Image of a kindness tree and positive note in the playground. Tips to help you nurture a culture of kindness at your school.

We're so fortunate to have several kindness days and weeks throughout the year that help highlight the importance of teaching kindness in schools. While these days are amazing for prompting educators, kindness and giving are values that should be integrated into the culture of every school, every day!

To help you instill kindness as a natural and instinctive trait, we asked educators, who have very successfully made kindness the norm in their schools, to share their top tips.

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  • From Principals

As a principal, how do you inspire your staff to be role models of kindness in your school?

Most importantly we talk about kindness and teaching kindness. We work to model kindness for the students we serve.

At the beginning of the year, the entire staff took a positivity pledge. We talked about it and signed it. Basically, we pledged to speak in the positive about everyone we encounter in our daily work and life and celebrate the greatness they bring.

A positivity pledge by staff at Ben Franklin Elementary School

This was the first step I took with my new staff this year. I felt we needed to start within. To model what our expectations were for our students.

We have also spent a lot of time speaking about manners. I wrote a post in the weekly newsletter to parents about using good manners and kindness. 

From this, some teachers have really worked on emphasizing and reminding students to use good manners. One staff member takes time out of her lunch time to go into the cafeteria and remind the students of the basics like saying please and thank you. 

Food drive for day of service at Ben Franklin Elementary School

What are your top 3 tips for motivating staff to build a kind culture?

  • Talk about it every day. Shout it out. Publicize it.
    We do a #KindnessMatters announcement each morning. Staff or students can submit a form that shares something kind that someone did for someone else to make the day better for that person or the world better around them.
  • Recognise and celebrate kindness days
    Although we want every day to share kindness we must remind staff of important days like World Kindness Day and Random Acts of Kindness Day. This calls more attention to kindness and building a culture of kindness. This year, on MLK Jr. Day, instead of a day off from school, we are doing a Day On for Service. One activity is putting food packages together for those in need. We are sending more notes to our troops, Valentines for Seniors, and community clean up.
  • Acknowledge and share acts of kindness
    When I see a student do something extraordinary I make sure that I make a call or talk to the parent of that child. I put it in our newsletters and on social media. I make sure that the world sees the goodness and kindness in our students. We have a lot of kids who are already community and global aware and they are doing really amazing things. We should make sure they are recognized in order to ensure that others see the good and want to do good also.

Jay Billy, Principal of Ben Franklin Elementary School


As a principal, how do you inspire your staff to be role models of kindness in your school?

As a building leader, one of our most important jobs is to drive the culture of the school. It’s creating a positive culture that energizes and inspires everyone in the school, supporting relationships and collaboration, empowering all members of our school community to learn and grow. Jon Gordon says, “Culture is not just one thing; it’s everything. Culture drives expectations and beliefs.” As the Principal, it is our responsibility to continuously encourage and foster this positive culture, especially one grounded in kindness.

Joe Sanfellipo says that every 30 second interaction is the ability to build up or break down the culture. I strive to model kindness so that staff, too, want to act with kindness in every interaction; whether it be with one another, students, parents, or visitors.

Ongoing positive communication with families solidifies the partnership between school and home! Our staff is encouraged to make at least 5 positive connections by the end of every week! Whether it be a positive phone call, or a positive postcard, we provide several ways to make this an attainable goal!

*Our teachers can fill out positive office referrals and an administrator will make a good news call of the day to the parents! Students have their photo taken and receive a bracelet! Their photo goes up on the "wall of fame" in the main lobby!

JFK Elementary student bulletin board

Especially when our students are away from school for extended periods of time (Winter Break and Spring Break), our staff are sure to guarantee that every student receives positive words of affirmation from their teachers!

First impressions and positive relationships with our families are just as impactful to a school’s culture! Reflect on your school's welcome process for new families. In their book The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, Chip and Dan Heath discuss the impact of defining moments that we remember and look back on. Waking up on the first day of Kindergarten and seeing a yard sign welcoming them as students in our school certainly resonated positively with our families and community!

JFK Elementary sign welcoming future kinder students

Creating a positive school climate, and one rooted in kindness, is ongoing. I strive to incorporate a variety of morale-boosting activities throughout the year to show our appreciation and gratitude to our hard-working staff and foster a school environment that’s energetic, positive and fun. It’s people, not programs, that make great schools. Get to know your staff and personalize your anchors of appreciation.

I start the year by asking our staff to fill out a survey with questions that help us get to know our staff, such as their favorite coffee, favorite candy or snack, and the name/address of someone special in their lives. I use this information individualize tokens of appreciation throughout the year.

JFK Elementary personalised cards to teachers' loved ones

The simplest thing a principal can do to create more powerful moments for staff is to recognize them more frequently. Looking for a great bucket-filler that will have a lasting impact on your school’s culture? Consider writing cards to your staff members’ loved ones, expressing your gratitude for their presence at your school. This past holiday season, Christmas cards went out, including a photo of the staff member working with children.

I’ve been surprising my staff with Fabulous Fridays in February for the past few years 

Flyer inviting teachers for a coffee from JFK Elementary

Lattes on Location:
We surprised our staff with a ‘coffee on location’ company, who brought all the equipment needed to brew coffees and smoothies for our staff! We put a menu in each staff members’ mailbox the day before & had some student leaders deliver the drinks to our wonderful staff on a Friday morning!

During the month of February, we not only plan events each week that will create a joyful school and learning environment, but we also challenge staff to partake in a kindness challenge!

JFK Elementary Staff Kindness Challenge

Kindness Challenge:
February 11th-17th happened to be “Random Acts of Kindness Week” so I challenged the staff to a Kindness Challenge (another amazing idea shared on the Facebook group!) — I challenged staff to complete these simple, kind acts that would make our students’ and colleagues’ days just a bit brighter!

How does the Kindness Challenge work, you ask? 
► Complete a challenge – mark it off on the challenge sheet
Each challenge completed earns a TICKET in the raffle
Earn an extra ticket for each challenge that is completed & shared on social media with the challenge hashtag

WINNER of the raffle……earns a HALF DAY OFF!
And another amazing opportunity for me to sub in the classroom for the winning teacher.

JFK Elementary Soup Bar Flyer

Soup Bar:
Another Fabulous Friday in February idea was a SOUP bar. We worked with our cafeteria manager to order 10 different types of soups  to include in our soup bar, as well as crackers, shredded cheese, croutons, and rolls. I solicited the help from our staff, asking for anyone who would be willing to lend their crock-pot from home to make this luncheon idea happen! We set up in the morning, let the soups cook on low all day and facilitated the clean up, including delivering the washed crock pots back to those who lent us theirs from home!

JFK-Elementary-Starbucks-Voucher
JFK-Elementary-Goose-Pass

Giveaways:
We also had a giveaway extravaganza! Every staff members’ name was entered into an hourly drawing to raffle off prizes, including a Starbucks treat from your administrator, a Sleep-In pass, a GOOSE (get out of school early), and the chance to use a reserved parking spot for a week.

JFK Elementary Kindness Tree

We also create a Kindness tree in the main lobby of the school to inspire our students to brainstorm ways they can be kind friends & spread kindness. This year, our school will be signing up for the The Great Kindness Challenge (school edition) where we will grow our culture of kindness with our student body!

Trusting relationships are the foundation of a positive school culture, rooted in kindness.
When a culture of kindness permeates the schoolhouse, it makes it a pretty amazing place to work and learn!

What are your top 3 tips for motivating staff to build a kind culture?

  • People first, then programs
  • Relationships, relationships, relationships
  • Model what you expect

Melissa Kartsimas, Principal at John F. Kennedy Elementary

The Ripple Kindness Project school curriculum book with a kindness card and resources with copy explaining what it is.
  • From a Counselor

As a counselor, how do you inspire your children to model kindness and caring at school?

I think that the best way to inspire kindness, beyond modeling it, is to teach it. Kindness begins with empathy; empathy gives kindness its why. So we begin at the beginning, by teaching students, staff, and stakeholders about what empathy is, why it's important, and how to show it.

Check out the work of empathy experts like Michele Borba or Daniel Goleman and you'll see that kind acts start with empathy, which, when elevated, mobilizes compassion, which is the desire to co-suffer and/or alleviate another's suffering then becomes actionable as a kindness. It's important that this not be a one and done ("We already taught them that ... or ... they should know better. ") but rather that empathy, compassion, and kindness become a lifestyle and be woven into the very fabric of the culture and climate of the school.

What are your top 3 tips for incorporating kindness into the classroom and schoolyard?

  • Model it
    Show students and staff what you're looking for with your every interaction. Smile. Delight in their presence. Make sure stakeholders can feel the love in your caring climate.
  • Provide opportunities for moral action
    Actively seek out service-learning opportunities. Practice mindfulness, which is known to elevate empathy and promote compassion and kindness. Encourage service outside of school, in the home and in the community.
  • Affirm and celebrate each kindness
    What we appreciate, appreciates! And people who feel appreciated will do more than you'd ever expect of them. Kindness is contagious and it's a boomerang. Savor the moments when it comes back your way!

- Barbara Gruener, Retired Counsellor & Author

Book cover "UnSelfie" Why Empathic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. Michele Borba
  • From a Teacher
As a teacher, how do you inspire your children to model kindness and caring at school?

There are a multitude of ways to inspire kindness at school! It starts with deliberate words and actions. Greeting students with a smile or a hug is a great way to start the day. Taking time to listen shows that their words matter to you. Value their time and efforts by praising not simply their final accomplishments, but their determination and perseverance along the way.

We have Kindness Journals where we jot down kind things we see or do. Share your stories of kindness and make it a natural part of your daily discussions. By prioritizing kindness, you will start to see a shift in perspective from your students as they put good back into the world with their words and actions.

What are your top 3 tips for incorporating kindness into the classroom and schoolyard? 
A note that says "You are love" with blue and red hearts hanging in a playground.
  • Lead by Example
    If we want to see kindness around us, we need to cultivate it ourselves. Students will often take our lead, especially as they navigate the complexities of social interactions. Share kindness with students, staff, and community members and spotlight those moments you see when others take the lead. This will reinforce expectations and help create a culture of kindness at your school.
  • Share Ideas
    Have mini-brainstorming sessions of ways we can share kindness with others. Sometimes the simplest acts, such as smiling at others or inviting someone to play at recess, can have a huge impact on someone else. Create a checklist or mark off a bingo card of kind actions for accountability and inspiration.
  • Surround Yourself With Kindness
    Take a look around your school or classroom. Are there inspiring posters or uplifting references about the power of kindness? Who do you spend your time with - thoughtful thinkers or negative naysayers? When you surround yourself with kindness, both in places and people, it becomes an integral part of your life. Then, when things don’t go your way or you have a rough day, it’s a bit easier to pick yourself up and continue on with positivity.
    One idea to wrap your school with kindness is to secretly leave encouraging notes for others to discover on the playground or on school lockers. Your one message of kindness might completely change someone else’s day for the better!

Tamara Letter, Technology Integration Teacher

two cartoon kids with a message: teachers sign up for out quarterly newsletter for free SEL and kindness resources

Key Takeaways

► lead by example and model kindness every day wherever you are
 celebrate and participate in World Kindness Day, Random Acts of Kindness Week and The Great Kindness Challenge
 acknowledge, spotlight and surround yourselves with kindness
 provide opportunities for moral action and encourage service in the home and in the community
 call parents or write a note to acknowledge extraordinary kindness given by their child
 encourage more kindness by sharing good deeds in newsletters and on social media
 teach students about empathy, why it's important, and how to show it
 give students the time they need to show them you care
 check-in with students who are absent for prolonged periods
 first impressions matter
 create positive relationships with parents
 incorporate a variety of morale-boosting activities for staff
 get to know your staff and personalise anchors of appreciation
 recognise staff more frequently
 create a checklist or mark off a bingo card of kind actions for accountability and inspiration
 write cards to family members of staff expressing your gratitude for their presence at your school 
 relationship matter most - people first, then programs

 communication is key


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AUTHOR: Lisa Currie - Ripple Kindness Project
Lisa is the founder of Ripple Kindness Project, a community and outreach program, and primary/elementary school curriculum. Passionate about improving well-being and reducing bullying, RIpple developed a whole school, evidence-based SEL, kindness and mindfulness curriculum to build character and emotional intelligence to nurture positive, happy and safe school communities. 

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