Sowing the seeds of compassion in your school

Kate Brierton

Kate Brierton is an Independent Clinical Psychologist and school Governor.  She recently joined us for a webinar, which looked at a case study of how a compassion-focused approach to wellbeing was introduced into a UK school.  In this article, she shares ideas for practicing compassion with your colleagues, and you can catch up on a recording of the webinar.

Compassion and wellbeing

Human beings are social animals.  A compassionate approach to emotional wellbeing suggests that we should maximize our opportunities for connection in the workplace to promote feelings of flourishing and thriving.  Nowhere is this more important than our schools and colleges, where we are laying foundations for young people to go on to lead successful, fulfilling lives. To discover more about the evolutionary and neuroscientific roots to the compassionate approach, please listen to my webinar on how to build compassionate cultures in schools. However, for this blog I’m going to provide you with some practical ideas about laying the foundations for a compassionate culture.

Begin by noticing

Compassion is firstly about noticing distress, both in ourselves and others around us. There is strength in having the courage to notice suffering in others so that we can then take positive action. When we are in a driven state of being, which may frequently occur in a busy school, it is easy to ignore our own distress and the distress of colleagues and students around us. We are so busy getting the job done, we forget to make time to provide care and support. We prioritise achievement and results over wellbeing and compassion.  This can make for an emotionally unhealthy school environment.  The first way to increase compassion in your school is to slow down.  Make time in your day to check in emotionally with your colleagues and your students. Think of a time where this is going to be possible and set yourself a realistic goal – for example, would it be realistic to make some time to check in with your colleagues over your lunch hour or at the end of the day? How are they feeling? Do they need some help or support?  When would it be a good time to check in with the students? Set an intention to do this every day.

Develop self-compassion

Self-compassion is also vitally important. Remember to check in with yourself at various points during the day. How are you feeling today? Is there anything that you are worrying about? Anything that you are feeling frustrated about? How can you tackle these issues in a productive way? A regular meditation practice gives clarity to our emotional lives and can help us notice our own feelings, so 10 to 20 minutes of daily meditation is a great way to build self-compassion. Many guided meditation apps are available to use with smartphone or tablet technology or you may be able to take a class in mindfulness meditation to help you learn this skill.

Dare to be vulnerable

Another way to practice compassion is to dare to be vulnerable with your colleagues. Talk to them about your worries, frustrations and insecurities. You may find that they share some of your concerns and discussing the issues may not only provide support, but also potential solutions.  There is a flow to compassion.  Expressing your vulnerabilities may allow your colleagues to express their own concerns too, without feeling weak or inferior in front of you.  No-one is perfect; we have a shared humanity and we all face common difficulties every day.  Facing them together will build a stronger school community.

Make connections

Finally, any activity which strengthens strong and supportive relationships within your school will promote compassion, creating feelings of trust, safety and a sense of belonging.  Develop a shared vision and mission for your school, to give your work meaning and purpose.   Encourage school leaders to provide chances for staff to connect during the school day and in extra-curricular activities.  Organise some social groups and outings. Discover common interests with your colleagues and celebrate them.

Watch Kate’s webinar for information on how to improve the emotional wellbeing of your staff and students:

Every journey starts with the courage to take the first step – I wish you luck as you begin your compassionate journey!

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