In a recent webinar on how to address bullying with kindness, we were joined by Samuel Broaden, educator and founder of Honoring Childhood! Samuel walked us through how to create a kind environment in early learning classrooms, how to talk to young children about difficult topics, and how to create a learning environment that welcomes and supports ALL children. Here’s what he had to say:
As educators, we want to help to create a safe and supportive place in our classrooms for all children to learn, grow and become who they are.
What does a kind culture look like?
It is important to lead with kindness as an educator and as a human navigating this world. You can start by setting up your classroom to have a culture of kindness.
Pillars of a kind classroom include:
- Mutual respect, where children respect educators and educators respect children in turn
- Making mistakes is seen as a positive thing in both adults and children
- Sense of community where we are all here for and stand up for each other
- Support for the children as they discover who they are, no matter who that is
- Consent, ensuring people engaging in activities with us want to be doing so
- Trust in each other
- Cooperation and children working together
- Freedom to be who you are
- Honesty from adults and children
- Love for childhood
To be a leader in a kind classroom we need to be engaging in self-reflection so we can truly understand the things we are saying, thinking, and doing. This allows us to work towards being the educator we want to be.
We want to be able to reflect on the things that we’re doing, the things that we’re saying, and the way that we’re thinking, and how we connect those to the type of people we want to be, and the type of life and environment that we want to create for children. Your experiences and the things that you believe can have an effect on the work that you do with children. Therefore, it’s really important that we’re making sure that we’re coming to our work with children free from these judgments and biases.
Foundations for a kind culture in the classroom
The classroom environment: As the educator, you are where the culture of the classroom starts. The way you set up, manage and create an atmosphere in your classroom all contribute to the culture. If we’re creating this environment from the start, children are learning, and they’re seeing that it’s important to be kind. It’s important to take care of each other, and those ideas and the ideas of being a bully do not mesh together.
The importance of language: The language we use matters. It needs to be positive, supportive, accepting, and correct. Not just the words that we’re using, but the tone of voice that we’re using, what we’re telling the children, and what we’re showing them. Children need to understand that they deserve respect from adults and people with perceived power.
For example, we need to understand the difference between someone’s gender and someone’s sexuality. Gender is who people feel like they are on the inside and sexuality is who they are attracted to, if anyone. Those things may or may not have anything to do with each other.
Activities: Activities and provocations should work to support children’s interests and desires. They should be heavily influenced by conversations with children. We should be constantly observing and listening to children and what they’re interested in, then create things for them based on what they tell us. This shows that there is power in their words. Activities and provocations should be as real as possible.
Child-led learning and play: This is such a huge piece to creating a kind classroom. When we trust and support children, we understand that they know what they want to do and learn. We also understand that our job is to be there to guide them – not direct their way through it. This idea of the children being in charge of their learning and play is something that can really help shape how they deal with negative experiences and hurtful people going forward.
Children’s relationships with others
One way that we can encourage a kind classroom is by encouraging children to have authentic relationships with one another. How do we do this?
Children have the power to decide who is in their life, who they spend time with, and how these people treat them. They can then decide that they don’t want to be a part of something without those negative words and hurtful things really dampening who they are as a person.
Behavior is a way that children communicate with adults about their needs. So whether a child is being bullied, or having hurtful things said to them, both of those children are equally important and deserve respect.
Building relationships start with adults modeling what positive relationships look like.
The adult’s role:
- Being brave: A lot of this work will be hard. I won’t lie to you. When you work in this field and begin to think outside of what the “norm” is, it can be very isolating and lonely at times. It can be hard to be working hard for something that not a lot of people agree with or understand. But if we know in our hearts what we want to give to children, we must be brave and push on. Not only because children deserve it but also because we want to show children what it means to be brave so that they can grow up and do the same!
- Being an advocate: When we take a job in this field, we are taking on the responsibility of being an advocate for children. If we don’t stand up for what we believe is right for them, who will? What if the classroom is the only space that they have that is safe and supportive and kind?
Because we show children they have power in their words, we hope that they’re going to speak up, and they’re going to say, ‘Hey, this is not what we want in our classroom. You can’t talk like that. That’s not what we have here.’ That is the goal of what we want to create.
Creating a kind classroom requires educators to be brave and advocate for all the children in their room because all children deserve a space where they can freely talk about what they’re feeling and their ideas.