Why Kindness Helps Teachers, Principals Earn Trust of Students, Parents

Being trusted is, well, more than just being trusted.

In an earlier post, I discussed how trust requires an understanding of five key components — kindness, reliability, competency, honesty and openness. As each of these traits is essential to trust, let’s spend some time unpacking just what each is and is not.

Let’s start with kindness.

For teachers and principals, being kind is more than the right thing to do - it helps build trust that is the foundation of learning.When I was a middle school vice principal — not a job for the faint of heart — a sign on my office wall read “Never mistake my kindness for weakness.” I put it over my right shoulder so no one facing my desk could possibly miss it. I needed it for those times when I had to hold serious, intense conversations with students and their parents about poor behavior choices.

Being kind is a morally and ethically appropriate starting point, of course, but parents occasionally misread my kindness as an absence of toughness. I quickly worked to disabuse them of that notion by taking a firm and consistent stand on how we expected their child to behave. Kindness does not equal being weak.

While it may be hard to be kind during difficult times, we must not forget that kindness is a key ingredient of earning — and holding — people’s trust. If you want people to entrust you with their physical and emotional well-being, they must know that kindness is a core principle of yours.

Be sure to understand the word

Don’t confuse kindness with being nice. I’ve known many people who could be “nice” to others while also being unkind, like when their courteous interactions were soon followed by backbiting and insensitive comments.

Being kind means you begin your actions thinking primarily of what is best for the other person. You show kindness by your actions and your words. And you try not to share space or give attention to those who aren’t kind. Vote with your feet and move away.

Take the long view

A kindness approach means you’re focusing on the wider implications of what’s happening around you. For instance, when a child (or parent) is disrespectful, you do not see an immediate insult — you realize that anger and vitriol are defense mechanisms that reflect a much bigger picture.

Sometimes people are fearful about what is happening but they cannot admit to it, so they do their best to lash out at others. Remaining placid, unruffled and steady is the best way to defuse such a situation.

Presume best intentions

This is sometimes difficult to put into practice, but a kindness approach means you start out believing people have the best of intentions, and then let their actions prove you wrong. It’s hard to be kind if you begin an interaction believing the other person doesn’t have your best interests in mind.

This doesn’t mean you have to be naive or open yourself up to becoming a victim. You start out as positive as possible and work from there.

Remember everyone is fighting a battle.

I’m a fan of those Internet posts encouraging all of us to “Be kind: for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Believing that everyone struggles with something sometimes makes it far easier to be kind to people. If we see them as people who are struggling — rather than being merely angry or vindictive — we can’t help but adopt a kinder approach.

Too many of us live in a world where kindness is viewed as a failing rather than a positive. Take the time to cultivate kindness in your life and you’ll begin to see how people respond to that by being more kind themselves. Just as with the bad things in life, the good things also spread.

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Brian P. Gatens is the superintendent of schools for the Emerson Public School District in Emerson, New Jersey. He has been an educator for more than two decades, working at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. In “From the Principal’s Office,” Gatens shares advice, provides insights, and gives guidance on everything from what principals look for when interviewing teaching candidates to how to work with overly protective parents. His front-line assessments supply candid perspectives on school life.

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