We've all read that book (or watched that movie) where the main character desperately needed a hero. They longed for a caring adult who believed in them, or for a loyal friend who stood by their side. As teachers, most of us have also seen this play out in our classrooms, or on the playground during recess.
Surely, your heart reached out. But how can we best help those students? What kind of classroom do these students need? The short answer: a kind one.
As educators, we need to create a kind, compassionate community.
If we want our students to be kind, then we need to...
A kind class doesn't just happen by accident. It starts with strong relationships among your students. This takes intention and dedication. Set aside time each day, or at least once a week, for Morning Meetings or Community Circles.
Morning meetings are an engaging way to start each day, and they help build a strong sense of community (which, in turn, helps set children up for success, both socially and academically). Here's how it works: students and teachers gather in a circle for 20-30 minutes each morning and interact with each other deliberately and thoughtfully.
These moments, specifically designed for strengthening relationships, give everyone in your class a chance to be heard, feel valued, share their stories, and ask questions. As a teacher, these moments give you time to really get to know the hearts of your students.
You can also make it a point to provide daily opportunities for students to practice kindness and gratitude. Cultivating a gratitude practice has many positive benefits for children and grown-ups alike. And just like with math facts or sight words, our students learn through repetition. If we want caring for others to be a priority, we need to model that behavior. Students need to see tangible reminders daily in our classrooms, and they need to have opportunities to put kindness into practice.
Consider putting together a bulletin board or a "Kindness and Courage Corner." These free posters from edHelper are perfect for something like this. Hang them up where students will see them each day and be reminded to be the right kind of kid-the kind that sticks up for the underdog, sits with the lonely, and protects those classmates that need it most.
Random acts of kindness are another great way to help your students be more intentional about being kind. Did you know that February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness Day? This day actually launches a whole week dedicated to this fantastic movement. What better way to purposely focus on kindness than to have your students celebrate it with others around the world? Check out these free kindness lesson plans to see how you can make kindness the norm in your school.
It's been said that students don't know what they don't know. They may have an innate desire to be kind, but they may not always know what showing kindness looks like. They may not know what it means to help meet the needs of a classmate.
As the teacher, be vocal about identifying needs in your community and school and share the different ways you personally help to meet them. When you help students see the needs of those around them, they learn what it means to show compassion and empathy.
It's also important for our students to witness us being kind and respectful in our everyday interactions with people inside and outside the classroom-our colleagues and administration. Are we speaking with the kind of tone that demonstrates respect, tolerance, and appreciation for opinions that are different from ours? Are we promoting a sense of "We" rather than "Me"? When you pass by the cafeteria worker, the janitor, or the school secretary, be sure your students witness you speaking appreciatively and with genuine care.
Let's be honest: We can all grumble from time to time. The routine of teaching can be treacherous. Mountains of paperwork and afternoons filled with staff meetings can make it hard for us to find time to focus on the art of teaching. But the reality is we've chosen this profession because we know we can make a difference! And if our desire is to have a kind class filled with kind kids, then we need to make sure we are speaking and acting in ways that don't contradict all we're hoping to achieve, even if it's hard sometimes.
Actionable Bonus: Community Service Projects!
Check out this list of community service projects for your students. Why not pick one per month or quarter and work together as a class to help those in your community?
It's often the little things that make the biggest differences. A warm smile and a kind voice when you're greeting your students at the door each day can go a long way. It shouldn't surprise you that students who feel like they belong are more likely to be kind.
If your welcoming smile is the first thing they see each morning and the last thing they see each afternoon, your encouragement is reminding them that they matter and that they have a place in your classroom. You are teaching your students, just with your smile, that they belong. Remember: your room may be the only safe place they have all day.
When your students do show kindness, make sure it is acknowledged. This will encourage them to continue to be kind. While we can and should expect common courtesy and manners in our classroom, everyone likes to be caught doing something good. Can you imagine the change in culture if we were busy acknowledging kind behavior rather than correcting the unkind?
We all know the kind of kids we want to teach, but those aren't always the kind of kids that walk through our door in August. Our students come to us with hopes and dreams, but they also come with heartache and trauma. But here's the good news: As teachers, we have the power to help create the kind of kids the world needs.
We have the awesome opportunity (and responsibility) to help teach, inspire, and encourage young men and women to be kind, show empathy, and make a difference in not only our classroom and community but the world at large. Here's to doing just that one intentional moment and act of kindness at a time.
Have your students get in on the fun, too. Can they catch each other being kind? Download and use these "Caught you Being Kind" awards so that your students can celebrate the kind acts they witness each day.