Welcome to the website for Compassion in Education. It offers evidence-based, practical support to any teaching practitioner – with bite-sized films and other resources – on how to embed the micro skills of compassion into university group work up to an including assessing it, that is, making compassion credit-bearing, on the modern degree programme. Its purpose is to support a growing international network of universities whose staff have an interest in rooting the science of compassion, as a secular concept, into the HE institution. The theoretical model of compassion that we are using was developed by NHS Professor of Clinical Psychology, Paul Gilbert, OBE, founder of the Compassionate Mind Foundation (see also Compassion in the School Classroom). In the above model, compassion is not understood to be an emotion, but a psycho-biologically mediated motivation/an intention to:
notice, not normalise, ones own distress or disadvantaging, or that of others, and take action to reduce or prevent it.
Q: How do I short cut to exactly what these group micro skills are?
A: Go straight to the next page – Films – and see bite-sized films 8 and 9. And in film 1 you’ll see students demonstrating some of them too.
About the Project
The over-valuing of individualistic competitiveness in the HE environment, both for staff and students, undermines the wellbeing and achievement of both. It reinforces fracture lines across learning communities that undermine HE’s remit to serve the public good in optimal ways. Student group work, in any discipline in any university, is an opportunity to address this quickly, cost free and effectively. How? One way is by recruiting the rapid recent growth of a multidisciplinary understanding of compassion – and deploying this in straightforward, practical ways into the start of any group work that takes place in the class room. Today, intersecting scholarship – from neuroscience, group psychotherapy, ethnography and clinical psychology – is providing the compassionate teacher with a robust scholarly base of evidence from which to embed compassion further into his or her curricula than might have seemed possible before. This approach to pedagogy this can mean showing students: how to notice the distress of self or others, and how to reduce or prevent it.
Trials led by the University of Hertfordshire, with statistical analysis carried out at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and the Royal Veterinary College, show that teaching and crediting the micro skills of compassion can significantly increase student academic performance on modules as different as Business and Computer Science. In these disciplines and in the Humanities too where compassion has been credit bearing on under and post graduate modules for several years now, with external examiner approval, the evidence of enhancements to student social experience has also been found to be overwhelming for white local, black local, ethnic minority local and international students.
The Micro Skills of Compassion
On modules in these three disciplines students have been taught positive group work skills and incentivised to use them as part of a trial to disrupt unhelpful group behaviours, such as monopolizing discussions or not contributing. They are encouraged to invite others to speak, challenge others’ thinking processes, use inclusive eye contact and make connections with peers.
Students can be seen demonstrating these evidence-based skills – many of them non verbal – in group work as part of the film, Embedding and Assessing Compassion in the University Curriculum (An Introduction). This 21 minute film, is a summary/overview of the compassion-focussed pedagogy (CfP) that staff from 24 universities in the UK, Spain, Greece, Sweden and Canada and the USA are now supporting each other to explore. (It will be a joy and an honour for you to join us.) It introduces a series of shorter films also available on this website (see Films) that unpack the underlying practice and theory of compassion-focussed pedagogy (for both schools and universities) that are touched on in the film.
With warm wishes to you all as we support each other in this moment, when a shift in traditional thinking about what constitutes excellence in team work is more urgent than ever, and within our combined reach.
Dr Theo Gilbert
Acknowledgements: The films here – which are the core of a short training course for staff and students – were launched by the University of Hertfordshire with advice from the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) (now the Office for Students). The network of interested practitioners in HE is also supported by and affiliated to the Compassionate Mind Foundation.