After seeing so many schools enthusiastically participating in Random Acts of Kindness week, I continue to think about the important role that kindness plays in any school environment. National School of Character, John Poole Middle School (Poolesville, Maryland) is dedicated to encouraging kindness and the community has found creative and engaging ways to integrate this value into their daily lives. From shout-outs to appreciate their teachers to their active participation in the Great Kindness Challenge, students at John Poole are not simply learning about kindness for a special week in the year, they are practicing it on an ongoing basis. Even more impressive than these acts of kindness, is the school’s dedication to making kindness a part of everything that they do.

For example, teachers, Jane Lindsay and Sarah Nachlas, used several educational resources, including the work of Kate Kinsella, to create a tool that promotes kindness and respect in academic discussions. In times of disagreement, it can be challenging for children and adults alike to remember to be kind. However, academic disagreement is a natural, enriching part of classroom discussion. How can we encourage students’ passion, appreciate their strong opinions, while still teaching them to express their ideas respectfully?

Interested in teaching their students to engage in debates with their peers in a polite and kind manner, these teachers wrote a quick guide for navigating these heated discussions. This tool is now used in all classrooms throughout John Poole Middle School.

In the form of a placemat, so that it is easily accessible, they created a list of prompts to use in situations in which students agree, disagree or want to question someone else’s comment. The placemat contains a list of affirming statements, opposing viewpoints and clarifying inquiries, which help to keep debates, both academic and personal, respectful and civil.


Teachers find the placemat to be a very helpful tool. Some find ways to lesson plan with these statements in mind. Others simply use it to remind children of the protocol when debates naturally occur. While a valuable tool, school counselor, Peg Arnold, explains that ultimately, the aim is for students to reach a point where they don’t even need the placemat anymore, because those words and ideas have become ingrained in them.

Consider using this placemat in your classroom to promote polite, productive discussion. Print the file here: Enter the Conversation Placemat.pdf

If you’re looking for more resources, Teaching Tolerance has a lesson plan specifically for helping your students create a safe, respectful place for open dialogue.

Do you have tools you use to encourage kindness and respect in your classroom? We’d love to hear about it. Contact if you have any ideas or materials you’d like to share!