Earlier this week, I welcomed all of you to the book club for Hacking School Culture: Designing Compassionate Classrooms. Ellen and I are glad you're here.
Each Monday, Ellen or I will share a brief video introduction to a new chapter (or hack, as they are referred to in the Hack Learning series) along with an invitation to read it. The videos that we share will include our reflections about the writing process, our experiences meeting and coming to know the teachers featured in that section of the text, and a few thoughts about the ideas that you'll encounter there.
Each Wednesday, we will return with powerful reflective questions, invitations to connect with us here or in our social spaces, and tools that can help you apply the ideas that we share in our book, including a few that we haven't shared elsewhere before. If you have questions as you're reading along, don't hesitate to contact us. We'd love to hear from you.
Reflecting On Our Introduction
What is YOUR definition of compassion?
This matters. As Ellen and I were completing our research, we noticed that most definitions of compassion ground themselves in the ideas of suffering, mercy, and attending to the needs of those who are portrayed as damaged or even broken.
We wondered: How does the way that we define compassion inspire us to practice it?
We invite you to wonder, too.
You might also find it valuable to create a set of principles that align to your definition.
For instance, these are the principles we've defined, based upon our research, for compassionate classrooms. They're a work in progress, as are all of the ideas in our book. Know that our intention isn't to sell you on our ideas but instead, start some long overdue and very important conversations.
Which of our principles resonate, and which of them challenge you most? How do your own principles compare?
This is worthy work. We find that cultivating compassion has less to do with following rules and more to do with creating space for reflection, providing good definitions and anchors for our learning and work together, and making space for debate. We think it's important to perpetuate compassion by practicing compassion.
Your experiences are unique and perhaps, quite unlike ours.
We'd like to hear about them. We'd love to learn from them, too. The more diverse our perspectives, the better our collective learning and work.
Consider adding your thoughts right here.
Which beliefs, relationship dynamics, common perceptions, attitudes, written, and unwritten rules contribute to your classroom culture?
Have you ever made a study of this? We're inviting you to try, and if you subscribe to our blog, you'll receive some tools that will support this informal but quite informative work.
If you work with older students, begin by inviting them to become documentarians. Consider creating six different groups--one for each of these categories: beliefs, relationship dynamics, common perceptions, attitudes, written rules, and unwritten rules. Create a window of time that they will work within: a class period, a day, a week, or even longer. Then, ask them to document as much of what they SEE and HEAR as they can, relative to their category. Remind them that they should not draw conclusions about these data but rather, simply record it. Encourage them to make notes, capture audio or video, or take photos.
Once each group has captured these data, help your students look for trends inside of each category. Do the same yourself. Ask: How does this information deepen our understanding of our current classroom culture? How might we use this information in a way that empowers all of us? What should we do next, in order to accomplish this?
If you work with younger students, you might consider changing the categories a bit. It's important to involve your students in this data gathering process just the same, though. They might look for: written rules, moments that made people feel comfortable (perhaps you'll use the word happy), moments that made people feel uncomfortable (perhaps you'll use the words worried or frightened or sad), friends getting along, friends struggling to get along, routines we follow.
How might you use a design thinking approach to elevate compassion in your classroom?
Empathy fuels the design thinking process. Rather than encouraging you to "lift and drop" our ideas into your own classroom, we'd rather invite you to practice design thinking yourself. This is uncertain, imperfect, and gloriously rewarding work.
It can begin the moment that you include your students in the experience of creating a compassionate classroom. When you make them the documentarians, you include them in the work. When you ask them to interpret the data, you include them in the work. And when you listen to the theories that emerge from your collective study of compassion inside your current reality, you are most definitely including them in the work.
How might you begin there?
How might you practice empathy in order to uncover diverse perspectives about compassion inside of your current reality?
You don't need to fix anything. You only need to help your students see and hear. And then, you only need to listen. As we move through the book, we'll help you take small steps forward with great intention. This is slow and very reflective work.
If you're eager to complete this kind of study in your own classroom and interested in receiving practical tools that might get you started, just subscribe to our website on our homepage. Each Sunday, Ellen and I share information, resources, and tools from our work on the ground, inside of schools. Subscribers are also able to access a freebie file of supplemental resources that were not included in the book. We'll be adding downloadable book club questions, documentation guidance tools, and organizers for students there this weekend. Look for our email message on Sunday! We will let you know when they are there.