Creating a Culture of Kindness | Professional Shelf

At a time when name-calling appears prevalent, teaching kindness warrants particular consideration.
  While teachers might hope that all students arrive at school prepared to get along, it’s not difficult for young people to identify adult role models who lack basic civility in their public speech and behavior. At a time when name-calling seems prevalent, teaching kindness warrants particular consideration. In Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School: 48 Character-Building Lessons to Foster Respect and Prevent Bullying (Free Spirit, 2017), Naomi Drew, an author with experience in conflict resolution, and Christa M. Tinari, an educator who specializes in social-emotional learning and bully prevention, offer a blueprint for teaching specific skills which promote empathy and support a compassionate school environment. Citing the American Institutes for Research, the authors point out that a positive school climate has significant advantages, including increased attendance and academic achievement. Data also shows that while students might believe it’s important to be kind, many are not equipped to effectively deal with unkind behavior when they witness it, and most won’t seek guidance from a teacher when it occurs. In other words, “kids are too rarely given enough specific, practical information on how to handle real-life bullying situations.” The authors believe that appropriate strategies and responses for difficult situations can be explicitly taught, and students should be given time to role-play and rehearse skills. Divided into five sections, this set of 48 lessons begins with a dozen core lessons that “set the stage” and train students to focus on their actions and reactions. For example, students practice visualizing a peaceful school and what it requires; they agree on how to hold discussions, and they learn techniques for thinking before they speak or react. The other segments focus on fostering courage and kindness, celebrating and accepting differences, handling conflict, and dealing with bullying. Each lesson is designed to last approximately 30 minutes and includes step-by-step directions along with follow-up and enrichment activities. Most incorporate reproducible checklists, questions for reflection, and other related handouts; all are available in a downloadable PDF file. Having the school’s administrators and teachers on board as these lessons are introduced is ideal; however, individual teachers who can only devote a few minutes a day to the effort will find a host of useful exercises and suggestions. An easy to implement “Compassion Exercise” encourages students to mentally confer safety and happiness upon themselves and others; training young people to “Stop, Breathe, Chill” defuses anger and tension, and a few seconds of deep breathing at the start of each lesson or class introduces calm and focuses attention. Additional resources include a student survey to gauge the level of conflict and bullying within a school; recommended books and websites are also listed.
Other recent Professional Shelf columns include reviews of Laura Erickson-Schroth and Laura A. Jacobs's  You're in the Wrong Bathroom: And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions About Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People  and Kate E. Fiske's Autism and the Family: Understanding and Supporting Parents and Siblings.

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