UBC researches how schoolchildren learn the language of kindness
The quality of being friendly and considerate with concern for others is the basis for a new study of Grades 1-8 to determine how Canadian kids perceive acts of kindness.
John Tyler Binfet, a professor in The University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Education, is exploring kindness in the classroom—from the perspective of children.
This year, more than 1,700 Okanagan students in Grades 4-8 participated in Binfet’s study, “Examining Kindness in Elementary Schools: Exploring Students’ Perspectives.”
In partnership with School District #23, Binfet and his team of graduate and undergraduate students visited 73 classrooms throughout the Central Okanagan during the Spring 2013 term. The students were asked to provide instances of their own kindness; to identify agents and locations of kindness in schools; and to generate examples of kindness they could do in their classrooms.
A former classroom teacher and school principal, Binfet knows firsthand the importance of positive learning environments and their impact on students.
“Schools emphasize pro-social behaviour, but not a lot is known about kindness from the students’ perspectives,” he says.
The kindness study contributes to a knowledge base that helps educators, parents, and researchers better understand early primary students’ perception of being kind to one another and build intentional pro-social activities into classrooms.
“The study seeks to understand what a positive learning environment is from the most important perspective: the child’s,” Binfet says. “The research identifies the mechanisms within schools that best contribute to creating conditions that promote kind behaviour in students and create healthy learning environments.”
In his office at UBC’s Okanagan campus, Binfet holds up a child’s drawing of a man with giant ears: “The Grade 1 student said, ‘I’m helping by listening.’ ”
And that is just what Binfet plans to do, pointing out that listening involves mixed methods—including drawing—to elicit experiences from children.
Initial analyses of Grades 4-8 reveal that students noted unlikely locations for kindness, which included the principal’s office and even the washroom. As for agents of kindness, while teachers and administrators were largely seen as school personnel who most promoted kindness, many students identified custodians as one of the kinder adults within their school.
The Central Okanagan Foundation (COF) recently awarded Binfet a grant to continue the study into kindness in the classroom.
“It is an important grant,” says Binfet, “as it represents continued community partnerships between UBC Okanagan and School District #23, between myself as a researcher and the individual school sites, and a new partnership: the Faculty of Education and the Central Okanagan Foundation.”
Cheryl Miller, COF Grants Manager, says the Foundation “recognized that there was little research done in this area and liked how the study’s intention is to capture positive school-based behaviour.”
The Central Okanagan Foundation contributes to the quality of life in the community through building endowments, grant making and community leadership. The grant for Binfet’s study is part of $311,655 that the COF invests annually into the Okanagan community, in addition to $6,000 for local youth-led projects.
Binfet continues the study this winter by visiting Grade 1-3 classrooms, addressing the notion of kindness, and listening.