Why Kindness Matters at School
In honour of Random Act of Kindness Week (February 11-17, 2018), we asked Leo Baeck parent and Kindness Advocate Steffi Black to explain the importance of kindness in our schools.
By Steffi Black, Leo Baeck parent
Historically, the push for our children to achieve academically frequently crowded out emotional aspects of their development. Based on recent academic studies, EQ (Emotional Intelligence) may be more important than IQ when it comes to their ability to adapt to life’s challenges and even to thrive in the face of them.
Kindness emphasizes respect towards differences and ultimately the acceptance of them. It’s a value I spend much of my time touting the virtues of as a parent and a presenter to schools and corporations.
School eventually starts to rival the home as far as a model for forming relationships. If the stage is set for teachers to focus on inclusive, warm interactions, children feel safe and heard.
Group stimulation can be a lot to take in for introverted or simply quieter students, and there is wisdom for making the suitable adjustments to the environment. It’s not about making every child fit in but rather making space for each child to march to his or her own drummer and still feel accepted.
What values do we impart? What do we stand for? When a school like Leo Baeck seeks to combine academic excellence with a nurturing community, it should be reflected not only in teacher-student interactions but also in the interactions among and between parents and staff.
Rochelle Chester, the Interim Principal at the South Campus where my children study, is an example. She loves the children and cares for the staff. Her warmth is evident, and she maintains standards for behaviour—not with punitive demands but by communicating expectations for the team to bring their best to their roles. That is kindness in leadership. We want to do our best for those who believe in us.
As parents, we serve as examples. If we make fun at others’ expense or gossip in front of our children, we can expect to see that mirrored in the classroom. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Instead of blaming and judging, kindness guides us to forgive people’s shortcomings and look for the best outcome in any exchange. It’s about forgoing judgement and bringing an open-heartedness to unfamiliar situations.
Spread the Kindness
As a Kindness Advocate, I began with short talks and school workshops, but I found the impact was minor. When I introduced an intensive monthly curriculum and assigned a dedicated Kindness Ambassador in consultation with parents and staff alike, I could feel the difference.
An often-cited study on kindness examined 9-to-11-year olds in 19 classrooms who were charged with 3 acts of kindness for 4 weeks. Among the findings were positive impacts in terms of peer acceptance and in-class values. “Teachers and interventionists can build on this study”, its authors concluded, “by introducing intentional prosocial activities into classrooms and recommending that such activities be performed regularly and purposefully.”¹
Creating kindness behaviours that stick, as with any new habit, takes time. The latest evidence suggests that it takes over sixty days to cement a new habit; expecting one talk on kindness to result in consistent change is a tall order. After her classrooms committed to a full month of kind acts, one GTA teacher shared the impact with me: “We feel the school has become a warmer environment. People are more positive, understanding and inclusive. They’re actually going out of their way to help others.”
A former Leo Baeck teacher, Ilana Hendleman, gave me my first opportunity to bring kindness to the classroom after overhearing me talk to my girls about our plan to do something kind for someone each Shabbat. Deborah Epstein-Franks later allowed me to do a small workshop with my daughter Laila Youngman’s class, which dovetailed with Leo Baeck’s character education efforts.
From there I developed a deeper program, introducing more outcome-based aspects, and brought it to corporations. Like all of us, I have had the experience of both strong and poor leadership and have realized that caring, accountable leaders inspired the best behaviour and business outcomes.
Through our own leadership, we can set the tone for a caring and connected school environment. We can make meaningful change by introducing kindness activities and guidance consistently. I applaud schools for choosing leaders and teachers who believe in the power of kindness. It makes a better world for all of us.
¹ Layous, Kristin et al. (2012), ‘Kindness Counts: Prompting Prosocial Behavior in Preadolescents Boosts Peer Acceptance and Well-Being’, PLoS ONE 7(12): e51380, p. 1.
Steffi Black is a Life/Career Coach and Kindness Advocate for Schools and Corporations. She is in her fifth year supporting ‘spreadthekindness’ during the International Random Acts of Kindness Week involving corporations and schools in performing three kind acts that week and encouraging individuals to do the same. Featured Author, Ready, Aim, Thrive – Amazon bestseller on Discovering How To Flourish and Prosper from Today from experts, and featured author in ‘My Creative Thoughts.’ www.steffiblackcoaching.com
Watch Steffi Black explain how she arrived at ‘spreadthekindness’ on Global TV: