Written by: Robyn Shulman
Building compassion in the classroom may not be an easy task for all teachers. Professional development for teachers usually focuses on pedagogy, strategies and methodologies. However, building compassion in the classroom is exceedingly important for students, and should be part of teacher training and ongoing professional development. Without compassion, many students fall through the cracks. Teachers need to show they care and are paying attention, real attention. The stories of suicide, bullying and depression have grown tremendously over the past 10 years. According to the CDC, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15-to 24-year-old Americans. This is a serious problem in American society. Everyone needs to pay attention, as teachers cannot do it alone. However, teachers can help by providing opportunities to build compassion in the classroom.
Here are simple ways teachers can build compassion:
1. Pay attention: Many times students will give out signals that they are experiencing something difficult. Notice changes in behavior, talk to them, and really listen. Teachers do not have to be social workers. However, because they spend a great deal of time with their students, they can and should let their students know that their door is always open to discuss and help.
2. Teacher storytelling: Students love to hear teachers’ stories because they are personal, surprising and they bring emotion and struggle to light. When teachers share a small part of their lives, students will know that their teachers went through issues as well, and may come to the realization that their own problems are temporary. By sharing stories, teachers are saying, “I’ve been there too, and you will make it through.” Students begin to feel that they are not alone. Teachers have gone through many of the issues that students face now; maybe some were just delivered differently. Teachers can show their support through storytelling. However, there is a line to be aware of, as teachers should not share anything inappropriate.
3. Resources: Teachers can set up communication resources where students can leave notes (such as a teacher’s mailbox). Students can spend time writing in a journal (with teacher feedback). Teachers can also set up a special class discussion or storytelling time (where each student can share a story with the class). When students share stories, they are sharing things that other students may be experiencing as well. These stories can lead to life-long bonds and unexpected friendships.
4. Strengths: Teachers should focus on the strengths of their students. They should not highlight, name or provide personal feedback in a public setting. Teachers can provide tough love by showing they care, defining boundaries and setting high expectations. Teachers can and should find something in each student that shines, and they should tell each student, individually.
5. Reflect: Teachers should take time to reflect and regroup each week. Teachers can think of things that worked well during the week, and build on those strategies. They should try and see their students’ lives through their lenses. By doing this, teachers will build a better understanding of where students are coming from and where they need to go.
6. Lead by example: Teachers should always display acts of compassion in front of their students. They should be kind, understanding and aware (especially when they are interacting with colleagues). They should not dismiss questions, assume anything, or close their doors. When teachers show they care about people and the world around them, students will pick up on these behaviors, and may feel more comfortable approaching their teachers with concerns.