More Than Just Academics: Teaching Kindness

More Than Just Academics: Teaching Kindness

Sarah Pennington (Montana State University, USA) and Ann M. Ellsworth (Montana State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2971-3.ch008

Abstract

This chapter addresses how the authors, two former elementary school teachers, discovered that their students needed lessons in how to treat fellow students with respect and kindness. Now working in teacher preparation, the authors reflect on the importance of actively teaching kindness. They argue that teaching children to be thoughtful, kind, and considerate is every bit as vital as teaching them the three Rs—Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic. From experience, they know that helping children develop an ethic of caring for others is not learned from lecture or posted rules. Rather, it is learned from observation and with encounters of what kindness looks and feels like. In their college classrooms, they share these stories as a way to help young teachers understand that once they are in a classroom of their own, they will be education the whole child.
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From “Slamming” To Celebrating

On a typical day in my classroom, I heard a variety of insults tossed carelessly across desks. Some were intended to hurt; others were simply thoughtless remarks. I usually addressed them with a reminder to be kind to each other and moved on. Despite my own experience being bullied as a student in school, I thought my reminders were enough. I didn’t notice the impact these comments were having on the environment of my classroom (and, indeed, on my school) until I found something ugly that forced me to evaluate how ineffective my efforts to encourage kindness had been.

Two girls in my classroom were sitting in the back of the room, giggling during independent work time and passing a notebook to another girl at the next table. This girl took the notebook and began flipping through the pages. With a broad smile, she turned to an empty page and began to write. Whatever she was writing had her full attention, so she did not notice when I approached her. As I glanced over her shoulder, what I read activated a mix of emotions: anger, frustration, and despair. Nonetheless, remaining calm, I asked her to stop writing and hand me the notebook. Reluctantly, she did so. With wide eyes, the girls who had passed her the notebook watched me return to my desk. I put the notebook in a drawer and resumed teaching.

Later that day, during my planning period, I opened that drawer and pulled out the notebook. On the front cover was the name of one of my students. Notably, it was not the name of any of the girls involved in the passing of the notebook earlier that day. Each page of the notebook was filled with insults about the student named on the cover. Some were well-written while others showed little thought. None were signed by the writer. All were hurtful. The more I read, the more furious and disappointed I became. The girls involved in the malicious act were leaders in my class. Their peers listened to them and respected their ideas. Those cruel words, written by them and many of their friends, now had me questioning my own actions. Had I created an environment where this sort of cruelty was acceptable? Was it too late to fix this problem? Had the student named on the cover been a frequent victim of bullying that I had failed to notice?

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