Teaching Kindness in the Classroom
The state of Texas continues to place a lot of emphasis on anti-bullying laws and regulations in schools — more specifically, cyberbullying within the students on their campus. Teachers and administrators are encouraged to take action if they see any type of harassment or bullying between students or serious changes in behavior if a student appears emotionally unwell. While anti-bullying laws are an excellent resource and method of protecting each child’s physical and emotional well-being, some teachers are taking it one step further: modeling and teaching methods of kindness in the classroom.
Teaching kindness in the classroom means teachers treat children with respect and kindness and model scenarios in which students learn how to approach real-world situations with kindness. For older students, teachers will place high expectations for students to react in kind ways toward their peers, temper their anger or disagreements in healthy ways, and seek methods of solution and peace with other students. It also includes training on how to value themselves and others and promote positivity in their demeanor. For younger children, it’s all these things in addition to an emphasis on learning to share and how to wait for toys when sharing is impossible.
Robin Wilson-Clipson, principal and teacher at Pace Academy in Harlingen, noticed a need to teach kindness in her school as a proactive approach against bullying, and has noted incredible success with her students. She emphasizes how teaching kindness offers children long-lasting character qualities that carry on to adulthood.
“When you’re teaching anti-bullying, you’re reacting to something that’s already happened — you’re waiting for something to happen and then you’re teaching children how to arm themselves against bullying, but at that point, somebody has already been injured,” Wilson-Clipson said. “However, I truly believe that the way to not have to teach anti-bullying is to just teach kindness. We can teach students how to interact with their peers in a positive and wholesome way.”
Junior high students in Wilson-Clipson’s class have learned to disagree in healthy ways that don’t lead to aggressive behavior or emotional explosions. Students have gained a respect for different opinions when it comes to lifestyle choices or preferences, and don’t judge one another. Promoting a positive and understanding environment has increased productivity within the class because students feel comfortable and safe.
“When children are taught kindness in the classroom, large group discussions in class — no matter what it’s about, science, math, English, poetry, movies, video games, no matter what it is — the conversation is more open and students are more apt to share what they truly believe because they know they can bring information to the group and not be criticized for their viewpoint or ridiculed or shamed because they don’t think the same way as everyone else,” Wilson-Clipson said. “It helps with their expansion of knowledge and mind — and people can share openly and freely without risking being hurt.”
Rachel Rodriguez, head of the math department and an eighth-grade teacher at Todd Middle School in Donna, also agrees that fostering a safe environment is key to academic success and should be included into the class culture and expectations.
“I think as a teacher it’s my job not to just teach math,” Rodriguez said. “We should go a step further and teach students to be good citizens, and respect is a big part of it.”
Every year Rodriguez uses an activity with her students called “The Trash Bag Activity” that aims at promoting respect in the classroom and producing a safe environment, and every year she sees impactful results among students and their peers. Students in each of her classes receives a blank index card. On one side students are instructed to write about a time in their life they have been emotionally or physically hurt by another person. She gives examples of types of bullying and encourages students to be raw and truthful when writing their experience because the index cards remain anonymous. Students share hurtful and painful moments that sometimes even surprise Rodriguez. On the opposite side of the index card, students are then instructed to write a time they have hurt someone else. She shares an example of students who didn’t actually bully a child but perhaps just laughed along or ignored bullying. Once students finish the assignment, she then passes along a trash bag to symbolize that each hurtful experience represents “trash” and will not be tolerated in the classroom. She assures students that she will protect them if she sees bullying and expects respectful behavior to both her and their peers while in her class.
“No matter what, students will respect my classroom … it’s a self-check for them and I let them know that no matter what’s going on out there right now, they’re in the classroom — they have to throw disrespect in the trash,” Rodriguez said.
Both educators agreed that teaching kindness in the classroom not only affects the current learning environment but aids in creating more respectful and understanding students, friends, employees, and citizens, as well as encourages other teachers to adopt teaching kindness.