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9 Tips For Teaching Kindness in the Classroom

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Fostering a culture of kindness enhances the connections made peer-to-peer and student to teacher. Carving out time to intentionally promote kindness cultivates empathy and understanding between individuals, leading to deeper relationships. As relationships form, trust develops, which allows  a culture of learning to blossom where all individuals feel genuinely valued -- for who they are and what they contribute as a unique individual. Although there’s no denying that teachers have various demands to tend to, devoting ample time to nurturing the classroom culture through teaching kindness is exactly what allows us to be successful in other areas.

According to neuroscientist and educator, Dr. Judy Willis:

“Classrooms can be the safe haven where academic practices and classroom strategies provide students with emotional comfort and pleasure as well as knowledge. When teachers use strategies to reduce stress and build a positive emotional environment, students gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently and at higher levels of cognition. Brain-imaging studies support this relationship.”

A group of PBS Digital Innovators collaborated to share their tips for teaching kindness in the classroom. Our hope is to inspire others to share how they too, teach kindness in the classroom as a response to this post.

Tips for Teaching Kindness

1. Model Kindness

One of the best ways to teach kindness in the classroom is to model being kind to others.  I always introduce our custodian to our class the first day of school and regularly thank her for all that she does in front of the class.  It soon spreads and I hear my students begin to thank her when she’s working in the room. I also make it a point to be overly kind to our cafeteria staff in front of the students.  Soon, they start to treat the cafeteria staff just as respectfully and kindly. Our students look to us as models for what’s expected, and if we are treating others kindly, they will follow suit.

2. Teach Empathy with Intentionality

We spend several months focused on learning “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids.”  One very important habit that helps students learn to be kind to others, especially when dealing with conflict, is “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.”  This helps students see each other through a kindness lens and appreciate what each other is feeling.

3. Celebrate Kindness Week

Partner up classes to send each other kindness cards.  Deliver sweet treats to custodians, administration, cafeteria staff, and students’ former teachers. Invite students to perform Random Acts of Kindness (RAKs) for others.  Staff members can even write each other compliments!  The list of ways to promote kindness during this week is endless. Throw kindness around like confetti!

4. Facilitate Morning Meetings

Morning meetings are a great opportunity for learners to develop empathy as they learn to listen with understanding and consider how best to respond to their peers.  They can be utilized with all ages, and at the secondary level, may be called collaborative class discussions. In our classroom, we gather in a circle for a welcome message and short discussion. Then, we often partner up to engage, personally greet our friend, and go deeper in discussion. Often, we’ll change partners, and depending on our structure, we may regroup into a circle. During a morning meeting, students may discuss a topic shared by the teacher and as they gain autonomy, they can take on leadership roles by helping to create the morning message or topic of discussion. Morning meetings support learners to understand the best ways to approach their peers by greeting one another with kindness and responding or posing questions appropriately and with empathy. In my experience, morning meetings support the culture of learning by setting the tone for the day and by allowing us to get to know one another differently than when we engage in collaborative class work. Some individuals are concerned about the time morning meetings can take, but when the culture for learning is built on the foundation of relationships and trust, learners feel embraced by their teacher and peers, deepening learning experiences and fostering a strong community.

5. Emphasis on Friendship

The only rule in my class is, “We are all friends.”  We began the year by creating a chart that shows what a friend can do, what friends will do and what friends like to do together. The discussion was amazing during the charts creation. We talked about what kindness looks like  in a classroom. For example, friends can help you sharpen a pencil, but they can also help you play games or read with you. I also model what a conversation looks like. Friends need to listen to each other and take turns talking.

6. Create a Friendship and Kindness Center

A friendship or kindness center has the potential to empower learners to explore different aspects of friendship. The center we created provides links to read alouds and PBS LearningMedia  that demonstrate the qualities of a friend. Each day, for two weeks, I read one of the books followed by a class meeting to discuss the book and how we can use the lesson to show kindness or friendship to others.  The qualities in the center include positive sentiments about what friendship means: friends show patience, , encourage each other, respect personal space, include others, help others, use kind words, show compassion and celebrate differences. I have hard copies of each book and students are able to access the read alouds through QR code links in the center. I reflected  my students’ diversity by choosing readers with accents that some students may have not heard before. Daniel Tiger is also featured in the center. I often hear students singing along with Daniel and his friends as they Find a way to play together and Try to solve the problems themselves.  The center is a great way for students to come back and reflect on the lessons learned through each book.


7. Create a Challenge to Spread Kindness

When one act of kindness is conducted between classmates, the recipient(s) of the act  pass on a new act of kindness to another classmate until the entire classroom family has experienced at least one act of kindness that was bestowed upon them at closing circle (yep, like morning circle but at the end of the day).  Repeat :)

8. Leverage Social Stories Including a Problem To Solve

Sharing social stories allows learners to be metacognitive about problems they may encounter. Have a class discussion about how they would feel if they were the character. What would they want/need in the moment? (Evoking Empathy).  How would they want the problem solved? Why? By putting themselves in the story vs. just asking how do you think the character feels, creates stronger connection and context. Daniel Tiger and Pinkalicious stories are great!

9. Be the ACTION

Often times, children may be able to identify ‘needs,” yet not know how to take action.  Empower your students to take initiative. This can start by simply discussing needs and generating ways to meet those needs.  Don’t stop there! A small, class community service project is a great way to connect to your community and provide an intentional opportunity for your students to experience empathy. Have your class choose a need from their list, and guide them through process of making a difference.  It could be as simple as encouragement cards to the local nursing home. While you are teaching your students to empathize, you are simultaneously exercising their creativity and critical thinking skills in the process. If we mold our Kindergarteners into “do-ers,” they will eventually morph into middle and high school students who are collaborators, initiators, and critical thinkers. No matter what grade level you teach, never underestimate your impact.  A stone cast in Kindergarten can create a ripple effect throughout a lifetime!

While state laws, districts and campuses mandate what teachers teach, it’s the choice to teach kindness in the classroom that is truly making a difference for our students today and for their futures. Ultimately, it’s kindness that supports us in helping learners to be successful in their learning journey. Kindness in the classroom is linked to a strong sense of belonging and increased  self-esteem as acceptance for peers develops. When these needs are met, students can better focus on learning and are more likely to engage in critical thinking, express creativity, collaborate, communicate effectively, and persevere through challenges -- essential skills our youth require. No matter which way you teach kindness, the world will always be a better place because of it. What will you do today to foster a community built on kindness, empathy and authentic connections?

Elisabeth Bostwick is a teacher in Horseheads, N.Y., who’s passionate about sparking curiosity and unleashing creativity to empower learning. She is a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) Digital Innovator and was the recipient of the New York State Excellence in Teaching award. Her first book, Education Write Now Volume II, Top Strategies for Improving Relationships and Culture, co-authored with nine other passionate educators, will release in December 2018. In early January 2019, her second book, Take the L.E.A.P., Ignite a Culture of Innovation will be released.

Michelle Garmon is a First Grade Teacher and PBS Digital Innovator All-Star from Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Student Greeters welcome visitors to Michelle’s classroom with a cheerful “Hello neighbor!” “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” is stenciled above the smartboard. Michelle’s goals include the  Social emotional growth of her students and the use technology to inspire a love of learning in her class of 21st century learners.

Julie Hildebrand is a First Grade Teacher and Campus Innovation Coach at Patton Elementary in Austin, Texas. Julie’s primary goals have been to increase student achievement in literacy and technology skills in and out of her classroom. In addition to being a Heart of Texas Writing Project Teacher Consultant, Julie is also a Discovery Education Ambassador, a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) Digital Innovator All-Star and serves on the PBS KLRU Board of Education Committee.

Ashley Judd is a 4th Grade Teacher at Tyner Elementary in Tyner, KY.  She specializes in elementary education and incorporating innovative classroom practices, aimed at amplifying student growth.  Ashley is a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) Digital Innovator All-Star, as well as a finalist for KY Elementary Teacher of the Year and a Valvoline Teacher Achievement Award Winner.

Mallory Mbalia is the Assistant Principal at Underwood GT Elementary in Raleigh, NC.  She is a former kindergarten teacher who is passionate about early childhood education, as well as equity work in education, to ensure that all students have the opportunity to reach their true potential.  Mallory serves as a trainer for her local station UNC TV Public Media North Carolina and is a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) Digital Innovator All-Star.

​Elisabeth Bostwick, Michelle Garmon, Julie Hildebrand, Ashley Judd and Mallory Mbalia Educators

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