One of the first ways to instill an inclusive school attitude is to teach students important social and emotional skills such as compassion and kindness. There are many strategies, lessons, and resources that teachers can use daily in classrooms or throughout the entire school that will teach these skills. Implementing these skills in classrooms helps to build kinder, more compassionate school communities, while also minimizing challenging behavior. Oftentimes, teaching students to be kind to others requires that they learn to be gracious with themselves. Here are some ways we can work to build these soft skills within our students, first within themselves, and then within the classroom.
Self-kindness: Teach kids to talk to themselves with kindness
It is all too easy for our students to talk to themselves unkindly. This is because as humans, we are so often our own worst critics. In fact, research shows that most people are kinder to others than to themselves. When our students, particularly those who are communicating a great need to us through challenging behavior, continue to use negative and unkind talk with themselves, they can internalize false ideas about who they are and what they can become or achieve. In order to break this negative cycle for our students, we must provide them with language, strategies, and many opportunities to practice how to be supportive and understanding toward themselves, particularly when they are suffering, in pain, feeling stressed, angry, or out of control. By facilitating this social-emotional learning for them, we can effectively help students to soothe and nurture themselves using more gentle and encouraging self-talk.
Common humanity: Teach kids they are not alone.
We will all “get it wrong” sometimes because we are human. But unlearning the myths of perfection in order to embrace the concept of being perfectly imperfect can takes years, decades even! We want to help our students understand that even if they lose the game, or hurt a friend’s feelings, or make a mistake in a group project, they are still worthy of love and belonging. A way to help students understand that it is okay to have disappointments, both in themselves or their circumstances, is to help them see that they are not alone in these feelings and experiences. is critical to making sure they don’t feel isolated in their struggles and failures. When we help students to see themselves as a human like all others who will sometimes fail and make mistakes, we can have what Neff & Dahm describe as broader perspective, “by remembering the shared human experience, we feel less isolated when we are in pain” and we can help students cultivate a mindset that is more deeply connected to others and their experiences, while also boosting self-compassion in themselves.
Mindfulness: Teach kids the art of being in the moment.
Mindfulness can help us face the present moment without judgment for ourselves or others, and without avoiding or repressing our emotions or ideas. This can be very difficult, because it means we must be willing to sit with painful thoughts and emotions in order to approach ourselves with self-compassion and kindness. It is easy for us and our students to get lost in their distress or anger, or to move so quickly into solving the issue at hand, that we do not pause to consider the difficulty, or our anger or sadness. When we teach students to be mindful of our feelings, we can help them understand that our emotions and feelings aren’t who they are— and instead, can help them recognize that our thoughts and feelings do not get to decide who we are or who we will be.
Teaching Kindness and Compassion toward others
Deep social connections are a serious predictor of happiness and well-being. Therefore, it is critical that we encourage our students to connect with and practice kindness and compassion with one another. This is particularly important when we consider the tense, uncomfortable dynamics that can build between peers and a student who is displaying challenging behavior. Here are some basic and helpful practices for teaching this way throughout the week:
Topic Tables at Lunch: Lunch tables can be identified by a particular topic of interest (i.e. football, gamers, vinyl, dance) and students can go sit with new (or familiar) peers in school to engage in interest based lunch-tables.
Peer Support: Incorporate peer support into the day by having a rule where students first “ask three before me” or check with three other students before checking in with the teacher.
Strength Based Jobs: Have an expert wall where students list their strengths in terms of how they can help the community (i.e. spelling support, math support, organizational support, tech support, emotional/cheering up support).
Make Quick Connections Throughout the Lesson: Work multiple opportunities for peer connection into a lesson (i.e., Pair Share, Turn and Talk).
Purposefully Build Community: If you do not already have a book on building community, consider buying one or googling community builders (e.g., Back to Back, Car wash, Dinner party conversations). These activities not only build connections, they also create happier learning environments and can and should be used in secondary classrooms.
By working to teach these skills among our students, we will ultimately be encouraging this kind of attitude and behavior in our districts.
What other ideas and strategies do you use to teach kids about compassion and kindness? Leave a comment below, we would love to hear from you!