Training Compassion in the Next Generation

Training Compassion in the Next Generation

From Jillian Minarich

I am raising money for travel to the Social, Emotional, and Ethical (SEE) Learning International Launch in New Delhi, India where I will learn from educators worldwide about teaching compassion to young children.

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As a second grade teacher, I have spent years observing the development of empathy in children and have long wanted to support my students in this emotional challenge. As 7- and 8-year old children’s ability to empathize and take another’s perspective grows, so, too, do instances of intentional unkindness, social exclusion, and power plays. 7- and 8-year-olds experiment with their new ability to cause others to feel a certain way - most typically to feel a negative way. I see this in every student, regardless of background, disposition, family structure, or religious affiliation. Every child at this developmental stage benefits from explicit instruction in compassion - or the desire to see others free from suffering. As a precursor, guiding students in becoming aware of their own needs and their own tools for self-regulation has become a growing interest of mine for some time.

In Fall 2018, I enrolled in a Cognitively-based Compassion Training (CBCT) course through the Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-based Ethics at Emory University.  Designed for adults who work in careers that notoriously suffer from the emotional strain of “compassion fatigue,” CBCT is based on the Tibetan Buddhist lojong tradition and brings those meditative practices - meant to foster `thought transformation'  - into a form appropriate for use by individuals of any, or no, religious or spiritual practice.The CBCT course trains students based on the belief that compassion is a capacity that can be developed and expanded, and that self-centered thinking and behavior cause suffering for self and others, while other-centered thoughts, emotions, and behaviors ultimately benefit all. The group and individual practice with personal emotional awareness, attention, resilience, and informed compassion had such a profound effect on my personal and professional life, I sought out resources I could use for my students. 

I began implementing the SEE learning compassion curriculum in my class. Within weeks, I observed students talking differently and listening differently. However, it was rare that I saw any outward changes in behavior . Because few educators have implemented this curriculum, there are few opportunities to have a dialogue about my observations or learn from colleagues. I needed to know: Are there different ways of presenting the complex topics in the SEE curriculum to children, such as the concepts of grounding and resilience? What sort of language and vocabulary make sense for young children learning about compassion? Are there any books, songs, or cross-curricular projects that support the understanding of empathy and community? How do I connect the SEE learning concepts to my classroom behavior management?

When I learned of the SEE Learning International Launch in New Delhi this April, I knew it was the best - and possibly only - opportunity for me to meet with experts in the field of social, emotional, and ethical learning, share my successes and challenges teaching SEE in my own classroom, learn from colleagues from around the world implementing SEE, and build connections to educations just as passionate about developing compassion in young children as myself.

My students, and children everywhere, would benefit greatly from SEE Learning instruction and I very much want to seize this opportunity to grow my understanding and competence in teaching social, emotional, and ethical learning.

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