Recently, we experienced an environment so loving and appreciative while performing our Les Trouble, Problem Investigator assembly show at a charter school in Detroit MI that it got me thinking. Upon loading into the multi-purpose room, one of the school’s representatives told us the school has an underlying theme of kindness. Everyone we met that day, from the teachers to the students and the principal made us feel valued and appreciated in a way that we’ve never experienced before. I was told that the word of the month was Peace. This school was using our Conflict resolution assembly show as a way of teaching students to peacefully solve their disagreements. When our two educational performances were complete, we realized that this school made just as much of an impression on us as our performance did on them.
Powerful encounters like those are rare but they don’t have to be. I called the headmaster of the school after the show to get more ideas about how an environment of kindness can be created in a school. This blog sums up that conversation and offers easily to implement ideas.
Creating an environment of kindness in an elementary school enhances relationships between peers and students with teachers. Setting aside time to purposefully promote being kind creates empathy and understanding between people and builds relationships that are deeper and more meaningful. Trust will develop as relationships are made, allowing learning to blossom because individuals will feel sincerely valued for who they are and for their contributions. Certainly, teachers are overwhelmed with demands of their jobs, but setting aside a little bit of time everyday to encourage, model, and teach cooperation and kindness will allow students to be successful in all areas of their education.
According to educator and neuroscientist, Dr. Josephine Willard:
“All Classrooms can be made to be a safe haven for students where academic traditions and educational strategies supply pupils with emotional support and comfort in addition to knowledge. When educators use tools to create an encouraging emotional environment and reduce stress, students will build emotional resilience and learn more readily and at greater levels of understanding. Brain-imaging studies have been shown to support this cause and effect relationship.”
The following tips can be implemented to teach kindness in the classroom as part of a PBIS program in elementary schools. And when kindness is encouraged and followed by the staff, students, and parents, you’ll see a fast drop in bullying behavior in your school. Please consider using just some of these ideas at first. You’ll immediately see results and you’ll want to try them all.
This is obvious and simple. Just act the way you want your students to act. You’ll find kindness is contagious. Here’s a simple idea. Introduce the custodian to your class on the first day of the school year and regularly praise and thank him/her for all that they do in front of the class. Do this often in front of your students and encourage them to be grateful to everyone they meet. This attitude spreads and students will begin to thank the custodian when they see him/her working in other parts of the school as well. Soon, students will start to treat the other adult helpers, recess monitors and cafeteria workers just as kindly.
If your school follows The Leader in Me program or the book, “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids,” one habit that helps kids learn to be kind, especially when faced with conflict, is “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” This trait helps students learn empathy and view each other through in a way to appreciate what others are feeling. Following this understanding, students can then learn to use “I feel messages” when addressing conflicts they may have with others.
Team up with another classroom penpal style and have kids practice their writing skills by sending other students kindness cards. Elementary kids can also learn how to properly address an envelope if you choose to have the cards delivered down the hall. Sometimes just surprising others with “gifts for no reason” can make someone’s day brighter. Have your students deliver candy or treats around the school. These treats can have simple notes attached or custom candy bar wrappers can be easily printed out and taped over original packaging. Have kids give these randomly to administrators, custodians, cafeteria workers, and other teachers. Teach kids about the idea of Random Acts of Kindness and have them brainstorm things they can do. The ways to encourage kindness during this special week is endless. Throw acts of kindness around like sprinkles on ice cream.
Daily meetings are a perfect opportunity for students to nurture empathy as they learn develop a goal of understanding as they listen and think about appropriate and sensitive responses. Group sessions or simple meetings can be used even in preschools through college. Encourage partnering up the help students engage with one another, and delve deeper into discussions. A morning meeting can support learners in understanding the best ways to approach their friends by speaking in a tone of kindness and responding appropriately while practicing empathy. You’ll find that setting the tone for the day becomes easier when everyone participates and actively listens. In regular meetings, students soon realize they will feel embraced by their teacher and friends, lessening classroom competition, and fostering a strong community.
Make the motto of your classroom “Everyone is friends.” For primary students think about making a poster showing what friends can do, what they do not do, and what friends like to do together. The process of making a poster like this will be amazing. Kids will open up and share stories of trials and tribulations. Reflecting on their experiences and learning from mistakes will help kids grow more supportive to each other. This is a great opportunity to practice the listening skills by taking turns listening and talking turns talking.
Remember the old game of telephone? The teacher whispers a statement in one student’s ear then kids take turns whispering that statement in each other’s ears until everyone “knows” the statement. When the final child is reached, he/she is asked to announce what the statement is, often to hilarious results. The statement will change dramatically. Kids look forward to this game. Play it often.
Often, students are able to identify ‘needs,” but not know what to do. Encourage your students to take initiative and give them permission to do things on their own. Start at the group level by discussing needs of others and brainstorm ways to fulfill those needs. Then take it to the next step. Create a simple community service activity or project. Show students that even small amounts of help can make a big difference to people in need. It could be as simple helping to pick up trash on the playground or writing cards to the local children’s hospital. Letting your students be creative will encourage critical thinking skills as well. Ecourage you students to be ‘do-ers’ and not ‘be-ers.” Later your students will become initiators, collaborators, and critical thinkers. The simplest way to create a sense of belonging and improve a child’s self-esteem is to create an environment of Kindness in the classroom. Upon meeting these needs, students will better focus on classwork and are more likely to start using critical thinking skills, attempt creativity, collaborate more, communicate better, and persevere through difficulties — essential skills for everyone.
We can help you with your kindness goals. In our Les Trouble PI (Problem investigator) assembly show, we use incredible illusions, role-playing, and acting to teach elementary children how to use kindness even when they are mad at their friends. Invite this program to your school as part of your kindness initiative.