Kindness, empathy, compassion - as an educator, you know how HARD these concepts are to teach. You can’t make someone be kind to another person. You can’t make an individual have empathy or compassion towards another. Yet, we also know how critical these concepts are for our students’ overall mental and emotional well-being. Without empathy, there is no perspective-taking or opportunities to see things from another person’s point of view. Without kindness and compassion, our world grows cold and disconnected. These core values foster connection and trust with one another, promote understanding towards one another, and breeds a culture of positive relationships. This is why teaching kindness in the classroom is so important.
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Model the behavior that you want
As educators, the best part is to foster and promote feelings of empathy, kindness, and compassion between students and even colleagues and other professionals on a daily basis, which can truly change the feel and dynamic of any setting. There are TONS of ways to teach about kindness, trust me, I’ve explored MANY! Here are some of my tried and true tips and ideas for teaching kindness in the school setting:
Demonstrate kindness regularly! Teaching kindness in the classroom should always involve modeling kind words and actions daily, as it is one of the best ways to teach what kindness looks like. By engaging daily in kind words and actions, not only are you providing a positive model for students & colleagues, but you also gain a deeper level of connection and compassion towards others - it’s a win-win!
Notice when students and others are being kind to one another! Not only does it reinforce what kind actions and words look like, but it also positively reinforces the student which in turn will increase those behaviors. Here’s a few examples of phrases/sentences that I’ve used in years past to “notice” positive student behaviors: “(Student name), you let a friend borrow your pencil. That was kind of you!” or “(Name), you saw that your friend needed a chair and you got one for him/her/they. That was so helpful!”
Embed lessons in a morning meeting! Morning meetings are a great way to introduce lessons on kindness or activities to focus on for the day. Meetings can include lessons like this that focus on promoting positive self-talk and self-esteem or any mini-lesson related to promoting kindness and empathy. Or, check out the lesson below (Character Education Set on Kindness), which is full of activities! Regardless of the activity you choose, morning meetings are an easily structured time to teach and practice skills related to perspective-taking, kindness, cooperation, and empathy.
Dedicate a focused time
Participate in Kindness Week/Month! Utilize a specific week to focus on the idea of kindness - what it looks like, ideas of things you can do for others, etc. In years past, I’ve had students participate in kindness challenges or get ideas from a kindness calendar (i.e., on the first day of the month, maybe you hold the door for someone, and on the second day, you might pay a compliment to someone). These are all ways to break down kind acts into manageable chunks and make it FUN for the students! Not only are they getting concrete examples of what kindness looks like, but these challenges and calendars can also demonstrate how simple acts of kindness can be. For more examples, feel free to visit my previous blog post on random acts of kindness!
Group and Center Activities
Create a kindness or friendship center where students can share kind thoughts and words about others in their class. This might include definitions of friendship, celebrating diversity of the students in the classroom, and even options for books that focus on kindness. I’ve used my lesson on kind words to promote communication of positive traits of students themselves or others in the classroom.
Foster friendship in students by providing opportunities for them to engage together! Facilitated group and/or partner activities that focus on problem-solving can help foster a positive relationship between students when they are guided to use kind language and respect through active listening and turn-taking.
Using videos and read-alouds
Always an option for teaching kindness in the classroom is read alouds! Check out this blog post about Children’s books that teach Kindness. Here are a few highlights of my favorites:
The Juice Box Bully By: Bob Swornson & Maria Dismondy
Ever have to address a bullying situation in your school community? The Juice Box Bully provides the perfect story about a new kid in school who isn’t interested in making friends or being kind to others. Through a series of events, the other students begin to teach Pete about “The Promise.” Perfect for empowering children to stand up for themselves and others, The Juice Box Bully also promotes kindness towards others and encourages positive choice-making. It’s a needed addition to any classroom library!
One By: Kathryn Otoshi
Blue is a soft color. Red’s a mean color who likes to pick on Blue. Green, Purple, Orange, and Yellow. They don’t like it, but what are they supposed to do? Things go from bad to worse - until One comes along and shows the colors how to stand up together to count. An introduction to concepts of numbers, counting, and colors, learners not only build foundational knowledge of pre-academics but they also learn about accepting each other for who they are and celebrating differences. Sometimes, one voice is all that’s needed to make a difference.
Stick and Stone By: Beth Ferry & Tom Lightenheld
Stick & Stone find themselves lonely, and for both of them, being lonely is not any fun. When Stone is picked on at the park for falling off the swing, Stick comes to his aid, and with that, they become fast friends. With a focus on friendship and kindness towards others through all the good and bad, and with simple, rhythmic text, this book is highly relatable to young children.
Another tool I’ve used in years past is this video from Kid President on 20 Things We Should Say More Often. Regardless of the age group you work with, this is a simple, fun video that would be great to tie into a morning meeting or mini-lesson!
These are just a few of the ideas I’ve used over the years for teaching kindness in the classroom, but one of my favorite things about teaching kindness with my students is how easily it can be woven into ANY activity or lesson!