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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Compassionate Pedagogy as Alternative to Academic Freeze #WorldTeachersDay2020

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Emil Samaniego
Emil Samaniego is Chief Content Officer and one of the founders of Politixxx Today.

Today, 05 Oct, we are celebrating World Teachers’ Day; coincidentally, it is also the first day of the school year for public elementary and high school students including those from State Universities and Colleges (SUCs).

It is apparent that Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the country’s education sector at its core.

In fact, calls for academic freeze, and now “academic ease,” are relentless.

I believe that it is prudent for the government to continue the academic year since it looks like face-to-face classes will be impossible without a vaccine against Covid-19.

But even the development of a vaccine next year is still unsure, in fact, some experts believe that it will take four or five years for everyone to get a Covid-19 vaccine.

Thus, unlike President Duterte, our education sector should not merely wait for a magical vaccine to come out. Instead, it should confront the challenges posed by the pandemic head on– with or without vaccine or expectation that everything will return to normal next school year.

This also comes with a cautious realization that, whether we like it or not, some students are going to be left behind.

But while that is the case, it is the task not only of education sector but also the entire nation to lessen the impact of Covid-19 pandemic to learners, teachers, schools and HEIs by adopting a whole of nation approach against Covid-19.

One way of cushioning the effects of pandemic to learners is the adoption of what education scholars called “Compassionate Pedagogy.”

What is Compassionate Pedagogy?

Before discussing what compassionate pedagogy is about, it is essential to first define “compassion.”

Gilbert (2017) defined compassion as “sensitivity to suffering of self and others with a commitment to alleviate and prevent it”.

For Waddington (2018) compassionate pedagogy is about ensuring that teaching and interaction with students and colleagues are based on kindness, and followed through by actions and practices that alleviate suffering and promote well-being.

It also allows student, teachers and all involved in universities to become a humanizing voice which listens to and hears the realities of the marginalized and the excluded (ibid.).

Ahern (2019) noted that compassionate pedagogy could be viewed as a response to the zombification of the academy.

How to build compassion

According to Alkema et. al. (2012), the cultivation of compassion is derived, at its source, from self-care practices.

Self-care then builds resilience (Shapuro et. al, 2007) and a more resilient individuals, groups or organizations are more likely to have a higher capacity to make compassionate choices and thus provide more compassionate care (Trail and Cinningham, 2016).

This is what scholars called the Self-care-Resilience-Compassion model.

Although this article does not aim to give full scholarly discussion of compassionate pedagogy, I will share here some of the ways that it can be adopted in an online classroom setting.

Photo from Griffith University

Compassionate Pedagogy in online teaching environment

To reiterate, the aim of compassionate pedagogy is to bring kindness at the center of relationship of teachers and students in order to lessen their suffering and promote their well-being.

There is no better time to practice compassionate pedagogy other than today when the world is being ravaged by the pandemic.

Compassionate pedagogy entails an acute awareness of the relationship of the “self” and “others.”

Based on various studies, some of the ways to practice compassionate pedagogy are the following:

  • As a mode of learning, teachers can use “contemplative pedagogy” by asking their students to “contemplate” a text or a given problem as opposed to merely “analyzing” it.

    For Roth (2014), to contemplate is to integrate theoretical understanding, that typically utilizes third-person data and ways of knowing (e.g. from textbooks and scientific/empirical studies), with critical first person approaches in which learners engage directly with material to explore and validate their understandings via their own, direct experiences.

    Here, learners must encounter a text or given material by sharing what they think or feel about it or by sharing their experience or previous encounter with the problem as opposed to merely citing the formulas or what the book or some authors or authorities say about the given problem.
  • As a form of active learning activities, scholars suggest doing contemplative practices like (online) meditation,  deep listening, reflective writing, improvisation, dialog, mind-body practices (e.g. yoga, walking meditation or flaneur), rituals based on cultural or religious traditions and contemplative social justice activity such as bearing witness, vigils, directed social action etc (Train and Cunningham, 2016).
  • As part of formative assessments, activities can include self-forgiveness practices, self-compassion or self-care break, and informal practices such as maintaining logs of pleasant or unpleasant experiences, gratitude journaling, tracking one’s amount of cellphone usage within a week’s span, performing random acts of kindness or social justice (ibid.)
  • As a means to ease the burden of students, teachers and administrators should find the ideal amount of tasks that should be given to students in a week considering the students’ resources, time and situations. This can be done through proper coordination with other teachers and students. Less is always more; keep it simple.
  • Focus at the most essential if not the minimum competencies or learning outcomes.
  • General openness to the possibility of extending deadlines based on reasonable but not necessarily meritorious grounds.
  • Strengthened provision for mental health services to learners with focus on trauma processing and guidance counseling.

These are just some of the ways teachers can practice compassion and kindness in teaching under the new normal.

Of course, it is impossible for teachers to adopt all these activities unless the school institutionally integrates compassionate pedagogy in its structures from institutional outcomes down to curriculum and expected learning outcomes.

But teachers can always choose to adopt compassionate pedagogy in their classroom management, teaching-learning strategies, and assessments, amongst others.

For me, compassionate pedagogy under the new normal is simply an acute awareness that we are living in an extraordinary time of global pandemic, and that we should not insist on sticking with our old habits or ways of delivering education to learners, instead realize that we are in the state of transition, thus, there will always room for errors that will eventually lead to growth.

It is also about sensitivity to the plights of others, and a full realization that we are all reeling under the trauma brought by the pandemic.

Thus, the first and perhaps the most important rule of the online classroom is to survive.


Emil Samaniego is a former Senior High School teacher who taught Intro. to Philosophy of the Human Person, Contemporary Philippine Arts from the Region and World Religions

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