In Junior School this term, we have been focusing on the importance of kindness; particularly kindness in the way in which we speak to each other. This has been explored in assemblies, values times and classrooms as well as utilising incidental opportunities in the day-to-day routines of school life. We have talked about the importance of encouraging and building each other up and avoiding the negative habit of putdowns, gossip or destructive criticism. Students have also learned about Random Acts of Kindness and how kindness draws others towards us, rather than pushing people away and alienating ourselves through meanness. After all everyone likes to be amongst kind people, and no one actively chooses a mean friend! We also learned last week in assembly that if you cannot think of something nice to say to someone, you are not thinking hard enough.
Every day I witness firsthand many examples of students being genuinely and spontaneously kind to each other in both their words and actions. This is always uplifting to observe and strengthens the quality of relationships, which are such an important part of our school ethos. However, there are times when students are unkind towards others; albeit thankfully these are far less frequent occasions. Whilst I am always genuinely disappointed when students behave unkindly towards each other, it probably to some extent reflects the reality of wider society beyond the school gates where we encounter both kindness and unkindness in various guises. This does not mean that our response is to accept or ignore unkindness, but rather we use these occasions as a learning opportunity. It is only through doing so that we elevate both the value and frequency of kind actions within our school community.
We also know that kindness is contagious. Researcher Jonathan Haidt writes about what he calls ‘moral elevation’ and notes that when we see or hear an act of kindness, we are significantly affected emotionally, even if not the direct recipient of the act. The personal experience of elevation opens a person up to act themselves in a kind and moral way meaning that individual acts of kindness have the power to increase compassion, love and peace for a whole community. This would suggest that every act of kindness has importance beyond the immediate benefit of the recipient and enactor. All Junior School classes have watched, or will watch over the coming week, a YouTube clip that illustrates this.
I am keen that we actively nurture a culture of kindness in our school community and do this not only through direct teaching, but also by exposing students to the ongoing experience of being both the initiator and recipient of kindness. We will continue to focus on kindness in school, as it is never something we can tick off as complete! I would also ask all parents to support this focus by not only taking time to talk with your child regularly about kindness but also to model it and encourage your child in enacting kindness towards others. In a world that too often seems to be characterised by intolerance, hatred and conflict it seems to me that investing in kindness is more than just desirable but critical in starting a localised positive change to our world. Let’s not wait for World Kindness Day in November, but rather commit to being part of actively creating a kindness revolution in our own communities.
Mark Yeowell | Head of Junior School