Obviously, school is all about learning, which, to the average person, means academics. However, as educators know, there’s so much more to education. From music and art to physical education and shop classes, electives help to enrich and round out students. Yet even that is not everything. The truth is that the softer skills, those related to character development, are an equally important component, though not nearly as acclaimed.

Empathy, integrity, compassion, kindness, appreciation, gratitude — these kinds of skills are what make a person whole. Indeed, just as your kindergarten teacher always said, playing well with others matters. While content knowledge may well get students through the door of opportunity, soft skills often determine whether they will stay there. And these skills matter forever, not just in kindergarten.

It’s why I held Nice Week in my class each year, having students draw names and anonymously be kind to that student each day for a week. Enjoying giving and receiving kindness in equal measure, my students always asked to repeat the exercise during second semester. The activity also served to draw them closer, not just to the ones with whom they exchanged kindness, but also with the rest of the class as they collaborated on ways to extend that kindness.

So I was elated by a similar project I read about recently. In it, each student drew a name, carefully observed the person throughout the day and then, at the end of the day, reported every good act or quality they noted. Like my students, those involved in this project, though younger than my high schoolers, requested to continue the project as well.

In both instances, what the students gained went beyond the increased kindness and thoughtfulness toward one another. Understanding, insight, empathy, caring, consideration and a good deal of selflessness were part of the mix as well. In the end, they were all better for the experience. What’s more, these were qualities that they took with them, as they were now instilled in the students.

While content knowledge is essential, so are these inner qualities. Incorporating ways to bolster them doesn’t diminish time spent on academics but does engage and enrich students. That alone makes them worthwhile. The fact that they also facilitate teaching the whole child makes kindness and all the other character traits priceless.

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