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Home » Parenting, Teaching and Learning

Who Needs Kindness? The role of kindness in schools

Submitted by on January 30, 2018 – 11:12 am 10 Comments | 2,090 views
"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. ( 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 in paperback and eBook version




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  • Tracy Rosen says:

    What timing! I am in the middle of writing an article about conversation and professional development. The notion of empathy is huge for me, both in the classroom and in the conference room. Framing our conversations to be helpful is one way of showing kindness and it makes all the difference when it comes to learning. In professional development, I try to do this by taking the focus away from me as a presenter and turning it towards teacher experience. I feel this is helpful.
    Great article.

    • Hi Tracy,
      I’m so glad you appreciated the article. You make an excellent point – when in a leadership role, be it as a teacher or a presenter, it’s not about us, it’s about those are looking to us for guidance. All the more reason to be kind and show empathy. I would love to read your article once it’s ready.

      Kathleen Murray

  • Christine Emond says:

    Kathleen – these are some wonderful suggestions. I especially love the “Whoops” line and will immediately add to my ‘go-to’ statements. I believe that receiving kindness is vital for the best growth of our children. I just ordered your book but would be glad to win the free copy to share with others:)- Christine

    • Hi Christine,

      Thank you for your comment. “Whoops” has been one of my favorite discoveries over the years. You can’t help but say it with a smile and it doesn’t matter the age of your audience, everyone “gets it” and is usually pretty willing to follow your lead by letting go of the moment and moving on. I’m glad you like it too! I’m thrilled to hear that you ordered the book. We’ll announce the winners of the free books shortly. Good Luck! 🙂

  • Sheila Dunwoodie says:

    Great post! As a fellow teacher who emphasizes the transformative power of everyday kindness in my classroom, I look forward to reading your book.

    • Hi Sheila,

      Thank you for your reply. What a beautiful phrase you wrote – “the transformative power of everyday kindness”. Isn’t it remarkable how simply focusing our energy on kindness can completely change the culture of a classroom? I’d love to hear your thoughts on my book once you’ve read it. Do keep in touch. 🙂

  • Daphne says:

    Reminders from Katherine”s book (like those above) about being and staying kind are really helpful on full moon crazy days!

    • Thank you for that, Daphne. Your comment reminds me of how I had a poster in my classroom that read “Stay calm and breathe.” It was opposite from where I would most often stand, and therefore, usually in my line of vision at moments when my patience was being tested. Kindness is not weakness, it is ultimate strength…Hmmm…sounds like a future poster for the classroom.

  • Katerin Juretic says:

    I am very interested in learning more. I truly believe kindness and empathy can change everything.

    • Hi Katerin,

      Thank you for your comment. I share your sentiment 100%. We will announce shortly the winner of the free books. In the interim, by all means, visit my blog at for more articles on kindness and empathy in the classroom and in our homes.

      All the best,
      Kathleen Murray