain which produce feel-good emotions or a “helper’s high”. These good feelings can be addictive and when regularly taking part in kindness activities, kids usually find themselves wanting more of those nice feelings. They realize that being kind to their peers makes them also feel good and helps them to connect to feel part of a community.
There are a great many kindness activities that are appropriate for the classroom but perhaps the easiest thing to start with is simply pointing out good deeds whenever they occur. By regularly reminding students what kindness looks like, they're unconsciously being fed ideas for good behavior.
This could be as simple as talking about it during a morning circle as mentioned earlier or creating a Kindness Tree where students write an act of kindness they’ve given or received on a paper leaf.
Another lovely idea is to create a box where students can deposit notes about others being kind. These can be read at the end of the day or week.
A compliment has the power to make people feel noticed and good about themselves. A compliment can be an opener to a conversation or the foundation of a friendship, so this is a wonderful skill for kids to learn.
Make it a habit to compliment your students on positive traits such as good manners, kindness, hard work, perseverance, etc., and remind them to acknowledge and verbalize positive things they notice about someone too.
During circle time, ask if someone needs a pick-me-up or choose a student you know needs a lift. Go round the circle and have each child give that student a compliment. Remind kids to focus on qualities and achievement rather than appearance. The more they practice complimenting others, the sooner it will become an innate trait.
Another way to reinforce positive feedback is via our Compliment Bookmarks that you simply print for students can color in and share with their peers.
You might not think that kindness quotes have a lot of educational value but they’re a bit like affirmations in that students read positive messages that can affect the way they think, feel, and behave. The more kind words that enter their mind, the more fertile the environment for kindness to grow.
Kindness Posters with positive words hanging in the classroom provide a visual reminder of how to behave and treat other people.
There are several days or weeks during the year that are dedicated to promoting kindness. Mark them on your calendar to use to reinforce your message and consider getting the entire school involved in a kindness activity.
Kindness Days are ideal for introducing kindness challenges or making a kindness tree or quilt. At other times you might like to participate in our FREE 10 Week Kindness Challenge or use our Kindness Checklist that you can customize for your grade.
Read more about why kindness should be taught in schools here.
If you have some great ways to introduce kindness, we'd love to hear about it and share it on this post.