Making Caring Common Project - Harvard

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Over the weekend at the parenting class I teach, one of the attending parents said, “Sallie, you’re so nice. You care about everyone”.  A compliment, which I replied, “Thank you. I try.” A couple of weeks ago a Clariden student, while observing me interact with other students said to me, “You’re so nice to everyone”. I thought to myself, “Good my modeling of what it looks like to be nice is being observed”.

Yes, I try to be nice to everyone. The alternative of being mean or indifferent has never sat well with me. It innately goes against who I am.

From my experience, what I’ve learned and observed is that mean never works. Mean does not create intrinsic motivation. Mean creates fear and fear is debilitating.  Being mean doesn’t promote healthy learning and it doesn’t build trusting and open relationships. Fear may get the goal accomplished short-term but there’s a long-term price you pay.

I’ve had individuals over the years tell me…”You’re too nice. You care too much.” and I’ve heard individuals say this about other educators. Really? Can you ever be too nice? Mean does not produce the results I value or desire and it will not foster within me the person I wish to be. Nice does. I’ve learned over the years that if you want people to be nice to you, it’s best to be nice to them.

Children respond well to individuals who are nice, who show an interest in who they are as individuals, and who care about them and their ideas. When working with children, being nice and caring are essential.

Over the years, I’ve asked college students to reflect upon the teachers they’ve learned from that made a difference in their lives. I ask them to describe these teachers and phrases like these are shared: “firm but kind”, “interested in me and my goals”, “excited every day to teach us”,  ” had a great sense of humor”, and “cared about us”.

With research showing a decline in empathy and caring across our nation, Harvard’s Graduate School of Education implemented the Making Caring Common project. Through this project, Harvard researched the necessity for caring and through their research and the research of other universities studied why caring matters and what one needs to do to assure that children grow to become caring, ethical individuals.

Here’s Harvard’s top 7 guidelines to aid in raising caring, respectful and ethical children:

  1. Work to develop caring, loving relationships with your children.
  2. Be a strong moral role model and mentor.
  3. Make caring for others a priority and set high ethical expectations.
  4. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude.
  5. Expand your child’s circle of concern.
  6. Promote children’s ability to be ethical thinkers and positive change-makers in their communities.
  7. Help children develop self-control and manage feelings effectively.

Learning environments are essential in aiding children to become caring, respectful and ethical individuals. At Clariden we take this responsibility seriously and we actively engage in conversations with our students to promote behavior that builds individuals with strong character.  It is our responsibility as educators and as a nation to promote caring. As Harvard put it, “We should work to cultivate children’s concern for others because it’s fundamentally the right thing to do and also because when children can empathize with and take responsibility for others, they’re likely to be happier and more successful. They’ll have better relationships their entire lives, and strong relationships are a key ingredient of happiness. In today’s workplace, success often depends on collaborating effectively with others, and children who are empathic and socially aware are also better collaborators.”

At Clariden, our project based learning environment is intentionally designed to not only promote strong academics but also promote opportunities for children to learn to collaborate, to learn to negotiate, to perspective take and, of course, to create, which is at the root of all ability to problem solve. Promoting caring and empathy is serious business, with real-life implications and consequences. So let’s not under-estimate the need to care – to be nice – it matters in a multitude of ways that are significant.

Sallie Wells, Head of School

photo credit: Harvard Graduate School of Education, Making Caring Common Project,