I am an elementary physical education teacher at Bell Creek Intermediate School in Ohio. I love my job and believe physical education is important for all students so they can learn and maintain healthy habits for a lifetime.
A few years ago, I started learning about social and emotional learning (SEL) and how to help students become SEL-literate to improve their mental health. I began integrating social and emotional learning in my physical education classes using SHAPE America’s health. moves. minds.® program.
My highest priority began to center around empathy. I wanted to help students show empathy to one another. I discovered that empathy was a bit abstract for my students, but they did understand the concept of kindness. So, I embedded kindness into every lesson as a way to help all students be the best they can be.
Kindness can be the ultimate problem solver in physical education classes! I call it what it is. I compliment it when I see it. I model it when I don’t see it.
I found that as simple as kindness can be, it needs to be practiced. Then, it can be replicated, and chain reactions begin to happen.
If you want to start teaching kindness in your physical education classes, start with the free SEL-based lessons available from health. moves. minds. You can then build on these lessons and create a kindness movement in your school!
Benefits of Teaching Kindness in Physical Education
We have four pillars in our school’s PBIS program, which include striving to be: 1) Respectful; 2) Responsible; 3) Peaceful; and 4) a Problem Solver.
When a student walks into my gym, I want them to feel the kindness as evidence of our respectful and peaceful environment. If they can feel this, learning can occur at a much faster pace.
We have rigorous physical education standards and assessments in Ohio that need to be squeezed into 30-minute lessons. Spending time on kindness at the beginning of the year — and during all lessons — dramatically increases the rate at which we accomplish our PE standards and assessments. Skill practice time becomes more efficient, and negative, time-consuming behaviors are dramatically decreased.
Celebrate Kindness Throughout Your School
Beyond using the health. moves. minds. lessons from SHAPE America, you can also create an event to encourage and celebrate your kindness movement. A school-wide event that includes staff, students and parents makes a bigger impact and is more memorable for the students.
Having a theme or catchphrase helps with student and staff buy-in, school spirit, morning announcements, lunchroom discussions, hallway decorations, excitement and participation in all the parts of your event.
Last year, our theme was “Kindness Is Like a Jungle — Explore it!” We decorated our school like a jungle and held a family night which included our kindness warrior obstacle course.
This year, we were not able to hold a family night or school assembly due to the pandemic. So, we got creative and tried to keep it simple. A simple Google search helped us brainstorm different kindness slogans and activities that would help students practice their kindness.
Did you know that kids love a good secret? We assigned a special mission to our students. They dressed up as special agents during spirit week and became “Secret Agents of Kindness.”
Tips for Creating a Kindness Movement
Here are some suggestions for creating a school-wide event, based on our experience at Bell Creek Intermediate:
- Keep it simple. Brainstorm or copy what other PE teachers have already done. Pick just a few kindness opportunities to concentrate on as your program framework. Make sure they are easy for everyone to engage in and easy for staff to maintain. Limit the background work required from teachers, since they have enough on their plates right now. This will help gain their support even more.
- Use existing resources. The health. moves. minds. program has kindness-themed resources that are already made for Random Acts of Kindness Week. These are a great start!
- Challenge your students. You will be amazed at their efforts! Include suggestions for those that need them, but also allow for student creativity so kids start recognizing certain needs in others. Praise kindness when noticed. See our 21 Days of Kindness Challenge.
- Spread the word. Ask your principal and counselor for their support. (My principal and counselor were on board instantly. Who doesn’t like kindness?) Then, send a few emails to staff and give homeroom teachers a paragraph to include in their classroom newsletters. Spread the news to students in your normal classes or at lunch or school newsletters.
- Track It! Create a Google form so students can document kindness and access the form from school or home.
- Give back. Choose kindness opportunities to help students, your school and your community. The health. moves. minds. program includes a fundraising option that allows you to raise money for your school and a local charity of your choice!
Just Get Started
Did you know kindness is contagious? It doesn’t matter what form it comes in. It doesn’t matter what your school-wide event looks like. Kindness will prevail!
There is no one right way to encourage kindness. The students will take what you give them and run with it. They amaze me! We are still feeling the great power of kindness, just in a new way.
I am so thankful for the health. moves. minds. program. It has made a difference in my classes and throughout my school. Our students are having so much fun spreading kindness.
- Random Acts of Kindness Week Resources from SHAPE America
- The Secret Kindness Agents video by Ferial Pearson through TEDxOmaha (We adapted this high school idea for elementary school)
- Kind Action Resources from SELspace
Sasha Taylor is a mother, wife and teacher at Bell Creek Intermediate School. She is the 2018 SHAPE America Midwest District Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year, 2015 OAHPERD Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year, SHAPE America 2019 Pilot School Coordinator for health. moves. minds., and current member of the OAHPERD Board. Follow her on Twitter @bcipeteacher.