Instilling a Culture of Kindness

November 2016

Homa Sabet Tavangar

In my previous ISS article, I explored what it might mean to develop a “Global Mindset.” I’d like to extend this understanding in light of recent events. Classrooms worldwide serve as important venues for learning, processing difficult material, cultivating empathy, building friendships, and learning to inquire and debate respectfully. Let’s tap into that power. The United States is only the most recent country to reveal a deeply divided nation through its electoral process. With that division can come hurtful words and actions, impacting our youngest children, and continuing through all grades.

Many are asking critical questions, like: What is our role as educators and parents to heal these divides? Against this backdrop, and countless other global issues that have reached a boiling point, I find that the need to instill a “culture of kindness” at school becomes a matter of urgent attention. This is connected to Global Mindset, since building that mindset calls for qualities like empathy, interpersonal impact and a passion for diversity – all of which might be considered manifestations of kindness. Rather than feel alone or overwhelmed by the prospect of building a movement toward kindness, let’s consider small steps that anyone, anywhere can take, so that all children can benefit.

  1. Live the Golden Rule: The simple idea of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is valued by every religion and culture on earth and can be digested by the youngest children.  Though simple and universal, it’s still poorly practiced. Try keeping this principle front and center as an expression of what you care about, and a continuous exploration of people and relationships. Parents and educators might assume that kids understand their values, but ideals need to be made clear.
  2. Physical reminders: In addition to the Golden Rule poster, your school might want to dedicate a Wall of Kindness or “Caught Being Kind” bulletin board where specific kind acts are shared and celebrated. The idea is to post examples of what kindness looks like in easily accessible ways. Pinterest is a great source for inspiration. I searched for “kindness bulletin board” and came up with so many ideas.
  3. Unplug: Passive experiences behind a screen limit kids’ (and adults’) active connection with the world. Experts agree, kids mirror what they watch, which is getting snarkier and sexier. Limit screen time, supervise and watch together if possible. If someone is feeling anxious or has been hurt, it feels much better to be around compassionate people than to be looking at social media.
  4. Eat. Read. Play. Have fun: Expose your children to diverse cuisines, authors, games, and concerns to build the qualities of open-mindedness, resilience, empathy, respect and humility. Trying kimchee or curry helps open a door to Korea or India, and provides firsthand experience with a classmate’s culture, even though it seems so simple. Even better, organize a dinner involving friends of different cultural backgrounds, beliefs and life experiences to simply socialize together.

5. Consider the larger world and learn how to speak up: Aggression on the playground can be likened to serious issues on the global stage. Identifying injustice or exclusion far away can help children speak up when they see mistreatment at home. Starting in younger grades, schools that devote time to talking about bystanders and speaking up when an injustice is observed, build kindness and moral courage among their students. Try role playing different scenarios to put words to feelings and practice appropriate responses. Parents can encourage such role play at home too.

6. Become a volunteer or activist for kindness: Children all over the world have channeled their concerns over injustices to causes that have influenced millions of lives for the better. and Roots & Shoots are a few organizations with a global reach, by kids, for kids. These examples can empower young people to make a difference at home, with a broader impact. You also can specifically tap into organizations focused on kindness, like the Kids for Peace Great Kindness Challenge.

7. Bring Kindness Lessons Into the Classroom: Tap into expert resources like Facing Historythe Mosaic ProjectTeaching Tolerance and Random Acts of Kindness Curriculum for ideas.

8. Write a Thank You note: At the recent Grit + Imagination Summit I had the privilege of listening to the father of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman, explain how expressing gratitude not only helps strengthen relationships, but it also makes people happier. Take time during your day to write and send a physical note to someone you appreciate!

9. Reflect on past kindness: A study quoted by the Greater Good Science Center shows that something as simple as asking children to reflect on their specific past good deeds has positive effects on children’s behavior, like boosting generosity or kindness.

10. Make a dent in staff meetings: It’s hard to instill kindness unless faculty feel it for themselves. Whether you surprise colleagues with a plate of home-made cookies, spend a few minutes writing your own thank you notes, or simply propose a few minutes for each meeting to share an act of kindness that someone observed, you can use your staff meetings to inspire a culture of kindness.


We can learn so much from each other to advance kindness.