When I founded the Urban Assembly Academy of Government and Law, I wanted it to become a school that I would have wanted to go to. School wasn’t always a kind place for me, and I wanted to correct that problem.
Kindness influenced me as a principal because I struggled with things like mandatory suspensions and district-wide codes of conduct. They weren’t designed to ensure that kids got the best lessons from school, so I created an advisory program that connected small groups of students with a teacher who would look out for their social and emotional well-being.
Punitive measures don’t tell kids that they can come back from a mistake stronger, kinder, and better than before. They cause lingering resentment and shame/blame them, which detracts from learning. Things like suspensions deny students the opportunity to learn and leave them worse off academically.
So for me, appreciating kindness means making sure every single kid, no matter how badly they behave, goes to a school that is welcoming, patient, and accepting – in other words, a genuinely kind school.
I often think about the times I did suspend kids and fell back on punitive discipline because I thought that it was my only option, and I regret that I may have contributed to the school-to-prison pipeline or denied them their education. I’m resolved to never let that happen again.
Our goal for the Middle School Kindness Challenge is for every school that accepts and completes the challenge to continue to support an ongoing campaign for kindness in the way that works best for that school, e.g. reducing cyberbullying, improving teacher-student relationships, reducing unnecessary suspensions, etc. Whatever the school wants to do to make the environment better, they’ll have access to tools and resources that are free and research-based to incorporate kindness into the regular instructional day for every kid. Our vision is that teaching and practicing kindness should become standard operating procedure in every school. Kindness must go from an abstract concept to a practical, commonplace skill.