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Bringing Compassion to the Classroom

By Jennifer Dobner December 17, 2014 Posted in: Power Of Compassion , Article

STANFORD, CA - Here's the vision Brooke Dodson-Lavelle has for our children and schools: Classrooms full of happy kids who feel safe, valued, and, because of that, treat others with care and compassion.

It's a vision that Dodson-Lavelle and others believe can be realized.

And there's a growing interest among educators worldwide in designing programs to help us get there, the senior consultant for the Mind & Life Institute and PhD candidate in religion at Emory University says.

"We believe that children have a natural capacity for being this way," she says. "But if they feel unsafe, they retract from the world they pull back."

Kids who feel safe, seen, and emotionally connected will be more ready to learn.

But currently, most traditional educational systems don't embrace this philosophy, Dodson-Lavelle says. Instead, most programs aim solely to improve academic performance.

Meanwhile, any program teaching compassion or mindfulness is typically used for behavior management, she says.

Compassion-based programs do exist. While they tend to share similar goals and approaches, they often lack consistency and a level of best-practice competencies.

Over the past year, Dodson-Lavelle has been working with a small group of educators to craft an organized framework for compassion-based education.

The effort began with a summer 2014 program for teachers from the U.S., India, Vietnam and other countries, which has continued through a global online community discussion of successes, missing pieces, and ideas.

Dodson-Lavelle's call for more compassion in education came Monday during an afternoon conference session on the first day of Compassion Week, a series of events and discussions centered on the science of compassion.

Sponsored in part by Dignity Health, Compassion Week is a joint initiative of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, the Charter for Compassion, and the Tenyin Gyatso Institute.

Teachers must and will play a critical role in reshaping education to ensure kids thrive and develop with competencies in compassion to help them in class and in the world, presenter Patricia Jennings said.

For teachers to be successful they'll also need a healthy helping of compassionate care and training to give them the skills to survive the demands of what is a very challenging and rewarding profession.

Recent data suggests that about 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within five years and satisfaction-survey findings are at their lowest point since 1986, says Jennings, an associate professor at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education.

"Teachers need a dose of mindfulness so that they know what their limits are," she says.

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