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Random Acts of Kindness Week: Encouraging Empathy and Appreciation of Diversity in Your Classroom

Random Acts of Kindness Week is slated to begin this year February 12-18, marking the beginning of a week-long celebration dedicated to encouraging people to do one thing: be kind.

While the delivery of this message is appropriate for all times, it's especially appropriate now.

When considering America's divisive political climate, it's important to also consider that these debates-that-turn-ugly affect many more individuals than just the people who are having them. Those affected include our students, who spend their time inside and outside of the classroom learning but also absorbing the conversations being held around them.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a majority of the over 10,000 teachers, counselors, and administrators surveyed attested to heightened anxiety and an overall negative school climate following November's election.

Given that the first days of Trump's presidency has not placated tensions but rather increased them as the country remains divided on his executive orders, understanding the social and emotional needs of American students during this time has never been so crucial.

Why Encouraging Empathetic Attitudes Works

Embracing an empathetic classroom culture has been proven to have significant benefits for students. Last year, for example, a study from Stanford University found that teachers who adopted an empathetic mentality were less likely to discipline students and more likely to cultivate strong relationships with misbehaving students instead. Positive student-teacher relationships have been found in a separate study to be even more effective on a given student's mental health than counseling or similar services.

Indeed, behind every successful individual there is a dedicated teacher who helped them believe in themselves; former education secretary John B. King, Jr., an orphan at a young age, attributes his entire career to a school system that pushed him to succeed.

How Embracing a Culturally Diverse Curriculum Helps the Whole Group

In that same vein, embracing a culturally diverse classroom is the real way to ensure that no child gets left behind.

As Education World contributor and current Ph.D student Steve Haberlin points out, teachers in the U.S. are teaching the most racially and ethnically diverse learners in all of history.

This means that when they graduate from the K-12 system, regardless of where they grew up, they will enter a working world that is historically the most diverse it has ever been.

In order to be successful, current students and future leaders must be able to truly embrace the cultural differences that define what diversity is.

According to Haberlin, this means teachers are responsible for teaching students to understand the differences of others, for creating culturally rich curricula, and for championing for extracurricular activities that support diversity outside of the classroom whenever possible.

Participating in Random Acts of Kindness Week

There is a lot that goes into embracing empathy and encouraging diversity, but one place to start is by getting your classroom involved in Random Acts of Kindness Week.

Kindness, as defined by Random Acts of Kindness Week's founder, the non-profit Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAK), is "a natural quality of the heart, expressed through an act of good will and reflecting care for self and others."

By promoting kindness, a central tenant of SEL learning, teachers are also providing students with self-management skills, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making skills that will be with them for life.

RAK encourages teachers to infuse kindness into their classroom by:

  • Inspiring students to build kindness skills with each lesson
  • Empowering students to be kind in their daily lives
  • Having students carry-out kind acts through research projects, community service projects or similar activities
  • Encouraging students to share their experiences and reflect on them with their peers

RAK offers educators a set of 12 kindness concepts and corresponding, infused lesson plans to begin creating a positive classroom environment right away. Also available on RAK's website are free posters, grade-specific kindness projects, games, books and activities as well as a series of strategies designed to help you get started.

If you’re looking for even simpler ideas, RAK's blog offers suggestions such as creating a third-party compliments box, starting a school-wide approach to kindness by highlighting acts of kindness from all grades and more. Those ideas can be found here.

Visit our sister site PE Central for an activity that encourages students to perform random acts of kindness throughout the month of February.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

2/1/2017

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