Turn on the TV, get on social media, or listen to the radio and it is hard to escape the negativity. We are bombarded with stories of hate and tragedy daily. Our leaders have normalized unkind and civil behavior. Disrespecting people’s bodies, beliefs, cultures, values, and perspectives is being rewarded. Its hard to argue that what we used to refer to as “common kindness” seems less common. In the face of all of this, it is essential that we promote kindness at every level in our schools.
KINDNESS HELPS KIDS LEARN
There is no doubt in my mind that schools where joy, purpose, and compassion come first are the best place for children. Research proves that teaching, fostering, and celebrating kindness in schools improves students’ sense of well-being, and success in school and life. “Students learn best when they are in environments in which they feel safe, supported, challenged, and accepted… [They] are more likely to engage in the curriculum, achieve academically, and develop positive relationships; students are less likely to exhibit problem behaviors, and teacher turnover is lower, and teacher satisfaction is higher.” (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2016)
Kind schools are more effective at helping students succeed, both in school and in life. At schools where educators intentionally teach, foster, and celebrate kindness, students feel a greater sense of safety, support, and acceptance. “Students who performed kind acts experienced significantly bigger increases in peer acceptance, [which] is related to a variety of important academic and social outcomes, including reduced likelihood of being bullied.” (Layous, Nelson, Oberle, et al., 2012)
KINDNESS MUST BE TAUGHT
Kindness, like other skills, needs to be taught, reinforced, and celebrated. Kindness is about more than being nice to someone else. In fact, kindness is a learned skill that needs to be taught and regularly practiced. “Social-emotional learning programs yielded significant positive effects on… students’ behavioral adjustment in the form of increased prosocial behaviors and reduced conduct and internalizing problems, and improved academic performance on achievement tests and grades.” (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, et al., 2011)
HOW CAN WE TEACH KINDNESS?
1. Developing Positive Mindsets: Focus on self-management and self-care strategies that equip students with ways to monitor their feelings, setting them up to be kind to others. Practice gratitude, goal setting, and positive framing of situations.
2. Strengthening Peer Relationships: Focus on building constructive interactions among students for a positive classroom and school culture. Help students develop empathy for their classmates, listen actively, and resolve conflicts with each other.
3. Fostering Empathy: Tackle more significant issues and trends like stereotypes and bullying based on identity. Explore our shared identity and encourage civic discourse.
4. Promoting Cyber-Kindness: Get students to develop a more positive social media presence and the habits of heart and mind to be kind online. Students should learn practical skills to help them engage with social media and online applications, including video games, responsibly.
“Kindness is an important human strength that influences subjective well-being… We suggest that kindness can cause happiness… Happy people scored higher on their motivation to perform, and their recognition and enactment of kind behaviors.” (Otake, Shimai, et al., 2006) Not only is practicing and explicitly teaching kindness in our schools essential to individual learning and growth, but it is also a mighty way to combat this wave of negativity that swamps us daily. Imagine thousands of young adults joining society armed with the skills, attitudes, and habits of kindness.