4 ways to sow kindness in your primary classroom

Negative interactions between pupils waste precious time in the classroom – so spread kindness, says Gregory Adam
10th December 2020, 10:53am
Gregory Michael Adam Macur


4 ways to sow kindness in your primary classroom

Leadership: How To Build A Culture Of Kindness 

"He stole my pencil!"

"She called me stupid!"

"I don't want to sit next to him!"

At the start of the year, my current class really struggled with negative interactions; they loved getting their friends in trouble and pointing out every single flaw in the people around them.

Not only is this tiring for a teacher, but it also wastes a lot of time in class - after all, if you lose five minutes of every lesson to resolving negative interactions and you have five lessons a day, you lose 25 minutes a day, which is over two hours a week and almost 10 hours a month.

Compounding this catastrophe is that you and the students are spending these hours frustrated and drowning in cortisol. Not great for wellbeing and even worse for longevity in your teaching career.

Behaviour: Nurturing kindness among pupils

It would be easy to become hardened to this or see it as just part of primary school life. But I think it is vital we fight against this and do more to introduce kindness to our classrooms.

After all, not only will it help our stress level and their wellbeing, but research also makes clear that "Instructor rapport, student rapport, and classroom connectedness enhanced student participation".

There is also evidence that having a positive and engaging learning environment is "one of the most powerful tools teachers can use to encourage children's learning and prevent problem behaviours from occurring".

So how can we bring more kindness into our classrooms?

1. Reward kind writing

This is something that I have found extremely effective. When students do a writing task, if they write kind things about their friends, reward them.

We use Class Dojo at my current school, and this makes it easy as I leave a green "G" on their work and link it to the kind words. In the next morning, when they come up to put on their Green Dojo, I ask them why they have received this so they can reflect briefly.

Sometimes I even read out their kind words to the class. It changes the atmosphere for the whole day and shows them that kind words are as important as working hard.

2. Have a compliment moment 

This is a really simple thing that can be done in one or two minutes and works well at any time of the day (although best in the mornings to set the tone).

This is where you tell the students they have a chance to go to people in the class and say something nice to them. You should model this first by walking up to two or three students and showing what they can say. You can also have a couple of students do this, too. Once this is a routine, it flows very well and pupils enjoy it.

It should be noted that you may need to direct a couple of pupils to some who do not usually get compliments or have a rule that children have to go to new friends every day.

3. Kindness storytelling

This is the oldest idea in the book, but it is still around for a good reason. Playing stories on YouTube or reading stories as a class is a great way to plant idea seeds.

Be sure to vet the whole video if you are going to use a YouTube video. The last thing you want is inappropriate material playing in your class.

A good example of a kindness video I used recently is "The Giving Tree". It shows how giving to others makes us feel good and how taking from others does not. It also shows how if you always take from others, the results are quite sad.

Your class can have discussions about this and even come up with ideas of their own on how to give to others.

4. Ask 'whose problem is it?'

Here is a scenario: Pupil A comes up to you and tells you that Pupil B was not sitting nicely in the assembly. There are 30 children in your class, and they all see Pupil A get some attention and appreciation for this act.

The next day, 30 pupils are swarming you as they come into the classroom.

Not a single part of that scenario is positive. It is OK for pupils to come and tell you some things - eg, reporting bullying. You need to tell them what is worth bringing to the teacher.

In the above scenario, as soon as Pupil A comes to you and tells on their friend, you can say: "Is that a Pupil A problem?"

This statement, combined with my telling the pupils what they should come and tell me, has saved a great deal of time and improved pupil relations in my classroom. I can even simply mouth the words and the children know instantly they are not making the best choice.

It actually makes a difference

Since working on this with my class, I have seen a huge reduction in negative comments and interaction. It has not totally gone away but it has reduced incredibly.

The atmosphere is far more positive and children regularly write and say the best things about each other.

Gregory Adam is a primary teacher at Nord Anglia Chinese International School in Shanghai. He released his first book last year: Teaching EFL, ESL & EAL. A Practitioner's Guide

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