Who Needs Kindness? The role of kindness in schools

"Be kind" written in chalk on the sidewalk
image by reneebigelow CC0

This is a guest post by Kathleen Murray, teacher, consultant and author of  Teach Kindness First. Teaching empathy: One conversation at a time. Read on to find out how you could win a copy of her book!

My goal for 2018 is to practice more kindness. I’m taking the words of J.M. Barrie to heart and I am going to, “try to be just a little bit kinder than necessary.” I believe framing kindness in this way inspires growth. It helps us to imagine a way to be kinder towards those with whom we have existing tension or pain. It’s easy to be kind to the students and colleagues with whom we “click”, but that’s not enough to achieve a peaceful school – we must figure out how to be especially kind towards those who challenge us the most. It is fair to say that those who need kindness the most are often those who are the toughest to reach. When we remember that change starts with ourselves, it becomes clear that the onus is on us to overcome these barriers, but how? I believe it starts with forgiveness and empathy. An integral part of being kind is being able to forgive others and ourselves; and empathy is the vehicle for achieving this. I believe it is safe to say that kindness, empathy and forgiveness are inextricably linked. It is a sacred relationship wherein one cannot fully exist in its true meaning without the other.

“Kindness changes the brain by the experience of kindness. Children and adolescents do not learn kindness by only thinking about it and talking about it. Kindness is best learned by feeling it so that they can reproduce it”

– Patty O’Grady, PhD, an expert in neuroscience, emotional learning, and positive psychology, specializing in education. (edutopia.org 2018)


With that in mind, here are a few practical suggestions to try. They work for everyone, children and adults alike:

  • Are you in the midst of over-reacting to a situation? As soon as you notice it, stop talking (you don’t even need to finish your sentence), pause, take a deep breath, and try saying, “Whoops. That’s not necessary is it? Let’s start this conversation again…”.
  • Do you want to stop having bad days? Model to children that we have the power to change our energy by being honest, humble and transparent. Try saying, “The energy in the room feels unhealthy right now. That might be because I don’t feel 100% today. I can sense my tension. Let’s take a few minutes to stretch (or breath, or dance).” When that’s done, say, “I can feel my energy improving. I’m sorry for how this day started, thanks for helping me feel better. I hope you all feel the change of energy in the room, too.”

While forgiveness is essential, here are a few suggestions to avoid conflicts in the first place. (Of course, you must pay attention to your tone of voice. You must sound sincere, not sarcastic):

  • Resist being judgemental and jumping to conclusions. When someone says something you find offensive, try asking, “Can you explain what you just said? Perhaps I misunderstood.”
  • Resist taking things personally. When someone makes it clear that their intention is to be hurtful, try asking, “Was that kind of you?”. That simple statement can help to draw attention to a behavior that you won’t accept.
  • Are you witnessing a conflict? You can ask, “How can I help?”. By remaining calm and sincerely available for help, you may prevent a problem from escalating.
  • Need to end an unpleasant dispute? Try asking, “Did either of you wake up today hoping to be hurt and sad? Can we find a way to see that we do not need to hurt each other anymore and we can take care of each other instead?”

Plenty of resources exist on how to spread kindness when we are feeling good within ourselves, but it’s through empathy and forgiveness that we learn how to turn unpleasant situations around. In my book, Teach Kindness First, Teaching empathy: one conversation at a time, I offer real examples and concrete strategies on how to guide difficult situations towards positive and proactive outcomes. Moreover, I illustrate how to implement kindness and empathy as our most valuable tools for listening…truly listening, in order to understand, accept, and ultimately enrich one another’s reality.

I do not pretend to have all of the answers, but I wholeheartedly believe that training ourselves to be more empathetic towards our students and each other as colleagues is the key to accessing the hearts and minds of all our students. Our life is ours and ours alone to live. The journey can be as joyful or as painful as we choose to make it. The Dalai Lama said it well: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” And you, what are some ways that you foster kindness in your classroom or staffroom?

Post a comment below – and be entered into a draw to win a free copy of my book.


LEARN is very excited to announce the winners of Kathleen Murray’s book; Teach Kindness First. Teaching empathy: One conversation at a time
The winners are: Katerin Juretic and Tracy Rosen

Happy 2018,

Kathleen Murray
Author of Teach Kindness First. Teaching empathy: One conversation at a time
Available on Amazon.ca in paperback and eBook version




Music, Memory and Making the Most of Earworms

This is a guest post by music educator Louise Campbell.

Memory is trained less and less in our everyday lives, with major impacts on students’ ability to understand and master subject matter. Assuming there are basics of information you want your students to learn by memory, what are some strategies for getting that information well lodged in students’ heads?

Ever got a tune stuck in your head? And couldn’t get it out?

As Oliver Sacks discussed (Musicophilia, 2008), ear worms are songs that repeat over and over in your head. The jury is out on how and why this happens: but we’ve all had the experience of that tune going round, right round, baby, right round-round, baby, round like a record, baby….

You get the idea! Let’s use this funny brain hiccup to help you and your students create a memory game embedded with the information you want your students to know inside out and backwards.

The game: Fruit Salad is a rhythm game that features word-based chants. The chants are repeated and layered an indeterminate number of times. I composed the following score using rhythmic chants of different lengths: 3, 4 and 5 beats long. When layered, the chants phase due to their different lengths.

Fruit Salad
Game by Louise Campbell

How to toss the fruit salad:

  1. As a class, learn each chant by heart. Loop as many times as necessary until comfortable.
  2. Drop a word(s) from the chant and replace it with a rest(s). See boxes in the score above for suggestions of what to drop.
  3. Add a word(s) back into the chant.
  4. Find a way to add/drop words on the fly.
  5. Divide your class into 2-3 groups and assign one chant per group. Ask each group to practice the chant until they can loop it easily and add/drop words on the fly.
  6. Bring the class back together and loop the chants at the same time, adding and dropping words at will.

On the level of memory, participants learn the chants by rote, and then challenge and integrate memory through the game of keeping their place in the chant as words are added and dropped. The result is a groovy group rhythm in which different words from the chants pop out at different times. The game itself is fun to play, and has all kinds of interesting musical possibilities.

Now, imagine how you can make this game work for you and your students in terms of memory – say you use this game when teaching your students about nutrition. Chances are that if you ask your students on a test to name a number of fruits, they will come out with the fruit in the chant they learned. What if you and your students made up a chant with examples of each of the major food groups? The information will be even more committed to memory if students come up with the chants themselves.

A chanting game can be made out of any material you want your students to memorize. Pick a topic and ask your students to brainstorm words associated to that topic. Then, ask students to play with the words as rhythm, by dropping and adding, arranging and re-arranging the words to be as groovy as possible. For best results for memory, the chants can be made to represent a ‘chunk’ of information, where one chant is dedicated to a specific food group.

The key is to boil it down to the essentials – words and rhythm – to make the chant rhythmic and catchy. In the process of playing with the words, your students will be committing the chant to memory, building their own earworms out of information needed to master a subject. Who knows how far you and your students will take it – want your students to memorize the Periodic Table of Elements? It has some fabulously rhythmic words that would make a great rap!


Louise Campbell is a Montreal-based musician who specializes in participatory music making for amateurs of all ages and abilities. Her most notable work includes music improvisation and composition with elementary and secondary school students as an Artist in Schools (Playing the music game: Unplugged, Répertoire de ressources culture-éducation, Culture in Schools) and for disadvantaged youth (Les bonnes notes, Culture pour tous). For more music games and activities such as this, visit Louise’s blog at louisecampbell.ca





Sphere of Influence: The role of Science and Technology consultants

We’ve come a long way since this view of the science educator. Photo: iStock.

Science teaching is a demanding and rapidly changing profession. Our many dedicated Science and Technology teachers work hard to prepare meaningful lessons and develop activities to promote student understanding of the scientific method and the ever-changing natural world. They understand that they have a responsibility to not only “cover” the curriculum content, but also to involve and motivate their students in meaningful learning about the world, especially amid growing concern for our fragile environment and widespread public misunderstanding of the influence that people have on it. Though the principal is the school leader, it is the science consultants who help the teachers change their instructional practices and content required by the new curriculum in science and the new trends in science learning.

In the 1990s as a Science and Mathematics consultant myself, I was always concerned with how to keep up with the latest developments in the field. I met frequently with my fellow consultants. We mulled over the latest curriculum developments, worked together to produce lesson ideas and evaluation instruments and tried to help teachers with meaningful teaching resources.

So how do the consultants do it? How do they encourage and jump-start change in science teaching? And are they effective in making science teaching better? In a recent article, Whitworth et al (2017) reported on the activities of a large and varied number of science consultants in the USA as they went about their work helping and advising science teachers. The respondents were from a variety of US states and school district situations: urban, rural, suburban, school sizes and ethnic backgrounds. There was also a variety of responsibilities. These included science-only (about half) to multiple subject areas – mostly in STEM. The researchers found that consultants indeed do play an important role and “are closely tied to a district’s effectiveness in improving teaching and learning”. Professional development (PD) is one of the principal functions of science consultants – and they are good at it.

There is a large body of research conducted over the past 30 years about what are the common characteristics of effective PD for science teachers.

Here are 3 commonly agreed-on issues that PD should address:

  1. Teaching and learning the curriculum – how teachers teach and evaluate the curriculum and how students learn it.
  2. Teacher professionalism – their own knowledge base and interactions within their professional community.
  3. Teachers as adult learners – keeping up with developing trends in pedagogy and new bodies of knowledge about the natural world.

Additionally, these are the types of activities that PD programs should incorporate:

  1. Opportunities for active learning
  2. Collective participation: teachers from different schools, same school to work together.
  3. Content focus: going deeply into the knowledge base of the curriculum
  4. Multiple opportunities for practice – over a year or semester at least.

It is widely accepted that PD seldom works if it is only comprised of “one-off” information sessions on professional development days. Hewson et al (2007) warn that

“The various case studies demonstrate that without continuing support during the critical phases of planning, implementing and reflecting on instruction, teachers are unlikely to make major changes in their teaching particularly if these changes require reconsideration of their core beliefs about science, teaching, learning, instruction and/or assessment.” Hewson (2007).

Since teachers themselves must make the changes necessary in their practice, voluntary buy-in is key to successful implementation of change.

Consultants recognize this and know that their ongoing relations with their teachers are very important to their success. Describing the work of science consultants in Quebec, my colleague and I wrote

“Science consultants recognize the importance of forming relationships with their teachers. It is clear to them that positive personal relationships enhance their ability to influence what goes on in the science classroom. They recognize that every teacher goes through ups and downs and they need encouragement to see that their efforts are helping their students learn better. By working with teachers to solve classroom problems, to provide classroom resources, to support with teaching ideas, consultants build trust. This trust allows them into the teacher’s confidence and permits them to become part of the teachers’ school lives. As one consultant points out, ‘You can’t lead from the office. You have to be present in the schools.’ Consultants often meet with science teachers in their schools. Typically this occurs in the teachers’ science workroom or lab during free time – a lunch hour, before school or on a professional development day for example. Usually the topic for discussion is a problem or situation which the science team faces and for which they need input from the trusted expert.” (Elliott & Asghar, 2014)

Teaching science in our schools is complex and difficult. Teachers are always looking for ways to improve student learning, increase student success and make science meaningful. Science consultants are important allies in this endeavour.



Elliott, K., & Asghar, A. (2014). Transformational leadership in science education – A Quebec perspective. In I. M. Saleh & M. S. Khine (Eds.), Reframing transformational leadership: New school culture and effectiveness. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Hewson, P. W. (2007). Teacher professional development in science. In S. K. Abell & N.G. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education. London: Lawrence Erlbaum & Associates, Publishers.


Whitworth, B. A., Maeng, J. L., Wheeler, L. B. and Chiu, J. L. (2017), Investigating the role of a district science coordinator. J Res Sci Teach, 54: 914–936. doi:10.1002/tea.21391