Cultivating Kindness and Compassion in Our Schools

Rachel Miletti
Law Student, McGill University

Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Aristotle

Social isolation is a growing epidemic, particularly in schools and among youth. As underscored by Beyond Differences’ report, It Hurts More Than You Think,” social isolation is a silent and dark reality experienced by many children and young adults. This has become increasingly evident, as studies have linked social isolation with depression, anxiety, lower self-esteem, sleep disturbances and substance abuse, among many other serious mental and physical health issues. Existing research demonstrates that social isolation during childhood and adolescence has both concurrent and longer-term health effects, which can lead to chronic isolation and can significantly hinder a child’s academic success.

Connectedness and belonging in schools is critical for the health, success and happiness of young people and for facilitating a sense of community. Consider the following diverse programs and creative approaches, which are cultivating physical, mental, intellectual and emotional health in schools.

The Sea to Sky School District promotes the idea that belonging, connectedness and reciprocity are at the heart of what it means to be human. Its systemic approach to education has established a pathway to learning that emphasizes voice, engagement, empowerment and safety. The SD48 Health Promoting Schools initiative’s key objective is to support each school site with grant funding, key resources and other supports that are linked to the Comprehensive School Mental Health Model.

The School District is also participating in a program called Well Ahead, which aims to improve child and youth mental health by integrating social and emotional wellbeing into K-12 education. As part of the initiative, schools have utilized the ‘Circle Process’ whereby teachers and students sit in a circle and share ideas, providing the opportunity to build connectedness. Through their participation, students report feeling a sense of belonging, increased confidence, better social skills and stronger connection to their peers and teachers.

Start With Hello is another program that teaches children and young adults the power of inclusion and connecting to one another. This national program against bullying and violence is an initiative of Sandy Hook Promise (SHP), an organization started by family members of children killed in the tragic Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. SHP’s goal is to empower students to create an inclusive and connected community by reaching out to those who may be chronically isolated, marginalized or rejected, and to let them know that they are valued and not invisible. Start With Hello focuses on awareness and inclusion as a powerful tool to break down barriers, prevent bullying and help build safer schools. Since its inception, the program has educated 1.5 million youth and adults by advocating polices and solutions that protect youth and facilitate inclusive educational environments.

The 21 Day Kindness Challenge promotes a proactive approach to isolation and bullying, empowering youth and emphasizing positive engagement and kindness on campus. With this challenge, students, teachers, principals and staff are encouraged to perform 5 acts of kindness every day for 21 school days. These actions can create a significant, positive impact in the lives of others and help to develop stronger school communities. You too can join the challenge and take action today by visiting: http://www.21daykindnesschallenge.org/programs.html.

These innovative programs provide a snapshot of the inspiring and significant impact education can have when it embraces more than academics and teaches youth the importance of belonging, dignity and connectedness.