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