Teaching and Cultivating a School of Kindness at King’s Bangkok
The ethos of kindness is in the DNA of King’s Bangkok. Founding Head Master, Thomas Banyard, has pledged “a compassionate and supportive environment” where every aspect of school life that is carried out is “considered and rooted in kindness, decency and civility”. Here, we discuss why kindness in school is so essential to King’s Bangkok, and to the education and futures of our pupils.
In Charlie Mackesy’s meditation on human values, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, the child has a classic question put to him. It is a question that society repeatedly throws down as a gauntlet to young people: What do you want to be when you grow up? His response is simply that he wants to be kind.
It is important to have dreams and ambitions. Many children would answer differently, stating that they want to be in traditionally respectable roles: actors, athletes, doctors, engineers, lawyers… However, kindness can be the most effective vehicle for the realisation of these dreams, for the self and for the greater good. “To be” is a verb; being is both a state of existence and an impetus to action. To be kind is to do so in a thoughtful and meaningful way.
Established in 2020, during the wake of the pandemic, King’s Bangkok was borne out of a time that called for social consciousness and care for our fellow human beings. The school is rooted in a bigger picture of caring for others.
Kindness at King’s Bangkok starts with an awareness of need: the need of ourselves and of others. It follows through with the generation of thoughts, words and deeds that supportively address those needs. King’s instils this in young people across its three pillars:
The pastoral pillar is highly conducive to teaching children kindness. Tutors, counsellors and PSHE teachers provide dedicated time to teaching pupils how to look after themselves, their peers and their environments. The code of conduct is a crucial starting point for putting such consideration into practice: friendly smiles, holding doors, recycling, inviting others to play and sharing are just some of the ways that kindness becomes a habitual way of life across the school community.
However, teaching children kindness is achievable in every element of school life. The academic pillar uses the curriculum to further foster a culture of kindness. The arts and humanities classrooms are forums for awakening social and emotional understanding of different lives and experiences. Pedagogical methodology is used to equip pupils to implement this through tools such as dialogic teaching and debate, which serve as excellent systems to enhance students’ capacity to actively listen, respect and empathise with diverse viewpoints and perspectives.
The co-curricular pillar provides opportunities for young people to serve others. Students mentor younger pupils and volunteer in the local community as part of their International Award. They also have the opportunity to participate in philanthropic and humanitarian enterprises on the activity programme, such as fundraising for the slum children of Bangkok and embarking on medical missions in indigent areas of Thailand.
Every stakeholder is invested in performing acts of kindness that recognise the needs of others outside ourselves and our immediate lives. From the staff and families who participate in our regular blood donations for the Red Cross to the board and parents who worked to fundraise the purchase of sixteen ventilators for local hospitals to manage the rise of Covid 19 when they were struggling to procure them.
Kindness in schools enables young people to thrive. Kindness is scientifically proven to stimulate the production of oxytocin. This is a combatant to the stress hormone: cortisol. In lowering cortisol, learners are better primed to focus and progress in their educational environment, and future careers. This hormone also instils a drive to form positive and nurturing relationships with others, facilitating the desire to extend kindness, with its myriad benefits, to fellow people in the community. The additional release of serotonin strengthens this communal welfare. Serotonin promotes feelings of happiness in those who perform, experience and witness kindness alike.
This provides an enriching platform for young people to develop and step out into the world. It is a world that is rapidly shifting and increasingly uncertain. However, kind pupils are well prepared to become citizens and leaders who approach their relationships, their working lives and the world around them with the drive to make a meaningful impact. Former First Lady and advocate for educational reform, Michelle Obama, famously delivered a 2020 commencement speech, in the wake of the pandemic, to graduates across the USA and the wider world, in which she expressed her “hope that what you’re going through right now will be your wake-up call, that it pushes you to not just think about what kind of career you want to build, but what kind of person you want to be” because “Treating people right will never, ever fail you.”
Kindness will take our children further when they embark on adult life. Nevertheless, it will not always be easy. The wider world does not always run on the same structured systems of fairness as a school microcosm. Kindness is often met with adversity. It is therefore important that schools teach pupils the resilience and determination that is sometimes needed to be kind. Young people will need to learn how to, safely and responsibly, challenge injustice in the face of social, political and financial pressure to silently accept it. They will need to learn the integrity, as well as the acumen, to support people whose needs are unduly under threat. Kindness functions alongside values including courage, honesty and wisdom. To be kind effectively, pupils need to practice intelligent kindness. They will need to make informed decisions about whose interests need to be served, why and the best way to carry this out.
To prepare its young citizens for these challenges, King’s Bangkok teaches that everybody’s views and thoughts matter. Kindness is a lifelong learning process of listening to and engaging with different perspectives, in order to reach a shared, enlightened understanding of what is right for everyone involved.The pupils are therefore taught the humility to accept the fallible, human mistakes that they all inevitably make through the course of their education, and to work collaboratively to resolve them. They might help each other respond to marking feedback and solve problems during lessons; they might use restorative justice to discuss the impact and next steps of thoughtless words or actions.
It is an approach that schools leading the way in using education to improve lives are taking. The recent BBC documentary Young Plato investigates the power of listening to and working with others in an inner-city boys’ primary school in the Ardoyne area of Belfast, which still resonates with the legacy of sectarian violence long after the peace process. Philosophy is used to present pupils with thought provoking statements for them to challenge and discuss, from Heraclitus’ principle that everything changes to scenes from the aftermath of The Troubles alike. By working to the Head Master’s mantra that: “That’s his thinking. It’s caring philosophy. Everybody’s thinking matters.” these children were each able to bring their diverse views to these scenarios, repeatedly changing and developing the picture, until it reflected a shared representation of what everyone thought and wanted.
In the exposition to Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, the childhood self of the narrator is disheartened by others’ inability to perceive his seeming drawing of a hat as the elephant eaten by a boa constrictor that he intends it to be.
Nobody is prepared to indulge the image and he admits early defeat. The visionary dreams of animals and adventures are quashed. The child learns to conform to what society expects of him of “bridge, golf, politics and ties” until he literally and metaphorically breaks down, totally lost, in the desert, after an aeronautic crash. When he encounters the eponymous protagonist, he is asked to take up drawing again. The little prince requests a sheep. The pilot provides several iterations, adjusting it in line with the little prince’s developing ideas, to reflect what he is ultimately thinking. In the process of this dialogue, it comes closer and closer to reflecting his own idea: a sheep in a box, much like an elephant inside a boa constrictor. With this, the little prince is delighted.
It is a shared idea and one the little prince quickly comes to believe in and regard as “his treasure”.
This is how King’s Bangkok uses kindness to prepare pupils and their future world for mutual prosperity. In sharing who we are and what we care about, we invite others to do the same, so we all learn to empathise with, understand, respect and support one another, pastorally, academically and across the wider curriculum, from the early years foundation stage through to higher education. Kindness is integral to our school community and our children’s lives and futures.