How Teachers Can Model Compassion in a Pandemic

Share this post

It’s no secret that the global health pandemic is taking its toll on students. An American Academy of Pediatrics study recently found that one in seven children have exhibited signs of worsening behavioral health since the pandemic forced schools to close and classes to move mostly online. “Kids 12 and up are at the biggest disadvantage with Covid,” explains KIPP Sunnyside High School counselor Malene Dixon. “People assume that they are self-sufficient, because they are a bit older, and so it’s an easy group to overlook. Yet at this age, these kids need so much developmental support. They are supposed to be learning to socialize and testing boundaries.”

Amid the most uncertain time in the history of education in the 21st century, how can teachers model compassion and become a positive force in the emotional development of their students? The keys to this task are empathy and direct action.

Developed by award-winning educator Kiran Bir Sethi in partnership with global design firm IDEO and the Stanford Design School, Psychology Today reports that Design for Change is an innovative initiative that’s taking a practical approach to turning empathy into compassionate and direct action. With its fundamental feel, imagine, do, and share (FIDS) framework, the initiative is turning empathy warm-ups and direct positive actions into regular parts of children’s curricula. From students acknowledging empathetic feelings and imagining how to improve other people’s lives, to organized acts of compassion and the use of social media to share their ideas, the FIDS framework is an adaptive model for teaching compassionate action that’s taking the world by storm. In fact, before the pandemic hit, this framework had already influenced 2 million children across 65 countries, and these numbers are only growing. Although FIDS was initially designed for deployment in physical classrooms, the straightforwardness of its approach means that it can be very easily adapted for distance-learning purposes.

From basic education and K-12 programs to college-level classes, empathy and perspective building are highly crucial in training both educators and education administrators to better respond to students’ pandemic concerns.

“I teach the Strategic Change & Innovation in higher education course, and one valuable lesson we teach in our program is understanding the perspectives of all constituents by putting yourself in the shoes of people you serve,” details Susan Bartel, Associate Professor of Higher Education Leadership for Maryville University’s online doctor of education course. Apart from learning about the emerging technologies shaping education today, Bartel’s students also take classes like College Student Experience and Reflective Leadership Practice & Inquiry, which are aimed at designing teaching strategies that deal with students’ concerns, needs, and abilities.

Indeed, it is a growing consensus among educators that prioritizing social and emotional learning (SEL) is more crucial than ever amid the global health crisis. “It’s a daunting reality, no question, but the worst thing we can do for our teachers, students, and families is de-prioritize SEL during the pandemic,” says Christina Cipriano, director of research at Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence. “It is next-to-impossible to expect teaching and learning to occur in a crisis without attending to our emotions.”

In short, modeling compassion is crucial to making online and hybrid learning models as effective as possible. And while distance learning technologies have their limits and disadvantages, they’re also highly adaptive to educational frameworks focused on SEL, whether it’s for children, teens, or young adults in college. By practicing more empathy and compassion, both students and teachers can maximize their learning experiences amid arguably the worst crisis of the century.


This article was exclusively written by guest blogger, Rachel Julia.