In an Age of School Shootings Let’s Cultivate Community & a Culture of Kindness in Our Schools by Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead
I began my career teaching high school. I was young and eager to share my love of literature and theatre with my students. I also aimed to cultivate a classroom community in which they felt a sense of belonging. In my classroom I wanted students to feel noticed, heard and included.
To that end, one day my students found a class list on their desks. I instructed them to write at least one positive adjective/trait next to each classmate’s name, a word or phrase they’d use to describe that student or something they appreciated about him or her. I explained that I’d add my own comments and then compile all the positive feedback on an index card for each student.
I’ll never forget the look on my students’ faces when they read their cards. They were clearly touched by their peers’ kind words, and in many cases surprised, too. This exercise helped me to cultivate a supportive classroom community and it helped my students to feel as though they were noticed, appreciated, included.
It’s been nearly 20 years since I shared a classroom with high schoolers. Through the power of social media, I am connected with many of my former students.
Several have shared with me that they remember their index cards; some still have them. I think this speaks volumes about the human need for connection and validation, for belonging.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers about how to end gun violence in our country. But I do know a thing or two about young people and social-emotional learning, and I can imagine that if our kids feel lonely and excluded, bullied and tormented, and angry and desperate, and if they have access to guns, there’s no telling what they might do. I’m certainly not suggesting that the burden to solve this crisis should fall to our teachers.
That said, if creating classroom communities and cultivating a culture of kindness in our schools helps just one kid to feel a sense of belonging and connection, and prevents just one act of violence, then I think it’s worth our efforts.