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Education Now: Teaching and Learning with Compassion

A discussion on how to cultivate compassion and leadership in one’s own teaching practice — and how to approach some of the challenges we're seeing in classrooms now.

Today's teaching challenges are multifaceted, calling on a range of leadership skills, instructional decisions, and, perhaps most important, empathy and compassion. At a time of continued anxiety, when students and educators alike are feeling the strains of pandemic losses of all kinds, how can we make classrooms spaces of welcome, inclusion, safety, and care? How can we teach, lead, mentor, and coach with compassion? In the recent Education Now webinar, Teaching and Leading with Compassion, a panel of teachers and teacher educators addressed these questions.

"We don't always know the other person's story," said HGSE Lecturer Victor Pereira about empathizing with his students. "What looks like a disengaged student might be hungry or tired. What looks like a student who's not trying may not know how to ask for help. Teaching with compassion means understanding their stories and taking the time to know yourself as we check our biases and lead with inquiry."  

Moderated by Lecturer Uche Amaechi, the discussion among panelists Pereira, Lecturer Rhonda Bondie, New York Department of Education's Khalya Hopkins, and Codman Academy teacher Ed Yoo explored a range perspectives about compassion fatigue and how to battle it in the classroom, especially by empathizing with individual struggles. During the pandemic, teachers grappled with uncertainty around new technologies and went the extra mile to empathize with their students who equally suffered isolation from their community.

"You can't change the community if you're not in the community," said Bondie on the value of building relationships. "The greatest resource in the classroom is the students themselves. Sometimes when I'm feeling tired, I stop myself and think about self-regulated learning. Do the students understand the goal? Do they have a relationship with the goal?" 

The panelists also discussed  "learning loss," a term often misused to describe the negative impact of online and hybrid education during the pandemic. They offered several ways to reframe this term and identify the learning gains, shifting the focus from what students can't do toward the rich experience teachers can build upon. 

One example, said Hopkins, was the way in which students came together to help their teachers and one another navigate new technologies during remote learning. “We don’t put enough value on those ‘soft skills,’ which I consider as very valuable skills. The real learning gap happens between what we say we value versus what we leverage and measure in the classroom.”  

The panel provided several strategies for reframing misconceptions, upholding compassion, advocating for students, battling fatigue, and aligning actions with values. These actionable items can enrich an educator's toolbox as one leads with compassion in these challenging times. 

Key takeaways:

  • Knowing yourself is what enables you to help others. Look inward — the more you know yourself, the better you will be able to serve others.
  • Bring your authentic self to the classroom — and invite students to do so as well. 
  • Reframe your teaching as learning. This year especially, you yourself need to be a learner. Making compassion a learning goal can be an exciting and rewarding process.  
  • Take care of yourself. Don’t spend another half-hour working on that presentation — go to bed! If you don't reinvigorate your personal life and health, you can't invigorate your classroom.

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