Cultivating a Compassionate Classroom

Cultivating a Compassionate Classroom

Renowned British novelist and the most popular writer of children’s book Roald Dalh, once quoted “I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in human beings. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else…A kindness-that simple word. To be kind it covers everything, to my mind. If you’re kind that’s it.”

Why compassion and kindness is the most important attribute? Why it is important to bring into our classrooms? How it can be practiced in the classrooms? The article would address these pertinent questions and suggest some of the strategies to make our classrooms a little more compassionate and empathetic.

One of the biggest challenges faced by school teachers is to deal with students’ reckless anarchic behaviour on a daily basis. Research data supports that the children who pose challenges in the classroom are the ones who mostly come from the difficult family background and suffers disharmonized relationship with the parents, teachers or the ones who are often socially inactive. How do these factors matter?  These factors matter as the growth & development of the child is influenced by her/his immediate environment. Early childhood experiences shape the self-esteem of a child, her belief system gets established and solidifies for her own self and about others. Children’s disruptive behaviours are merely the symptoms of challenges they face socially, psychologically and emotionally. The root cause of these symptoms lies deeply and connects with his/her significant adults who play a vital role in unwinding the possibilities of a child. Schools and educators play a significant role in determining a child’s sense of self-worth and dignity. In most cases where children turn aggressive and rowdy unfortunately, none of the adults comes forward to see the situation from a child’s eye. Conventionally, to deal with such challenging issues, the school adopts punitive measures against children. However, punitive measures are like quick fixes that don’t go a long way as the reasons behind each disruptive behaviour have diverse reasons. As each child is unique, their needs, issues, and challenges are also unique. Therefore discipline too needs to be as diverse and unique as the children themselves are! According to Grace Dearborn—a high school teacher and the author of the books Picture This!, Conscious Classroom Management. Dearborn discusses a compassion-based classroom management. Children reflect and replicate the behaviours they see around them. A classroom culture that values compassion, empathy, and cooperation will inculcate a similar set of values amongst children. If the culture is oppressive and uses corrosive measures to combat disciplinary issues, children will inherit the same behavioural traits. One of the fundamental goals of education is to externalize the potential and finer humane qualities of humans that contribute to harmony, peace, joy, growth & development to the human and nature. Are the schools are attaining these broader educational goals? Are they putting sincere efforts aligned with stated goals?  In reference to this article, the question arises what is the need of practicing compassion, how to build a compassionate classroom? In words of Dalai Lama, “Love and Compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” This quote underlines the importance of bringing compassion into the classrooms because the entire educational efforts are directed towards better survival of humans and humanity. Let’s explore some of the strategies that could possibly help us in cultivating a compassionate classroom.

Cultivating a Compassionate classroom

A teacher enters in staffroom almost yelling “Arhan (anonymous) is just impossible! I cannot tolerate this child anymore in my class. Today he snatched lunchboxes his classmates and ate their lunch”. Probing the child about the incident, the child informed that the mother is admitted in the hospital and there is no one at home to cook. He was hungry! A child’s challenging behaviour is located in a context! We just need to be little patient and empathetic towards our children’s needs and despairs. If a child shows a self-defeating behaviour, such as not putting his/her effort to learn or creating ruckus in the classroom, we must recognize these are ineffective coping strategies that often mask feelings of vulnerability, low self-esteem, and hopelessness. Rather than imposing punitive consequences, teachers should be sensitive towards the issues underneath and try to maximize the coping mechanism strategies and develop resiliency.

There are simple ways to model and promote compassion which is important for children with challenging family backgrounds.

Model Compassion in the classroom: Compassion, kindness, and empathy cannot be taught but can be learned or better to say can be externalized. To develop and build a culture, the entire climate of the school should be set in such a way that children imbibe the value of compassion modeling inbuilt in the school culture. Children need appreciation, approval, and assurance for all the efforts they put in for various activities. Like adults, children do want to be successful and achievers. Teachers should be instrumental in identifying the uniqueness of the child, reinforcing her/his strength and providing them opportunities to show their unique talent. Gaining confidence in any of the academic and co-academic aspects will boost the morale of the child and percolate into other areas as well and develops a sense of fulfillment which is ground for sprouting compassion.

Positive affirmation:

I met with a few parents who were concerned about their children’s low academic achievements. During interaction with them, they revealed how badly they treat their own children because of their incapability to perform as per the standard. The same is true for the teachers as well. In staffrooms, in corridors and in the classes they can be found talking unkindly about some of the children tagging them with batches of shame!

I asked parents to re-script their negative dialogues to a positive one if they genuinely want their children to gain confidence, do better in their life and overall to develop as a good, positive human. Similar approach teachers need to take up to set the right tone of the content while interacting with the child especially inside the classes where the shame, fear, and aggression of the child gets doubled and the bitterness lasts for long. The language of adults becomes the internal dialogues of children. Therefore it is important to repeat those positive words that help to develop children with a positive mindset.

Classroom companion:  “Sejal is not paying attention to the classroom. He is not completing is his classwork, his homework is being done by either his tuition teacher or parent”. The 7-year-old child comes from an unfortunate background. He lost his father a year back, a mother is emotionally and psychologically devastated since her husband’s sudden demise. Children who show aggressive behaviour actually need more help and compassion from the people around him/her. Compassion is about being sensitive towards other’s needs and challenges and supporting the individual. This is not about helping others out of pity but supporting the individual to empower him/herself. Children can be invited on a voluntary basis to support one of their classmates in academics and in dealing with emotional issues. This intrinsically holds value to develop children not only as an empathetic individual but socially responsive too. As children always feel privileged in helping each other in the classroom until it becomes a habit. The practice is the key!

Community care:

Teachers can design assignments wherein children get scope of interacting with communities to get aware of their needs, challenges, and issues. Such experiences help children to think beyond the self. It develops a sense of social responsibility. Such experiences could make shifts in the attitude of an individual’s perceptions and in identifying, defining and designing their purpose of life.

Board of kindness act: Teachers, children, and other school members can be motivated to share their stories of incidences where they helped others, their feelings, and emotions after helping others and what was the impact of the incident on their own beliefs. Their stories can be displayed on a display board to inspire others to model the same. It is based on the law of attraction wherein the board of desire is received as reality and human minds begin thinking in the desired direction.

The practice of Mindfulness:

The big question is not just how to develop a compassionate class but why do we need to do that? We need to do it as we are rapidly undergoing changes at all social, economical and political fronts. The pace of change is too fast to pause and think about the direction of the future of humanity. Our children are more anxious and stressed than ever. We keep on getting unfortunate incidences of suicide and criminal acts where children of ages less than 10 are involved! The situation is alarming and it demands to take it seriously. The presence of multiple stimuli grabs student’s attention and as a result, their concentration power is being affected badly. Mindfulness is about connecting oneself with the present moment. Mindfulness-based practices can be integrated in the classroom that leads to bringing in the awareness, peace, and joy that originates from within. To cultivate and grow compassion in the young hearts prerequisites awareness of one’s own feelings and emotions, conflicts and anxieties by careful observation through mindfulness-based practices. Mindfulness can reduce depression, stress, anxiety and difficult behaviour amongst children. These traits are the reasons for agony and indifference. Simple practice such as focusing on one’s breathing helps in calming down from emotional imbalance. Regulation of one’s emotional state leads to generate more positivity in terms of compassion, empathy, and togetherness.

Connecting subject learning with developing humane values

School is the potential space for inculcating values that are inevitable for a cohesive society. lesson plan in different subjects can be designed in such a way that the learning objectives not only cater to the cognitive domain but also includes the values that are inherent underneath the idea. More than that teacher’s own behaviour, her interrelationship with her children is determining factors to shape children’s behaviour. Children mirror the behavioural traits of adults who play a significant role in their lives. There are numerous opportunities to model compassion and love in ways teachers interact with children in the classroom, in designing the classroom as a learning resource, the way they interact with fellow teachers and staff and the way they react to children’s unruly behaviour. Teachers can discuss global issues with children in the classroom on ideas such as diversity, tolerance, unity, global citizenship. Such deliberation broadens once perception and helps in breaking the stereotypes and biases. Creating spaces for dialogues in the classrooms bring about changes in children’s worldview and helps in being more humble and compassionate.  

During reading sessions, such stories can be read and shared with children where the value of compassion helped to strengthen the trust in the bond of love and togetherness.

We need to create opportunities for our children to practice more acts of kindness. The future world needs people with a more kind and compassionate heart than the best of intellectual minds. Let’s make our school as a hub of cultivating compassion in young hearts.  As aptly quoted by Daisaku Ikeda there are no greater treasures than the highest human qualities such as compassion, courage, and hope. Not even tragic accidents or disasters can destroy such treasures of the heart.

About the Author

Vandana Singh
Educational Psychologist.

Vandana Singh has her expertise in school education in the role of school leader. She is passionately working in the field of educational psycholog

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