Teachers spend a lot of time throughout their days teaching students about kindness and solving problems. But is this the only way we can help to create a culture of kindness? I think a culture of kindness goes well beyond the classroom walls. In fact, it starts at home and in the community. So how do we create a community culture of kindness that crosses over home, schools, communities and ultimately into our society? Well, that is a big concept but we can do some specific things in school that will help to begin the process.
Lessons in School
In school, students learn about how to solve problems in peaceful ways, how to "say no to bullying" and how to get along with others. All of these things are important in school but may be missing an important initial set of lessons. Students, and all people, need to understand themselves first before being able to get along with others. They need to participate in learning that helps them to recognize their own emotions, personality, likes, dislikes and what makes them happy etc. before they can look outside of themselves and show empathy and understanding towards others. These lessons need to go beyond the "All About Me" lessons that we usually teach at the beginning of the year. These lessons involve using children's literature and mindful learning lessons as well as lessons on health and nutrition. The more they know about themselves, the more they will be able to see the potential in themselves and the more they can look outwards towards others.
Lessons That Transfer Home
Families are busy. Parents are working and getting their kids off to daycare, school and/or extra curricular activities. If teachers set the stage for learning at school in a meaningful ways, students are more inclined to carry that learning home. If our students are excited about their learning (and who doesn't love learning about their brain and what makes them tick?), they will often want to talk about it at home. Some of the brain based learning and health and nutrition learning can be extended at home. The best way to reinforce learning about nutrition is to talk about it at home and go shopping with parents to take a look first hand at the sugar content of foods etc. I know my students would often come back to school and comment on their dinner from last evening telling me whether it contained the elements from the food groups. Even lunches started improving because the children started taking a more active part in the process.
I just love hearing from parents that their child is telling them all about their brain or is doing "brain breaks" at home. Several parents told me that their child started teaching THEM how to do brain breaks so they "wouldn't be so stressed out!" Students can do some mindful reflecting in their mindful journals at school and parents love reading about it when they come in for conferences.
Bringing the Community Inside
More and more, teachers are utilizing the community services and experts to come into the class to teach the students about community helpers etc. This is a great way to integrate school and community learning. I also think it's a good idea to "think outside the box" and bring in speakers to help students understand how a community lives, grows, helps each other etc. For example, my students learned a lot when our local city office opened up their doors and hosted an event which featured people who help others. My students learned about animal protection services and environmental issues like composting and planting. I like how they learned the WHY and not just the how. It's events like this that help our students to understand how a community come together and why we all should be an active part of our own community. Kids are curious and love to learn more.
Using Technology to Inspire
Technology is moving so fast. Every day there's a new app or a new website that we can discover. Safe technology use is being taught at school and hopefully at home. When computers first started to be used, I can remember "going to computers". It was a thing. An event. Today we are moving towards using technology as an enhancement to our learning much like encyclopedias and dictionaries were many years ago.
Technology use can foster those curious minds. It is great to see what others are doing to care in the world. Some classrooms are using Skype as a way to connect about learning. Students can create videos and presentations using technology and show the spirit of gratitude and giving to more people than just their classmates. This is really amazing when you think about it.
Some final thoughts...
I know I have teachers ask me all the time, how do you get kids to care about learning about these things? Kids are sweet and what I think teachers are really meaning to ask is, how do you have these feelings about caring for ourselves, our community and our classroom and school be a strong part of what we want to do each and every day?
The answer is to make it a large part of each and every day. Embed it into their learning. Make sure it's not a separate lesson like when computers was a thing. An event. The answer is to engage your students in meaningful personal and social learning. Every day.