What approaches can your school or alternative provision use to encourage random acts of kindness among pupils, staff and parents – and in turn, combat bullying and negative behaviour? In this blog, we explore some practical ideas you could try.
The importance of a positive, supportive school ethos
Gone are the days of “spare the rod, spoil the child” and “don’t smile until Christmas.” It is now widely understood that to create a positive and supportive ethos – a key element of a whole-school approach when it comes to overall health and wellbeing – we must model the positive behaviour we wish to see in others. But how can we do that effectively?
Start at the top
Children and young adults look to their role models for examples of how they should behave. In a school setting, these role models often come in the form of school leaders, teachers or other staff members such as teaching assistants or mentors. According to Mentally Healthy Schools, headteachers have a major role to play in this, and can lead the way to a mentally healthy school by doing the following:
- Look after their own mental health and wellbeing. This may mean making sure they have someone to talk to, outside of school, about their role, challenges and their own mental health and wellbeing.
- Demonstrate good social and emotional self-awareness, knowledge and skills themselves.
- Model the importance of work-life balance, instilling this culture across the staff team.
- Making sure that school/workplace wellbeing is a topic that everyone feels comfortable addressing, especially when staff and pupils are under pressure.
- Review staff wellbeing.
- Help staff develop clarity on their roles and responsibilities making sure that supportive management systems are in place.
- Include, as part of workplace wellbeing, social occasions and other opportunities for colleagues to develop relationships and build a sense of belonging to the team and the school.
The desire to “fit in” as humans is strong – and is often stronger in children and young people who are trying to find their way in life. This is why bullies will single people out based on a difference to others in the group and draw negative attention to it. The bully then garners support from the rest of the group to empower themselves through their actions – resulting in them feeling more secure. Sadly, this promotes a toxic situation where negativity and unkindness become viewed as the model behaviour and bullying spreads throughout the culture of the setting. You can read more about the cycle of bullying in this guest post from Dr Emily Lovegrove (AKA: The Bullying Doctor). Encouraging random acts of kindness and celebrating individuality can be a great way to overcome this – but how can you put that into practice?
It is first important to identify the “influencers” in your school or setting. These are the people that staff and students look up to for cues on how to behave. You could do this by simply asking staff and students who they look up to! Once the influencers in the setting have been identified (and these could well also be students or staff members viewed by some as the bullies), why not ask them for their ideas and get them directly involved in a project to celebrate individuality and promote random acts of kindness? It may be that you decide to do a whole-school project on “what makes me, me?” or “how can we be kind?” And children are encouraged to celebrate the uniqueness of themselves and others or to participate in random acts of kindness when the opportunity arises. However you choose to do it, this strategy can set a tone within the setting and clearly demonstrates the model behaviour you wish to encourage.
Another way to encourage positive, supportive behaviour in your setting is to simply notice and highlight the positives. If you can get the school influencers on board with doing this, it can be a really effective way to encourage an accepting and positive environment in the school. Ask your influencers to comment when they see a random act of kindness – it might be a student helping another student with work, or it might be a more popular child including a less popular child in a game or group activity – by noticing and praising inclusiveness, you will be helping to proliferate that attitude within your setting.
Use books and other resources
There is a plethora of books and resources available offering guidance on how to tackle bullying and encourage wellbeing. An example which I used with my own son is a book called “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” This is a lovely publication aimed at younger children which encourages mindfulness and consideration of how our words and actions impact on others around us. The basic premise is that we all carry an imaginary bucket around with us – and doing or saying something nice fills our own bucket as well as the recipient’s – and doing or saying something unpleasant takes out of our buckets as well as that of the person you are being unkind to. This book is useful because it creates a language we can use with children when discussing their behaviour and it’s impact. My son enjoys it and will talk about whether he’s filled someone’s bucket today. Equally, when he has done something unkind, I ask him to think about what that’s done to his bucket as well as the other person’s – and it really seems to help him to empathise more effectively (something that doesn’t always come easily to five year olds!)
The bottom line
The bottom line is that bullying and poor mental health is a product of our social surroundings as well as our ability to manage our own emotional state. By fostering a positive environment, modelling the behavour we want to see in others and teaching children how to manage stressful situations when they arise, we will inevitably spread joy and reduce bulling and other negative behaviours. Surely, that is something we want for all settings – not just schools!
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