One Kind Word is the theme of Anti-Bullying Week (w/c November 15th) across England and Wales this year.

Now, more than ever, following 12 months of lockdown and isolation we need to be kind and compassionate to each other.

This year’s theme is centred around hope and the positive and kind things we can do to put an end to bullying behaviour.

But what can we do as educators to proactively reduce the incidents of bullying in our schools across the country and create an environment where everyone feels safe and secure?

There’s no doubt if there are incidents of bullying in schools then they need to be dealt with quickly and effectively.

However, creating a strong school culture, built on positive relationships where all young people feel valued, and part of a community, can promote prosocial behaviour and reduce the incidents of bullying.

Fostering a culture of kindness, of positive relationships will not only enhance connections on every level but it will help nurture empathy and understanding between one another. School connection is an important protective factor for many of our learners.

If a young person has a strong sense of belonging to their school, their classroom, their community, then they will be less likely to try and sabotage the positive culture that has been created.

We are hardwired to be kind

Kindness is contagious. The best way to spread it is to be kind yourself. It’s the adult who sets the weather in the classroom; adults who are consistently calm, use kind words, are polite, respectful and patient have pupils who emulate them.

Greet your learners with a smile

Make everyone feel welcome and valued. Every day is a fresh start, regardless of the behaviour you may have witnessed from some of your learners the day before. Deal with the behaviour and then move on. Deliberately go out of your way to build emotional currency with all your learners. Connect on some level with every young person in your care and do what you can to make them feel part of your school community. It’s these little acts of kindness that can help break down barriers and start to build trusting relationships.

Young people will follow people

You may think that you are only teaching history or mathematics, but you are also constantly teaching behaviour.

Your young people are learning how to be compassionate, how to be empathetic, how to react in stressful situations just by watching your behaviour, and how you react in certain situations across the course of a school day.

We need to be considering how we are upholding the value of kindness in our interactions; when dealing with our colleagues, speaking with parents, connecting with our learners or when intervening with inappropriate behaviour.

When we drop this value apologise, show humility, demonstrate that mistakes are part of life and we all make them. But what’s important, is how we learn from our mistakes and how we repair, restore and move forward.

Recognition and appreciation

What kind of behaviour are we focussing on first? Who are the most famous learners in our classrooms and schools? If the answer is ‘those who are always displaying the most inappropriate behaviour’ then something needs to change. If we really do get more of the behaviour we notice the most, then let’s flip the culture.

Let’s turn our first attention to those learners who are always displaying the ‘over and above’ behaviours. Let’s catch all our learners doing the right thing and praise, recognise and appreciate their effort.

Make your learners believe that you believe in them. Change the narrative; in your classroom it will be the best behaviour that gets your first attention, your enthusiasm and passion. You will publicly praise in abundance when it is earned and when behaviour slips, you will intervene in a consistent, calm manner as privately and as you can.

Sometimes, our emotional reactions to behaviour incidents can instantly sabotage the relationships we work so hard to establish. Planning our responses, what we are going to say and do, can help us keep our emotions in check and respond in a more rational, kind manner, keeping your and your learner’s dignity intact.

Restorative Approach

Not only do we want to develop an ethos in our schools and in our classrooms that enables us to build and maintain relationships, but we also want to create an environment where we repair harm when things break down.

Punitive systems in schools can often create resentment rather than reflection. We want our learners to behave well because it is the right thing to do. We want them to be take responsibility for their behaviour, develop empathy and consider the impact their behaviour has had on others and reflect on how they can change this in the future.

Our role as adults is to set clear boundaries, have high expectations and challenge for every young person in our care. We then need to match that high challenge with high level of support, nurture, empathy, listening and kindness.

Most importantly, we need to consistently make clear to our learners that they are unconditionally accepted and valued.

Investing our time to build healthy relationships and connections with our learners and families should continue to be our priority. Only when our young people feel like a valued part of their classroom and school they will they begin to accept and take on the culture and values of the school.