The thing about educators is that they love helping people learn and this often includes the desire to teach other teachers. Sometimes this comes in a nice, helpful guise, like “Hey, this is working really well for me, you could try it if you like.” Sometimes it comes in a less helpful guise, such as, “If you don’t do it my way, you obviously hate children and are actively trying to destroy their future.” And sometimes, this responsibility for helping others to learn positions us to react to things on their behalf. So we sit in a CPD session on behaviour management and think, “I hope Miss Smith is listening to this because her class are terrible.” Or we listen to a talk on values and think, “Thank goodness they’re emphasising teamwork because last week Mr Jones was mean.” Or we read a blog post on kindness and make a list of all the other people who need to be more kind.
It’s important to recognise that the primary responsibility we have is for ourselves. The reality is, the only person’s behaviour or mind we can change is our own. Of course, we can influence others by offering them choices or opening up alternative perspectives. We can make suggestions, show evidence, debate, manipulate, rant, rave and generally jump up and down as much as we like. But at the end of the day, people, both adults and children, choose their own behaviour. Perhaps respecting this and examining our own actions and attitudes first, before commenting on anyone else’s is the greatest kindness we can offer someone.
Does this mean we should never challenge anyone or expect their behaviour to change? Of course not. I have so often seen teachers who are not doing very well fail to be challenged for fear of upsetting them or seeming unkind. But is it really kind to someone to continually criticise their mistakes or shortcomings without ever talking to them about it? I don’t think so. I have also felt it a personal kindness to me when others have stood up to injustice, speaking out in clear, certain, yet kind ways about things in our world that need challenging and changing. And it is kind to children when we expect the best of them and don’t let them get away with being less than this.
Kindness can come in many different forms and it is up to us to choose what the kindest reaction will be in any given situation. Sometimes it is to stay quiet, which takes self-discipline. Sometimes it is speak up, which takes courage. We’re not superheroes or miracle workers and we don’t always make the right choices. We speak when we should have stayed quiet, and vice versa. But if you do need someone to change their ways, it’s amazing how far a little thoughtfulness and humility will go. Try being a bit kinder to both children and adults this year and see how it works out for you. I dare you.