Taking kindness seriously

By Margaret Mulholland, ASCL SEND and Inclusion Specialist

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and its theme this year is kindness. We all have ‘lived experience’ of many kind acts, both public and private over the last few weeks. This has helped us to recognise personally how these gestures of interest and concern can build our resilience at a difficult time. The latest survey from the Mental Health Foundation, published this week, reveals that two thirds of people find that being kind to others has had a positive impact on their mental health. Three quarters say we must learn from the pandemic to be more kind as a society. As Mark Rowland, CEO, of the Mental Health Foundation emphatically puts it “We have to take kindness seriously as a society".

School and college leaders will know about kindness and its importance. In recent years, high-stakes accountability systems have made it more difficult to champion the softer benefits of relationships, our communities and the value of diversity in our pupils. Right now, kindness has a fundamental part to play in school strategies for recovery. ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton has championed the voices of our school and college leaders, saying  "the human stuff matters in education: the relationships, the socialisation of young people, the sense of an older generations helping the next generation to take their place.” 

Kindness is essential to support pupil and staff returning to school. It is essential, not as a one off or short-term intervention to a recovering community but as a principle that underpins the strengthening of relationships through building trust. At a system level, that trust is essential for bringing the school and college community back together. At a classroom level, it will lay the foundations for re-engaging with learning. 

The importance of kindness
Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive of the Anna Freud Centre, is hosting a series of webinars this week to reflect on the importance of kindness and I will be joining his panel today. Peter's article in the Observer this weekend argues that kindness can work wonders. If we can trust someone to teach us, he suggests, one of the key clues is whether they seemed concerned about us and interested in how we think and feel, even if our views are different from theirs. In other words, they are 'showing kindness’. As school and college leaders, we recognise the priority for the months ahead is the recovery and rebuilding process, with our pupils continuing to be at the centre of every decision we make. Peter’s message emphasises the importance of kindness in our schools and a reminder that real kindness is person-centred. 

The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families also hosts a professional learning community called Schools in Mind, a free network for school staff and allied professionals which shares practical, academic and clinical expertise regarding the wellbeing and mental health issues that affect schools. Collaborations of this kind can ensure that kindness is not a temporary fix, or a short-term intervention but a tenet of effective schooling that puts the child at the centre of everything we do. 

Margaret Mulholland is ASCL SEND and Inclusion Specialist.

Reaching out to vulnerable children and young people
In April, the ASCL specialist team published guidance on how schools and colleges can support vulnerable children and young people, including those with hidden vulnerabilities, during this period.

Our first guidance paper  set out some principles and included some useful links. The second paper brings together a wide range of ideas and approaches being taken by ASCL members. We hope colleagues will find it useful to see how others are approaching this challenge.
Posted: 19/05/2020 15:05:29