Compassion 101: Australian professor joins global network to effect change in education
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Compassion 101: Australian professor joins global network to effect change in education

by Freya Lucas

December 22, 2020

A University of Southern Queensland academic is leading the charge in restoring the art of compassion for future generations by being invited to join the Australian Compassion Council’s Scholar Network.


Professor Georgina Barton will serve as an expert to the global Charter for Compassion, in recognition of her research in the field of compassion and empathy within education contexts.


“The Charter is a document that’s part of a worldwide movement designed to bring back compassionate thinking and action into everyday life, and the Scholar Network has been set up to support the emerging research discipline of compassion science in Australia,” Professor Barton said.


Her research comes as a result of her work as a literacy and arts educator for more than 20 years, during which time she recognised that while compassion and empathy are widely viewed as important to living a happy, healthy life, there’s little written about how these qualities can be taught.


Unlike intrinsic human emotions like joy or sadness, compassion is a learnt behaviour, so it’s critical that children and young people see these traits modelled by their educators, and in learning environments, Professor Barton said, also highlighting the role of children’s home lives, and broader communities in modelling and teaching compassion. 


The pressure placed on educators to meet regulations, guidelines and curriculum demands – collectively referred to as educational pressures – is not only having an impact on teaching practice, the Professor noted, but also on the way in which educators interact with children and with each other as colleagues.


To overcome these challenges, she said, it is important for society to make a shift, and to value the work of teachers and pay that respect through compassionate understanding.


“I do think however, that compassion and empathy towards teachers increased due to the COVID-19 lockdowns where parents were more responsible for their children’s learning. We became much more aware of the work that teachers do every day,” she added. 


Professor Barton said displaying compassion and empathy in children’s picture books, films and games was crucial for building the behaviour long term.


“Like all learnt behaviours, it’s not enough to just show a child something once or twice and say that lesson has been learned – compassion and empathy must be practiced and taught across the years through examples every day to ensure that we are building kind communities,” she said.


“In the wake of quite a difficult 2020, a concentrated effort on showing these types of behaviours is critical too, especially if we want to play a part in counteracting the dire mental health forecasts following the impacts of lockdown and isolation.”


More information about the Australian Compassion Council’s Scholar Network is available here

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