A kind act is one of the most valuable human transactions that doesn’t cost anything. It is probably the most important behaviour I expect from myself and the children I teach. Kindness cultivates an environment of care, nurture and warmth. In turn, this leads to a positive climate for optimum learning.
I remember my first ever maths lesson 6 years ago. I taught the top set in Year 4. I was told I have some very bright children in the group and one very difficult child. He came into the class and went straight to a table, instead of the carpet. He completely ignored my requests and the other children looked up at me expectantly. I ignored him. I was an NQT and I remember just wanting to teach. Place value was the learning objective, the resources were set out and I was determined to teach. I could see that the children had not expected this new strategy, but I made the choice to be kind to them. They were at school to learn and I was at school to teach. They were kind enough to sit and listen so it was only right I teach. I trusted that when he was ready, he would join in. I wanted to engage him in his learning, not indulge him with the attention he did not need.
It turned out he was a fantastic mathematician and I loved teaching him. Also, his best friend became much more confident in lessons and regularly responded to questions. It almost became cool to be clever, but only in maths, I was told. That was fine with me – I had them both for an hour each day and wanted to maximise their potential and self-esteem. At the end of year 4, in the days of National Curriculum levels, they were both 4c. I got to know the families really well. I suppose it was a novelty when I would bound out on the playground or parent’s evening and gush about how wonderful their child was when for the past 3 years that had not been the case. What was the difference between this year compared to previous years?
On reflection though, I was kinder. That’s it – I was kinder than their previous teacher and cared about the child as well as their learning, rather than seemingly only caring about the learning and data. In my 2nd year of teaching a young man with a similar reputation visited my class when his teacher couldn’t deal with him. I remember one of the girls in the class commenting that she did not like it when ‘he’ came into the class. I could understand why the atmosphere changed. I decided I needed to integrate him socially, through games, football, and hula hoops. The children needed to see that he could play WITH them, he wasn’t against them even though they were putting a barrier up towards him. It wasn’t his fault that he was unkempt. It wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t always articulate his thoughts. It wasn’t his fault he couldn’t socialise. What concerned me was that he was very well aware that he was not liked, not just by the children, but by some staff members. No wonder he was angry and would lash out. When he came into my class for the first time he was angry. Unfairly, he was being uprooted.
The issue hadn’t been dealt and instead, he was being removed. So, another reason for him to feel unstable, uncared for…even unloved… angry. He did to a certain degree become my main priority for the greater good if you will. Inevitably, throughout the day he was going to be sent up to my class. I needed to make sure that this would cause as little disruption for my class, so throughout the days, months, and the year he would be invited to play with us. He would be invited into groups. He was listened to. I expected my class to be kind to him because I was being kind to him. The other children recognised that when you were kind to him, he was kind back – Simple! After a while, the atmosphere wouldn’t change when he ‘visited’ us.
Maybe those reading this are thinking ‘but you didn’t deal with the misbehaviour’. You would be right but he wasn’t misbehaving when he was with me and my class. He was angry the first time he entered my classroom and that affected my class. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. Now in my third year, the same child seemed to be the reasoning behind my moving up with the year group and why the classes were mixed. Unfortunately, some of the children in the year group and now in my new class did not like him still.
One boy, in particular, could not stand him. They were complete opposites. He was a high attainer, very very articulate and came from a completely different background. To me, he could become a role model in the class, a mini teacher (even though he was taller than me but than most UKS2 tend to be). But first, I needed to be a role model of kindness. Naturally, there were a few blowups. I was not happy with either of them. I didn’t shout – I don’t see the point of shouting, it’s just noise. I made sure they both knew I was disappointed with them though. It had the desired effect because they became self-aware.
However, by the end of the Autumn term, there had been progress. The higher attainer offered his trainers to his once arch-nemesis. Clearly unhygienic, but a very kind act. I was so proud of him. He was academically able, but then to see him grow into such a mature child was delightful. To begin with, they didn’t understand each other as they were completely different. Because of this, they didn’t know how to interact with each other. However, over time they learnt to get on and most importantly be kind to each other, regardless of differences or difficulties – you can always be kind. The playground is the opportune place to get to know the children and show them you are a human too! So, I got to know my new class very well and very quickly by being on the playground as much as possible. I will always remember three other children. Two girls and how their confidence soared once they realised by being kind to themselves was the key to their success. They were to think kind thoughts about themselves and only kind thoughts. In turn, they became kinder to each other and their friendships were based on respect. Importantly, the fact that they were comfortable with self-respect made it easier for them to be respectful rather than envious of each other.
The other child, whom I’ll call Harry, was a treasure. He was in my literacy set. I had just finished explaining the task and he began crying. He was in the middle of the room and all eyes were fixated on him. I looked at the TA, she nodded, and I took him out of the room. It turned out his parents were going to get divorced. It was very obvious that was what he’d been thinking about whilst I was teaching. I listened kindly and he just let it all out. I remember looking at him and thinking, ‘Wow. You’ve become a little man, very aware of your responsibilities to your younger brother.’ I told him he had to be responsible for himself first. Harry felt out of control, but it was important to make him aware that he was in control. In control of his learning. Lots of things would happen in his life that would be out of his control, but he was always in control of what he could do. After that, Harry became a star pupil. He was so into his learning – listening, engaging, questioning – he was a star pupil.
I think when you show a child you genuinely care, thorough kindness, they trust you. They trust in the faith you have in them. In turn, they become brave enough to believe in themselves and realise their capabilities. Kindness counts, more than anything in my classroom. Kindness is calming. Kindness promotes positivity. Kindness promotes appreciation. Kindness promotes success. And the earlier you expect it from a child, the more magical it can be.
I will always strive to be a kind teacher. I will always smile and try to make sure that the children in my care feel happy and safe. In turn, I trust they will make the right behavioural choices, will always try their best, and will realise how special they are.
Kindness gave me strength. I realised when I was very young how important it is. Kindness gives you courage. I want every child I teach to realise that.
Kindness really does count.
This article originally appeared in the October 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine
Kiran @KSunray3 is a Primary school teacher, with experience spanning from Early Years to Year 6. She has led in several subject areas, including Art, Science, PSHE, Pupil Voice, creative curriculum design.