The importance of kindness in schools

As the impact of the pandemic continues, kindness and compassion have never been more important. Adrian Bethune shares some tips for cultivating kindness at your school or college.  

Articles / 4 mins read

As the impact of the global pandemic continues, kindness and compassion have never been more important. Lockdown showed us that people are hardwired to be kind to one another. You need not look further than the monumental effort of CaptainTom Moore who has raised over £30million for the NHS at 100 years old, or schools and universities across the country making protective equipment for medical and care staff, to see kindness shining through. Research shows that when we cooperate and show kindness to our fellow humans, we become healthier, happier and more successful. And schools are the perfect place to breed more kindness not only as a means towards a more harmonious society but also as a means to helping everyone through these tumultuous times.

Kindness as an antidote to stress

The uncertainty of Covid19 has put many people’s mental health and wellbeing under immense strain.  When you consider that ‘emotional contagion’ means that our moods and emotions are contagious, it doesn’t take too much imagination to believe that at least some of this teacher stress is passed onto their students, or their own children at home. So, how can kindness help alleviate this stress? Well, studies show that when we do, receive or witness at act of kindness, our bodies release a hormone called oxytocin. In his book, The 5 Side Effects of Kindness, Dr. Hamilton explains that oxytocin acts as a direct antidote to the stress hormone cortisol. It also helps lower our blood pressure, and reduce inflammation and free radicals in our cardiovascular system (that cause tissue damage and ageing). Although staff will be returning to schools where social distancing will be the norm, it doesn’t mean that we can’t look out for our colleagues and students more. Pay compliments, make cups of tea, hold doors open, show an interest in people’s lives, and express concern and offer help when people are suffering. Schools that encourage care and concern for everyone in their community are less stressful places.

Kindness as an antidote to perfectionism

Something that can seriously undermine our mental health and wellbeing is comparing ourselves to others and wanting to lead perfect lives. Social media taps into this innate instinct to want to know how we are doing compared to everyone else, and when we see other people’s perfect lives, it can undermine our happiness. But our education system taps into this instinct too – schools compare Ofsted gradings, or league table positions, and students compare exam results, or university offers. The need to do better than our peers can drive this desire to be perfect. And in these zero-sum game scenarios, where someone else’s gain means another’s loss, we end up with a system of winners and losers. So, how can teachers and schools cope better in this competitive environment? Self-compassion might be the answer. In a meditation practice known as ‘loving kindness’, meditators begin by cultivating kindness and compassionate feelings to themselves, then they extend these feelings to people they care about, then to strangers, and even to people they are having difficulty with.

There are many empirical benefits to a loving kindness meditation and one of the most important effects is that we tend to cut ourselves and others some slack. When practised regularly, this meditation can help us remember that no one is perfect and we’re all just trying to do our best whilst, undoubtedly, making some mistakes along the way.

Keeping the above in mind, the following five tips will help put kindness at the heart of your school:

Tips for cultivating kindness


Model kindness

Lead by example and show your students what being kind looks like.


Encourage kindness

Schools can get students and staff involved in supporting their local communities by organising collections for local food banks, continuing to make PPE, or creating art for local care homes.


Notice kindness

Recognise and praise students when you notice them being kind and supportive to one another.


Cut some slack

Understand that students and teachers will experience the effects of the pandemic differently. If students, parents or colleagues’ behaviour seems particularly ‘reactive’ cut them some slack and offer support and understanding


Be kind to yourself

Cut yourself (and others) some slack by not expecting perfection. Aim for ‘good enough’ and relax as it is.

Moving forward

Our teaching staff, children and their families face an uncertain future. We must embrace our innate ability to support each other and navigate through this rocky terrain together. We must do so leaving no one behind. As Dr. Christopher Kukk says, “It is the compassionate people who win.”

Adrian Bethune is a primary teacher, founder of and the author of Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom. He tweets @AdrianBethune

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