Teaching Opinion

Go Beyond Empathy by Being Compassionate

By Starr Sackstein — September 11, 2018 3 min read
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Being centered and ready to approach each day with positivity takes a good deal of focus.

Those of us in the education profession, understand that since we are working with people, there are many things that just can’t be planned or predicted.

As educators, we must strive to move beyond pure empathy, simply putting ourselves in the shoes of others, taking on their concerns to understand, toward compassion where we can understand, regardless of our relationship with the person, and seek to help them in the ways they need.

In this second year of my leadership role, I’ve made it a point to wake up a little earlier to make sure I take care of myself by exercising and trying to center myself before the day begins. While I ride the bike trainer, I often listen to podcasts and/or NPR to help the time pass.

One of my favorite podcasts is called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text which essentially is a reading of one chapter in the book they are up to through a particular lens. This week’s podcast was reading an early chapter of the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) through the lens of compassion and as I listened to them parse out what it means to be compassionate and the benefits of it, I couldn’t help to connect it to my work as an educator.

The simple fact is, we aren’t going to like everyone we work with, but that doesn’t matter. While we teach students and collaborate with colleagues, we are always trying to model how best to communicate and understand each other. Being able to empathize in certain situations is important, but empathy falls a little short when the person we are working with may actually need help.

Being a compassionate educator means that we make an effort to understand those we work with and help them get what they need in a kind and caring way. That, of course, will look different for many people, but the better relationships we build, the better we can open our hearts and minds with compassion and then the real learning can be done.

When we approach a new colleague or a new student that may challenge us, rather than assume the worst, we must assume the positive and approach the situation with curiosity. This curiosity will lend itself to compassion. The best way to work together and be the best version of our learning selves is to see the world through empathetic eyes and follow our desire to help those who need it most.

Compassionate educators:

  • Notice shifts in behaviors and attitudes of those around them, but seek to understand why and then try to be a part of the solution.
  • Ask questions instead of assuming the worst
  • Recognize cries for help as just that and create an atmosphere that helps those around them express their needs and seek solutions.
  • Believe the best in people and help hold up the mirror to those that need to see that version of themselves at the right time.
  • Can be a sounding board for those who need to talk, and rather than provide answers, can listen with an open heart so those seeking comfort can discover their own solutions.
  • Don’t project their own challenges onto others or make the challenges that others face about themselves
  • Can connect with people in a way that deepens the connections they share in the learning relationships which enriches the possibility for success
  • Develop an environment the invites collaboration and risk-taking, allowing participants to go at their own paces and contribute in a way that makes sense to each person

As we build more authentic learning environments, we must all seek to be compassionate toward those we work with. A warm smile and a positive attitude go a long way and it is our duty during the school day to ensure that all people feel safe and have what they need to be successful.

How do you show compassion for your students, colleagues, and community? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.