Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the anti-bullying national charity Kidscape, 12 charities come together in How to Create Kind Schools to offer an insight on their specific projects and techniques, but who all share a single hope – that no child at school feels scared, isolated or excluded. In this interview, Jenny Hulme offers her insights on the importance of introducing kindness through projects at school and the drive for positive change by creating a more successful setting for children.
We encourage children to treat others as they’d like to be treated, and trust they’ll do the right thing. Life is complicated, though, and if the culture of our school or workplace is inequitable, we can find the things we value (kindness, security, opportunity, friendship) in conflict with each other. Children who turn to Kidscape for help are often as bewildered by the bystanders as they are by the bullies; bystanders being those children who they thought were kind, or considered friends, but who do nothing to stand up for them when the bullying starts. When that happens, children who are bullied often blame themselves and that knocks their confidence even more.
Why is this so important in schools now?
This is where the learning can come in, driving change by providing the information, skills and confidence children need – we all need – to be able to live our values, follow our better instincts.
Did you have a favourite project from the 12?
They were all mesmerising in different ways, and every school I visited taught me something new. I think if I had to direct teachers to one chapter first from How to Create Kind Schools, it might be the peer mentoring chapter, if only because it answers questions a lot of teachers posed to me. They often see play times as the ‘hardest lesson’ of the day for children, and also – sometimes – one that is in some way out of their control. They are, naturally, reluctant to ‘force children to play together’ and quite rightly want to see children developing social skills and friendships in free time.
This chapter also very simply answers some concerns teachers have about finding the time to do anything else in their over-packed day. The chapter illustrates that – while there was some investment of time to set up the scheme – it paid back in so many ways, including enhancing teaching time, reducing time dealing with upsets or bullying, improving attendance and attainment. All the projects in this book had the same positive impact on schools, but I think the peer mentoring scheme might open hearts and minds to just how positive that impact could be.
What do you hope schools will take from How to Create Kind Schools?
How to Create Kind Schools highlights the idea that it is the children themselves who can drive change, and become the greatest ambassadors for inclusion, diversity and kindness. But that only happens when they’re given the skills and education, environment and support to empower them to make a difference.
I also hope it will raise awareness of the phenomenal work Kidscape does – and the tools and training they can provide to help every teacher in the UK make their anti-bullying policy more effective.
What makes How to Create Kind Schools different?
It is wonderful to have 12 charities in one book, all working to the same end. I hope that it provides a meeting place for parents and teachers to quickly and easily share the successes they’ve had and the lessons they’ve learned, and also to signpost others to the charities that helped them make a positive change.
How can our experience with kindness or unkindness at school impact us as adults?
So many adults I speak to say they are only learning now, in their adulthood, how kindness can enrich their lives, as they work and live alongside people from different social and religious backgrounds, of all abilities and disabilities.
I have heard from schools how the impact of kindness at schools on later life can be undervalued. In some schools there is still a feeling that bullying is part and parcel of growing up, preparing children for adulthood in some way.
It’s clear, though, that bullying brings no benefits at all, to the bully or the bullied. It can, instead, trigger a cycle of victimization that can last a lifetime. Studies have shown victims of bullying, including children who are very able, stand a much lower chance of doing well at school and are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and poor physical health as adults.
So how do we teach kindness?
Research into the phenomenon of bystanding demonstrates that groups who are given a seminar on compassion, or a better understanding of an issue were, indeed, more likely to go against the majority and help someone in need. However, the schools and charities I visited illustrated how complicated bullying is and how much more children require than an instruction to be kind. Children really do know that they should be kind and that bullying is wrong, but they often lack the understanding and skills to do anything about it.
Out of this comes a realization that lessons in kindness and schools’ anti-bullying policies have to break down barriers and create opportunities for children to better understand their peers (perhaps via mentoring or lunch clubs or visiting role models), and to feel how much they can benefit from that process.
The idea is not to single out or patronize children, but to help classes understand each other (their disability, family situation, sexual orientation or religion) and nurture friendships in a more proactive way. Marginalized children then rediscover their confidence and value and place in the group, while the children who had misunderstood them are given the chance to come out of their comfort zone or clique and learn about their differences.
A version of this interview appeared in Psychologies Magazine (April edition).
Jenny Hulme is a freelance journalist, writer and PR consultant. For more information on Jenny Hulme’s book How to Create Kind Schools visit intl.jkp.com and about the work of Kidscape visit www.kidscape.org.uk; or let her know your views and the projects you’re involved with on Twitter at @hulmejenny.