THE BLOG

How to Make Kindness The Foundation of School Culture

10/22/2013 02:25 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Changemaker School Lusher Charter's number-one school rule is "be kind." Although it may seem simple, making kindness the foundation of a school culture is very challenging in practice. Through a robust social and emotional learning program and a planned effort to help students use empathy to improve their class, school and local New Orleans community, Lusher challenges us to rethink what "being kind" means as an educational philosophy. To understand Lusher's approach, we do not need to look further than Christa Talbot's 4th-5th grade classroom.

Talbot is a veteran teacher, so when Lusher made a change in its morning meeting structure this year, she was prepared to take advantage of it. Morning Meeting, a very successful Responsive Classroom practice, was previously implemented at Lusher as a school-wide meeting in their beautiful schoolyard. Parents, students, teachers, student-teachers, and members of the Lusher community gathered around a stage where students shared news from their classes, the music teacher led songs and dances, and the PTA made announcements about school needs and opportunities for other parents to be involved. With the new change at Lusher, this successful morning meeting structure would stay the same four days per week, but one day per week would be reserved for each class to have their own morning meetings.

For Talbot, this change in Morning Meeting presented an opportunity. In her class' meetings, students sat in a circle and discussed what was going well in their lives and at school as well as problems that they saw arise in the classroom. For example, the class uncovered that not all children were getting a chance to play four square at recess. Getting to the root of the problem, the students realized that only one student was "in charge" of four square -- making the decisions about how it was played. Using the democratic space of Morning Meeting, they all came up with new rules together. Since this meeting, all students have the opportunity to play four square at recess, and Talbot rewarded her students by allowing them to use the same decision-making process to design a recess-friendly football game. Students weighed the physical and emotional risks of playing football and created a list of rules, including that a maximum of 10 people can play at a time and that no pushing is allowed.

Rather than singling out the children who could not play four square before or singling out the child that was making all of the decisions about who could play, Talbot created a solutions-oriented environment that produced both a better four square system and a new way to play football. At the heart of this approach to morning meeting is kindness.

How can you evaluate whether kindness is at the heart of your teaching and administration decisions?