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Compassionate Schools

Giving children the tools they need to become caring global citizens

The Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) believes that compassion is one of the most important requirements for a peaceful future in which all children have access to a safe and secure childhood. Compassion and empathy play a fundamental role in children's positive social development, capacity for cooperation, and inter-personal relationships. Understanding that each individual shares dual capacities for joy and suffering contributes to the development of compassion, which in turn leads to increased ability to access global perspectives and empathize with those in different circumstances. Compassionate children grow up to become adults who consider others before speaking, who reach out to those less fortunate, and who work to make the world a better place for all.

The responsibility for cultivating empathy and compassion in children lies not only at home, but also at school. Compassionate schools recognize and celebrate individuality, and encourage students to treat others as they would like to be treated. They train children to identify those in need of help and provide that help without expecting anything in return. Schools should encourage children to "step into others' shoes" to view the world as they do, a model that children can understand and appreciate. Lessons in compassion can be both explicit and implicit, and can draw from global and local news and events. When children imagine themselves in one another's position, they become more caring and empathic and incidences of bullying decrease. Compassion should be practiced not only among students, but also between students and teachers, among teachers and administrators, etc. Teachers and administrators should lead by example, and incorporate children's everyday actions and experiences into opportunities for learning.

Not only is empathy a worthwhile goal in itself, it also encourages pro-social behavior among children, and helps them enjoy stronger friendships, engage more readily in cooperative activities, and be more responsive to the needs of their classmates and teachers. Compassionate behavior requires children to take responsibility for their actions, and doing so imbues in them a sense of self-worth and confidence. As part of an international movement to promote compassion in schools, the Compassionate Action Network International has developed a Charter for Compassionate Schools (see Resources below).

Exercising compassion is especially helpful in war-torn and turbulent societies, where compassion is tested daily. Being able to view the world through another's eyes can help reduce animosity among groups, and lead to peaceful progress. Teaching children compassion is integral to a future in which racism, sexism, and violence are no longer tolerated. When an individual is empathic, he or she has the tools to challenge long-held norms and mores, to envision a more peaceful world, and to seek common ground with people around the world. ACEI encourages schools, families, and communities to focus on teaching empathy and fostering compassionate environments in which children can learn and grow.

Resources:
Compassionate Action Network International: http://compassionateaction.org/global-compassion-movement
View and sign their "Charter for Compassionate Schools" here: http://compassionateaction.org/charter-for-compassionate-schools

Christou, T. M. (2013). Character education as a theme of Progressivist schooling in interwar Ontario. Childhood Education, 89(6), 356-361.

Helterbran, V. R., & Strahler, B. R. (2013). Children as global citizens: A Socratic approach to teaching character. Childhood Education, 89(5), 310-314.

Masterson, M. L., & Kersey, K. C. (2013). Connecting children to kindness: Encouraging a culture of empathy. Childhood Education, 89(4), 211-215.