Creating Compassionate Cultures
Creating Compassion
Creating Compassion

By Mary Webster

So where did it start? 

As a child experiencing the kindness of a teacher, or was it the three years in Bhutan? Or becoming a parent? My journey to the Creating Compassionate Cultures Course is one of many carried by the ripples of compassion. 

I had followed the progress of Karen Armstrong and the Charter for Compassion for several years and in 2013 arrived at the Empathy and Compassion in Society Conference in London. That was the year I had made a conscious commitment to explore compassion in as many ways as I could and it was at the conference that I first met Pam Cayton, when I did a two day Creating Compassionate Cultures Workshop. 

While Universal Education spoke to me on a personal level, I spent the first day wrestling with how I could combine it with the curriculum I was required to teach at the International School where I work. By the end of the second day I was so convinced that this is what both my class and I would benefit from, I returned to school to persuade my director that we should try it. 

An international environment

There are about 130 children from 44 different nationalities in the school. The main language of teaching is English, though for many of these children it is their second or even third language. These children carry all the outward appearances of a privileged and comfortable life, but their international context brings many 

social and emotional challenges as well as opportunities. Universal Education is a perfect match for this multicultural mix. 

That first year the class made enormous strides in their emotional and social intelligence. The benefits to their learning were obvious; increased concentration, deeper thinking in all areas, and a willingness to try new things. Everyone in the school was beginning to see the change, including the children themselves.

The intentions are helpful because they helped us to be kind to others. We think hard what we are going to do to help our behaviour for the day. You need a lot of determination to make and keep your intention throughout the entire day. It has helped the class with their concentration and with their work too.” Max, Miranda and Andrew 

“The ideal classroom gives the class a focus, people are nicer to each other. At the beginning of the year we were very fussy but now we get on better because we have a goal.” Endre, Aedon and Amber

What I got out of studying the one-year CCC course

When the year-long Creating Compassionate Cultures course became available online I began a study which deepened and strengthened my practice. The course is a well-designed, step-by-step exploration of how you can bring compassion into the class. It is divided into weekly units over twelve months. Each unit includes readings including pertinent research, videos, centering and reflection guidance and assignments. 

There is an online forum to share ideas and experiences in the learning community and our guides, Pam and Amanda, provide speedy, well-structured feedback and encouragement. The online community, which included all ages of people, each with a different focus, from parenting to teaching yoga, is a great support. Throughout the year we explored the seven main themes through both focused lessons and wherever possible, by making links within other learning we were engaged in. 

The internship at Tara Redwood School

I have recently returned from the two week internship at Tara Redwood School where Pam and her team follow the universal education approach throughout the school. It was a really special experience; everyone was warm and welcoming, sharing their knowledge and experiences generously. The emotional intelligence of the children was clear in every discussion, and the calm and thoughtful atmosphere gave space for each child to work and develop. I was given the opportunity to observe and teach, as well as have many discussions with Pam and Amanda. It was a stimulating end to the course and added new layers to what I had learnt. I returned feeling I had many new things to add to my practice. End though is perhaps the wrong word here; it was more a confirmation of being part of a community, which continues to share ideas.

It’s a life approach, not a curriculum

Looking back on the Creating Compassionate Cultures course two things stand out. From the first unit there was a huge ‘Ah ha!’ moment. I had found the way to voice and to put into practice so much of what I had practiced instinctively through my years of teaching. It fitted with the idea I had of myself as a person and a teacher. The second was that this is not easy to put Universal Education into practice in the classroom requires dedication, honesty and openness. It is a life approach, not a curriculum, and it has forced me to confront the things which hinder or erode my commitment to compassion; my experiences, my character, and the demands of the classroom.

For the last eighteen months the children and I have made intentions, have explored ourselves and our perceptions as well as our encounters with others. We have learnt the benefits of daily meditation. We have performed acts of kindness, raised money for charity, become more aware, more concentrated and more self-reflective. Indeed this has been a shared journey with the children in my care and I am looking forward to next year. I know each cycle will bring a greater depth to my practice, grounding it more firmly into all that I do. I am now looking at ways to share this with colleagues, parents and others working in the field.