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President's Letter: Change the Focus to Kindness

By Katie Brown | November 2022

Over my 12 years in education, one of the things that makes me consistently cringe is hearing the word “bullying.” Recently this is because students in my new school building call every mean look or conflict “bullying.” Overusing the word hurts people who are truly being bullied by making it seem common or normal when it is definitely neither of those things. The cringing also is also due, in part, to my firsthand experience of how bullying impacts everyday reality. When I think back on these moments, I can feel the hotness of my face as I left the lunch line and looked for a place to sit in the cafeteria – feeling like I had no where I belonged. I remember the desperation in my voice as I begged my mom to let me switch schools or to let me homeschool. It’s likely that because of these experiences I know how harmful bullying is and then chose to work in education to help kids who are the target but also to help kids who are engaging in bullying behavior.

I say bullying behavior because the language we use matters and if we label a student as a “bully” it might become part of their identity. Hopefully, by naming the behavior “bullying” when it is aggressive, with an imbalance of power, consistent and deliberate, we leave room for the student to make different choices. The most logical first step was helping children identify situations where bullying is happening. Beyond teaching them to identify bullying, and naming it when I see it, you won’t hear me use the word. Instead of teaching kids why “bullying is bad” I chose to focus on a culture of kindness because children have an easier time understanding the desired behavior. Just like when I see a student running in the hall, rather than saying, “stop running” I make an effort to ask them to use walking feet. They understand what that looks like and can emulate it.

Developing a culture of kindness takes the entire community building daily school routines that model how we behave and treat each other. It’s having a vision (that isn’t just in our handbook) that says, “We are a safe, friendly school where everyone is included” and repeating it every day during our morning announcements. Then, it’s tying classroom lessons back to “if we are truly a safe, friendly school where everyone is included, this is what we do to make it true.” Simultaneously, it is investing time in a strong PBIS program that positively reinforces kind behavior with passport signatures. For us, this included morning classroom meetings and starting a Kindness Club where kids learn to use a Peace Path to solve conflicts as they arise. Then sending those same Kindness Club students out to help model that behavior for all students. It’s also teaching empathy and self-regulation so we can recognize how our behavior impacts others. Preventing bullying starts with an entire community building in kindness that impacts all students every day in big and small ways.

Contact Katie Brown, CSCA president and school counselor at Prairie Winds Elementary School, Pueblo School District 70, at