Compassionate Education

Dr. Maria E. Saunders Elementary Education Program Director Trinity International University–Florida.

When I’m asked about the differences between the Elementary Education program at Trinity Florida and that of other local universities, my answer is always the same, “Nothing, but everything.” On the surface, they seem identical. We all have a state-approved teacher training program; we teach the same basic course work; our professors are all highly qualified, and we issue the same degree – a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. However, the difference is not in what we teach but how we teach. When filtering education through the work of Christ, we emphasize a parallel between Jesus’ ministry of compassion and the teaching profession in today’s classrooms. As we know, Jesus is the Master Teacher, and we want our teacher candidates to reflect Jesus’ ministry of compassion in their classrooms.


What is compassion?

Compassion is often associated with suffering. It is an expression of love for others, and it happens when one recognizes and wants to alleviate the suffering of others. The greatest act of compassion was performed by God through the work of Jesus Christ for our salvation. Jesus’ entire ministry was a work of compassion. He saw the pain, distress and brokenness in the world and gave us the command: “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Jesus responded to the pain and misery in the world by blessing, healing and serving others. By example, he taught us to be merciful: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36), and to forgive: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6: 37). He taught us to respect and accept everyone from all walks of life: “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him” (Luke 10:33-34). Through the example of the Good Samaritan, we see the character and ministry of Jesus himself.


What is compassionate education?

The pillars of compassionate education are forgiveness, kindness, respect, acceptance and love. In a compassionate classroom, a trusting relationship is developed between the students, teachers and staff. Parker Palmer, a renowned Quaker, poet, philosopher and teacher claims his roots in compassionate education. He wrote, “As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject and our way of being together.” (Palmer, 1998, p. 2). If teachers are committed to creating a compassionate classroom without compromising the rigor of the course work, they must reveal the condition of their heart and soul to their students. Palmer explains that the compassionate classroom begins with the teacher being willing to risk exposing their innermost thoughts and feelings to their students. Exposing your heart and soul to your students can feel vulnerable, but it opens the lines of communication so they can be vulnerable with you, their teacher.


What is a compassionate classroom?

compassionPalmer explains, in a nutshell, what happens in a compassionate classroom. “Relational trust is built on movements of the human heart such as empathy, commitment, compassion, patience and the capacity to forgive” (Palmer, 1998, p. 17). In a classroom where compassion is practiced, students are accepted as they are. When compassion is offered to children, they will form a strong connection to their teacher and the other children. A compassionate classroom makes children feel safe by giving them a sense of belonging. Children who feel connected to their teacher, the other students and their school, are less likely to hurt themselves or others.


How is compassion taught?

Compassion is taught through empathy and example. In a second-grade classroom, a young boy had to wear glasses in school, and he hated it. His compassionate teacher bought glasses for the entire class, and they all wore them. Another child often came to school hungry and wearing the same clothes she wore the day before. A compassionate teacher had breakfast and clean clothes ready for the child when she arrived. A sixth-grade Cuban girl walked into a classroom not knowing English. Her compassionate teacher asked her to create a mural of the country the class was studying. An eighth-grade boy had cancer and lost all his hair. His compassionate teacher shaved his own head.

Compassion is seeing and acknowledging the pain in others and committing to alleviating the pain. It drives us to address inequalities, injustice, cruelty and brokenness. Compassion is responding to others’ pain with affection, kindness, generosity,and the desire to resolve conflict. Compassionate education involves teachers with strong faith and belief in love, justice and peace.

A compassionate classroom does not isolate or discriminate; teaching with kindness and empathy sets the stage for life-long success. Imagine if the hungry were fed and the marginalized were accepted. Imagine an angry child being soothed and a neglected child shown love. Can you imagine the kind of citizens compassionate education would produce? What if teachers truly believed in the Golden Rule, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12)? Can you just imagine what a world it would be?


Dr. Maria E. Saunders is Program Director of Elementary Education at Trinity International University–Florida.

Read more Good News articles at:




Palmer, P. (1998). The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco, Calif. Jossey-Bass.

Share this article