“How are you?”
How many conversations begin with this question?
Is it a throwaway comment such as “Have a nice day” or is there any depth to it?
How often do you reply “fine” simply to move the conversation along?
Are you fine? Is the person you are talking to fine? Dig a little deeper and you will find they are not. Dig a little deeper in the age of a pandemic and you will find they are concerned about their elderly parents, their children, their colleagues, the children in their classes and somewhere along the line they will be concerned about themselves.
Conversations aren’t about the throwaway lines; otherwise they are as empty as a social media hashtag. Conversations are about life and relationships, routine and tedium, excitement and adventure; in other words they are about people and knowing people, really knowing them.
In February, the tragic death of Caroline Flack drove a ‘Be Kind’ message, just at the same time that the pandemic was becoming a looming menace in our country. In the space of a few weeks, if not days, we went from #BeKind to a society where adults chased supermarket staff around the store for toilet rolls or argued over the last packet of sausages. When 2020 is reviewed come December, will Ms Flack even feature in the coverage?
Kindness is an abstract principle. Many people are naturally kind, but are often taken advantage of or overlooked. Some are demonstrably kind, many genuinely but others for the ego or publicity boost it gains them. Then there are those that intersperse their acts of kindness with cruel words and deeds.
When it comes to teaching kindness, it cannot be taught like a modal verb or the four times table. Four times four will always be sixteen, but tidying up the pencils could be an act of kindness or just a matter of fulfilling a monitor’s role. Being so abstract, kindness needs to be modelled, something our early years settings are expert at, given the very different backgrounds and levels of expectation that our youngest children enter education with. Recognising what an act of kindness resembles is one thing, but a habit of kindness is a life skill which needs constant practice, modelling, correction and recognition. Much like the fronted adverbial, kindness needs to be given meaning, be practical and useful, and be drip-fed into the daily routine of our schools.
Kindness is more than just part of a curriculum; it needs to be embedded in school culture. Every adult needs to be kind, in their dealings with each other both personally and professionally, because to model this with staff will enable it to be rolled out to children. The message of kindness needs to be unambiguous, constant and consistent, through the ethos of the school, through assemblies, lunch routines, feedback and conversations. Save it for ‘Random Acts of Kindness Day’ and it risks being as hollow as those #DropTheMic hashtags.
The coincidence of Mental Health Awareness week with a crucial phase of the Covid19 pandemic is the ideal time to consider the place kindness needs in our schools and in society as a whole.
So; how are you?
Andrew Cowley is a Deputy Headteacher in a primary school in South-East London, co-founder of the Healthy Toolkit blog and author of ‘The Wellbeing Toolkit’ published by Bloomsbury Education in May 2019.