- 1. Compassion in Action
- 2. What Are We Talking About?
- 3. Compassion Fatigue: Connection to Trauma, Stages and Assessments
- 4. System Drivers of Compassion Fatigue
- 5. Expectations from Self and Others
- 6. Compassionate Boundary Setting to Build Compassion Resilience
- 7. Staff Culture
- 8. Wellness and Resilience Strategies: Mind
- 9. Wellness and Resilience Strategies: Spirit
- 10. Wellness and Resilience Strategies: Strength
- 11. Wellness and Resilience Strategies: Heart
- 12. Building Compassion-Based Relationships with Caregivers
- A. Making and Supporting Change
- B. Foundational Beliefs About Behavior
- C. Compassionate Response to Colleague’s Pain
- D. Stress Throughout the Career Cycle
1. Compassion in Action
In this toolkit, we will explore ways to maintain a compassionate presence in our interactions with students, families, and colleagues. The rationale for this work as described in the first circle (Compassion Resilience) on the school toolkit home page, points to many positive outcomes for us and others. It turns out that coming from a mindset of compassion greatly contributes to our job and life satisfaction.
Simply put, Compassion is concern for the wellbeing of others. It includes both the awareness of others’ distress coupled with a desire to alleviate it. At the same time that we desire to alleviate another’s distress, we also are confronted with the reality that we cannot “fix” another person’s pain. Throughout this toolkit we will explore our professional role in alleviating student, colleague and other’s distress while maintaining our well-being, in other words, we will focus on growing our compassion resilience.
Conversations about Compassion – The Compassionate Instinct
Topic two on pages 13-15 of this guide focuses on compassion as a human instinct. Facilitate a conversation using the questions on page 14 related to the compassionate instinct in the school setting.
Use this article with your leadership team to discuss organizational change and how these principles apply to your school.
2. What Are We Talking About?
In the first section we underscored that compassionate action requires intent and skill. This section of the toolkit provides further definitions that are foundational to all else found throughout the toolkit. We will be introduced to the wellness model we will use in the toolkit and the concept of compassion fatigue. Activities will help us explore our beliefs about self-care and self-compassion.
Conversations about Compassion
This conversation guide outlines five different conversations related to compassion and gives the resources needed to facilitate these in small groups. In section one you were asked to facilitate a discussion with the leadership team about the instinct humans have to be compassionate. For this section, facilitate a conversation with the leadership team and/or other small group or team within your school on the third topic, self-compassion. As a substitute, you can use the Kristin Neff article for the basis of your group discussion.
Within this section of the toolkit:
For the animal lovers among us, this blog provides a wonderful overview of compassion resilience in the context of those who work in animal rescue
3. Compassion Fatigue: Connection to Trauma, Stages and Assessments
In this section of the toolkit we will delve more deeply into the concept of compassion fatigue; how it connects to our understanding of trauma, the stages that one might experience if compassion fatigue is not addressed, and how to assess our levels of secondary trauma, burnout and compassion satisfaction. As we grow in our understanding of the extent and impact of trauma on the students we teach, their families and our communities, our ability to maintain an open and compassionate approach can be challenged. Compassion fatigue can develop slowly overtime and go unrecognized. This section gives us insights that can guide us to take proactive measures to prevent its progression.
Research links organizational culture to staff experience of compassion fatigue1. One strong predictor of compassion fatigue is lack of clarity about the vision and mission of the organization. Leadership’s ability to align staff toward an overarching goal is an important key to staff job and compassion satisfaction. Creating a trauma-informed culture of support for staff enhances their ability to provide such a culture for the students and families they serve.
The STSI-OA is an assessment of the organization’s culture related to preventing and minimizing secondary trauma. The score is calculated online for your organization. Discuss results with your leadership team and consider one action to improve your school’s support for staff related to secondary trauma.
1. Condrey, Katherine M. The Relationship between Compassion Fatigue and Organizational Culture. Diss. George Fox University, 2015.
The ProQOL is a 30 question, self-administered, self-scored, free assessment.
It can be used on a regular basis as a self-check-in, offered in conjunction with supervisory or mentoring consultations, or as a basis for small group discussion. Please note that it is available on the ProQOL site in many languages.
Facilitators should be prepared to offer resources to staff whose ProQOL outcomes point to significant levels of burnout or secondary traumatic stress. Each district has employee support protocols and resources. Be sure you know those and remind staff that they exists and how to access them.
4. System Drivers of Compassion Fatigue
As we have discovered in the previous sections of this toolkit, the goal of compassion resilience can be reached with the application of personal skills and perspectives combined with organizational policies and practices. In this section we will focus on the systemic factors that can negatively impact our compassion resilience and explore our response and potential role in making positive change.
We all work in imperfect systems. When we look outside of our own system to those that we rely on to provide for the health and well-being of our students and their families, we find more imperfection. The first step in lessening the negative impact of the systems in which we live and work is naming what it is about the systems that contributes to our compassion fatigue. The second step is to discover which items on that list we can change, which ones leadership can and will address, and which ones we would best be served by letting go.
This document is for Toolkit Facilitators and Leadership Team Only
The following is a review of system factors that lead to compassion fatigue and those that are protective. Keep these factors in mind as you facilitate the combined staff and leadership activity below, What Can I Control?, and if you are on the leadership team, use this information to prepare and respond to the activity.
5. Expectations from Self and Others
Many of us give the very best of who we are every day, yet all too often struggle to feel like our best is good enough. Understanding and at times challenging our own expectations and perception of others’ expectations is key to identifying and transforming unrealistic expectations that compromise our ability to approach others with compassion and extend that compassion to ourselves. In this section, we identify the expectations we have for ourselves and for others and question whether these expectations are helpful for us or holding us back.
The recommended activities provide ways to make workplace expectations more transparent and encourage healthy expectations among staff.
- Provide staff with access to Caregivers’ Bills of Rights (1. Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project and 2. aPlaceforMom) which provides affirmations that help combat negative self-talk and expectations; bonus point for creating your own version with staff. Here are two examples from workplace and family perspectives:
- Read the following article entitled “How to communicate employee expectations effectively” and after doing so, answer the following questions:
— What efforts can you undertake to encourage regular and ongoing conversations with staff regarding expectations?
— How can you more clearly communicate expectations to staff?
— How can you affirm what you, others, or your team are doing well to meet expectations?
— How might you encourage mentoring relationships and collaborative relationships among staff at your school?
Clarifying Expectations (20-45 minutes)
The purpose of this activity is to examine whether our individual expectations are aligned with collective understanding.
Setting Helpful Expectations (20-30 minutes)
Many times, our expectations do not align with our own wants, needs, and values, but rather, represent things that are socially expected of us or things we are conditioned to believe. This exercise helps us set intentional expectations that are rooted in our values.
6. Compassionate Boundary Setting to Build Compassion Resilience
“Without boundaries, you will act, sleep, work, groan, feel used and fulfill basic responsibilities rather than make choices to live and love fully, to work hard and nobly, to fulfill your purpose and to contribute passionately to your world.” (Black, J. and Enns, G, Better Boundaries: Owning and Treasuring Your Life. Oakland, CA. Raincoat Books)
Leadership Support for Boundary Setting – Guided Discussion (15-30 min)
The leadership team will address key questions after participating in the Helpful Adult Behaviors activity with the whole staff or a small group of staff members.
Helpful Adult Behaviors (20-40 min)
This activity is a highly valuable activity to do with school teams or schoolwide at a staff meeting. It will also prepare you for the Staff Culture section of the Toolkit. Helpful Adult Behaviors (Demo Video)
7. Staff Culture
“The only thing we have is one another. The only competitive advantage we have is the culture and values of the company. Anyone can open up a coffee store. We have no technology, we have no patent. All we have is the relationship around the values of the company and what we bring to the customer every day. And we all have to own it.” — Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks
How to Avoid the Contagion Effect of Sharing Tough Stories between Colleagues
Read the information about low impact debriefing strategies and decide how to share with staff.
Leadership & Staff Activity
8. Wellness and Resilience Strategies: Mind
“Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration, and resentment.” – Dale Carnegie
“The calm and balanced mind is the strong and great mind; the hurried and agitated mind is the weak one.” – Wallace D. Wattles
The four sectors of the compass model -Mind, Spirit, Strength and Heart- not only contribute to our overall wellness, but also provide guidance on strategies to help build our compassion resilience. Before delving in further, you may want to take a self-assessment of your current wellness practices (attached). Hold onto this and notice if any that you marked as “this never occurred to me” change as you encounter the next four sections of the toolkit.
Mind is the first sector we will explore. Being resilient in this area is exemplified by being well-organized, engaging in meaningful work, and being fully present in the moment. As we learned in Section 1, mindful self-awareness is a contemplative practice of being intentionally aware in the present moment. We have practiced strategies to enhance our mindfulness in various sections of the toolkit. Mindful self-awareness is a key skill for the Mind Section area as well as those that follow: Spirit, Strength, and Heart.
Name and Celebrate Staff Competence
Showing appreciation to your staff and fellow co-workers is a part of a healthy, productive, and encouraging work culture. Here are some options to encourage appreciation and focus on the specific competencies of staff or staff teams that combine to produce your school’s positive outcomes.
- Create a process where staff can nominate each other for staff appreciation
- Create and maintain an ongoing list of assets of your team or workplace — Something everyone can add to and see in the teachers’ common gathering space
- Develop a gratitude board, or employ other strategies to foster a workplace attitude of gratitude, such as the ideas provided here
9. Wellness and Resilience Strategies: Spirit
Spirit is one of the four sectors of the compass model for self-care. Each area contributes to and helps build our compassion resilience. Spirit encompasses connecting to our sense of purpose with intentionality, exposing ourselves to resilience in those we serve, and recreating ourselves through rest and play.
Sharing Stories of Resilience (5-10 min)
Institute the regular practice of sharing stories about current and past students’ resilience.
10. Wellness and Resilience Strategies: Strength
In the compass model, the four sectors, Mind, Spirit, Strength and Heart, not only contribute to your overall wellness, but also provide guidance on strategies to help build your compassion resilience. Strength is one of the sectors. Strength encompasses stress resilience and care for the body. Stress resilience allows us to maintain a level of calm as we encounter the inevitable stressors of our job. Developing our ability to care for our bodies and listen to the signs that our bodies give us, support our whole health and minimize any unhealthy responses to stress. Becoming stress resilient and caring for our bodies often require assistance from others. Help seeking is a key skill for both of the areas in the strength section of the Wellness Compass.
Leadership and Staff Activity
Writing and Sharing Staff Resilience Stories (30-60 min)
One of our pilot schools for this toolkit experimented with an activity that went so well, they want to share it with other schools. Staff were asked to write a short story about an obstacle they faced and overcame. The stories were submitted anonymously and shared with students by random staff in various classes. The next day the homeroom teachers led a community building circle to talk about what the students had heard and what it meant to them.
11. Wellness and Resilience Strategies: Heart
In the compass model, the four sectors, Mind, Spirit, Strength and Heart, not only contribute to your overall wellness, but also provide guidance on strategies to help build your compassion resilience. Heart is one of the sectors. This section will take a deeper look at our emotions, and our relationships, both with ourselves and with others. We will be invited to focus on our self-compassion as we seek to be compassionate in our relationships with students, families and colleagues.
To further resource:
This article explains the importance of communication: 7 things to avoid, 11 things to keep in mind.
This article offers a brief introduction and tips for developing better communication skills through structured dialog and communicating your trust distinctions.
For more excellent resources on self-compassion go to Dr. Kristin Neff’s website
12. Building Compassion-Based Relationships with Caregivers
Throughout this section, caregiver is used to represent parents, legal guardians, grandparents, and whomever is the primary caregiver for a student.
The opportunities educators have for relationships with students’ caregivers can leave them vulnerable to compassion fatigue too. The drivers of compassion fatigue around caregivers can be very similar to those that drive compassion fatigue around students. When we come to understand the trauma families face, try to meet unrealistic expectations of those relationships, and/or feel ineffective in building positive relationships with caregivers, it can lead to behaviors that are signs of compassion fatigue. We do not have to look far to hear educators blaming caregivers, using the home life as an excuse for lowered expectation of students, and not wanting to get to know the family context of their students. Of course, the same is true in reverse. It is not uncommon to hear caregivers blaming educators for the challenges their children face and spending time building fences rather than bridges.
Leadership and Staff Activities
What to do when I feel attacked by a parent? – Professionally Speaking Article
This is an example of setting compassionate boundaries with caregivers.
A. Making and Supporting Change
Whether we are growing our compassion resilience to prevent compassion fatigue or to address existing compassion fatigue, this intentional shift often includes changing attitudes and behaviors that no longer serve us well. The Stages of Change offers a model for people to understand the complex path towards successful change and how to support our own change efforts as well as the change efforts of colleagues and those we
supervise. This model identifies effective action and responses at each stage to avoid the unintended negative consequences of mismatched efforts.
James Prochaska, John Norcross and Carlo DiClemente are the researchers and architects of the Stages of Change model. It is also known as the Transtheoretical Model. The model assesses an individual’s readiness to act on a new healthier behavior, and provides strategies, or processes of change to guide the individual through the stages of change to Action and Maintenance.
What’s the Stage? What’s My Response? This brief activity lists statements to practice identifying the stage they represent. It will build leaders’ ability to identify what stage someone is at so they can choose effective supports for that person’s desired behavior change. Pages two and three provide a chart that takes the statements from the What Stage activity and suggests helpful responses to support that person in their current stage of change.
Navigating Your Way Through the Stages of Change handout that describes each stage and gives self-help hints for those looking at their own change behaviors and hints for how to help others as they navigate change.
Individual Reflection Worksheet The individual names a target change and goal behavior, identifies the stage of their current change, and completes questions based on their stage of change.
B. Foundational Beliefs About Behavior
One driver of compassion fatigue for anyone who seeks to offer support to others is their beliefs about behavior and what supports desired behaviors. If educators approach children, parents, or colleagues with the wrong belief about what problematic behavior means and requires, it is like beating their head against a wall and coming up empty-handed and exhausted. If your school has not spent time recently reviewing foundational beliefs about children’s behavior, consider presenting this slideshow and leading a brief discussion at your next staff meeting.
C. Compassionate Response to Colleague’s Pain
We are often the first to see early signs of compassion fatigue and other emotional challenges our colleagues’ experience. The information linked below provides guidance on how to respond in ways that are helpful and linked to resources your colleague may need.
D. Stress Throughout the Career Cycle
The first stage of compassion fatigue is the Zealot Stage which often describes early career educators. The beginning years of an education career provide the opportunity to learn specific compassion resilience strategies that can support well-being, effectiveness in the classroom, and longevity in the field.