Let’s Create Classroom Cultures of Kindness!
It’s natural to be both excited and nervous at the start of a new school year. Children greet new friends and teachers. Even when they attend the same school as last year, the setting and expectations feel novel. As a teacher, you can help the students in your classroom begin the school year with a sense of purpose by clarifying the “Culture” of your classroom.
Your culture is the foundation of how you live, learn and behave in class. Culture is the landscape in which learning takes place in your classroom. When you collaborate with the students to define the culture of your classroom, they are empowered by the engagement and feel greater ownership in the learning experience.
How do you introduce the concept of classroom culture?
Step 1: Use What The Children Know, Their Own Homes, To Teach The Concept of Culture
In the first few days of school talk with the children about how your classroom is like a family away from home. Discuss how you are all here to support one another as people and as learners. “We support each other’s talents, interests and needs much like we do in a family.”
Brainstorm with the students about the culture in their own homes. Ask them what you would see and hear about their family culture if you were a “fly on the wall” or a new pet in their homes.
- “If I came to your home what would I see?”
- “What would I see you doing together?”
- “Where would I see you sitting?”
- “What would you be talking about?”
- “Who would I see reading, cooking or making lunches?”
- “Would I see the children getting ready on their own in the morning?”
- “Would everyone be doing their part to make your home happy and calm?”
- “How would I see you helping one another?”
- “What would I see when there is a conflict or a problem?”
What one sees and hears when they enter a home is indicative of the culture of that home. The foundational values the family members in that home live by. The same is true in a classroom. But many times, parents, students and teachers are unaware they have a culture, a credo defining the way they live.
Step 2: Discuss how “What we see and hear” in a classroom elucidates the classroom culture.
Next, ask the students to help you make a list of what a principal, Martian (they love that part) or person from another country would see if they came to observe your classroom.
- “How would the students enter the classroom in the morning?”
- “How would the students greet me?” (the teacher)
- “How would I greet the students?” (the teacher)
- “If you were playing quietly and a classmate came over to you what would you say? How could you invite him to join you?”
- “If you had friends from the year before and there was a new student, how would you show that student that we are kind to one another?”
- “As we sat down for a lesson or moved to labs or centers, what would we sound like? Would we be loud and out of control or peaceful and prepared to learn?”
Step 3: Collaborate to develop a sentence such as a Mission Statement that defines the classroom culture.
Next, take all the student-generated ideas, and as a class, develop one sentence that tells the students (and others) the culture of your classroom.
“In our classroom we….”
“We are a classroom that…”
“When you come and observe our class you will see…”
“When you come to our class and close your eyes, you will hear….”
Helping students take part in discussing how you develop a “Culture of Kindness” that is inclusive, calm and joyful is how you lay a foundation of mutual respect and engagement.
Teach the children concepts such as:
“We are mindful of how we treat our classmates.”
“We are respectful of our classmates’ desire to learn.”
“We treat ourselves with respect by being on time, alert and ready to learn.”
“When we are frustrated, angry or confused we calmly ask for help and we expect to receive a compassionate response from our teacher and our classmates.”
If this activity feels so novel to the students, that they have difficulty generating prosocial ideas, tell them what your class agreed to last year. Last year we agreed as a class that, “We are a classroom of kindness.” “We say hello to one another in the morning, we greet each other with a smile and we help one another get settled and ready to learn.”
Step 4: Reinforce your culture with mindfulness activities and music.
Using visual and auditory signals to reinforce the culture engages the students’ brains in a deeper and more meaningful way.
Begin Your Day Being Mindful
Sunny Wight of MindfulnessFirst suggests we begin the day with mindful alertness, signifying that we are ready to be present and learn.
“To create a mindful, kind and compassionate classroom we need to start with a routine practice of silence. Simply teaching the children how to stop is the beginning of accessing and regulating our inner workings. The basic, foundational practice we teach our students is sitting still in a ‘mindful body’ (still, symmetrical and quiet) doing their ‘mindful breathing’. When we are breathing mindfully we are noticing our breath as it comes in and out of the body, using it as a point of focus. This basic exercise becomes the opening and closing of each school day (for maybe 3 minutes); is utilized at transition times such as after lunch and at times of anxiety such as test taking. It is also the first step in the empowering self-examination process that is ‘mindfulness’ and will be used in every subsequent mindfulness experience where we examine our thoughts, senses, emotions, feelings, physical and mental impulses.”
Step 5: Be creative and create a culture that suits you and your students.
Creating a culture in a classroom can move a class from chaos to composure. A culture with clear expectations and purposeful meaning is a place children feel safe to learn. Our favorite type of culture is a “Culture of Kindness” you can use this concept or create your own.
On Twitter, @IDLCloud asked, “Does creating a culture really work?” How about if we see! If you wish you can create a Classroom Culture Challenge, do the 5 steps for one week. Engage your students in the creation of a classroom culture them write us, send us video, let us know how it worked! @drlynnekenney @kidlutions.
Lynne Kenney, PsyD, is a mom, pediatric psychologist, educator, speaker, author of Musical Thinking and co-author with Wendy Young of BLOOM: 50 Things to Say, Think and Do with Anxious, Angry and Over-the-Top Kids. Dr. Kenney first wrote about the importance of family culture in The Family Coach Method (St. Lynn’s Press). Join us on FB where we share valuable education resources.