Compassion, as a pedagogical approach, involves recognizing students as unique human beings and considers the classroom and its educational moment from a perspective other than one’s own. 

The etymology of compassion, as many know, derives from a Latin word meaning to “suffer with.” Within the classroom environment, compassion amounts to looking towards students with kindness, generosity, and care. An attitude of compassion comes more readily when one considers students as human beings who learn in multiple ways and whose complex lives extend beyond the classroom one is instructing. Though this is, understandably, easy to lose sight of when teaching classes and having the desire to “cover” material, a compassionate stance brings with it an opportunity to connect with students in a meaningful and transformative way and often leads to a richer and more effective delivery of the course. 

To develop compassion as a pedagogical approach, one might begin with seeing a course and its offerings from a student’s perspective. This entails not just considering what a student might learn or “get” out of a course but also trying to comprehend how a student might experience the class, including interacting with the instructor and other students. Students might appreciate course material in their wholly individual ways, coming as they do from a variety of backgrounds.

Self-compassion, as a complementary notion, extends the principles of compassion to include oneself, as someone who also deserves due consideration and care. As instructors, whether novice or experienced, we have likely set high standards for ourselves and have also had to meet external expectations. While often very motivating, these standards can be internalized in a negative manner, if they are subscribed to in too rigid a manner. Classrooms are, also, undoubtedly social interactions, filled at times with as much harmony as disagreement. If a class runs counter to how one expected, or even poorly, there is a tendency to blame oneself and dwell on what went wrong. A self-compassionate approach is one of forgiveness and understanding, when it comes to poor performance—whether real or imagined. As many experts on self-compassion instruct, try to approach oneself as one might a good friend, whom you would treat with kindness and sympathy.

Further Reading:

 Magnet, Shoshana, et al. "Feminism, Pedagogy, and the Politics of Kindness." Feminist Teacher, vol. 25 no. 1, 2015, p. 1-22. 

 Hess, Juliet. "Towards a (Self-)Compassionate Music Education: Affirmative Politics, Self-Compassion, and Anti-Oppression." Philosophy of Music Education Review, vol. 28 no.1, 2020, p. 47-68.