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Compassion Counts! How One Star Educator Teaches Kindness to Her Kids

Kolleen Moncada with her students

Champions educator Kolleen Moncada begins each school year with a little speech that can make a world of difference for kids: “I tell my students they are like my own children,” Moncada says. “That means I care for them, I respect them, and I even worry about them.”

Why is it so important to this mom of four (including twin baby girls!) that her students know how much she cares? “When children know that there are adults who care about them, they aren’t afraid to try,” she explains.  

Based at Wisconsin’s Pewaukee Elementary School, Moncada is a site director for Champions, KinderCare Education’s nationally accredited before- and after-school programs for elementary students. This year, she won a Legacy Award for her teaching excellence—and her ability to help every child succeed.

How does she help all the students in her classroom build self-confidence, develop social and emotional skills, and realize their own human potential? Take a look:

1. She teaches empathy.

In Moncada’s program, feelings—and taking care of other people’s feelings—are an important conversation topic. When someone’s feelings get hurt, Moncada springs into action. “If there’s a problem, I sit down with each individual child and ask questions like, ‘How do you think the other person is feeling? How would you feel?’” Kindness Carries On: When Moncada models compassion and respect herself, she finds kids in her program more easily express kindness and respect for others.

2. She listens—really listens.

“I tell my students that they can come and talk to me about anything,” Moncada says. “And I mean that!” Kindness Carries On: Letting kids know she will listen anytime has a powerful impact. “They may not talk to me right away, but a couple weeks later, if they need a trusting adult, they will come to me.”

3. She makes sure every single child knows he or she matters.

Moncada believes that all children’s needs are important. “My mom was a special needs teacher for 30 years, so I have a lot of compassion and passion for these kids,” says Moncada. “Their needs absolutely count to me.” Kindness Carries On: Moncada goes above and beyond to meet the needs of every child in her classroom. For example, one child she worked with had sensory issues that made him sensitive to loud noises—so Moncada created a quiet, calm place at her site just for him where he could go to feel more secure.

4. She gives kids do-over days.

We all have bad days—and that’s okay. “Rough days happen with kids, but I never fault a child for it,” Moncada says. Kindness Carries On: “I say, ‘Let’s try tomorrow.’ In my program, there is always a do-over.” Over time (and with practice), children learn to better control their emotions and ask for what they need. Moncada’s unconditional caring gives them the space to do that.

5. She lets them learn about what they love.

When kids are encouraged to explore the things they’re excited about, they’re more likely to stay focused, curious, and engaged. “If there’s a child who loves building, I might give him marshmallows and toothpicks to make a sculpture; if there’s a child who loves to draw, I give him the tools he needs,” she says. Kindness Carries On: When Moncada shows interest in whatever a child is interested in—from architecture to unicorns to robots—she is helping that child feel more self-confident and practice self-direction. 

For Moncada, the most important part of her work is ensuring that her kids know someone really cares. “I tell the kids in my Champions program that every night I have a little thought about each and every one of them,” she says. “And I really do.”

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