Academic journal article International Journal of Emotional Education

Teachers' Perceptions of Kindness at School

Academic journal article International Journal of Emotional Education

Teachers' Perceptions of Kindness at School

Article excerpt

Introduction

Prosocial behaviour is important within school contexts, especially as schools are settings where frequent interpersonal interactions take place among individuals from diverse socioeconomic, social, and ethnic backgrounds and where interpersonal conflict can be prevalent (Jensen-Campbell & Graziano, 2000). The extent to which educational stakeholders engage in prosocial behavior (defined as helping, sharing, comforting, and cooperating; Eisenberg, Fabes, & Spinrad, 2006; Hay, 1994) can undergird unifying interactions among students, faculty, staff, and the larger school community. The importance a school places on prosocial behavior is typically evidenced by its vision or mission statement - documents declaring the importance of, and expectations for, school-based prosociality.

To uphold these vision and mission statements, efforts are made in schools to promote kindness in and among students; additionally, teachers are increasingly expected to foster students' social and emotional competencies alongside the development of students' intellectual development and corresponding academic achievement (Ashdown & Bernard, 2012; Caprara, Barbanelli, Pastorelli, Bandura, & Zimbardo, 2000; Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011; Jennings & Greenberg, 2009). Policies are in place to support schools in their pursuit of fostering students' prosocial behavior. As an example of such policy, British Columbia's Ministry of Education, a governing body considered by many to be a vanguard at the forefront of initiatives that see social and emotional learning (SEL) integrated into classrooms at all grade levels, mandates that teachers are to foster socially responsible behaviour in students, including developing skills and dispositions that enhance and enrich the classroom and school community. More explicitly, this governing body expects students to be "...welcoming, friendly, kind, and helpful." (BC Ministry of Education, 2015, p.2).

Policies of this nature hold professional implications for teachers who find their purview of responsibility broadened from a unique focus on academics to developing expertise and instructional competency in bolstering students' social and emotional skills (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011). This shift in, or broadening of, the teacher's role is, in part, a response to not only the recognition that students are increasingly arriving to school ill-equipped to navigate the social and emotional demands required for optimal functioning and learning, but also in response to teachers being identified as agents who are able to facilitate the social and emotional development of students (Eccles & Roeser, 2011; Jones & Bouffard, 2012: Rimm-Kaufman, Pianta, & Cox, 2000; Spivak & Farran, 2012). For some students, especially those living in fast-paced environments with little parental support or community engagement, teachers can often be the primary mechanism, and classrooms the primary context, through which students are socially and emotionally prepared for life's challenges (Downey, 2008).

Jennings and Greenberg (2009), in their examination of the role teachers play in creating prosocial classrooms, have called into question the extent to which teachers themselves possess social and emotional competencies (SEC) and are afforded opportunities to develop such SEL skills. These authors posit that "teachers with higher SEC will implement social and emotional curriculum more effectively because they are outstanding role models of desired social and emotional behavior" (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009, p. 493).

Teachers as Prosocial Behavioral Models

As teachers are uniquely positioned to model prosocial behaviour for students (Frey & Kaiser, 2012; Graham, Phelps, Maddison, & Fitzgerald, 2011; Murray & Greenberg, 2000), such as kindness, it is important to understand both how teachers conceptualize kindness within their professional context and how they enact kindness as part of their professional duties. …

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