On Tuesday the 21st of November, a group of educators gathered in Exeter University for a festival of compassion. Sounds woolly right? If you are a more traditional teacher, you might scoff and think, “A bunch of progs talking about hugging? No thanks.” If you are a more progressive teacher, you might think, “Sounds lovely but seriously… I haven’t got the time.” Both opinions are conjured from my mind and my mind alone. I’ve judged your position without knowing you. One message came through to me loud and clear from over twenty associate voices on Tuesday. Oppositional thinking, judgement of others and factions are damaging if we are hoping for a world of compassion. If you want education to lead to a world without -isms and -obias, you want a world of compassion. We need to stop shouting at each other in virtual spaces and begin practising what we preach – no matter where we are on the trad prog scale.
Wherever or however you teach, I’m sure you care about children and their success; you care about the impact their education has on our future world. Whether at a school of silent corridors and scripted lunch times or an expeditionary learning space, you want their outcomes to be excellent – that is why you do what you do. Compassion is not about throwing away your standards; it is seeing people as another – not other (thank you Rhia Gibbs for that takeaway). David Cameron spoke of a school full of white kids with freckles in Scotland where everyone was as different as an inner-city school with diverse cultures and origins. It is the fact that we are ALL different that makes us the same. Some cultures, life experiences and backgrounds make it harder to feel a sense of belonging than others. That’s why we are all working hard to diversify curriculums and learn a more comprehensive vocabulary of respect (it’s not just for Ofsted right?). What’s the point if we do not model that ourselves?
We can learn to appreciate each other without changing our beliefs in education. Most want compassion in the world. Our position as educators is powerful. Modelling compassion is vital! Compassion might exist naturally in us all as small children (according to Dr Andrew Curran, we are born without prejudice and work hard to become the people our parents can love) but as we gain experiences, we can quickly lose our compassion – we segregate into us and them. We can learn to recognise, appreciate and understand that everyone sees the world through different eyes. Everyone is another and that is okay. We can learn that, as humans, belonging is important to us all. We might get our sense of belonging from joining the ranks of a side of strong opposition. We might shout loudly that our beliefs are better than theirs. It might feel good to be right and to be praised by your echo chamber for being so. But… no matter which side you choose… this behaviour is not modelling compassion. It is not modelling what we need our students to learn in a world full of diversity. Such behaviour most likely comes from a place of fearing that, without being opposed, we don’t belong. That fear is human too.
Compassion can go hand in hand with academic success. It does not have to be one or the other. The world is not going to suddenly stop producing diversity and all students have the right to the best education possible. Anyone can put together fancy curriculum intentions that envisage a utopia, but documents don’t make a difference. No matter if your students are seated in rows or on bean bags, we all need to embed compassion in our curriculum. Compassion is not pity, hugs and avoiding consequences to save feelings. Nor is it creating a new list of reading books to get your diversity box ticked. Compassion is knowing how to read widely and evaluate different sources of information from a range of perspectives, not simply your own. It is the ability to communicate with people who are not the same as you. It is learning about diversity and human nature. It is learning to resolve conflict and move forward in understanding. This can happen across the curriculum in the strictest or most progressive of schools. Incidental moments of teaching compassion can be captured in corridors, on the playground, in a maths lesson where communication is happening, a French lesson of exploring cultures, an RE lesson exploring religions, a history lesson where sources are being evaluated. Compassion is everywhere if you know what to look for and make it explicit when you see it.
So, if you believe that we should have a world without homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism (and any other negative -obia or -ism that causes a group to feel that they don’t belong); If you believe that we should have a harmonious world where all perspectives are valid and respected (even if it goes against your own) stop arguing! Start listening to understand. My personal belief (mine alone and you don’t have to agree with it – I will still respect yours) is that we should practise what we preach! If unconditional positive regard is what we want from our students, let’s show them how it is done. Academic rigour with compassion at its heart is possible if we put away our need to be right and learn to respect one another.
Some further reading if you fancy it: