Stand for Children, an education advocacy group that believes all children deserve an equal opportunity to succeed and should be able to graduate prepared and have access to college or career training, says “meanness is on the rise” across our nation’s schools. Trends of intolerance, division, violence, and hate in the news and on social media have exposed students to powerful forces that “undermine students’ learning, wellness, and, ultimately, their and our nation’s future potential.”
The advocacy organization cites several research studies that demonstrate how schools that systematically teach and foster kindness enhance students’ sense of safety, support, and acceptance. Moreover, fostering a positive climate for students increases their chances for success in school and in life. A 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) concluded that students “learn best when they are in environments in which they feel safe, supported, challenged, and accepted… [They] are more likely to engage in the curriculum, achieve academically, and develop positive relationships; students are less likely to exhibit problem behaviors; and teacher turnover is lower and teacher satisfaction is higher.” And this National Institute of Health study reports that “kindness is an important human strength that influences subjective well-being.” Kindness can promote happiness, and happy people score “higher on their motivation to perform, and their recognition and enactment of kind behaviors.”
In response to these trends and findings, Stand for Children is rallying a “leading coalition of education organizations, distinguished educators, and acclaimed researchers” to address the urgent need “to make kindness the norm for every student in every school.” This Kind Schools Project coalition is currently focusing on middle schools across the U.S. to ensure that every school is “a place where kindness is commonplace, where meanness and hostility reach an all-time low, and where empathetic approaches to student behavior reduce unnecessary suspensions.”
Why focus on middle schools? Stand for Children argues that middle school is a pivotal time for children, “when brain and physical development drive significant changes, including establishing a sense of identity and lifelong behavior patterns.” Research shows that during early adolescence “many of the attitudes, beliefs, and values that young adolescents develop remain with them for life.” By modeling and teaching kindness at this critical age, schools can ensure students leave middle schools with a positive mindset and the skills needed to guide their interactions and succeed in life.
ASBO International Joins the Kind Schools Project
The Kind Schools Project coalition includes leading education organizations such as AASA, The School Superintendents Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Council of Chief State School Officers, DonorsChoose.org, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and more recently, ASBO International. Stand for Children asked ASBO International to join the coalition after Executive Director John Musso learned about the Kind Schools Project at July’s ASBO-AASA 2017 Legislative Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C.
Musso believes that school business officials “can lead the way” with school climate improvement efforts by identifying untapped resources and obtaining district buy-in to support these projects. He says, “Creating positive learning environments requires deliberate planning and coordination at all levels, from the local community to the central district office, to each school building and every classroom. ASBO International is proud to join the Kind Schools Project and hopes that school business officials will encourage their schools to sign up for the coalition’s Middle School Kindness Challenge.”
The Middle School Kindness Challenge
Spearheaded by Stand for Children, the Middle School Kindness Challenge aims to ensure that kindness becomes commonplace in U.S. middle schools. The challenge’s goal also involves helping middle school educators respond more empathetically to student misbehavior to reduce unnecessary suspensions. The challenge launches in late August, when many students will go back to school, and presents an opportunity for middle schools to “spark an urgently needed nationwide movement for kindness.” Watch the short video below (or here) for a quick rundown of what the initiative is all about.
Stand for Children says the Middle School Kindness Challenge will take place over the course of four weeks between August 26 and November 21; participating schools can determine their start and end date within that period. It is a no-cost initiative open to every school with a combination of grades 5–8. Those who accept the challenge agree to launch a schoolwide campaign for kindness to reinforce their current climate improvement efforts. The challenge’s program provides free, evidence-based activities and resources to help schools teach, foster, and celebrate kindness and successfully complete it and improve their climate in the process.
The first 500 schools that successfully complete the challenge will receive a $500 credit from DonorsChoose.org, and all completing schools will earn a badge of recognition on GreatSchools.org. In addition, participating teachers and instructional staff interested in furthering their expertise in one of the Kindness Challenge’s three pathways (fostering empathy, strengthening relationships, and developing a positive mindset) will have the opportunity to pursue micro-credentials. The challenge is designed to “excite and engage students, teachers, administrators and school support staff, including school resource officers” as they work collaboratively to create and promote a positive school environment.
If this project aligns with your school district’s goals, sign up at kindschoolsproject.org to begin receiving information immediately. For more information about the challenge, how to participate, and other information, send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.