I recently spoke with an ESL teacher at a local public elementary school with lots of Syrian newcomers and asked her what does she feel has been the greatest need after working with newcomer students and her eyes literally swelled up with tears and she was on the verge of crying. She said as kids start to develop more English skills, they start speaking more about the traumas they have seen or the post traumatic stress they still experience and she simply can't do much to help them because she is not trained to do so. And that really, she holds herself from tears in front of them but finds herself crying afterwards...how heart-breaking.
This was so timely because I believe the work I am researching, speaking, and writing on with regards to compassion in education is *absolutely* essential to not only helping newcomer students who come from war torn countries but even local children who have experienced what we call 'Adverse Childhood Experiences' - so things like abuse, drug/alcohol addiction in the family, etc. Research shows that up to 70% of students have these experiences (Wilpow et al., 2016).
I became passionate about this field as a result of being an educator for over 15 years and after completing Compassion Cultivation Training at Stanford University and learning more about compassion as the ability to recognize and alleviate another's suffering - so it requires action. Therefore, it’s more empowering than empathy because being compassionate means you actually do something to help someone else, as opposed to only empathize with them.
In his book, “The Compassionate Achiever”, Christopher Kukk asserts that ‘Compassion can save and change lives and you have capacity to improve the quality of your own life’ and that it is the ‘most consistent but under appreciated characteristic of successful people across occupations is compassion’. Theodore Duftiasky supports this notion by announcing that “Compassionate people finish on top together...Compassion is the chief law of human existence’.
Research on applying compassion in education has shown that it can transform our schools into more equitable places of learning and our communities into more caring and resilient spaces for growth. It can also address and decrease the rate of burnout by teachers as a result of managing the needs of students who have experienced trauma. And finally it can enable our students to build resiliency in the face of adversity and experience increased success and well-being in school and beyond in order to build a more peaceful society. (Willpow et al., The Heart of Teaching and Learning, 2016)
How is a compassionate school described? “ It is a school where staff and students learn to be aware of other’s challenges. They respond to the physical, emotional, and social challenges faced by students and families by offering support to remove barriers to learning. They do not judge the situations or responses to others. They seek to understand and support. “ (Wilpow et al., The Heart of Teaching and Learning, 2016).
So as you can see here they not only seek to understand, or empathize, but actively seek to support by removing barriers to learning. A compassionate school would include specific ‘compassionate instructional principles’ which combine empowering students and providing positive unconditional regard as a start. It would also include building school community partnerships in order to help students succeed not only academically but also physically, emotionally, socially. And this can be achieved by discussing the importance of mental wellness coordination for students with community agencies. (Wilpow et al., The Heart of Teaching and Learning, 2016).
Ultimately, compassionate education would instill a sense of hope and inspire a process of growth so our students not only survive difficult circumstances, but thrive and succeed in school and beyond.
For more information or to connect with me on this, please send me a message through the Contact Form.
There are many skills necessary for teachers to excel in their profession and be able to truly touch the hearts and change the lives of the students they teach. Here are 11 skills to consider:
Harding and Parsons (2011) cite “master teachers” as sharing three characteristics which are:
1) effective communication and relationship building skills with children,
2) realizing the importance of teaching children and not only the curriculum,
3) and having a love for learning which is demonstrated in their teaching.
Additionally, other authors including Hattie (2003) and Darling-Hammond et al. (2010), discuss the importance of:
4) teachers learning how to design and match curriculum with appropriate instructional strategies
5) how to mediate and empower students to have ownership over their learning
6) how to refine their teaching philosophy and understand the importance of formative assessments and how to make research based interventions.
7) the need to understand the impact of ‘relationships, collaborating, and community’ (Hattie, 2003, p.12) on their students’ learning and
8) the need to realize that teaching critical thinking skills should be the ultimate goal of education.
Finally, an important characteristic that is expected of new teachers to survive and thus needs to be identified and fostered in teacher preparation programs is that of “hardiness”, which Maddi et al. (2002, 2006 as cited in Harding and Parsons, 2011) define as the ability to: “withstand difficult, adverse conditions over extended periods of time” (p.54). Maddi et al’s work revealed that hardy teachers have three key characteristics::
9) a high level of commitment
10) a feeling that they can influence their surroundings
11) and the ability to face challenges comfortably (Maddi et al 2006, p.577 as cited in Cohen, 2009).
The responsibility of touching hearts and changing lives is certainly not a light one, which necessitates the ongoing personal and professional development of educators. Investing in this ongoing development is what can enable us to witness the rewards of inspiring young minds to be a catalyst for positive change and peace in our world.
Cohen, R. M. (2009). ‘What it takes to stick it out: Two veteran inner-city teachers after 25 years’. Teachers and teaching, 15(4), pp. 471 – 491.
Darling-Hammond, L., Dieckmann, J., Haertel, E., Lotan, R., Newton, X., Philipose, S., et al. (2010). ‘Studying teacher effectiveness: The challenges of developing valid measures’. In G. Walford, E. Tucker, & M. Viswanathan (Eds.), The sage handbook of measurement, (pp. 87–106). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.
Harding, K. and Parsons, J. (2011) "Improving Teacher Education Programs", Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 36 (11), pp. 51-61.
Hattie, J. (2003). ‘Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence?’ Paper presented at the Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference on Building Teacher Quality, Melbourne. Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference in 2003. Available from <http://www.acer.edu.au/documents/RC2003_Hattie_TeachersMakeADifference.pdf> [13 November 2013].
Sometimes amidst all the struggles and the strife
And with all the ups and downs of life
all we have to do is stare up at the sky
and ponder in amazement and ask ourselves why
why do we sometimes forget the beauty of this earth we were put on
the majestic sun and mystical clouds which are second to none
is it because of all the suffering we see
because we know seeing that can empower us to be
to be more compassionate and kind
in a world where personal interest has caused some to be blind
not blind by sight but blind by heart
For A heart that sees beauty and emanates beauty
A heart that sees love and emanates love
A heart that sees goodness and emanates goodness
can truly make such a profound difference.
And this indeed is what my faith has taught me
That if this piece of flesh in my body, my heart, is good
Then all is good
That if my heart is kind and forgiving
Then life will become easier for living,
So the next time you feel overwhelmed by suffering or strife
Stare up at that miraculous sky to remember
the beauty of life.
And put your hand on your heart and remind yourself
With every beat and every breath you still have an opportunity
To bring hope, joy and inspiration
To whomever you may see.
Many times we think compassion is limited for the sick and the needy, and while that is very important, the reality is compassion is needed all around us and it can start first and foremost with having self- compassion.
Dr. Kristin Neff , a graduate from Berkeley, in her research and book on "self-compassion" (2015) cited how having self-compassion is related to increased well-being, motivation, happiness and connecting with others and decreased levels of anxiety and depression.
She speaks about how self-compassion, is the idea that we, along with everyone on the planet, have flaws, weaknesses, and 'failures'. It is being ok with not being perfect because nobody is perfect - no matter what their profiles on facebook or LinkedIn looks like.
Self-compassion is not 'self-pity' because self-compassion is about recognizing all of those 'icky' feelings you have with kindness, which in fact enables you to let go of them rather than keep them bottled up inside.
It's also not about being 'weak' - research is now showing us that self-compassion can be a great way to cope with life's struggles and enable us to be more resilient and bounce back after adversity.
Self-compassion is also not about giving ourselves excuses to take a 'back seat' in how we manage our lives - to recognize our struggles with kindness, enables us to feel emotionally grounded. Also, according to research, self-compassion is more powerful than blaming and shaming ourselves, because we recognize the challenges but can also recognize our strengths and how to continue to build on those in order to be our best selves.
Self-compassion is not about feeling better than others which is sometimes referred to as having a high sense of self-esteem. Although there is a lot of emphasis on having high self-esteem, the reality is this quest for being above average and standing out, if not prefaced with a healthy attitude and intention, can lead to narcissism which is not healthy and not what self-compassion is really about. On the other hand, self-compassion is this idea once again of acknowledging our inherently imperfect humanity. So while self-esteem can fluctuate, self-compassion should always be there as a base for us to go back to and say even though things aren't great now, it's okay, it happens because we are human.
Finally, self-compassion is not about being selfish, because when we can be kind and nurturing to ourselves, we can continue to care for the people we love most. Remember we cannot give what we don't have. This is especially true for women who are known to be 'givers' and 'nurturers'.
Essentially having self-compassion can lead the path for you to be more successful and more compassionate with others.
To be compassionate by recognizing and striving to alleviate one's own as well as others' struggles and challenges can take a tremendous amount of courage.
Courage to overcome the shame or blame or fears that keep us and keep others sometimes trapped in a cycle of unhappiness or inability to achieve our goals and realize our greatest dreams.
Courage to feel what it feels to be hurt, weak, betrayed, or the array of other feelings underlying suffering. Many times people are afraid of having self-compassion or compassion for others because they think it can be very emotionally taxing or draining.
The reality is being compassionate can enable you to be resilient - to bounce back after recognizing and striving to alleviate your as well as others' struggles.
I think being resilient may come from having a tremendous amount of gratitude after you've recognized your own struggles and the strength you had and have to overcome them and the struggles others encounter and how blessed we really are.
Resiliency also comes about as a result of realizing that you do have the ability to overcome your own, as well as enable others to overcome their challenges, and to rise stronger after 'falling' for some time.
Many times when we hear of compassion, some of the first meanings we think of are empathy and kindness. And while empathy and kindness are certainly aspects of compassion, there is more to this core value which is inherent to our humanity.
According to a Compassion Cultivation Training Program I participated in at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research in Education (CCARE) at Stanford University (2015), here are some important pointers on compassion:
Essentially, "compassion is to recognize and strive to alleviate one's own as well as other's suffering".
It involves having the "intention, awareness, focus, stability, and capacity to experience and show more compassion".
"Compassion is a natural capacity that is not always easy to express, and not to everyone. And We have the capacity to develop and broaden compassion."
It is a trait highly regarded in many faiths including Islam, Christianity and Judaism, as well as in spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, and in personal beliefs. Moreover, we now have scientific research which reveals that compassion was a necessary and natural part of our evolution in order for us to protect, connect, and collaborate with one another (Goetz, Keltner, Simon-Thomas, 2010).
In my coming posts, I will be speaking more about the steps involved with fostering more self-compassion as well as compassion with others.