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Being compassionate to students who reject it is hard, says Adam Voigt

There are students about to arrive into your care in 2020 who are going to test you. They’ll actively push away all of expectations, compliments and opportunities to connect. They’ll be rude, late and lazy. They’ll piss you off.

These are the students who will, as the old saying goes, need your positive regard a great deal more than they deserve it. These are the students who need your compassion the most, but who will act as though you are feeding them a healthy spoonful of cod liver oil when you administer that compassion.

However, these students will distract us from compassionate practices in two ways:

They tempt us to choose practices designed for short term survival. “If I can just make it through the lesson without him blowing up completely by letting him have some iPad time, then perhaps I can reload for tomorrow.”

They break our hearts, and thereby our will, for having our kind gestures rejected, our olive branches snapped in half.

There’s one more inconvenient truth hidden in these two strategy sets – that they are all about us. And compassion (defined at as a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering) is what we deploy when we make it all about them.

If we want this student to begin to understand what it’s like for others when we behave a certain way, then we’re going to need to commence with modelling compassion, at least until they begin to notice it. The table below describes some typical behaviour infractions that might well be demonstrated by typically behaviourally challenged students. Then it explores the difference between adversarial and compassionate responses:

Table supplied by Adam Voigt, Real Schools

Compassionate teaching is, firstly, a fundamental choice to play the long game of character building rather than the short-term survival game.

Framing your responses as per the table above won’t necessarily illicit a better response in the short term. But it will steadily improve your chances as the school year progresses. And that’s the point of writing this article in January – you do have a whole year ahead of you. There’s simply no better time than now to embark upon that ambition of better people and not just better behavior.

The Cheat Sheet

Don’t have time to soak in the whole article today? Here’s the big points:

1. Being compassionate to students who reject it is hard.
2. Compassion is about alleviating their suffering.
3. Compassion isn’t about putting our survival first.
4. Compassionate young people is a worthy ambition.
5. Abandon short term quick fixes early.


AITSL STANDARDS FOR TEACHERS (and you addressed them by reading)!

1.1 Physical social & intellectual characteristics of students.
1.2 Understand how students learn.
4.1 Support student participation.
4.3 Manage challenging behaviour.

Adam Voigt

Adam Voigt is the Founder & Director of Real Schools. Built upon years of experience as a successful Principal, Real Schools helps schools to build and sustain strong, relational School Cultures. A speaker of local and international renown, Adam has delivered a TED Talk and is the schools/education expert for The Project”.

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