This blog post was written by Dr. Polly A. Peterson, PhD, MSW, Head of School at
Chase Collegiate School in Waterbury, CT. The Kingsbury Center is sharing Dr. Peterson’s thoughts as our Center has long believed that Kindness is Transformational!
Kindness matters in life. From time to time, parents will ask me, “Does your school teach the value of kindness?” It is a good question. Who is responsible for making sure that kindness is taught? Because kindness matters!
Research by Dr. Sara Konrath at the University of Michigan suggests that in the past 30 years, self-reported concern for others — a kindness barometer if you will — has been steadily declining. Konrath’s study shows that right now, compassion and empathy are at their lowest point in more than 30 years.
Independent Schools across the nation are sought after because of their academic outcomes. Students who have graduated from Independent Schools are among the highest achievers and make up the rank and file at the most prestigious universities and colleges across the United States. These Independent School pride themselves on developing global citizens. The question that is before us is, “Are these academically competitive, creative, global thinkers kind?” Do they demonstrate compassion and kindness? In fact, how can we measure compassion and kindness?
A cornerstone of Independent Schools is to build character into programs in an authentic manner, not simply through a “program,” but through the comprehensive hiring of faculty and staff who embody the mission of the school. There must be more than just a tacit knowledge that kindness does indeed matter; it should be an explicit acknowledgment and expressed practice that kindness matters – for everyone at all times — especially when it is most difficult to demonstrate.
There is something very special and, in fact unique, about teachers who work in Independent Schools. They have the luxury of “teachable moment” autonomy. They can take as much time as they need to guide their students to observe, think, reflect and work through moments and events when kindness and compassion are needed. They can use a current event in the world, a political moment, a classroom situation, a playground example and most contemporarily a social media moment to demonstrate how kindness and compassion apply. Kindness cannot simply be taught at home; it must also be taught and demonstrated at school, on the playing fields, in afterschool clubs, during academic time and activities and in the hallways each and every day.
Simple ways that our schools teach and support kindness each day include:
1. Modeling kindness in the classroom. Demonstrate and verbally state when kindness is warranted. Teachers must model by being kind, avoiding sarcasm and never speaking negatively of any member of their community. Never!
2. Taking the time for “teachable moments.” Independent School classrooms allow for community building and time to help students manage and negotiate social contracts all day long. Teachers have the ability to take time and encourage all students to learn and grow when the moment is necessary. Point out examples of compassion in real time; “The manner in which you handled that disagreement demonstrated your understanding and compassion for someone else’s belief.”
3. A Service Learning component is vital. Most schools now have some type of service learning component within the school community or in their larger communities. This permits students of all ages to learn and practice care, kindness and compassion with others outside of their personal realities, which can be life-changing in terms of understanding, growing and developing genuine care and kindness towards others.
4. School community commitment. All faculty, staff, students and families should be talking about the importance of kindness, what that means in their communities and how they demonstrate this each day. The random act of kindness movement has waned, but the concept of building in the acknowledgment of random acts of kindness, through shout-outs, kudos, Ubuntus and other public ways of acknowledging kindness in the community must exist. This can be a joyful way to encourage kids to go the extra mile when an opportunity presents itself to be kind or demonstrate compassion.
5. Partnering with parents and families. Working hand-in-hand with our families to build strong values that include compassion and kindness is the cornerstone of Independent School life. Reciprocity – the mutual benefit that will result from this is life-changing – can, in fact, be transformational.
Studies over the past decades agree that there is a direct correlation; people who possess a greater capacity for compassion and kindness ARE more likely to demonstrate good life choice decisions throughout their lives.
The culture of compassion and kindness in school allows students to develop into teens, young adults and adults who value one another and themselves and those humans and animals with whom we share this earth. Kindness is transformational and Independent Schools play a critical role in this transformation.