Many years ago, as a poor student interrailing around Europe, I was the recipient of a random act of kindness when the gentleman ahead of me in the queue for the Uffizi Museum in Florence paid my entrance fee. It was a kindness I remember to this day and something I have “paid forward” many times since.
World Kindness Day falls on Saturday 13th November. Designed to promote the importance of kindness in our lives, towards ourselves and towards each other, it is a good opportunity to focus on the role of kindness in our school communities and in the lessons we teach. In short, what is the experience of kindness that children and young people get in our settings?
“Kindness” is one of those notions that can be all too easily dismissed. A cynical view may have it that acts of kindness have ulterior motives or that schools are not the place to focus on kindness – that’s what families are for. However, many (if not most) would view the nurturing of kindness as a key role for schools.
The science of kindness is worth exploring. Kindness stimulates the production of serotonin not only in the receiver, but in the giver too, and in everyone who witnesses the kindness. It also increases the production of endorphins and oxytocin, helping us to feel calmer, healthier and happier.
The way in which we focus on kindness can be key to striking the right balance. Andrew Cowley, wellbeing author and speaker, feels that modelling kindness is important for schools. He explained, “Kindness doesn't require reward, need recognition or demand attention to be authentic. It is there to be modelled so that it becomes a habit, rather than a choice."
These habits can shift a culture in a school and the benefits to be gained in terms of the quality of relationships and atmosphere created can be immense. We need to be specific, though. As Cowley said, "Asking a child to 'be kind' is meaningless without the knowledge or experience of what kindness is. Hooking a child into kind habits, recognising simple acts which have no motive other than a desire to help; these are so much more impactful than a simple request to be kind."
David Jamilly is the Founder and CEO of Kindness UK. For him, “Kindness is probably the most important attribute that our future societies will need to be able to get on with each other in a world of growing population and diminishing resources. Education has an important role to play in helping to engender kindness as a positive attribute from the early years.”
While there may be some kickback from those who feel that kindness cannot be taught, Jamilly offers reassurance. “To some degrees this bias has some merit, however the creation of an environment where kindness is part of the day to day, will most certainly have a profound impact on increasing kindness levels within the individual.”
Kindness UK (details below) has sent out 50 thousand kindness guidance packs to all primary and secondary schools in the country, and many overseas. Jamilly explained, “Our pack was published 10 years ago when the response from some schools was to send it back with a comment like ‘we are kind already and don’t need anybody outside to make suggestions to us on this subject’. Now kindness already features in most schools in one form or another albeit assembly or PHSE. Many schools adopt this as a core value. You would not be able to open a newspaper now without some Minister/Celebrity/Corporation using the word kindness in one form or another.”
Boosting kindness in schools
Rather than simply asking children, staff, and parents to “be kind”, make kindness matter more by being clear about what a school community that takes kindness to heart might expect to gain. A focus on kindness can help to:
- Protect and preserve the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children, young people and staff.
- Develop, build and nurture positive relationships with one another.
- Protect and sustain our environment for current and future generations.
- Build a future based on sound values.
Motivating your school community to action for kindness needn’t be a chore. These ideas may help:
- Involve everyone, so that kindness is not the focus of one person or group of people. Everyone needs to be on board including parents.
- Keep people involved through positive reinforcement – compliments, saying thank you and showing appreciation all help to ensure that motivation remains high.
- Facilitate skills sharing and encourage a “working to your strengths” mentality.
- Lead by example, whatever your position in the school may be.
For any wishing to explore kindness in greater depth, it can be embedded within the ethical framework of your school. It can be central to the values you live by on a daily basis in your community and lie at the heart of each and every action. It can rest in the fair treatment of each person, and the transparency on how you operate. And if these are not worthy of our focus, what is? Kindness might just be the most powerful tool available to us as we build successful and sustainable school communities. That is surely worth our time.
Find out more…
- The Wellbeing Curriculum: Embedding Children’s wellbeing in primary schools by Andrew Cowley: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/wellbeing-curriculum-9781472986412/
- Kindness UK: Kindness UK - Promoting, Sharing & Uniting Kindness
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world. Elizabeth has also taught on education courses in HE and presented at national and international conferences.