By Lani Aquino
Kindness, 8 simple letters that can create a lasting impact on both the givers and receivers of it. It’s no secret that at times the world can feel in short supply of kindness. A sense of community or inclusion can often seem lacking. Sometimes events can bring communities together or create communities of like-minded persons, but is there a possible way to build that community and sense of belonging beforehand?
Schools and classrooms are in essence small communities that have already been created. They are often referred to as learning communities. Students, teachers, and other stakeholders come together for a like-minded cause, education. By finding ways to build kindness, inclusion, and positivity in these communities of learners, all those impacted can take the practices learned and the positivity generated beyond the walls of the classroom. This ripple effect can then begin to make a difference in the community at large.
Kindness can’t be something that is simply referred to in theory. Stating that the world is in need of more kindness isn’t likely to have an impact, but offering students actionable ideas for implementing kindness and encouraging the practice of said ideas is. Practicing kindness and inclusion is a skill that needs to be fostered and reinforced like any other. While an entire curriculum devoted to it would be ideal, funding, time constraints, and more are likely to put the brakes on this possibility. Modeling practices, having mindful discussions, and highlighting actionable options can bring kindness and inclusion to the forefront though.
Kind Words- Teachers can be purposeful in their usage and expectation of kind words. From the simple additions of please, thank you, you’re welcome, excuse me, etc. to complimenting others, kinds words can go a long way toward building community and self-esteem. As students are the receivers of compliments and kindness, their likelihood of becoming the issuers grows.
Kind Gestures- Offering assistance without being asked and chipping in to help others doesn’t become second nature without practice. Teachers can put a spotlight on these behaviors by complimenting the gestures that occur within the classroom community or sharing examples they see or participate in outside of it. This can be as simple as picking up the dropped pencil of another or holding a door. It can also expand to include the community-building efforts of service and volunteerism.
Role Play- For students in younger grades, modeling can need to take on a more pointed introduction. It’s not enough for kids to simply see it, they need to see it and understand how they can be a part of expressing it. By creating role play scenarios for including others, positively dealing with conflict, and showing kindness vs. not showing it, children can start to ingrain positive practices and understand the role they can play in spreading kindness.
Book collections- Literature is an excellent discussion starter for nearly any topic. A short picture book or story doesn’t have to be exclusive to younger grades either. As a whole class focus, a shorter text can be a perfect hook for a deeper discussion. Older students can connect to characters and build empathy through chapter books with a focus on kindness and inclusion.
Movies- While books create mind movies, the actual viewing of examples of kindness and/or lack thereof can be equally powerful. Movies don’t have to be viewed in their entirety to have an impact or allow for discussion. The recent Wonder or films like Pay It Forward can spark valuable discussion through extended viewing or a few thoughtfully selected clips.
Current Events- A glimpse at the headlines on any given day can often offer a boon of discussion options pertaining to kindness and inclusion. Unfortunately, many of these events are due to a lack of positivity, but they can certainly be the catalyst for discussions on ways to move forward and foster kindness and inclusion.
Random Acts of Kindness- These are amazing, but they have to be intentional before they can be random. There are some wonderful resources for teachers on the Random Acts of Kindness These include projects, games, and classroom tools to help facilitate the spreading of kindness.
Lunch Inclusion- There are lots of great options here. Many schools institute get-to-know-you days or weeks where students rotate through sitting with a variety of classmates. This is often coordinated through the guidance department or a committee of teachers and/or students. Chatting topics can be given or conversation starter cards, sticks, etc. can be placed on the tables to help get students talking. The Sit With Us app is another way to bring inclusion to the lunch room.
Service & Volunteerism- Through efforts to aid others, a sense of community, kindness, and inclusion is born. When students work together for a collective cause, they are strengthening their own school and classroom community.
When teachers are able to incorporate kindness and inclusion into the school day, they are spreading a positivity that can impact the entire learning community and beyond. Being intentional about kindness and inclusion requires the usage of concrete words, examples, and actions. As with any skill or attribute educators are hoping to imbibe in students, a mindful and purposeful plan for fostering kindness is required, and using any or all of these ideas for incorporating it can make great strides toward building a positive community.
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