This post was written and contributed by: Sakinah Alhadad, Chantelle Warren, Ruth Bridgstock, Jude Williams & Mandy Lupton – Learning Futures; with Griffith University colleagues Kylie Burns, Elizabeth Cardell, Henry Cook, Kimberly Dobson, Cathy Easte, Danielle Logan, Ruth McPhail, Mary-Ann Shuker.

As we bravely navigate through the uncharted waters of learning and teaching during the global COVID-19 pandemic, we thought to dedicate a spotlight on compassion – compassion for the self, and for others. The Griffith community has already shown so much compassion in their approaches in their learning and teaching so far. This dedication is for you.

We know that learning when stressed or anxious is difficult. We are very much acquainted with test anxiety – as students and as educators. Our mental health is impacted as we live through the current COVID19 pandemic, whether or not one is showing it. Students and educators may be balancing additional stressors beyond the usual concerns about study, such as carer responsibilities, health and financial safety, isolation, etc. Importantly, these challenges were already there for some, and the current situation exacerbates these sources of disadvantage.

Prioritising care and compassion in learning and teaching during this time really can be a critical pedagogical strategy. Paul Gilbert (2014) defines compassion as “a sensitivity to suffering in self and others, with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it”. Applying this to learning and teaching during this extraordinary and uncertain time means to deliberately focus our strategies to alleviate and prevent further suffering or challenges in our practice, considering that this is more likely to be a marathon, rather than a sprint. For learning and teaching, this means committing to practices that foster safety, solidarity, connection, community, self-efficacy, and social resilience. These in turn serve to reduce individual and collective stress and suffering.

Creating a compassionate and supportive online learning environment acknowledges that the social, emotional, motivational, and cognitive factors in learning are all inextricably linked. Our compassion-motivated strategies for learning and teaching in the context of the current pandemic could therefore focus on fostering perceptions of safety, competence, and control over their learning and teaching tasks.

Below are some key principles for compassionate learning and teaching during this pandemic. You’ll notice that the 4Cs (Clarity; Community; Consistency; Caring) Professor Carol Evans communicated in the Friday 3 April, 2020 issue of the COVID-19: Learning and Teaching Support newsletter apply here, with a compassion-motivated focus.

1. Above all, approach teaching with care and compassion (including for yourself!)

People are likely to experience anxiety and stress in the coming weeks as the COVID-19 situation evolves and unfolds. Hence, approaching teaching with everyone’s mental health (including yours!) is imperative. The simple message for this is – just be human. <3

Acknowledging this stress and responding sympathetically and calmly will help to reduce stress levels. Staying connected with students and other educators will also mitigate stress. Consider how you might stay connected with your students and colleagues. Having a connection with their peers and yourselves could significantly impact on their mental and social resilience.

An important part of compassionate teaching is self-care – be kind to yourselves during this time. You have done a lot already, learning intensively about teaching strategies and new technologies to accommodate the changes for learning and teaching. Compassion is not an unlimited capacity – being kind to yourself is a key part of being able to be compassionate to others.

2. Keep calm – students will look to you for leadership

Students will look to you for leadership. You are as best prepared as you can be at this time (even if it does not feel like it!). You will be setting the tone with your students, whether you intend to or not – your tone will help them stay calm and will go a long way to keeping them engaged. Be yourself. Part of this is to be empathic when students (and yourself!) miss information – this is easy to do when stressed.

3. Be transparent 

Talk to your students, stay in contact with them. Clear, concise, transparent, and regular communication will go a long way in supporting students and assisting your workflow management. At a time of uncertainty, information can be a way to alleviate anxiety. Thoughtful, frequent communication shows your students that you are there, and that you are following the situation and adjusting when you need to.  

4. Model and communicate time management

This is particularly important for students who may not be used to online learning. Communicate expectations about activities and timelines for the purpose of supporting their learning, rather than creating hurdles. Ensure the messaging is reflective of the present circumstances, and compassionate.  Here’s an example of an open letter from an educator to students. Here’s another example of communicating syllabus changes with compassion and reflective of current circumstances.

Importantly, stick to one main source of communication as the one source of connection – this will help students anchor via a point of consistent information. Establishing a structure will be important for mental health and learning, but we also need to accept that during this time people are likely to have times or days that we might be down, and this is OK.

5. Keep it simple 

We know that these are not normal circumstances, so consider what is absolutely necessary, what is extraneous? 

  • Do what you absolutely need to do and prioritise. Pragmatism = keep it (as) simple (as possible) for you and your learners. If all that is possible for now is shifting resources to online, then that is what you do. 
  • Be kind to yourself and your students – do what is best for your context and learners, proactively considering the key challenges.   

6. Be conscious of disadvantaged students 

Student disadvantage (e.g., sources of inequality such as mental health, disability, family, financial, etc) could be exacerbated in the current circumstance. Students still have their right to privacy here – they have the right to not disclose this to you at any time. This is where your compassion and flexibility become imperative.  

7. You and your course are a community – you are not alone! #staykindtogether

This really is a reiteration of #1. 😊 Thinking of yourself and your course as a community is an important mindset in moving forward with care and compassion. Designing for learning to build community includes considering strategies to support inclusivity, and sense of belonging and relatedness.

Last but certainly not least, hang in there!

You can absolutely do this. You are not alone – please reach out and be kind to one another. Share your strategies, stories, questions with your community of educators here in the COVID19 L&T Engagement Teams space. Please use the tag @CompassionateLandT

Be kind to yourself – fatigue is likely to be a common side-effect with everything going on. Digging deep when your glass is empty is hard. You have been stellar already in adjusting so much in such a short period of time. Griffith is known for having such amazing educators because people like you continue to show compassion.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela

Further resources

We encourage you to watch the videos below and explore the tip sheets and other curated resources on care and compassion on the COVID-19: L&T Support Resources site.

Video #1

In this video, Dr Sakinah Alhadad explains some of the evidence to support the principles of care and compassion in your teaching.

Watch this video

Video #2

Sakinah Alhadad, Chantelle Warren, and Jason Nelson from Griffith University chat about their compassion-motivated experiences and practice as they navigate learning and teaching during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch this video

Blogpost references

Ahmad, A. S. (2020, March 27). Why you should ignore all that coronavirus-inspired productivity pressure. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Gilbert, P. (2014). The origins and nature of compassion focused therapy. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 53(1), 6-41.

Gurung, R. A. (2020, March 23). A memo to students on punching through the pandemic. The Teaching Professor.

Jang, H., Reeve, J., & Deci, E. L. (2010). Engaging students in learning activities: It is not autonomy support or structure but autonomy support and structure. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(3), 588–600.

Linnenbrink-Garcia, L., Patall, E. A., & Pekrun, R. (2016). Adaptive motivation and emotion in education: Research and principles for instructional design. Policy Insights from the Behavioural & Brain Sciences, 3(2), 228-236.

Lupton, M. (2015, December 12). Mindfulness, attentiveness, & learning online. Teaching in The Wild: Connected Learning in Higher Education

Pekrun, R. (2006). The control-value theory of achievement emotions: Assumptions, corollaries, and implications for educational practice. Educational Psychology Review, 18, 315-341.

Schmidt, S. J. (2017). What does emotion have to do with learning? Everything! Journal of Food Science Education, 16(3).

Supiano, B. S. (2020, March 27). ‘Nobody signed up for this’: One professor’s guidelines for an interrupted semester. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Learning Scientists (2017, November 19). Weekly digest #86: How to reduce exam stress. The Learning Scientists.

Wehler, M. (2018, July 11). Five ways to build community in online classrooms. Faculty Focus.

Willis, O. (2020, March 30). Coronavirus anxiety: Recognising the impact a pandemic can have on your mental health. ABC Health & Wellbeing.

Further reading


Gilbert, P. (2014). The origins and nature of compassion focused therapy. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 53(1), 6-41.

Kirby, J. N., Tellegen, C. L., Steindl, S. R. (2017). A meta-analysis of compassion-based interventions: Current state of knowledge and future directions. Behavior Therapy, 46(6), 778-792.  

Compassionate Teaching  

Conklin, H. G. & Hughes, H. E. (2015). Practices of compassionate, critical, justice-oriented teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 67(1), 47-60.

Rector-Aranda, A. (2018). Critically compassionate intellectualism in teacher education: The contributions of relational–cultural theory. Journal of Teacher Education, 70(4), 388-400.