In an Age of School Shootings Let’s Cultivate Community & a Culture of Kindness in Our Schools by Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead

In an Age of School Shootings Let’s Cultivate Community & a Culture of Kindness in Our Schools

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.

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Cindy Hlywa
I love your adjective strategy, and all the other bucket filling ideas you’ve shared. A positive classroom community is one of my favorite places to be!
Renee Herren
Can you believe how much of an impact one small index card made on your students? Imagine if all classrooms everywhere completed this activity with their students! Social-emotional learning is getting a lot of awareness right now and I’m hopeful that our schools will have more training in this much needed area!
Meredith Schneider
Wow Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead ! You should start a "kindness index card movement"! What a memorable activity that could change one kid at a time. How lucky are all the kids that had the opportunity to be your students. xoxo
Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead
What a kind thing to say, Meredith Schneider ! Thank you. Whenever a student tells me that s/he remembers it, it warms my heart so much!
Elisa All Schmitz 30Seconds
I have goosebumps reading this, Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead . What a simple yet powerful thing to do for your students. I have no doubt that most of them remember and cherish that exercise. How much better our world would be if all of us took the time to do kind things like this, especially in schools, where the bully culture is still running rampant. Thank you for sharing this. You are a wonderful teacher, and an even better human. I couldn't agree more with your perspective (as always)! xoxo
Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead
Thanks so much, Elisa All Schmitz 30Seconds ! That really means a lot to me. Xoxo
Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead
Thanks, Mike Prochaska .I bet you could come up with an application appropriate for the little ones!
Stacey Roberts
You nailed Ann Marie! This reminds me a bit of what a dad who’s son was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting explained they’re doing as a catchnet for those who are vulnerable. He was at the meeting President Trump hosted for survivors at the White House.
Katie Fulton
This is a great idea! I wished I’d done it when I taught school.
Mindy Hudon, M.S., CCC-SLP
My sons teachers did this when they were in middle school. They still have it! It was meaningful! Thanks Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead
Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead
Thanks for your comments, everyone!

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