Thursday, February 19, 2015

Compassion in the Classroom #1000Speak

Positive is Powerful was born two years ago as I began to develop my ideas about the challenges in public education because I knew that I wanted to encourage and inspire change.  Since then, a lot of remarkable adventures have been detailed on this blog.  Together they have all increased my passionate belief that the three C's of compassion, creativity, and confidence are just as important for students of all ages as the traditional R's of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Actually, after watching the students create their HOPE movement and seeing their creativity, confidence and compassion in action, I would argue that an emphasis on social and emotional learning serves a much bigger purpose than rote memorization and standardized testing because it is impossible to quantify teaching and learning.

Teachers don't teach curriculum, they teach students and, even though that keeps getting increasingly more challenging, the students who accomplish the greatest things tend to cite personal connections much more frequently than textbooks and exams.

Take a minute to think about your own experiences with school from preschool through the end of your formal education.

What do you remember?

I'm willing to bet that there are a lot more names, faces, and experiences popping into your head right now than worksheets and formulas and that is because humans are social creatures.  For a majority of people, the most meaningful learning happens when we feel connected, accepted, and encouraged - basically, when we experience compassion.

If the young people that I am fortunate to interact with could gain something from their brief time with me, I would would much rather help them understand how much they matter than help them differentiate between an infinitive and a gerund.  Our world needs more loving and compassionate people, and if verbal phrases ever come up in the real world (outside of Jeopardy and Trivia Crack), there are plenty of valid resources available at the click of a button.

Sure, a person can Google compassion just as easily as they can Google any other information, but the difference is in application because compassion is much more than an idea - it is something that can't truly be understood until it is experienced in action.

Similarly, the magic that happens when the students engage with their HOPE movement needs to be experienced before it can be completely understood.  This week, forty-nine teenagers were able to feel what happens when someone does small things with kindness, love, and compassion.  On Wednesday, teens were able to enter 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classrooms to talk to the younger students about hope and kindness with some help from Kid President, Pharrell Williams, and a lot of construction paper hearts.

They sang, danced, shared their personal stories, laughed, encouraged creativity, and went out of their way to interact with as many individual kids as they could in order to share their ideas.  We will never know the full impact of the interactions - for the high school students or the young ones.  Although, even if the experience ended that day, the smiles and insights we saw made us all feel a level of compassion for ourselves and others that can certainly change the world.

Since the HOPE movement is so experiential and uncommon, there are plenty of critics and naysayers who feel that there is no point, that the students and teachers are wasting their time and breath with "fluffy" ideas, and that it takes away from critical class time that should be spent preparing for exams and collecting data.  Interestingly, those people and their negativity no longer impact me like they used to because this adventure and the young people who created it have taught me that those negative people need compassion more than just about anyone else.

Aside from learning that the people who seem to deserve compassion the least need it the most, I've also learned that so many classroom challenges are much more social and emotional than they are intellectual.  Obviously, this is not a new idea, but it is one that educators focus on with small children and then tend to abandon somewhere around high school.  

So, as I add my voice and my blog to the 1000s of others sharing stories of compassion on the Internet today, I would like to end this with a challenge.  If you're reading this, take a few minutes to think about what compassion means to you and to talk about those ideas with an important young person in your life.  Together, you can take those thoughts and do something to help others and we can all create a ripple of hope that will undoubtedly change the world.

I would love to hear what you come up with, so please leave me a comment, send me a Tweet @PattyMcLain, or email me at!


  1. Lovely thought! I believe in the power of compassion. I will surely discuss it with my sons and see what it means to them. I liked your ideas of speaking about kindness and compassion in classrooms.

  2. What a great post, great project. I love it. Teaching students HAS become increasingly difficult in today's classroom. I hear you. I'm happy to have found your blog and look forward to coming back to read again.

  3. I'm so glad to have found your site. I'm not a professional educator, but as a parent I know what a difference caring and connection make. Thank you for sharing!