Simple Ways to Cultivate Kindness in Schools



How can we raise the next generation to care about it? Perhaps it starts at home. But imagine the impact if it continued at school?

Schools across the country are making kindness a priority. Just google “kindness” and “school” and dozens of news stories pop up. The book and movie Wonder helped propel the idea. These days, classrooms can become certified kind classrooms. And there’s an entire “Choose Kind Campaign.”

be kind

If you haven’t read it, Wonder centered on a quote by Dr. Wayne Dyer: “If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”

Our little neighborhood elementary school goes to extraordinary lengths to cultivate and celebrate kindness. It’s a huge collective effort: principal, teachers, staff, parents, PTO, and students.

What do they do? What makes the goings on in this little brick building special?

Kindness: Setting the Tone

Each morning, the principal heads outside — rain, shine, or blizzard. He knows every child’s name and greets them individually on the way in. (The previous principal did this, too.)

I suspect some days, he might rather be in his warm office, finishing up administrative work before the day starts. But he sees value in face time with the kids — in giving them a smile and a high-five to start their day.

Teachers and staff do the same.

At the beginning of each school year, the PTO posts something similar to this: As the first day of the school year approaches, let’s all remember to BE KIND. The post asks veteran parents to say hello to new folks and to remind their kids to do the same. It encourages new parents and children to jump right in and introduce themselves and assures them that they will be received warmly.

Parents, guardians and grandparents show up. They are a huge part of the school. And they seem to know, intuitively, that kindness is good for your health.

The kids? They help one another. They boost each other up. And when a student goes out of his or her way to do something kind, the student-run school television station broadcasts it.

Kindness: Loaning someone your strength instead of reminding them of their weakness.

At a recent school roller skating night, the older kids helped the little ones tie their skates. The experienced skaters grabbed the hands of those who were struggling to guide them around the rink.

Kindness for the sake of kindness — nothing else.

Rock Garden

A few years ago, one of the PTO board members saw an article about a school creating a “garden” out of rocks that students painted.

Our school immediately decided to give it a whirl. A truckload of mamas met at a rock yard and hand picked a truckload of rocks to schlep back to the school. Since that day, students have painted hundreds of them at various school events.

Some are just pretty. Some are funny. And some are inspirational with words like “Believe” and “Be Kind.”

The PTO held a contest to come up with sayings, then a parent crafted beautiful signs to decorate the “garden.” The project has added such whimsy and love to the perimeter of the school. Every day, kids crawl up the grassy embankment to find their rocks.

kindess rock garden

And every day, they smile.

Bathroom Stalls — Kindness Quotes

Remember that parent who painted the signs for the rock garden? (That parent is not me, by the way.) Well, last year, she went to the PTO with a new idea: Paint the school bathroom stall doors with inspirational sayings.

Yes, please!

She gathered a crew and they spent half a day transforming the most mundane spots in the school into places of beauty. A few of the sayings:

  • “Be the kind kid.”
  • “Leave a little sparkle wherever you go.”
  • “Throw kindness around like confetti.”
  • “You are more brave than you know.”


Who knew that a bathroom pass could help turn a day around?

Staff Training

If teachers and staff are kind and expect kindness from students, it’s more likely to happen, right?

“You’re strong in the areas you emphasize,” said Drew Francis, principal of Ray E. Kilmer Elementary School in Colorado Springs, Colo. “Students hear over and over again what it looks like and sounds like to be kind.”

That elementary school (and/or school district) use a few kindness-leaning staff development tools:

Sanford and Harmony: A social emotional learning program for pre-k thru 6th grade students designed to foster communication, connection, and community both in and outside the classroom — to help transform kids into compassionate and caring adults.

Project Wisdom: One of the oldest character education programs in the nation with more than 19,000 licensed schools. One component of this program is reading inspirational messages over the PA system. Things like:

  • “No act of kindness is ever wasted.
  • “Character is doing the right thing when no one is looking.”

Path to Empathy: A program that promotes walking in another’s shoes to better understand them.

What Others are Doing

In Crofton, Md., a 5-year-old applied for (and received) a kindness grant that allowed her to give gifts to school crossing guards.

In Austin, Minn., a school has started an initiative called “Mission Mondays.” Each week, students will receive a new assignment intended to encourage them to be kind to others.

In Littleton, Colo., the entire district is participating in an international initiative called “The Great Kindness Challenge” aimed to prevent bullying, improve the school’s climate and increase student engagement.

The examples are endless. Do a little research and see for yourself.

Kindness is contagious. Kindness can be taught.

And kindness matters.