Compassion Changes Everything

Compassion is simply the concern we show others when they have experienced a mishap of any kind, big or small. Research shows that students who can count on a compassionate response from their teachers and who experience a classroom that has a compassionate culture tend to be more motivated in both engagement and academic work. “As a part of classroom management, compassion can enhance the effectiveness of any strategies you would normally put in place. Compassion gives students an opportunity to trust your choices and have faith in the requests you make of them.” (Andrea Marshbank, Compassion as a Classroom Management Tool, 2017)

What does compassion look like in a higher education classroom? Practical Compassion Tips include the following (but are not limited to these):

  • Give students the benefit of the doubt when it comes to learning; believe the best of them and don’t see them as someone to tolerate, but someone to care about.
  • Acknowledge that student’s lives are complicated outside the classroom and caring about them personally helps them juggle their many concerns emotionally.
  • Be culturally sensitive, recognizing not all cultures respond to the same teaching techniques (i.e., asking questions and expecting students to ‘raise their hands’ works for some but not for all).
  • Point out success more than failure; speak positive words more so than critical ones.
  • Take time to understand a student’s perspective when something doesn’t go well (i.e., an exam or class discussion); don’t assume they are wrong, and you are right.
  • Forgive students quickly if they offend you; holding a grudge toward any student will harm your classroom culture and minimize your effectiveness as a teacher.

Note that compassion does not mean you lower academic expectations; compassion cares about the student while enforcing syllabi and assignment expectations fairly to all.

Dive deeper into compassion; being nice can be a part of compassion, but not the definition of it. We are friendly but our goal as a teacher is to have students be transformed through their learning, not be their buddy or win a popularity contest. Compassion allows for the hard work of learning and allows for students to manage the consequences of their choices.

Compassion cultivates an environment which allows students to risk failure in learning, explore new horizons and allows them to apply what they are learning personally. It opens the door of possibility. As the wise Eeyore once said to Winnie the Pooh, “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” (A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh)


Elizabeth Smith
Field Chair of Education and Counseling
Moody Bible Institute of Chicago