Why a Compassionate School?


The original Charter for Compassion was supported by the TED annual prize awarded to Karen Armstrong in 2008. The prize is awarded to an extraordinary individual with a creative and bold vision to spark global change. The Charter has been endorsed by many world leaders including the Dalai Lama and the Reverend Desmond Tutu. The Charter calls for people to act on it within their sphere of influence.

There is great need for a Charter for Compassionate Schools that translates the principle of compassion to the uniqueness of the school world and acts as a rallying cry and unifying vision for schools and educational organizations across the globe.

In 2013 the Compassionate Action Network International (CAN) joined with No Bully to create a Charter for Compassionate Schools. Many other thought leaders joined in writing the Charter for Compassionate Schools, including:

  • Dr. Marc Brackett, Yale University, RULER Approach: Building Emotionally Literate Schools
  • Nicholas Carlisle, Executive Director of No Bully
  • Brooke Dodson-Lavelle, Mind and Life Institute
  • Dr. James Doty, Stanford University, Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research
  • Lennon Flowers, Ashoka Empathy
  • Sara Potler LaHayne, Move This World
  • Marilyn Turkovich, Compassionate Action Network International
  • Vicki Zakrzewski, Ph.D., Education Director, Greater Good Science Center at the University of California-Berkeley

What is compassion?

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all world traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being and living creature, treating all without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

The science of compassion

In the past, science has concentrated its research on finding causes for and treating pathologies of the human mind. Only more recently has it been established by research work at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), the Waisman Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other notable universities that the mind is hard-wired in our nature to be compassionate, and moreover, the brain can be trained to increase caring feeling for people who are suffering. Compassion, like other physical and academic skills, appears to be something that is not fixed, but rather can be enhanced with training and practice. The teaching of compassion and related skills (i.e., empathy, kindness, gratitude, among others) can assist students in becoming more attuned to their own emotions, as well as those of others, which can decrease negative outbursts and the physical and psychological bullying of peers.

What place does compassion have in education?

Cultivating compassion in schools, and creating the kind of culture where it is a norm of student and staff behavior, may seem at first a noble ideal: a nice-to-have, something to be undertaken only when all other priorities are met. Yet we now have the evidence to show that a school’s ability to foster real learning, indeed to fulfill its fundamental purpose, depends on its ability to do just that. Students and adults alike thrive when their social and emotional needs are met, when they feel a sense of belonging, when they feel their voices are welcomed and heard. Choosing to uphold the principles of compassion is central to a school’s ability to create a caring and inclusive culture and climate, to nurture a strong moral identity among those who walk through its doors, and to invite deep participation and learning. What’s more, compassionate action is foundational to effective collaboration, and to advancing the common good—attributes that, in today’s increasingly connected world—are central to success. A compassionate school begins with the adults on campus walking their talk and modeling compassion to all.

PHOTO CREDITS-from right to left clockwise
Malawi school children
Melanie Brezill.:
Two girls in a refugee school. Photo: Peter Biro/International Rescue Committee
School Kids in Bus. From Crime in Chicago:
Children at Young People's Conference: http://www.onlinevents.co.uk/event/working-with-children-and-young-persons-conference/
Image of boy. Drop out Crisis in America: http://con-values.blogspot.com/2011/02/drop-out-crisis-in-america.html

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