Posts Tagged ‘ character education ’
Every day, stories about bad guys fill the news, but it’s the stories of kindness that really stand out. Whether it’s a fast food employee helping a customer or a group of students checking on a Grandma in the Window, these stories show the importance of being kind. Unfortunately, showing kindness isn’t the norm. Harvard’s Making Caring Common project found that 80 percent of middle and high school students thought achievement and happiness were more important than caring for others. Still, teachers and parents can help turn those numbers around by teaching kids to be kind.
The first step in teaching kids to be kind is to model kindness. That means it’s time to end the “Mommy Wars”, set aside the political differences, stop pointing out what everyone else is doing wrong, and start focusing on what they’re doing right. You can model kindness by:
- Saying please and thank you
- Regularly telling others what you appreciate about them
- Speaking to others in a pleasant tone, even if they upset you
- Treating others, including children, with respect
- Pitching in when you see a need (without complaining)
- Giving random compliments to others
- Keeping your negative thoughts to yourself
- Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you
Kids tend to model the behaviors of the adults around them. If they see you regularly being kind, they will begin to exhibit kindness in their own lives. Of course, no one’s perfect. There will be moments when you tell someone off, hurt someone’s feelings, or fail to help someone in need. Taking the time to apologize when you were less than kind can also help kids learn a lesson about the importance of kindness.
Offering Positive Praise
Just like adults, kids need validation. They want to know that they’re appreciated and that they’re doing the right things. According to Greater Good in Action, kids actually have a propensity towards being kind. Parents and teachers can encourage kids to act on that propensity. Instead of focusing on what kids are always doing wrong, take some time to focus on what they’re doing right, particularly when it comes to kindness. Say things like:
- “You are a very helpful person.”
- “I appreciated it when you said ‘Please’ before you asked me for…”
- “It was a great idea to…”
- “Thanks. That was very kind of you.”
- “I like the way that you thought about others.”
Don’t praise kids every time they act kindly, otherwise they are likely to act a certain way just to receive the praise. Instead, try to point out a few positive moments every week to let kids know you appreciate how kind and helpful they are.
When kids decide not to act kindly, focus more on how it made the other person feel rather than criticizing or punishing the kids. For example, “Did you notice that James looked sad when you called him a name?” or “When you ask me for something without saying please, it makes me feel unimportant.”
Thinking about Kindness
While many kids are born with an innate desire to be kind, parents and teachers still need to plant seeds of kindness in their minds. Talk to kids about what they think it means to be kind. Ask them to share memories of acts of kindness. You can open the conversation with these writing prompts, which also make great discussion questions.
- What is Kindness?
- Being Kind to Someone I Don’t Like
- It is Better to Give than to Receive
- The Ripple Effect
Providing Opportunities to Be Kind
Of course the greatest way to teach kids to be kind is to give them plenty of opportunities to show kindness. These can be big acts of kindness, such as collecting money for charity or taking bags of food to a food pantry, or smaller acts of kindness, such as picking up trash on the playground or giving a friend a hug when they are sad.
Some ways kids can show kindness every day include:
- Holding the door open for strangers
- Smiling at people who make eye contact with them
- Keeping a gratitude journal and regularly writing what they are thankful for
- Writing thank you notes to others
- Complimenting others
- Waving hello when they see someone they know
- Calling family members they do not see often
- Writing notes or drawing pictures for family and friends
- Asking if they can help when they see someone tackling a big job
- Offering to let a classmate go first
- Saying please and thank you
- Doing their chores without being asked
- Doing things they see that need done without being asked
- Throwing away trash they find on the ground
- Saying “I love you”
- Taking some time to pet and talk to their pets
- Check on elderly neighbors
Some big ways to encourage kids to be kind include:
- Donating some of their clothes or toys to charity
- Serving a meal at a homeless shelter
- Visiting a nursing home or sending cards and flowers to the residents
- Using allowance money to buy something for someone in need
- Paying for someone’s meal at a restaurant (with allowance money or your help)
- Offering to do chores or yard work for an elderly or disabled neighbor
- Donating books to a preschool or library
- Cleaning up litter in the park or around the school
- Sending cards and care packages to deployed servicemen and women
- Collecting money for a favorite charity
- Donating food or toys to a local animal shelter
- Participating in a 5K run or walk for charity
- Speaking out against bullying as part of an anti-bullying campaign
- Volunteering to tutor another student
- Making your neighbors gifts for the holidays or on their birthdays
If you encourage kids to show kindness when they are young, they are more likely to grow up to be kind adults. If you want to take the conversation on kindness a step further, check out Edutopia’s Eight Steps Toward a Kinder World. Remember, kindness matters.
Twenty years ago, schools had fire drills and tornado drills. Today, they’ve added drills for handling bomb threats and active shooters. In addition to these types of tragedies, students also have to deal with suicides, overdoses, car accidents, and other tragic events that take the lives of their peers. As parents and educators, we have a responsibility to help students work through these tragedies and provide them with the support and resources they need.
Give Them Hope
We live in a world that is full of evil, but not everyone who lives in the world is evil. In fact, there’s a lot of good going on every day. Talk about some of the positive things students are doing in the classroom and in the community. Look at resources such as the Good News Network which highlight the positive things that are going on in the world. Draw their attention to the Random Acts of Kindness movement and talk about how they can spread kindness and do good work in their community every day.
Give Them Safety
When tragedy strikes, many kids and teens worry that it could happen to them. Take some time to reassure kids that despite the attention these events get in the news, they are rare and not likely to happen where you live. Explain some of the procedures you have in place to protect students should something bad happen and, if they are not convinced, encourage them to come up with some ideas of their own. Let them know that while you cannot promise bad things will never happen, you will do all that you can to ensure that students are safe and taken care of.
Give Them Relief
Often, kids and teens don’t know how to express negative emotions in a healthy way or are afraid to let them out. Instead, they bottle them up inside. Even if kids and teens are able to share how they’re feeling, the weight of those feelings can weigh them down. Recognize that when tragedy strikes, some students may need help shedding some of the heaviness they feel. During these times, extend a bit of grace to students. Give them an extra day to complete homework or even offer a homework pass. Overlook minor outbursts. Provide plenty of opportunities and activities, such as coloring pages, silly games, meditation activities, and brain breaks, where students can decompress and unwind.
Give Them Attention
“I try to talk, but no one listens to me!” Many kids and teens have uttered this phrase. Make it your goal to ensure students never say this about you. When tragedies strike, make yourself available. Be willing to listen without judgement and answer any questions they may have. If you don’t have the answers, offer to help them find the answers or direct them to someone who can help. If students do not want to talk, that’s okay too, but regularly check in with them and let them know your door is always open. If you work in a school, set up a safe space where students can go to talk or collect their thoughts during the day and let them go without judgement. Will some students take advantage of the opportunity? Yes. However, the benefits to those who need it will far outweigh the few who take advantage of the situation.
Give Them Support
As students talk and share their feelings, let them know that you are there for them and that you always have their best interest in mind. If students express needs or desires, take them seriously and try to offer whatever support you can. Don’t be afraid to ask students, “What do you need from me?” They may not have an answer right away and you can encourage them to share those needs with you when they arise. If a student says, “I just need you to lay off my case for a few days,” then respect that. If a student says, “I need you to be very positive,” then be that that person. If a student says, “I need you to understand that this a big deal,” then let them know that you recognize the magnitude of what they’re facing. Avoid phrases such as “get over it,” “move on,” or “let’s try not to think about it right now.” Those phrases downplay what kids and teens are feeling and can come off as very insensitive.
Give Them Love
Adults show love to students in different ways. Parents might want to give their kids extra hugs, tell them that they’re proud of them, and say “I love you” every day. Teachers may want to smile at students, write positive notes to give to them (or send home to parents), and incorporate their interests in class. There are many different ways to show kids you care about them.
Give Them Purpose
Tragedies often leave kids and teens feeling hopeless. Finding ways for them to help after the tragedy can help relieve some of that hopelessness. Students may write letters of encouragement and support to families who have lost loved ones. They may collect bottled water and toiletries to send to people affected by a hurricane. They may collect money to send to an organization that is providing aid. Organizations such as the American Red Cross often create lists of items that they need. News organizations and people on social media are full of ways people can help too. Before donating money or supplies, do a little research to make sure the request is legitimate. If it is, give students a chance to help. Doing so may help them work through some of the negative emotions they’re dealing with.
Do you have any advice for parents and teachers who are helping kids work through difficult situations? If so, please share it in the comments.
Every day at school, teachers and administrators remind students to behave properly and follow the rules. However, instead of simply telling students how to behave, schools should focus on modeling the right behavior and helping students see that negative behaviors not only break school rules, but they could have an impact on themselves and others in the future. When students begin to see their negative behavior in light of how it effects others and how it could effect them in the future, they are more likely to think twice before breaking another rule. Unfortunately, the school schedule does not often include much time for lessons in character education. That’s where classes like social studies come into play. Social studies content allows for character exploration as a reasonable tangent, making it the social studies teacher’s responsibility to incorporate it when possible.
If you’re looking for new ways to incorporate character into the social studies classroom, consider some of the following options:
Teaching about the Holocaust
One unit that is a perfect complement to this discussion is the Holocaust as there are many lesson plans available to assist you in making your point. The Anti-Defamation League has put together a lesson using the pyramid of hate to illustrate how simple stereotyping and bullying can lead to harassment and violence. The lesson asks students to examine personal experiences with violence, anger, and prejudice, and later, analyze the experiences of Holocaust survivors to see how prejudices can lead to greater hate.
To express the notion that allowing hate to spewed without taking a stand is just as wrong as spewing hate yourself, you can discuss the quote by Martin Niemöller that says:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.”
To further this notion, use “The Hangman” by Maurice Ogden, or if your students are visual learners, there is a psychedelic cartoon version is available on YouTube. Books such as The Diary of a Young Girl and The Kite Runner can also be good to use while teaching about the Holocaust.
Teaching about Colonization and Imperialism
The European colonization of Africa was another moment of historical greed and brutality that can be used as a character lesson for students. Independence leader Jomo Kenyatta penned a fable that exposes the European nations as animal bullies who pretend to help the technologically weak Africans, while stealing their land and resources. The moral is not to take advantage of those weaker than you or it may come back to haunt you later. There is sexual imagery and advanced concepts, so this may not be suitable for all student populations.
The concept of imperialism, Social Darwinism, and the “White man’s Burden”, has a connection to bullying. There are many resources available to educate students about the effects of bullying and places to get help. The film “Bully” follows five students who face torment every day. Anderson Cooper followed up on the movie with a town hall meeting on the matter. The tragic consequences of online bullying, which students often consider harmless because it is not physical or face to face, is briefly examined in the PBS Frontline episode “Growing Up Online.”
Sometimes we get caught up in making better students and forget we also have to mold better people. Character education is a worthy venture, even when high stakes test preparation dominates much of our class time. We must teach kids to be kind, have integrity, and bring goodness and love into the world.
Do you know any great character lessons to incorporate in the social studies classroom? If so, we’d love for you to share them in the comments.
About the Author
William Campione began his career in the New York City public school system before moving to a diverse suburban New York public school district. He teaches high school Social Studies. In his fourteen years in the classroom William has filled a variety of roles, including working with a co-teacher, in a consultant teacher model, and in a self contained classroom. He has taught all four high school grades, dealing with the stress of an impending New York State Regents Exam with freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, and the year-long battle with Senior-itis while teaching twelfth graders.