The Compassion & Dignity for Educators Project brings together Crown Institute researchers and practitioners, PK-12 educators, and Compassion Institute contemplative experts. From these many sources of expertise, we are designing and studying programs and practices to support educators in cultivating compassion and dignity in schools.
“We are living very difficult times in our world. We are struggling at the same time, but with very different circumstances. Our students are struggling to adapt to a changing world and to deal with all the challenges. Every year I take trainings and courses to be more prepared to instruct and guide them … I want to also be prepared to understand more their social emotional needs and to learn new strategies that I will apply. Empathy, dignity and compassion are crucial for me to reach this goal.” — Elementary Teacher
“I hope that when an educator feels that frustration, fatigue, or disempowerment, that they feel they have the tools to attend to themselves and their needs and then the support beyond themselves should they need that. Teaching can be so isolating … And if you make a mistake and it's just you as the only adult in the room, it can be really hard to recognize your humanity in that moment. So, I hope that our work gives teachers the tools to recognize the humanity of each moment, our common humanity, and to then support each other." — High School Teacher
Build Trusted Teams
Our work started in 2017 as we co-designed with educators from Boulder Valley School District an in-person professional development course focused on the latest scientific research about mindfulness, emotions, and compassion with an emphasis on equity and cultural responsiveness.
Building on this foundation, in 2019, we started co-designing an online digital certificate with educators from Boulder Valley School District, the Northeast Colorado BOCES, and with contemplative experts from the Compassion Institute.
Identify & Understand
We sought to understand persistent problems of practice in schools relevant to compassion and dignity. Our work with educators underscored the urgency of attending to educators’ wellness, the importance of being responsive to their needs and dreams, and the power and potential of participatory co-design work with educators.
With a team of educators from Boulder Valley School District and the Northeast Colorado BOCES, and contemplative experts, we co-designed an online certificate that includes four courses that aims to support educators in cultivating compassion for self and others and bringing such knowledge and skill into their schools as leaders.
In 2020, we launched the online certificate program, Cultivating Compassion & Dignity in Ourselves and Our Schools, through the School of Education’s Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership Program.
In addition, we researched the co-design process for creating the four-course certificate with educators, examining how participating in the co-design process fostered an understanding of compassion and promoted new ideas about how to respond skillfully to suffering in schools.
Evaluate & Refine
We are currently conducting a program evaluation of the digital certificate. Thanks to a generous donation from the Hemera Foundation, an inaugural cohort of 26 PK-12 educators from 6 Colorado districts received scholarships for the certificate and engaged in the 2021-2022 academic year as learners in the certificate program. Educators also had the opportunity to work with experienced meditation coaches to support and deepen their practice and learning within the certificate. Educators’ learning and feedback is informing program refinements.
Scale & Sustain
We have been engaged in ongoing efforts to scale and sustain compassion & dignity for educators, including:
The four-course online certificate explores the ways in which practices of compassion and a focus on the essential dignity of educators and students can contribute to the wellness of educators and schools. The certificate prepares educators to lead efforts that promote compassion and dignity in schools and provides educators with support and resources for caring for themselves and for cultivating and sustaining compassion for students, students’ families, and colleagues. The certificate was designed so educators see and feel their own struggles, constraints, and joys reflected in the curriculum, and to demonstrate the ways that they might become more compassionate educators and leaders. The compassion practices and skills embedded in the certificate support school and district-level equity goals of creating safe and inclusive schools that challenge racism and promote justice. The certificate draws upon rigorous research, contemplative wisdom, and lived experiences of educators. Culminating in a capstone project, educators develop an action plan for bringing compassionate leadership to their school communities and for sustaining this work in today’s increasingly challenging and precarious climate.
The certificate was co-designed by the Crown Institute and the Compassion Institute, working in collaboration with teachers, counselors, and administrators. This four-course sequence is available to all interested educators through the CU Boulder School of Education’s Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership Program. Please visit the Teacher Leadership Program website for information on the program, enrollment, and tuition.
Thanks to a generous donation from the Hemera Foundation, 26 PK-12 educators received scholarships in 2021-2022 and 45 PK-12 educators received scholarships in 2023-2024 to engage as learners in the certificate program. Join us for the next CCT for Educators August-October 2023. For more information contact Compassion-Dignity@colorado.edu.
The Compassion Cultivation Training program (CCT) is an 8-week compassion training developed at Stanford University that focuses on the science of compassion and secular practices for cultivating compassion, kindness, and empathy. Certified Facilitators at the Crown Institute offer the training specifically to educators and school mental health providers. Please check back or join our mailing list for updates on our next session.
We come together to connect with one another around shared goals of strengthening our commitment to bringing compassion and dignity to schools and building a community of support. Educators have helped to co-plan and shape these sessions. During these sessions, we practice cultivating compassion for self and others and discuss pressing issues related to compassion and dignity in small groups.
On October 25, 2021, we co-hosted, along with the Compassion Institute, A Conversation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Educators. In this special event, educators shared about their experiences and sought guidance from His Holiness the Dalai Lama about how to bring compassion and dignity to their work and their lives. To learn more about the event and to view the recording, please visit the event website.
A team of researchers and educators worked together to create these tools to support educators in their own wellness and help them stay connected with their students and colleagues with hope, joy, and passion.
In addition to the offerings described above, our team is actively working on co-designing brief, accessible programs for educators focused on compassion and dignity, including online and in-person courses.
Ashar, Y. K., Andrews-Hanna, J. R., Dimidjian, S., Wager, T. D. (2017). Empathic care and distress: Predictive brain markers and dissociable brain systems. Neuron, 94(6), 1263-1273. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2017.05.014
Ashar, Y. K., Andrews-Hanna, J. R., Halifax, J., Dimidjian, S., Wager, T. D. (2021). Effects of compassion training on brain responses to suffering others. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 16(10), 1036-1047. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsab052
Ashar, Y. K., Andrews-Hanna, J. R., Yarkoni, T., Sills, J., Halifax, J., Dimidjian, S., Wager, T. D. (2016) Effects of compassion meditation on a psychological model of charitable donation. Emotion, 16(5), 691-705. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000119
Penuel, W. R. (2022). Algunos principios de aprendizaje equitativo post-pandemia. Education in the Knowledge Society (EKS), 23. https://doi.org/10.14201/eks.27567
Potvin, A. S., Penuel, W. R., Dimidjian, S., Jinpa, T. (2022). Cultivating skillful means of care in schools through compassion practice and individual and joint inquiry. Mindfulness. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-022-01867-x
Potvin, A. S., Teeters, L. P., Penuel, W. R. (2021). Designing for compassion in schools: A humanizing approach to co-design. Proceedings of the 15th International Conference of the Learning Sciences - ICLS 2021. Bochum, Germany: International Society of the Learning Sciences.
Potvin, A. S., Penuel, W. R., & Dimidjian, S. (2022, April). Supporting educators’ development in skillful application of compassion in schools through collaborative design. Paper presentation at American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA.
Potvin, A. S., Teeters, L. P., Penuel, W. R. (2021, June). Designing for compassion in schools: A humanizing approach to co-design. Paper presentation at The International Society of the Learning Sciences Annual Meeting (ISLS) 2021 Conference, online.
Potvin, Ashley. (2023). An invitation to practice self-compassion. The Physics Teacher, 61(88). doi/10.1119/10.0016764