UBC Okanagan study finds kids see teaching as an act of kindness

The survey consisted of kindergarten to Grade 3 students in the Central Okanagan School District.

Assistant professor John Tyler teaches education at UBC’s Okanagan campus.

It seems the stereotypical image of children liking, or finding good in their teachers, is correct.

According to a recent UBC study that surveyed 650 local elementary students, 42 per cent of them believe that teaching is an act of kindness. The survey consisted of kindergarten to Grade 3 students in the Central Okanagan Valley School District (23).

“Understanding how kindness is conceptualized and perceived by students has implications for educators hoping to foster pro-social behaviour in and among students,” says Assist. Prof. John Tyler Binfet who teaches education at UBC’s Okanagan campus. “Early elementary students are, by and large, attentive to kindness modelled by teachers and are able to identify characteristics of teachers’ kind acts.”

In the study, students were asked to draw two pictures. A self-image performing an act of kindness and the other of their teacher also performing an act of kindness. The students were not given a definition of kindness.

Binfet says 27 per cent of the students drew images of teachers helping individual students, while 16 per cent drew their teacher instructing the entire class. And 21 per cent of students illustrated their teachers physically helping students as an act of kindness.

Similarly, when asked to draw a self-image, 54 per cent of the students drew images of themselves maintaining friendships.

“The finding of this study provides more information about young children’s conceptual understanding of school kindness in several possible ways,” says Binfet. “By asking students to draw an act of kindness we are given a glimpse into how young children understand and interpret kind school-based behaviour.”

Students captioned the pictures with a number of phrases that explained that their teacher was helping them.

While further study is needed, kindness studies like this could be a useful tool in teacher training and relationship building in school contexts, says Binfet.

“The more students positively view their classroom and teachers, the better they’ll be engaged in lessons and learning. Teachers should find comfort in the findings of this study,” he says. “It’s not taking students on field trips or organizing elaborate activities that’s seen as kindness—it’s teachers doing what they do best everyday in front of students.”

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