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Compassion: How Do You Teach It?

Updated September 28, 2021
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Compassion: How Do You Teach It? essay

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The article, Compassion: How Do You Teach It? By Kochler-Evans & Barnes demonstrates the powerful difference it can make if educators promoted acts of compassion and care to students. A model of influence was developed by the authors to lead and take action for compassionate acts. According to Seppala, compassion is a different concept from empathy, although the two are often confused. Seppala suggests that empathy is the visceral or emotional experience of another’s feelings while compassion begins with the emotional response but adds an authentic desire to help, making it much more powerful. Compassion actually combines empathy or an emotional response with altruism or action benefitting another.” (Seppala, as cited in Kohler-Evans & Barnes, 2015, p. 33

There are high expectations for students to do well in school but they are often not taught to be kind and be willingly active to lend a helping hand. Kohler-Evans & Barnes realizes that there is a suppression of compassion due to a showing of a negative society like violence through the media. With schools heavily emphasised on academics, the social and emotional side of development is sometimes neglected. This article provides a framework of four levels that can be integrated into the curriculum that fosters compassion for others.

The four levels allow students to fully understand the importance of compassionate acts and seeing things beyond oneself. Level number one is to develop consciousness for the meaning of compassion. Students will also understand why the lack of compassion is a global problem. Kohler-Evans & Barnes states that “In a K-12 setting, both the teacher and the student need to experience this level so that both find meaning and relevance in the topic.” (Kohler-Evans & Barnes, 2015, p. 34) Starting from the individual, teachers can make connections through conversation by using student interests such as things they care about and love. Students could be asked to draw out what it is that matters to them and what that looks like. Connections can then walk into prior knowledge and scenarios that affect the community like the arrival of a new student in class. Then finally becoming aware of compassion on a deeper level.

Level number two is to acknowledge perspectives and affirm beliefs. Through discussion, students are aware of their own thoughts and beliefs but also acknowledge that other perspectives have meaning even though it may be a point of view that contradicts our own.This does not mean however, to suppress our own thoughts. Teachers could use books that show compassion and discuss how a lack of compassion could lead to hurtful feelings. The author suggests that “students should express their thoughts and beliefs while contemplating various perspectives which can shape students’ own values and beliefs.” (Kohler-Evans & Barnes, 2015, p. 35) Level number three is to teach compassion and realize the benefit to oneself and others.

Students will now see beyond themselves and see things in the perspective of others. Kohler-Evans & Barnes came up with a way to appreciate the benefits of compassionate acts in the classroom. By making a compassionate jar, students will add a chip into their jar whenever they observe someone showing compassion. There will be frequent conversations on student’s personal responses. Finally, Level number four is to take action and embrace influence. This level is here to show that everyone can make a difference for another. Teachers will help students realize that they can make an impactful difference in the lives of others through all acts of compassion. This final level is empowerment, which works to help students realize that acts of kindness benefit not only others but also themselves.

This article supports my topic of compassion in the classroom because what we bring into the classroom through our teaching can make a powerful difference. This topic should be addressed as part of the major curriculum in a child’s early years for students to be aware of the value of kindness and to act upon it at a young age.

The article examined was, Compassionate education from preschool to graduate school by Jazaireri, H (2018) reviewed eighty two school based social emotional learning (SEL) programs and found them effective, as they deal with self management, self awareness, and social awareness. However, compassion was absent from the programs. This includes compassion for oneself, compassion for others and receiving compassion from others. The author states that “compassion can indeed be ‘taught’ but these compassion programs have not been widely used in the contexts of children, adolescents, or young adults.” (Jazaieri, H. p.23) Challenges exist in all age groups and this article shows how to meet these challenges through compassion.

It is common to believe that young children would not suffer from mental health issues but studies show that children who met criteria for any diagnosis at age 3 were nearly five times as likely as the others to meet criteria for a diagnosis at age 6. (Jazaieri, H. p.26) Educating compassion to children at an early age would be a worthy pursuit for children to understand how to regulate emotions. “Various forms of mental health disorders can arise in the preschool period including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders, mood disorders, attachment disorders, and autism spectrum disorders” (Luby, 2009 as cited in Jazaieri, H. p.26) A study on elementary school bullies showed that they scored lower on moral compassion compared to their peers which may be an opportunity to bring forward compassion intervention. A secular cognitive-based compassion training (CBCT) in Emory University was developed and modified for children five to eight years of age through play, stories and games. It was found in the twelve week program that the children were capable of grasping all the concepts put forward.

Students were asked to be observant on an object in the room and to describe what they see in a non judgmental way. This practice was to cultivate mindfulness and non judgment. For example, a chair and what it takes to make the chair. Who is involved in making this chair? Students were having discussions on what compassion feels like and actually acknowledging the suffering of others. “It is useful to help children to explicitly acknowledge the suffering of other students in the classroom through specific intentions or well wishes for others. By acknowledging suffering, children have opportunities to get in touch with what compassion feels like in their bodies and physiology.” (Jazaieri, H. p.46) One way children can engage with compassionate behaviors is by helping each other out in the classroom and visiting nursing homes. The author also suggests picking up litter and rescuing pets from a local shelter. Children should also bring these acts of compassion home to help out anyone in need.

Educators have the opportunity to bring compassion to children at a young age which will set a strong social emotional foundation. “We already educate the mind everyday. It is time for our hearts.” (Jazaieri, H.)

The article, promoting prosocial behavior and self-regulatory skills in preschool children through a mindfulness-based kindness curriculum by Flook, L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., & Davidson (2015) explored the outcomes of an intervened mindfulness based curriculum. The study was delivered in a public school for twelve weeks to a sample of sixty eight preschool children. Children in this group are taught self-regulation, and prosocial behavior. The author argues that these abilities are indicators of later life outcomes yet they are rarely taught in schools. Without these abilities may interfere with learning. “Investment in early education, therefore, has the potential to increase health and reduce risk behaviors over the life span, thus reducing overall societal costs. Healthy functioning across academic and social contexts requires exercising self-regulatory ability in the pursuit of short- and long-term goals.” (Flook, L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., & Davidson, p.44)

This study that was conducted included the independent variable which included sixty eight children. “The sample included 40 White (58.8%), 8 Hispanic (11.8%), 4 Black, (5.9%), 7 Asian/Pacific Islander (10.3%), 8 “Other”/ mixed ethnicity children (11.8%), 34 girls (50.0%) and 33 boys (48.5%), with a mean age of 4.67 years (SD .27).” This group was assessed to see the effects of adding a mindfulness training into the curriculum. The control group consisted of thirty one students who did not receive any training. The hypothesis of this study was that students who were lower in prosocial skills and executive functioning would benefit the most and improve the most over time. The training consisted of two twenty minute lessons in one week over a twelve week period, giving approximately ten hours of training.

There were four separate trials where children distributed stickers to themselves and a target recipient. This includes, the favorite and least favorite peer, a sick peer, and an unfamiliar child. The children were told that they were allowed to keep as many stickers for themselves as well as for their peers. Another task that consisted of nine test trails to see what the children would choose between a small reward now vs a bigger reward later. By using repeated measures analysis of variance (RMANOVA), analyses show that the control group kept significantly more stickers for themselves compared to the independent variable. F(1, 58) 6.53, p .013;

The independent intervention group showed greater improvements in all aspects of social competence and earned higher report card grades. School records show the improvement of markings of the current year and in the next grade. The control group on the other hand showed more selfish behaviors over time. “The KC intervention appears to have been particularly beneficial for some children, specifically those with lower baseline functioning. Children in the intervention group who started out with lower social competence and lower executive functioning (indexed by inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility) at baseline showed greater improvements in social competence relative to the control group.” (Flook, L., Goldberg, S. B., Pinger, L., & Davidson, p.49) A curriculum of mindfulness and compassion showed promising results for students in the future linked to prosocial behavior and academics.

The article, assessing students for morality education: A New Role for School Counselors by Rayburn, C. (2004) explored moral value education with the increase of violence in society. School counselors call for entire school communities to be involved in the morality education program, first assessing student morality and peacefulness. The article argues that school counselors are the most qualified professionals that are trained to deal with issues that families and students have. They would be the best fit to educate students on moral character and behavior.

Teaching morality in schools was always a controversial topic because many families, administrators and politicians believed that it was linked to religion. Ever since the 1960s and 70s, individual families were to choose their own desired religious teachings for their child. There was no dominance of one particular moral teaching. However, tragic violence is happening in the schools like the Virginia Tech shootings which cries for a well planned moral compassion curriculum. “Teaching children core values can vastly improve their ability to appreciate, understand, cooperate and interact with others in the world.Further, it provides them the choice to follow a moral good path.” (Rivlin), 1943 as cited from Rayburn, C. (2004) Youths with spiritual emptiness and poor morality characteristics were also found in the youths with violent behavior. Rayburn states that society is living by a code of survival of the greediest. Material goods are now what is considered high status. While on the other hand, the action to be compassionate, respectful, and caring for others is not grounded deep within us.

Several morality theories were shown in the article that showed the various stages of development from Piaget, Kohlberg and Hoffman. In Hoffman’s theory, stage one showed children will seek to relieve their own distress, unable to understand others’ perspectives. Stage two is a more mature level, feeling sorry for the other person. Then in stage three, we become more understanding and empathic. We give a response to another’s distress. Then finally in stage four, goes beyond the immediate situation, feeling for a broader emphatic stress. In a very advanced stage, individuals will leave self centeredness and move towards compassion as well as realizing the reality of human connection.

School counselors pointed out that bullies were not without guilt or remorse. They had a strong closed exterior to cover up vulnerability. Morality training was shown to be effective and valuable to them. “It is necessary that school counselors lead in advocating and being front-runners in espousing healthy choices, social justice, healthy school environments, and healthy development of students and their families (Smaby & Daugherty, 1995 cited from Rayburn, C. (2004). It would be the most effective if school counselors, school administrators, teachers, parents and communities could all be in a joint effort.

The most important step is to first assess students on their morality level using evaluating tools like the inventory on spirituality. There would be thirty five items rated on a five point scale such as caring for others, seeking truth/ forgiveness and cooperation which concerns values. It is highly suggested in the article that teachers and counselors use vignettes along with discussion questions to teach moral value. Vignettes include stories on sharing vs selfishness, fairplay vs hurting others, caring for others vs meanness and trusting vs lying and vengefulness. Each issue had a vignette followed with questions for discussion. These examples could be adjusted according to the child’s age getting them to reflect the story onto their own thoughts and behavior. They learn to think and believe in the right way. When morality is taught in schools, it lessens school violence, builds character and forms strong ethics for students to become successful citizens.

The article, Beyond ‘I’m Sorry’: The Educator’s Role in Preschoolers’ Emergence of Conscience by Smith, C. (2013) defines compassion, sympathy and empathy as the foundation to conscience. The author states that “humans are not born with conscience, but it comes through the care and guidance of parents, teachers and other adults” Smith, C. (p.76) The most important developmental period is the first three years, where children are first introduced to social engagement, learning to walk and talk. Teachers can make huge contributions to children’s conscience because the classroom is usually the first place outside from home and allows for social interactions. Children can feel the authenticity in teachers by using the emotional part of their brain even before the intellectual part of the brain.

The positive experiences a child goes through impacts their future and also if they can bring happiness to others. The author shows the progressions at different ages of a child. “A child that is one years old starts to feel disturbed when there is distress going on. Then at eighteen months, the child is able to comfort a loved one who is visibly sad. At two and three years old the child acts as if they know what others are feeling. At four years old, the child understands that people respond to different situations differently. (for example, Jason gets upset when he loses a board game, but his sister claps for the winner when she loses.)” (Smith, C. (p.78) A child at the age of four has started to develop consciousness. Conscience guides us to a path that we believe to be the right action and we follow what is right. Although sometimes, what is right might mean that there needs to be a sacrifice. The cost might be to take a risk. The example that the article gave was a child seeing another child getting bullied. He knows that bullying is wrong, but does he choose to intervene and follow along with his conscience? It takes practice for inner strength and right mentality.

The peer relationships a child first interacts with, teaches respect. Early childhood centers play an important part to guide moral values and formation of consciousness. It takes more than just lesson plans, stories and curriculum to guide social and emotional development. Through everyday guidance, children are learning what is right and what is wrong, but just telling children to feel sorry for what they have done will not have them understand why something is not okay to do. Many children also use the words “I’m sorry” to get out of responsibility without meaning those words. Teachers can direct children to care and be kind to others, understanding why that is important. Rules can also be reinforced with logical consequences that children can comprehend.

To support the development of consciousness, teachers can first use story books to have children connect with the characters. These stories could be told with puppets or acting and it activates children’s empathy and compassion. We can tell that these feelings are activated through body language and facial expression through the children. Circle time is the best time to practice because the whole class joins in as a whole equally. Small group activities involving moral themes can be conducted. The example the article states is “One rug is a mountain, the other is safety. A child pretends to be hurt on the mountain. Another child plays the rescuer who has to walk across the board to reach the hurt child. Once there, the rescuer takes her classmate’s hand and leads him back across the board to safety”(Smith, C. (p.81) Children should also be held accountable for inappropriate actions. Instead of asking a child to say sorry, the focus should be on the child who is hurt and how the action impacted the child. It is important for children to have the opportunity to fix their wrong by offering help. The teacher can give the child suggestions of what to do. If the child refuses, the author suggests that the child still watches as the adult does the action.

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Compassion: How Do You Teach It?. (2021, Sep 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/compassion-how-do-you-teach-it/

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