Online and in print, there is a lot of idealising about nurturing niceness and educating ‘the whole child’. But at the sharp edge in schools, when teachers are busy and pressured to provide results (test scores that is), what can realistically happen? Values and ethics reduced to a snappy slogan on the walls of the hall? Positive characteristics and traits referred to in a school mission statement but never in lessons? Sanctions imposed for negative behaviours but little recognition for positive? Rewards reserved for classwork and achievement?
In the same way that children need to be taught how to hold a knife and fork, tie shoelaces or do long division, so too are empathy, kindness, benevolence and charity traits that need to be taught. Yet where do we reward students for being kind and not just clever? Where do we praise schools for educating hearts and not just minds?
When asked “What is education for?”, the answer “passing tests” is not always at the top of list. Instead, teachers often cite ‘holistic outcomes’, citizenship development and rich understanding of knowledge in context - not just a list of rote-learned facts - as key ambitions.
But there is little reward for schools or students who achieve these holistic aims. Although evidence of healthy SMSC and British Values provision contributes to an inspection outcome, Ofsted’s criteria largely hang on exam results. Progress 8 looks at points from qualifications. SATs tests define a child’s Primary school achievements. Teacher assessment and reporting to parents leans heavily on levels.
How can we turn this system on its head? By innovating our routines and protocols. Happy children achieve more, kindness breeds kindness. Although ‘behaviour’ can be a key concern in school development plans, there is a difference between students not being naughty and being actively kind.
One method I’ve implemented had me standing up to present an assembly in front of Years 7, 8 and 9, playing a YouTube video called ‘random acts of kindness’ and then challenging students to conduct their own over the six-week half term. Media Studies students also created a video to show in form time.
The next half term we went a step further. On the first Monday back after the holidays, the school council and I went into school two hours early in order to (in the words of executive principal Dave Whittaker) “batter the school with kindness”. ‘Thank you’ notes left for cleaners and caretakers. Flowers in the reception. Fifty pence pieces sellotaped to the vendors, sweeties left in the staffroom, compliments stuck to windows. Free umbrellas for the rain, new pencil cases for the new starters, ‘you’re the best’ badges for the dinner ladies. Balloons dropped off at the nursery, handing Murray Mints to the arriving bus drivers, and a car cleaning service offered in the car park. The list was extensive, and I’ve forgotten a few I’m sure, but the buzz was tangible.
With the school council driving the agenda, students let their imaginations run wild with the kindness drive. A school charity was formed - ‘The Helping Hand’ - and projects dreamed up. Age UK and Yorkshire Air Ambulance visited the school, collections and visits to local food banks were run... It was a beautiful blooming of positive deeds, and served to remind staff and students: ‘It’s nice to be nice’.
Other projects/ideas to promote kindness in schools:
- Create a kindness award: Regular and visible recognition for acts of kindness.
- Secret Gardeners or Cake Club: Under the cover of home time, revamp school spaces with flowers, pot plants, herb gardens and vegetable patches. Alternatively, anonymously deliver buns and cakes to pigeon holes and classrooms.
- Chatting and coffee morning: Contact local charities and invite them into your school / arrange visits in the community.
- Care Home Christmas Choir: Sing for the older people as a Christmas treat.
- Culture Cures Hospital Postcards: In Art or English, Tech or PSHE, make positive postcards with messages to be posted to hospital wards.
The results were striking. There were 100s of recorded and rewarded acts of kindness. Students could see them, staff could see them, and we could all feel them.
Here are just some acts of kindness by students recorded by staff over two half terms [this is a fraction of the acts Paul sent in! - Editor]:
- Handed in a lost £10 note.
- Reassured a friend who was obviously upset.
- Helped a classmate around on her crutches all week.
- Gave a fellow student who was diabetic his Double Decker chocolate bar as her blood sugars were low and she could have gone into 'shock' state.
- Often offers to carry bag upstairs for me.
- Stood up to a bully and lost friends over it. A brave student!
- Assisted a student who had a bad nose bleed, cleaned him up.
- Knew my nephew was starting football sticker book so brought his swaps in.
- Lovely, genuine “How are you? Did you have a good weekend Miss?” upon entering the lesson.
- Holds the door open for other students. Has consistently good manners, and very polite and respectful to everybody.
- Helped at a traffic collision in the village.
- Doing great work for her chosen charity.
Where is the kindness in your curriculum? Make this year the year to be nice. World Kindness Day is November 13th 2018, and Random Acts of Kindness days can be run throughout the year, so get planning!
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