Of course we want kids to be kind in general, but why does it really matter so much in a classroom?
From my 20+ years of experience, it’s sort of like the chain reaction described in the “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” story.
If students don’t understand and feel empathy, they may have difficulty with conflict resolution…
And if they are without conflict resolution strategies, you’ll likely spend all day mediating disagreements…
Then, if you spend all your time on disagreements, you may have less time and energy to teach effective lessons, and students may not complete those lessons because they’ll be too busy arguing, crying, tattling…
I’m sure you know exactly what I mean!
Building A Positive Environment For Kindness
My class this year included 14 students reading below grade level, and through my assessments I came to realize that this group of low readers were not struggling with phonological awareness problems, but rather self-regulation, and a serious lack of respect and caring for others. The two things are completely connected.
How can you learn to read when you can’t sit still or focus on a book for more than 3 seconds? Or when every interaction with peers is misinterpreted and filled with conflict?
Identifying What Is Getting In the Way Of Kindness
The focus of our lessons became what was needed most:
We also explored important concepts such as respect; what does respect mean, and how do we show respect to others in the class? We did several art and literacy projects to go along with these concepts, and posted them for a constant reminder (as shown below).
My most effective tool was creating a classroom where the students value kindness and contributing to a positive environment. Here are some more ideas:
Read stories that promote kindness
We also love “Have You Filled A Bucket Today” by Carol McCloud. In our class “bucket filling” has become common language that we all understand. It’s also a great math lesson!
There’s even a song about filling buckets on youtube.
During writing time with your class, have students write a “Happy Note” to the special helper of the day. Students drop their note into the Happy Bucket. Later, I collect them (to read them first) and we share them as a class. The special helper gets to take them all home – they are a cherished treasure!
Begin each morning with a Friendship Circle, where students sit in a circle and give a compliment to the person sitting to the right, and that person says “Thank you” until you’ve gone all the way around. The last person gets to say something nice to the teacher!
(One of my favorite memories of this was when a student had to give me a compliment, and he took some time to look at me up and down, and then finally said, “I like how you smell like strawberry jam.” Hmm! : )
Send Kindness Out Of The Classroom
When your special helper takes notes or attendance to the office, let them deliver some happiness to the office! First, decide as a class on a compliment to deliver to the secretary or staff. Practice speaking directly with a smile.We say things like: “You look beautiful today.” or “I like your personality.” or ” I appreciate you.”
Once they leave, the rest of the class waits to hear all about the Kindness Adventure! Upon returning, the student tells us all about the secretary’s reaction to the compliment. Students also love to write about this!
A favorite memory of this was when a little boy named Sam told the secretary “I just love the way your hair is all grey and white and just very puffy on the sides.”
When we asked about her reaction to such a nice compliment, the student said, “She just thanked me and turned around, and I saw her shoulders shaking, so I guess she really liked it.”
Kindness Cards & Writing Templates
Reinforce With Decor
I also have this poster on my wall:
Random Acts of Kindness Class Books
Each year we take the month of December to really focus on Random Acts of Kindness and caring for each other. If possible, I enjoy getting families involved. A few years ago we began making class books about random acts of kindness.
Each student takes home a one page template to fill out with a family member. They can write about kindness they’ve seen or a personal story. Sometimes families have purposely gone out to commit an act of kindness just so they could write about it!
Hopefully this will encourage discussion of kindness at home, which will deepen the understanding and meaning for my students.
Once completed, I ask students to bring their finished papers back to share with the class. It’s a very powerful conversation as students share their stories. Afterwards, we display them in the hallway, and eventually put them all together to make a class book.
Many students come by to visit many years later and love to read through their page again. Or, younger siblings who are in my class a few years later will say “I remember when my older brother brought this page home and we all talked about it!”
It’s really a treasure! Click to download for free if you’d like to give it a try.
If you’re having trouble finding what you need for math, literacy or clip art, you can grab this handy Clickable Catalogue for everything available in my TPT store – a big time saver! Tuck it away for when you need it!