“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose KIND”
Guys, you know what I’ve decided? I’ll NEVER get everything taught the way I want. BUT, no matter where I feel like I am dropping the ball, I can make sure that my students learn to be good human beings. More than anything, I want kind kids. Every year I feel spread too thin as a teacher, and this year I just can’t shake the feeling that I am forever letting students down. In so many ways I feel like I am not meeting all of their unique needs. Despite this, there is one tiny piece of consolation that keeps me going: I don’t need a lesson plan, assessment, or differentiated instruction to teach KINDNESS.
We preach kindnesss all the time, but teaching kindness is an entirely different animal. Simply telling our students to be kind is not enough. Kindness is something that must be explicitly taught, just like fractions and possessive nouns. Sometimes, we teachers (and us parents) believe that our children come to us understanding basic social skills. We know, though, that really this isn’t the case these days.
Often, children do not intend to be mean, or (and even more likely) they truly do not understand the power of words. Heck, there’s a decent percentage of adults who don’t! But I digress..
As teachers, a large part of our job is to create a safe, positive atmosphere for our students to learn and grow within. Kindness should be part of our curriculum! Teaching kindness is essential to a happy, healthy, effective classroom.
ENTER: THE KINDNESS CURRICULUM!
Every good curriculum includes those 2 little words: Modeling and mini-lessons! I don’t really have an actual curriculum that I follow to teach kindness (although I think I may start working on one!), I decided to compile a few of the lessons I have done with my kiddos over the years that have really had an impact on our classroom environment. The one below is a great way to start off!
It goes without saying that the way to begin with your students is modeling how to act in a kind way. We do this all the time as teachers, but it bears mentioning some basics.
- Use kind language when interacting with them and other staff
- Show humility and understanding
- Encourage kind interactions within the classroom.
Remember that some children will be coming to you with very negative experiences, who hear negative and degrading language used at home. These kiddos don’t really know how to use positive words to explain what they need/want/are feeling. Oftentimes, teaching kindness is essentially just teaching positive communication skills!
Okay, here is the mini-lesson I used:
Materials: 1 sheet of loose-leaf paper per student
Distribute the paper to your students. Tell them that this paper represents a student/friend/person. Ask them to raise their hand if they have ever said something unkind to someone else, been dishonest, or said something they wished they hadn’t. This is a good time to introduce the word “regret” and discuss it’s meaning and implications in regards to social interactions. At this point, all hands should be up (yours included!).
Instruct the class to fold their paper in half to create a crease. This crease represents saying one unkind or dishonest thing to another person. Ask the class to raise a hand if they think saying just one mean comment could hurt someone? Would only one comment ruin an entire friendship or another person’s feelings about you? Take the responses and discuss, and then turn their attention back to the paper. Ask how they could make that line disappear. Many students will fold it the opposite way, which I like to metaphorically say is like “doing the opposite” of what you did to put the line there in the first place. Perhaps saying kind words instead of mean, being polite and thoughtful instead of selfish or rude, etc.
Talk about how this one line has compromised the integrity of the paper, and while that’s not irreversible, it is possible to make it look almost invisible with some time and effort. Go back to the original question of ‘can one bad move ruin a friendship’ and apply it to what they observed in the paper. It may not end it, but it still does damage. Words are powerful, and you can’t take them back.
After some smoothing out, ask the students to crumble the paper into a ball. Tell them that this represents being repeatedly unkind or dishonest to someone else. Ask them to unfold the paper and look at the marks. While we cannot always see the effects of our words and actions on others, on the inside they are scarred-just like the paper!
I now ask my students to try and make the lines go away again. Boy will they go crazy! They try to smooth it out with their hands, with their books, they rub it on the edges of their desks, but of course, despite some improvement, the lines never really fade completely. It would take a long time of constantly working on it to make the paper look close to what it had been originally. The paper will never again look the same, even if it looks better.
This, of course, is the point of it all. The lines never really fade completely, just like the memories/scars of a hurtful experience or unkind word. I believe it was Jack’s mom in the book Wonder who said, “Just because you didn’t intend to be mean, doesn’t mean you weren’t.” Discuss how the impact of their words and actions will last much longer than they think. Ask them to recall a time they remember being hurt. We can all remember one, and typically it still stings when we think about it!
Everyone says or does something they regret, because of course, we are all imperfect. In these times, when we create a crease on someone we care about, we can usually smooth it out with time. “I’m sorry” goes a long way, and continuously “smoothing out” by showing kindness and love will eventually make it so the crease is barely visible.
However, constantly being unkind or dishonest will build up. After so many creases are created, it is nearly impossible to smooth them out completely. Even when we are feeling angry, upset, or frustrated, our words are powerful. And, just like a superhero, we need to use that power to HELP, not to HURT.
The first step to becoming a kind person is to understand how much impact an unkind act will have.
So, there’s my first Kindness Curriculum post! I hope you are as excited as I am about bringing in some extra KIND activities to your classroom. Soon I will add some resources and extra fun stuff to supplement my “curriculum.” Stay tuned for more KIND posts to come!