There is a small, but growing body of research that is beginning to show that teachers are uniquely poised to help students develop prosocial (positive) behaviors. Teaching kindness in the classroom setting can redirect inappropriate and unkind behaviors. Direct, unkind actions towards other children can be seen in children as young as three, including exclusionary behavior. Children may have seen these behaviors modeled in the home or in other settings, and they can bring them into the school experience. At three, these actions range from a child putting his hands over his ears to show, “I’m not listening to you” to pushing or hitting.
If students are not stopped and taught a prosocial behavior in the moment one of these actions occurs, a pattern of aggression can continue. This is why at East Woods we believe teaching prosocial behaviors begins with our youngest students and continues through Lower and Upper School.
To put it plainly, we teach kindness because we model kindness.
In several studies, a positive peer ecology in the classroom was directly related to skills taught by teachers in prior years. Teachers who model prosocial behavior also help create a positive peer climate. Finally, in classrooms where teachers treat all students as valuable and important, students learn to value each other.
Researchers noted the importance of having teachers in charge of lunch, recess, athletics, etc., and teaching prosocial behaviors. The teaching of kindness and acceptance could be undermined by negative interactions in such settings.
In middle school classrooms where teachers rated themselves as warm and supportive, and these self-ratings were confirmed by observers, students experienced a more egalitarian sense of the social makeup of the class, and fewer incidents of relational aggression were found. Relational aggression is the act of damaging someone’s social standing through put downs and purposeful exclusion.
Teachers can help dampen relational aggression by showing warm and supportive behavior towards all students. Examples of warm and supportive behavior by teachers include:
- showing compassion
- gently joking
- saying, “That’s nice of you” (actively pointing out prosocial behavior)
- saying “Thank you” and “Thank you very much” to students (modeling gratitude)
Drawn from research summary, Teaching and Teacher Education, January 2016