A doctrine on love & compassion in the classroom
I teach a graduate level course called Foundations of Education, which is a course teacher candidates take early in their program of studies in a typical university teacher preparation program. In this course students learn about the various philosophies of schooling and teaching; policies that impact schools and teachers; the impact students’ socio-economic status has on education; culturally relevant pedagogy; and other social justice concerns in education. For such a course that deals with potentially “hot” topic issues it is important to start the with an understanding that students and even the instructor may have moments of disagreement or tension between what one always thought to be true and perspectives that challenge one’s values and ideas. I start the course with Margaret Wheatley’s (2002) piece titled, “Willing to be Disturbed,” which asks readers to think of moments when what someone said caused a moment of disturbance in what they always believed to be true. She argues that it is these certainties that people hold closely that do not allow individuals to grow and to learn from others. Wheatley explains that we are trained to believe that we must be certain of everything in order to be successful in the world, but if you walk with such certainty you lack curiosity and as a result shut out so many other possibilities, perspectives, and creative ideas. She wrote:
"Sometimes we hesitate to listen for differences because we don't want to change. We're comfortable with our lives, and if we listened to anyone who raised questions, we'd have to get engaged in changing things. If we don't listen, things can stay as they are and we won’t have to expend any energy. But most of us do see things in our life or in the world that we would like to be different. If that's true, we have to listen more, not less. And we have to be willing to move into the very uncomfortable place of uncertainty" (Wheatley, p 35).
Being uncertain and uncomfortable is part of the learning process and it is definitely a part of this course. However, a recent comment from one student has caused me to pause and reflect on my own mindful teaching practices of being open-minded and open-hearted. At about week 5 or 6 of the semester I like to give students a quick survey of how the course is going and how my teaching practices are supporting or not supporting their learning. The honest feedback provides be an opportunity to reflect on my practice based on student feedback and to tweak the course and my practice early enough in the semester to support students’ learning. Overall, my students are pleased with the course and are learning a great deal from the readings, their peers, and me. However, there was just one comment that made me pause and really reflect on my practice and even philosophy of teaching. The student commented that they felt like they were being “indoctrinated” (I’m using the pronoun “they,” because I don’t know the student who wrote the statement and therefore using gender neutral words).
The word indoctrinated is a powerful word and one that for me brings up ideas and emotions of oppression, authoritarian style of teaching, and even an attempt of brainwashing. I always pride myself for creating a class environment that is student-centered and where we build and create knowledge as a community of learners in an environment that welcomes all perspectives. So, to read such a comment from one student really threw me off and made me wonder what it was that I said or did in class that caused this student to think that I was forcing students to believe in one particular philosophy or way of seeing the field of education. I honestly can’t think of anything. Of course I understand that when asking for students feedback there is usually an outlier and as educators we should not focus too much attention on the outlier, especially when everyone else in class provided positive feedback. But, it does make me wonder if there are other students who feel the same way and just didn’t share their concern.
I haven’t had a chance to review the results of the survey with my students and to ask the class if there were more people who felt like they were being indoctrinated, but I will definitely have this conversation in class. However, I am happy that this student did write that comment, because it forced me to pause and think about my teaching and my own philosophy and why I had such a visceral objection to the student’s comment. I thought about what my core objective for the Foundation course. The main objective I have is to impart to teacher candidates the importance of love and compassion for their students, colleagues and, the communities they teach in. I know that this objective isn’t an official learning goal, because it’s not measurable in the traditional sense, but everything I teach is through the lens of love and compassion. I’m not sure that my doctrine for my teaching is radical, but I can imagine that it is one that is not taught and discussed in schools, college courses, or in our modern Westernized society. However, once we view compassion as “the ultimate inclusiveness” it all makes sense that love and compassion should be at the center of teaching (Shukman, “Is the Dharma Democratic?”).
So, what does a ? Here’s a brief list:
Respect (i.e. using student names, greeting students, using calm voice, respectful language)
Learning about students and taking an active role in their school life
Incorporating restorative practices in classroom management
Recognizing the knowledge and wisdom students and families have
Provide students with choices
Student centered and focused
Incorporating multiple perspectives and making an effort to include stories and voices from diverse backgrounds and with different life experiences
Viewing parents, families, and communities as partners to the whole child’s learning and including them in the classroom learning experiences
Cultivating curiosity and wonderment in the classroom
Providing students multiple opportunities and avenues to learn
Having high expectations of all students, but also scaffolding the learning in order for all students to succeed academically
Theses are just some ways to include love and compassion in your teaching practices. I’m sure most (if not all) of you read this list and said, “I already do all (or most of) this!” and you could probably add more to the list that you do to actively engage with students with love and compassion. This is fantastic! However, if there’s something on this list that you haven’t tried or would like to incorporate more consciously into your teaching go ahead and try it and see what happens.
Teaching is hard work, but it’s so much harder when there is a lack of love and compassion for the people you interact with in your classroom on a daily basis. Students know when their learning environment is not welcoming and accepting of the whole person that they are. They recognize when they are disrespected, when they are not being listened to, and when they lack support. In my courses I call for teacher candidates to reflect on how they can make students feel safe to be who they are in their classroom. How can we support all learners and meet them where they are instead of having a deficit view of our students? These are just some of the critical questions that I ask teacher candidates to consider and reflect on before they fully step into their role as educator.
My role as a high school teacher, teacher educator, mentor, and researcher is to encourage all educators to see the beauty and goodness in their students. Will children and teenager sometimes disappoint us with their behavior and/or academic performance? Of course, but it is our job to guide them to make choices that leads to the best version of themselves in and outside of our classroom. And we do this with love and compassion. Perhaps, it’s radical and too far out there, but I will stick with my message of love and compassion, because it is the solution to so many human problems. And if I can model compassion and love for my students (both high school and teacher candidates) then my impact on them will only multiply just like the ripples of still water when a small pebble is dropped in it.
So, if you want to hold the intention of love and compassion in your teaching practice reflect on what that would feel like, look like, sound like. And don’t hesitate to ask your students to reflect on what love and compassion would feel like, look like, and sound like in a classroom, and how they can be more loving and compassionate people. As a class you can even write your own class doctrine to live by in your classroom.