Kindness and Care: More Than A Single Day Effort

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by forpawsgrooming: http://flickr.com/photos/forpaws/5554199536/

As “anti-bullying day” approaches again this year, I get questions as to what we will be doing as a school for this one day event.  My response has been,

“As a school, we will continue to do what we do every other day: promote a culture of care, empathy and kindness through teaching and modeling.  We will continue to try to nurture the strengths and interests in our students and help them to be more confident and proud of who they are. We will also deal with bullying and conflict (2 very different things but often confused) in a serious but teaching/learning manner so the lacking skills are taught and the focus stays long-term.”

Bullying is something that nobody should have to go through and when it occurs, we need to take this very seriously and deal with it very carefully.  We also need to be proactive in what we do – we need to create the culture in which people are cared for and care for others.  Now, I am not opposed to the intent of Anti-Bullying Day, as I am often blown away by the efforts of students and I believe we need to stand up to bullying, but I do think the focus is on the wrong thing: bullying.  Whenever we focus on something, it grows.  If we seek negatives in our life, we will find them.  If we seek positives, we will find them too.  Maybe we need to shift and focus on the positive qualities we want to see.

It is easy to put on a pink shirt and say that we are fighting bullying on that day… it is much more difficult to model, teach and create a culture in which kindness, care, and empathy is the norm.  We probably would find it difficult to find someone who is NOT “anti-bullying” (or pro-bullying?) but maybe not have a difficult time to find students and adults who struggle to lead a life of care.

I see many examples of students standing up for qualities like care, acceptance, and empathy and then adults naming it “anti-bullying”.  Check out this “acceptance” flash mob at a Vancouver Giants game in which the students use positive qualities (then titled “anti-bullying)”.

My former principal and mentor Roxanne Watson models this change and wrote a recent post that that challenges us to shift our focus:

… It is a complex issue.  Each time I hear of another life lost to bullying I ask myself why we as a community have not been able to address this problem effectively.

Bullying.  Bully-Prevention.  Anti-Bullying.  Stand Up 2 Bullying.  Stop a Bully.  Pink Shirt Day.  There’s no shortage of attention to bullying these days, nor should there be.  As a former child, an educator and part of a large family I have experienced first-hand the effects of bullying.  I certainly read the paper and follow the news and there is no lack of stories which document the terrible impact bullying has, not only in our schools but in our workplaces, in our own families, neighborhoods, churches, teams, clubs and any other place where people come together.  Each time a bullying story hits the news we hear a renewed sense of outrage and are inundated with anti-bullying campaigns.  It seems to me, considering how often we hear of bullying and how many of us have experienced it in our own lives that these campaigns have not been effective over the years.  So, I have a suggestion;  Stop focusing on bullying and start focusing on kindness.

… I’m tired of hearing the word “bullying”.  It has no positive conotations for me.  It’s a negative spin on a negative problem.  It’s time we stopped focusing on reducing bullying and started focusing on promoting kindness.  For every anti-bullying program that’s out there there is  a program that promotes peace/kindness/empathy.  These are all skills our children (and adults) need to learn.  Roots of Empathy is just one.  Tribes TLC is another, Random Acts of Kindness is a program that has been used at Kent Elementary and found to be wonderful in promoting positive interactions without the need for the usual reward that comes with some of these programs. It has long been a goal of mine to switch peoples’ thinking (starting with my own) from reducing the negative to increasing the positive.

…Kent Elementary is a progressive school.  They believe strongly in creating the conditions for children to be successful. (http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/6554) This is the type of approach that will reduce bullying.  In the same way we create a positive culture for reading or healthy living or self-discipline we can create a culture that recognizes, promotes and teaches (coaches) kindness.

…I strongly believe that all people (not just kids) do the best with what they have at the time.  Students who bully lack the basic skills and understandings of kindness.  Perhaps they have not experienced kindness in their own lives.  Do we punish them?  Many believe this is the way.  I do not.  I believe we take them aside, model kindness, provide opportunities for kindness, recognize (not reward, but recognize) kindness and promote kindness. We create the conditions for them to be successful.
As with other successful approaches this will take time.    It takes time to identify those people who truly are bullies (and they aren’t always children).  It takes time to work with that individual, to have them see how people perceive them.

…You see, no “program” works for everyone.  As in reading or math or behavior a multi-faceted approach is likely required.  This takes time. I believe it also requires a shift from a focus that reduces the negative to a focus that increases the positive.  Aren’t our children and our communities worth it?

Will we do anything different on anti-bullying day at our school?  I am sure there will be dialogue around it and there will be Pink Shirts worn; more importantly, however, our bigger challenge is to continue to honour each child for who they are, focus on their strengths and support their challenges, teach rather than reward and punish, and model a life of empathy and care.  I realize we do not have this all figured out and bullying still exists at Kent School… but I will leave with a few comments from parents/families in the past year that show the value of a school culture on a child:

Bullying is less of a concern for my daughter since Identity Day.  Identity Day showed her that she had a strength and other children recognized this.  The conversations at Kent around recognizing the strengths in others and themselves, along with my daughter’s participation in the drama program has given her a sense of identity and confidence. — a parent of an intermediate student

I am so happy that my cousin gets to come to school and be proud of who she is. — a family member at our honouring ceremony/luncheon 

Please take a moment to watch this powerful video/poem by BC poet Shane Koyczan.  I heard his words a few years ago at a conference and his story challenged me to seek the positives in others.  Bullying needs to end… and there is power in voice and seeing the beauty in each child.

Thank you to Roxanne for her continued mentorship.  Please take her challenge and focus on a school culture of kindness.

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Chris Wejr

Proud father of twin girls and a son. Currently working as the Principal of Shortreed Elementary School (K-5) in Aldergove, BC, Canada. Passionate about instruction, strengths-based education and leadership, reconciliation, assessment, and human motivation.


  1. Your thinking on this challenges my own perspective on the title of Anti-Bullying Day. This point stuck out most when you shared the acceptance video & noted they titled it “Anti-bullying”. Perhaps a change in title & identity for Anti-Bullying Day?” How about Acceptance Day is Everyday? Videos like these are powerful but should be celebrated & used as examples everyday rather than just the week or so leading up to “Anti-Bullying Day”.

    Like always Chris I enjoy your posts. Thank you for sharing!


    • Thanks buddy. My intent was not to take anything away from Pink Shirt Day but to hopefully challenge all of us to do more other days and focus more on the things we WANT rather than the things we don’t want. It is easy to say what we don’t want but it takes effort every day to model and teach what we do want.

  2. Chris…as I sit down tonight to update my somewhat ‘canned’ presentation that i have done for the past two years on this ‘Pink Shirt Day’ in February…I am so refreshed by your post and the sincerity behind it.

    My presentation, thanks to you, will have a different direction no doubt and the message to kids will be… while still recognizing the significance of “the day”, more of an emphasis on the significance of every day that follows. For as you state…’everyday problems are not solved in one day.’
    Thanks for the push!

    • Thanks AC – no easy task. I think many students and staff in schools understand that… but I am not sure we as a society do. To see politicians wear their pink shirts and then hammer on each other and get personal is a bit frustrating. To see media promote the day but then allow comments on articles that are outright bullying and racist frustrates me. I keep thinking that we need to work that much harder to model and teach this each and everyday so as to work to create the positive school culture we all desire.

  3. Thanks Chris for making an impact on my thinking. We always strive to challenge the thinking of our staff, students and parents. I have some ideas of activities that may have some real impact for my school and students. Getting them to explore their negative feelings through art, imagery and colour after watching the video, for one.

    • Hey Ken, I have seen that video a number of times and heard it live… it still gets my blood boiling and tear ducts going in a way that nudges me to be better… and work harder every day. Thanks for adding to the dialogue!

  4. Another year of “anti-bullying” with little to no long-lasting impact on culture in our schools. I have always believed that the key is kindness and standing up for each other, but I haven’t put enough energy in the right place.

    I think you nailed it when you said to “honour each child for who they are, focus on their strengths and support their challenges,”

    The key is not to hold down the bullies, but to hold up each child. Help them find their strengths, passions, and confidence. Strong kids do not become victims. You’re on the right track in this work and I hope we can all catch up soon.

  5. It is easy to get excited about one day events and t-shirts/themes, but now the harder part is to keep the conversation and awareness going. I like what Royan Lee tweeted and posted this morning,

    “If #pinkshirtday sparked convo yesterday, consider contributing to our @voicethread on bullying today”:


    And as you and Roxanne suggested, not just about bullying, but about kindness, respect, etc. Maybe the message and goal also needs to be this: Be kind, even if no one is there to celebrate it. Let’s keep our thoughts and a conversation going about all the good things that result from being kind.

    Thanks for the post and dialogue on this!

  6. Hey Chris,

    Great post. You know I’ve noticed that every time around this date, the incidents of “bullying” increases. It does seem that focusing on the bullying part of anti-bully day brings the unwanted behaviour into focus. Our events have also been much more around kindness, helping the underdog, self-sacrifice, standing up and doing the right thing. The focus then goes to behaviour we WANT to see. That’s the narrative we tell every day – sounds like you do too. Thanks for your sharing. See you back in Surrey soon! 🙂



  7. Hey Pal,

    This bit is really timely for me. I’m working on a unit for an enrichment period next year that’s focused on bringing bullying to the forefront of our students’ minds.

    This is one of the most important lines in your entire post for me:

    It’s time we stopped focusing on reducing bullying and started focusing on promoting kindness.

    I’ve got to find a way to work that into OUR work.

    Thanks for making it so simple and clear for me.

    Hope you’re well,

  8. Thanks for so eloquently stating what I’ve been reflecting on recently myself! It’s amazing what happens when we do something as simple as ask kids “Do you think Pink Shirt Day is a good idea?” Again, not to take away from the day, but it opens up a lot of dialogue about what exactly helps create change. It sounds like your school is doing a great job promoting kindness as a way of being – kids need to know they matter and that they’re valued.

    Thanks again,

  9. Awesome Chris! You continue to inspire me with your wisdom and your heart to serve children and their families. Our community is blessed to have you leading in education.

    Thanks as always,


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