Compassionate Schools: The Heart of Learning and Teaching
The Compassionate Schools Initiative within Student Engagement and Support at OSPI provides resources to schools aspiring to consider a trauma responsive infrastructure. Compassionate Schools support all students and are focused ultimately on helping Washington teachers understand fundamental brain development and function, learning pedagogy, recognize a mandate for self care, correctly interpret behaviors, manage negative behaviors successfully with compassionate and effective strategies, and engage students, families, and the community.
Internal school strategies may include anything from implementing social emotional curricula, weaving mindfulness activities into everyday teaching and learning, creating a contract with a student that provides empowerment of choice — choice of activity, of consequence, or of exercise — to reparative and restorative practices that allow for conflict resolution and the creation of a climate and culture that supports learning. The purpose is to provide mutually beneficial correction for inappropriate behaviors and using the opportunity to teach and model appropriate behavior while maintaining structure and upholding clear expectations.
These approaches have yielded a significant impact, seen by teachers and students alike; absenteeism goes down, disciplinary referrals decrease, engagement improves, and achievement goes up. Students and staff feel cared for, feel better about themselves, and have hope.
Compassionate Schools provides a platform for current and incoming teachers to gain and practice these trauma responsive strategies so they are prepared with resources and tools to be successful. It is not a program; it is an individualized process and as such is not “one size fits all.” Each school and community will develop their own unique compassionate “personality.”
+ Ten principles of a Compassionate School
- Focus on culture and climate in the school and community.
- Train and support all staff regarding trauma and learning.
- Encourage and sustain open and regular communication for all.
- Develop a strengths based approach in working with students and peers.
- Ensure discipline policies are both compassionate and effective (Restorative Practices).
- Weave compassionate strategies into school improvement planning.
- Provide tiered support for all students based on what they need.
- Create flexible accommodations for diverse learners.
- Provide access, voice, and ownership for staff, students and community.
- Use data to:
- Identify vulnerable students, and
- Determine outcomes and strategies for continuous quality improvement.
For more information on the book and about the Compassionate Schools Initiative in Washington, contact Ron Hertel, 360-725-6042,
"The Heart of Learning and Teaching: Compassion, Resiliency, and Academic Success"
Staff from the Student Engagement and Support section of OSPI and the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University in Bellingham have co-written a 246 page handbook entitled “The Heart of Learning and Teaching: Compassion, Resilience, and Academic Success” as one resource to be used by those schools wishing to adopt a compassionate approach to learning and teaching. In addition to the book, a prepared PPT and script presentation for training purposes can be found under "Resources."
The purpose of the handbook is to inform, validate, and strengthen the collective work of educators to support students whose learning is adversely affected by chronic stress and trauma. This handbook provides information about trauma and learning, self care, classroom strategies, and building parent and community partnerships that work.
It includes many case studies and vignettes from classrooms across Washington as well as an introduction to the Compassionate Schools Initiative.
+ About the authors of the handbook
Ray Wolpow is a professor of Secondary Education at Western Washington University/Woodring College of Education and can be reached at Ray.Wolpow@wwu.edu.
Mona Johnson is Director of Student Support at OSPI. She can be reached at Mona.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ron Hertel is the Program Supervisor for Compassionate Schools at OSPI and can be reached at Ron.Hertel@k12.wa.us.
Susan Kincaid is an assistant professor at Western Washington University and can be reached at Susan.Kincaid@wwu.edu.
More information about the authors can be found in the handbook.
The handbook, originally published September 2009 and updated in 2016, is a free download.
Order your quality, spiral-bound copies by contacting Bridgette Golden, at Olympic Educational Service District 114. She may be contacted by phone at 360-478-6868 or by email at
Books will be $25 not including shipping and tax.
If you have any questions regarding orders of the book, please contact Kristin Schutte, Director of Student Services Department at email@example.com.
For more information on the handbook or Compassionate Schools contact Ron Hertel, firstname.lastname@example.org, Social Emotional Learning Program Supervisor at 360-725-6042.