Victoria led an engaging discussion about the complexities of teaching with compassion. Below are a few notes from the discussion.


What is compassion in the classroom? What does it look like?

  • Understanding: What are students
  • Considering the influence of daily lives.
  • Being available to discuss suffering

Victoria talked about the idea of compassion as “co-suffering” and being genuinely concerned for them. Empathy and a desire to help are essential.


  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Breaking down barriers
  • Improved learning


  • Being viewed as unprofessional
  • Blurred boundaries
  • Too supportive
  • Being a snowflake: Being viewed as fragile. Requiring too much coddling.

Kindness, compassion and empathy are actually very difficult to show.

Victoria Kannen

Clarity and Congruence as Part of Compassion

Clear boundaries between student responsibility and the supportive role the educator can play is important for students. Authenticity, viewing students as active participants and careful consideration of the pedagogical strategies we use is an ongoing journey that is essential to being a compassionate educator. Being vulnerable creates a risk.

You are what you teach.

What and how you teach them both form content as well role modeling the struggle that we have gone through is powerful for students. Humanizing us as educators is important.

Students as active participants in the classroom is a risk. Sometimes they are grumpy and that is okay. This is a busy, expensive and challenging part of a student’s life. Remembering where students are at helps us empower them. They face racism, classism and so many other things in the classroom that we cannot address. However, recognizing that they exist is a good starting point. Remembering that this is part of their lives and experiences in the classroom are not equal helps us view students as humans. Compassion would be a good thing to add to the Anatomy of a Laurentian Educator. Both students and faculty need compassion.

Classroom Strategies

We can promote anxiety through deadlines, volumes of new information, the language we use and the structure of the classroom. How can we mitigate these things?

  • Acknowledging the new language
  • Addressing rumours about the course
  • Acknowledging the fear of the course and opening a discussion if they want it
  • Sharing success stories of people who were successful in the course
  • Being honest when you see a problem that you are worried about (like people who are not paying attention).
  • Re-frame how you view what is happening in the classroom. Maybe they look distracted because they are fearful and it is a coping mechanism.
  • Be honest when it is too late to ask for a content review.
  • Accessible teaching and learning techniques
  • Making a safe space for learning

  • Language is important. Think about the language we use. Labeling can be painful. the slide above is a good thing to practice in our daily lives to break the stigma of mental health.
  • Use non-binary examples in your teaching
  • Avoid sarcasm
  • Make the space as safe as possible. We can’t control our students but we can control what we say.
  • Acknowledge that you may not know how to address an issue but you are able to help them find resources.
  • Demonstrate openness to talking and understanding their experiences.
  • Content warnings when material may be disturbing.
  • Varying teaching approaches to meet the needs of learners (mix of activity types i.e. lecture, active learning, others)
  • Recognize the emotions (fears or panic) that students experience
  • Drop the lowest mark
  • Consider when deadlines can be flexible
  • Use stickers (or badges if you are paperless)
  • Show kindness (candy or small gestures)

Accessible teaching and learning techniques are difficult to do well. However, it is very important. Encouraging students to ask for alternative formats whether they have a disability or not is important. Call it inclusive design or universal design for learning – I don’t care. Just try to do it. I try very hard to do this but I know I can’t always meet all the needs.

Victoria shared how impactful these moments can be. Supporting them can contribute to promoting student recovery. We can actually save lives by being compassionate. I have seen examples of this among my colleagues and I.

It all comes down to being a good human being.

Wokandapix / Pixabay


Establish boundaries. Let them know what to expect.

  • Do you hug?
  • When do you reply to email?
  • What does a closed door mean?
  • What do you need from them as a sign of respect in the classroom?


  • Think about a 24 hour rule for talking about assignments.
  • Be honest about how long students should expect to wait for feedback.

Just be clear.


Laura Killam is an experienced nursing educator from Northern Ontario with a keen interest in improving student learning through innovation. For more information please visit


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