Kind classrooms can change the world

By multiple authors across UNSW Faculties and Divisions (see the 'About the authors' section)

Published 25 June 2024

In an age of increasing marketisation, automation and depersonalisation, Pedagogy of Kindness re-centres the human in higher education.

Teacher and students smiling in classroom

In March 2024, we started talking about the Pedagogy of Kindness.

What brought us together? It definitely wasn’t shared disciplinary interests, since we represent seven different faculties and divisions across the university. It also wasn’t our ages, stages or published pages; we’re a diverse bunch in terms of our employment with UNSW and in higher education generally.

We came together by way of the Student Wellbeing Education Focussed Community of Practice (EF CoP), bonded by our commitment to transformative student learning and our belief that this is facilitated through the Pedagogy of Kindness (PofK).

What is the PofK?

The PofK is an educational philosophy, a strategy and a tool. As a philosophy, it posits that kindness, underpinned by values like respect and compassion can diminish unequal power distribution in educator-student relationships (Gorny-Wegrzyn & Perry, 2021), leading to positive outcomes for both parties. As a strategy, it replaces teaching approaches that produce student anxiety with supportive environments to foster engagement. As a tool, kindness can be deployed to build relationships and positive learning communities, elicit student feedback and ensure learning objectives are met.

Research shows that the PofK benefits students AND academics. Students report improved motivation, engagement and outcomes (Clegg & Rowland, 2010; Gorny-Wegrzyn & Perry, 2021). Academics who embed kindness into their teaching experience increase work satisfaction through creating enabling environments for students to thrive.

And yet, there is a silence around the concept of kindness in higher education.

Most often perceived as overly domestic, sentimental and unrigorous (Clegg & Rowland, 2010), kindness is seldom mentioned in performance metrics like promotion procedures or fellowship applications. Burton (2021, p.21) calls kindness a “distinctly elastic and ambivalent term, with the potential to mean all things to all people, as well as nothing at all”.

How can the pedagogy of kindness change the world?

Despite these critiques, we believe that the PofK creates teaching experiences that support student and educator wellbeing, create community, encourage belonging, and promote learning.

When our teaching is underpinned by kindness, our students feel safe sharing their diverse opinions, experiences, and challenges with us, allowing us to tailor our teaching. Students treated with kindness are enabled to open themselves to transformation - the cornerstone of powerful learning.

Through the PofK, we are changing our students. By changing our students, we are changing the world.

Magnet et al. (2014, p2) understand kindness as a “microtechnique for both resisting and shaping power relations within classrooms and institutions”. By modelling kindness in our classes, we show our students a kinder, more tolerant world and their value in it. As higher education grapples with relevancy in the AI age, emphasising human values like kindness in teaching has never been more critical.

What does the pedagogy of kindness look like in the classroom?

There are many simple ways to implement the PofK into your teaching. Here are some techniques our group use:

  • Acknowledge students’ humanity: greet your students warmly, ask them how they are, learn their names (if possible!), listen actively, smile.
  • Open up to students: one of our members calls this “curated revealing”. Sharing stories of your own experiences, struggles and successes can build a powerful connection and collaboration.
  • Give supportive feedback: while feedback can close students’ learning gaps, it’s also an opportunity to nurture potential and build confidence.
  • Assume the ‘best’ of students’ intentions and motivations: this is a slight risk that at least one of us has found pays off more often than not.

Points of clarification: what PofK is and what it is not

Being a kind educator is different from being a nice educator. While niceness prioritises popularity and avoids discomfort, we align with Magnet et al’s (2014, p 18) concept of a “robust form of pedagogical kindness”, where the PofK creates space for the often-messy practice of student learning.

Also, embracing the PofK doesn’t mean you need to adopt a new teaching persona. Any educator – old-school or radical, didactic or participatory – can take small actions to create a space that maximises student learning.

Finally, the PofK shouldn’t be a burden. You can still be kind while maintaining boundaries and work-life balance. Contrary to the belief that the PofK requires maximum input for minimum reward, we have found that the PofK increases our workplace motivation and satisfaction.

An ongoing project

As a group, we are early in our PofK journey, and we still have many unanswered questions. For example:

  • As university classes keep getting bigger, to what extent is the PofK scalable?
  • How can we measure the impact of the PofK on student outcomes?
  • How can the PofK be acknowledged within our academic career paths?

Together, we are building a community around the PofK where we grapple with these questions and reaffirm our own humanness within higher education. By championing the PofK, we invite students into the UNSW community and model the world we envision. Kind classrooms can change the world.



Reading this on a mobile? Scroll down to learn about the authors.


  • Burton, S., 2021. Solidarity, now! Care, Collegiality, and Comprehending the Power Relations of" Academic Kindness" in the Neoliberal Academy. Performance Paradigm, 16, pp.20-39.
  • Clegg, S. and Rowland, S., 2010. Kindness in pedagogical practice and academic life. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 31(6), pp.719-735.
  • Gorny-Wegrzyn, E. and Perry, B., 2021. Exemplary Educators Who Embrace a Teaching Philosophy Guided by a Pedagogy of Kindness. Journal of Advances in Education Research, 6(2), p.67.
  • Hativa, N., Barak, R. and Simhi, E., 2001. Exemplary university teachers: Knowledge and beliefs regarding effective teaching dimensions and strategies. The journal of higher education, 72(6), pp.699-729.
  • Magnet, S., Mason, C. L., & Trevenen, K. (2014). Feminism, Pedagogy, and the Politics of Kindness. Feminist Teacher, 25(1), 1–22.


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