Let’s Talk About Kindness
Kindness helps everything. It can smooth over advice for improvements. Sincere empathy during a difficult time can make that adversity seem a little more bearable. An unexpected kindness can build a positive rapport between people. That rapport can then be used to give a young person the courage to discuss their challenges and dreams with you. There is always a choice to bring kindness into a situation…especially the classroom. Kindness can make even devastating news more palatable. Kindness can be as simple as saying nothing when a young person has really made a poor choice. We all need kindness the most when we deserve it least.
Be Kind to Yourself
As a rule teachers are pretty tough on themselves. We accept assignments late and jeopardize our own free time to show kindness to students. We give up our lunch breaks, planning bells and spend countless hours before and after school tutoring, running clubs, or just talking with students. We answer emails, call parents, serve on committees, mentor a new teacher and then end up taking all our grading home. Most teachers are “yes” people. It seems the last person we are kind to is ourselves.
A few summers ago I enrolled in a couple of one week workshops for teachers. One of the teachers had us do an activity I will never forget. She asked us to write a letter to ourselves about any area or aspect of our life that concerned us. The letters were going to be mailed back to our homes in a self-addressed stamped envelope at a specified later date. But here is the twist that made this activity to powerful. She asked us to write that letter using the same type of kind and encouraging words that we would use with a student. Whoa! I learned very quickly that I talk to and criticize myself in a very different way than I would talk to students. Writing to myself using the tact and care I use with my students was a very emotional experience. I could tell it had the same impact on every teacher in that room. It revealed to me that on a daily basis I am probably my own worst enemy.
Helping Students Learn Kind Self-Talk
The following year I used this activity with my seniors shortly before they graduated. It was a classroom full of future teachers. They were going to be writing encouraging notes and letters to students. I had them practice on themselves. I gave them the same instructions my workshop teacher had given me. They asked if I was going to read them or not. I gave them the same answer as my workshop teacher. “If you seal them, I won’t read them.” As they wrote silently, you could feel the intensity in the classroom. Rachael began to cry quietly as she wrote encouraging words to herself. She wasn’t the only student who reacted with emotion. She later said, “Well, Mrs. Easley, you made me cry in school. I have managed to get through kindergarten and twelve years of school without ever crying in class. But just before I graduate, you make me cry in class!” Ouch.
While my goal certainly wasn’t to make her cry, (truthfully she made herself cry with what she wrote), I could see the experience had made a lasting impact on her and many others in class. When that much emotion is attached to an activity, you know that they have experienced something memorable. To be honest I knew there were a few in the room who found the activity too emotional, and then just wrote something meaningless in the envelope and sealed it. But I suppose that is true of any endeavor. We get out of it what we are willing to put into it. That is also true of life.
Hurdle Roadblocks with Kindness
I’ve also learned that kindness works for me when I come across a roadblock in my life. I try to teach students about this technique. The kindness doesn’t even have to be directed at the situation that is presenting a roadblock. In fact it works better if it is completely unrelated. Small kindnesses make us feel as good as the person to whom we direct the kindness. When we feel better about ourselves, we are more effective on many fronts. Unselfish kindnesses do have a way of coming back to us with unexpected rewards, but that cannot and should not be our original goal. Spreading kindness has a domino effect. Except unlike dominoes kindness doesn’t knock people over, it builds them up. And isn’t that the best definition of teaching?
TEACH…To Change Lives
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