Plenty of research confirms that schools with positive climates, in which the students have strong social-emotional skills, are ideal learning environments. Teachers and parents don’t need research to believe this—it’s common sense that when people are shown kindness as opposed to hostility, they’re far more apt to succeed in school and beyond.

What isn’t always common sense, though, is that kindness and empathy require practice. Read Naturally founder Candyce Ihnot tells her struggling readers that they come to the “reading gym” to grow the muscles of their brain and become stronger readers. This daily practice and flexing of muscles is how they improve. Similarly, good social-emotional skills come most easily to the people who flex their kindness muscles often—who do daily reps to grow in empathy.

At Read Naturally, we are passionate about both literacy AND kindness. We loved this blog post, 8 Acts of Kindness for Big-Hearted Book Lovers, from Minnesota nonprofit Doing Good Together. The post has some great suggestions for combining reading with acts of kindness, such as writing thoughtful notes to leave inside library books, sending books to families in need and troops overseas, supporting the Little Free Library movement, and more. All are great suggestions for both classrooms and the home.

Doing Good Together has also put together fabulous book lists for cultivating empathy. The book titles are organized into categories such as celebrating diversity, inspiring gratitude, fueling social justice, healing the earth, and many more. These lists are a great resource for any teacher or parent who wants a bookshelf full of meaningful literature that has the capacity to change a reader’s life for the better.

As you work to help students grow in their ability to read, simultaneously help them grow in empathy. When both are nurtured, greatness follows.