The Saving Grace for Educators: Kindness from the Inside Out!
By Katie Gaylord, School Counselor
For the last seventeen consecutive years, I have poured my whole being into the profession of school counseling. From interning in Western NY during graduate school at Saint Bonaventure University to growing roots in Virginia with my husband Jeff and three children in a beloved school division to having recently changed course and headed north to the Adirondack Mountains for a captivating year of self-discovery, kindness has been the anchor I have held tight to each and every step of the way.
Whether it be developing a mindfulness educator cohort to prioritize self-care, leading school-wide affirmation flashmobs for the Great Kindness Challenge, welcoming beloved children’s authors to emphasize the importance of a kindness foundation, partnering with educators across the country to adopt schools in need during crisis, building a food bank within a school through parent donors, or raising over $15,000 for local Virginia food banks during the pandemic through the #VAisforkindness campaign, kindness has proven to move the needle forward in times of excitement and act as a bright light during moments of deep heartache.
Fast forward to June of 2022, a time in which educators are continuously stretched thin, perhaps questioning what’s next, and often wondering how to keep pushing forward, kindness remains the subtle yet powerful element for academic growth, social-emotional wellness, and overall educator sustainability. Building kindness capacity in schools uplifts the climate, strengthens student and staff connections, and elevates the possibilities for meaningful work created, while also adding value to the nearby community. Integrating kindness into the daily fabric of the school day allows for an inward and then outward reflection of how to treat oneself, others, and the community at large, bringing about a fluid existence of kindness all around, beginning at the first step in the door to the final turn of the tassel.
Beginning with kindness to self, mindfulness practices encourage students and staff to clear their minds and open their hearts to fully embrace the instructional learning opportunities present. Whether it’s a school-wide mindful moment to start the day, a mindful movement during class transition time, or leading deep breathing during counseling, small group or whole-class instruction, it is scientifically proven that mindfulness decreases anxiety and increases focus. With all the noise and distractions swirling in today’s world, mindfulness equips even our youngest learners with self-regulation tools to utilize as they grow and develop, a skillset they carry throughout their lifetime, which then organically leads to students taking ownership and teaching caregivers the tips learned. It is widely known that one must put on the oxygen mask first before helping another, and in this case, individuals need to notice their own emotions before offering support to those nearest them.
Ideas for Implementation: Lead daily mindful moments on the school-wide announcements. Invite student leaders to create their own mindful breathing exercises to share with the student council or in classroom settings. Teach a mindfulness/yoga session at an Outdoor Classroom or on Wellness Day. Request teacher recommendations for student participation in Mindful Mondays, a 15–20 minute weekly class focused on positive self-regulation. Train staff in Mindful Schools or Mind Up Curriculum. Present data on students successfully utilizing self-regulation strategies and tools to the school board or community.
Acknowledging one’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being first is critical in being equipped to serve another. As school communities pour energy into trauma-informed tiered supports and social-emotional wellness initiatives, the greatest gains are often a result of acts of affirming others, whether it be through a handwritten card/note, a bright and connected smile, a personalized greeting in the form of saying individual’s first names aloud or by simply taking a genuine interest in how another is doing by looking into the eyes of the student or colleague you are speaking to and waiting intently for their response. Affirmations are a staple in creating inclusive and productive environments, ultimately then leading to an increase in academic success and a grounding for wellness.
Ideas for Implementation: Coordinate a Wellness Wednesday staff sign-up, encouraging teammates to take turns in supplying healthy snacks as pick-me-ups in the front office or staff lounge. Give students a class list monthly and make time for note writing, ensuring all students are thought of and appreciated by their peers. Surprise colleagues with kindness notes on their car windshields or classroom door knobs, and team up with others to post motivational words on student lockers or desks. When passing individuals in the hallway, say their first names aloud and proud so a real effort is made in staying connected and deepening relationships. Invite former teachers of senior graduates to write congratulatory letters and leave these as small gifts at the annual Senior Walk. As a tiered intervention, ask staff to select students to quietly mentor throughout the year, particularly students identified as needing additional supports.
When school communities practice kindness to self and others, stories of hope spread into neighborhoods, businesses, friends’ homes, and local conversations, modeling for the town community what truly is possible when kindness is centralized and good is revered. In every interaction students and staff have beyond the school walls, all eyes are noticing, mentally note-taking, and remembering, thus sharing the story again and again if a powerfully positive one stands out. Growing the community of learners into grounded feelers, thinkers, and doers extends impact and provides a greater reach into sustainable joyful living amongst community members. Time spent honing kindness skills day to day in the classroom setting allows for a safe and nurturing town environment for generations to come, a goal many, if not all, would agree upon.
Ideas for Implementation: Share your school story by inviting the local newspaper reporter to school-wide events. Challenge staff to showcase photos and highlights from school happenings via social media. Encourage school division leaders to visit classrooms. Include community partners in decision-making with the leadership team or advisory councils. For example, garner feedback from outside stakeholders as school improvement plans are refined. Place emphasis on organizing community resources and agency supports. Celebrate kindness efforts by routinely calling home with positive praise. Involve local law enforcement and business partners in the Great Kindness Challenge events!
When humans feel whole on the inside, happiness trickles out in the form of peaceful interactions, enthusiastic work productivity, and shared positive energy. Send the card. Say the name. Make every interaction count.
Katie Gaylord, former Coordinator of K-12 School Counseling in Virginia, recently relocated to the Adirondack NY area with her husband and three children, and is presently serving the Saranac Lake, NY community as an elementary school counselor. Recognized by the Governor of Virginia in January 2021 for creating a kindness fundraiser campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic, Katie and colleagues helped raise over $13,000 dollars selling “Virginia is for Kindness” t-shirts to benefit the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank. To date, more than $15,000 dollars has been raised through the #VAisforkindness campaign, as Kindness Week is now celebrated annually in Virginia schools. Katie’s efforts in modeling kindness as a way of life continues to inspire positive human interaction. She can be found on Twitter @KatieGaylord1.
Follow the conversation #WhyITeach
To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.