contributed by Lisa Currie, ripplekindness.org
Some children spend more of their time awake at school than they do in their own homes. That’s a big thing when you’re still growing and learning. It’s a big thing too for parents to entrust their precious ones to others, sometimes strangers, during these vital years. Especially as much of a child’s developing personality and morals can easily be influenced by those around them.
During the early years of my own children’s education, I worried about the role models they would encounter at school. It concerned me that my hard work instilling good values may be lost if character education wasn’t a priority in the classroom. Fortunately, these days, educators are more aware of the need to prioritize social and emotional learning at school. They realize the important role that kindness and empathy have in nurturing happiness and self-esteem.
“It’s no secret that kindness sparks kindness. The secret is that kindness takes wings when it is modeled and taught with passion and purpose. When we intentionally help and encourage our students to put kindness into action through their thoughts, words, and deeds, then the world will truly be a gentler, more peaceful place. Simply put, we’ll be better.
Kindness in schools can look like a smile, feel like a hug, sound like a sweet greeting or a sincere compliment. A genuine inquiry about how someone is doing can mean so much. And when we have created that climate of kindness and caring inside our school walls, the natural next step is to take it home to our families, out into our community and then beyond our borders into our global world. And when kindness ripples, prepare to bathe in a tsunami of goodness. “
Barbara Gruener, Counsellor, Westwood-Bales Elementary, Friendswood, Texas, USA
“As students are often stereotyped for bad behaviour and bullying, it’s heartening to hear about the kindness and compassion they can have for others. Oftentimes, it’s students who are the greatest teacher of kindness, surprising their parents and teachers with small things that come so naturally from the heart.
“Over the years I have learned so many important things about kindness from my students. I have seen students come together during the most difficult of situations. They’ve shown how much more effective they are when they work together to serve in the community. But I think one of the most beautiful things I have learned from my students is how to take the everyday things and make them special when a friend is hurting.
I can remember seeing one of my first-grade students share a ‘magic crystal’ with a friend who was crying. The friend was immediately cheered and wasted no time in coming to show me the crystal and tell me of her friend’s gesture of kindness. Upon examination, I discovered that the ‘magic crystal’ was a grain of rock salt that had made its way into the building on the bottom of someone’s snow covered boot. However, that ordinary piece of rock salt became a way to spread cheer in that classroom for days to come as it was passed along to others who needed its “magic” power. I learned never to underestimate the power of the ordinary.”
Tracy Kiso, K-1 Counselor, Barretts Elementary, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
“A few years ago, we started focusing on kindness at George Waters Middle School rather than bullying and other negative behaviours. It has transformed how staff and students respond to the negative things that may happen.
Students have delighted me with a variety of different things since we changed our focus. Our new goal is to accept responsibility for one’s own behaviour, control one’s own response, and at all times respond kindly. I have seen young people find ingenious ways to respond to others to help brighten their day. From a simple high five, opening a door, writing a kind note or making a pledge to be kind and sharing it by creating a video.
“I have also learned from students that some are extremely uncomfortable, in the beginning when we have discussions around kindness. In some cases, it is an idea that is foreign to them and in the lives they lead, as well as the people around them. In the beginning, it can bring out behaviours we are trying to avoid. From this, though, they show me that the art of being kind and learning that kindness matters is something all children easily pick up.
Some children just need the opportunity to be kind, to be shown what it is to be kind and how to be kind. The benefits of focusing on kindness far outweigh the negative. It may be uncomfortable for some in the beginning, but kindness lead to happier kids, adults and school culture that focuses on learning.”
Andrew Mead, Principal, George Waters Middle School, Winnipeg, Canada
“I work with students with special needs, particularly behavioral. At lunchtime one day, a student had a tiny container with the smallest slice of homemade brownie inside. He didn’t have much for himself in many areas of his life, yet I watched him break the brownie in half. He crossed the room to the student I was working with, who was struggling that day, and gave him that half of the brownie. The significance of the offering was not lost on anyone. No words were exchanged, just the only gift he could give, completely unselfish.”
Lisa VanEngen, Special Education Paraprofessional, Michigan, USA
“Education is a very personal endeavor. The better we get to know our students, the more effective we are. This is why it is very difficult when children cross the line and attack us verbally and physically. We feel violated and we feel wronged. Oftentimes we lash back. Or at the very least, we expect some sort of punishment for the misbehavior.
Punishment and lashing back are not the best options. I learned this first hand this year by witnessing just how forgiving and loving children can be. On numerous occasions, I witnessed children forgive each other quickly and almost without a second’s thought. We are the adults who have experience with these types of situations. We know we are not supposed to take them personally, and yet we do. More than anything, the students that I had the fortune of serving this year taught me how to forgive without any strings attached.”
Jon Harper, Assistant Principal, Sandy Hill Elementary School, Maryland, USA
“Through my counselling sessions, I’m frequently amazed by the compassion and strength from teenagers who have experienced difficulties growing up. You might think that adversity could lead to bitterness and negative emotions – and in many cases they do exist. But underneath these uncomfortable feelings is often a deep compassion for others.
One student I worked with was struggled with self-confidence. After some exercises to help her identify a sense of purpose, she decided she wasn’t going to let her difficulties get in the way. She realised she could find a sense of purpose by helping others. She began a volunteer program with her older sister to spend time with a person with high-level disability in their home. She visited them one evening every week after school. This teenager told me that it made her feel strong and helpful. It allowed for her to feel empowered knowing that she was making such a difference to someone else’s life.”
Elizabeth Neal, Psychologist, Elizabeth Neal Psychology, Sydney, Australia
“As a support teacher of 9 years, there have been many times where children’s natural instinct to be kind has amazed and delighted many adults. At a recent sporting event, three boys, all with additional needs (ASD) began running but dropped back to all be in line with each other so they could cross the line together for a joint first. There wasn’t a dry eye around the track.
At our swimming carnival, a student who uses a wheelchair was only able to participate in a few modified events. The student leaders began a conga line so everyone could have some fun. They gave this student the house flag (usually a special honour for captains). She proudly held it as they pushed her as the leader of the conga line.
Kids do this naturally and it’s the adults who are touched and learn by their kindness. In the early years, children are amazingly accepting of student’s with additional needs. They offer to give them extra turns, the first worksheet, to be their partner and to carry their belongings or help them when needed. They are a great reminder to some adults about the compassion and understanding we should extend to our friends.”
Shirley James-Sharry, Support Teacher: Inclusive Education, St Flannan’s School Zillmere, Queensland, Australia
“As an advocate for Teaching SEL, I’m thrilled to see so many schools actively participating in programs that promote kindness within their community, who are quite obviously reaping tremendous rewards.”
How has a student’s kindness touched the lives of those in your school, and what have you personally learned from their good deeds?
7 Teachers Explain How Students Show Kindness In The Classroom; image attribution flickr user usarmycerdec