A Hefty Price Tag for Kindness in the Classroom

By Kim Eckert – Mrs. Eckert was the 2018 Louisiana State Teachers of the Year and a Stand for Children Louisiana LEAD Fellow.

This blog was originally published on Mrs. Eckert’s Eckcellent Adventure, it has been reprinted here with Mrs. Eckert’s gracious permission.

The other night, sleepless as usual… I was engaging in one of my favorite wastes of time I call “freesearch” (mindless “research” in my free time… which is almost always after midnight) and one thing led to another. Who knows where I started, but I ended up reading all about the prestigious school where young Prince George recently started attending: Thomas’s Battersea in London. I spent AT LEAST two hours reading all about this school, from the curriculum by grade-level, to the amazing student diversity, to the tremendous course and extracurricular offerings. But what struck me the most about a day school that parents happily pay over $23,000 a year for their children to attend is what the school heralds as its most important rule: Be Kind. In tandem with this, the school celebrates “Our ethos, aims and values actively support the upholding of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” That’s a hefty price tag for what should be present in every classroom, globally… yet we know that it’s not.

In a competitive, fast-moving society where it must constantly be reminded that our students are more than test scores, it can sometimes feel as though we’ve lost sight of the fact that without kindness and respect despite differences… our world wouldn’t be that enjoyable to live in. And where it might seem that no one should have to be taught or exposed to kindness and respect, clearly, we do. Students are products of their environment, and their modern environment exposes them to chaos, discord, disrespect and downright vicious words and behavior through social media, tv and movies, the news, and sometimes their leaders.

As teachers, we hold an elevated place in children’s’ lives where they look to us for cues on how to act… and how not to act. I am acutely aware, with my Freshmen, that they’re carefully watching me to see how I respond to them, their parents, other teachers, other students. Every word I say can become a brick in the wall they either build around themselves or tear down to let others in. Therefore, my first tool for instruction in kindness and respect is myself. I try so very hard to lead by example. Daily they ask, “Mrs. Eckert, why are you always so happy? Do you ever have a bad day?” I use every opportunity to answer them honestly. Kindness is a choice I make. Of course I have bad days. I am NOT happy all the time. At all. But I choose kindness anyway… or I try to, and it’s hard sometimes. By making kids understand that kindness is something I work at, they don’t get to cast me off as a one-off or an anomaly. Words and emotions are things we have control over. We don’t get to lash out at or disrespect others because we’re having a bad day. I consciously model these behaviors with the same attention I would model analyzing complex texts or any other skill.

So, I wasn’t able to find a specific curriculum for how Thomas’s Battersea teaches kindness and respect… though at $23,000/year I’d imagine it’s proprietary. But I know that while I’m still building my repertoire to infuse these priceless qualities in my lessons, I have gotten more adept at purposely exposing my students to conversations and experiences that target empathy, perspective, positive self-expression, and respectful dissent. I know many teachers who have embraced these ideals and purposely incorporate opportunities to practice kindness in the classroom. It is amazing and comforting to see that no matter how rigorous our academic expectations are, efforts to help students become good citizens are a focal point for so many teachers and schools, free of charge.

In my constant effort to learn and grow, I turn the questions to you. How do YOU infuse kindness and respect in your teaching? Why do YOU think this important… worth nearly $100,000 over the course of a child’s formative school years? What (if any) resources would you recommend for a teacher looking to incorporate these values in their classrooms?