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Creating Compassionate Schools
Workshop #: CECO-22


While it is widely recognized that teachers are tasked with creating the learning conditions for students, some student-specific variables represent situations well beyond the teacher’s and the student’s control. These student-specific variables can include a number of traumatic events experienced by the child, including: tragic accidents, sudden death of parent(s), natural disasters), physical/emotional/sexual abuse, drug abuse and addiction in the household, and incarceration of a parent and/or significant adult. Educators need to understand the ways the ways in which the needs of children who experience trauma and/or sustained periods of stress can differ significantly from their peers. For teachers not completely aware of the ways that adverse childhood experiences (or ACE’s) can impact students, the challenges for both students and teachers alike can be magnified. Taken in combination with the myriad of other ways that students differ, it is important that teachers have a plan for how they will understand the needs of learners with complex needs and respond compassionately so that all students remain connected to their schooling experience.

Creating Compassionate Schools will provide teachers an overview of the rationale for embracing pedagogical strategies rooted in compassion. The course has been developed to introduce educators to the principles and practices of an approach that takes aim at “getting it right” for both students and their teachers. Creating Compassionate Schools will provide an introductory look at the scientific research-base emerging from a number of disciplines (e.g., social services, education research, neurobiology, public health approaches) in support of compassionate schooling. With compassion as a lens through which professionals can view their work, a number of topics such as professional learning communities, action research and job satisfaction will be explored. Implications of the approach will be discussed as well as barriers to implementation.

Attention will also be devoted to considering the shifting educational landscape as legislative efforts to increase the prominence of social and emotional learning (SEL) standards across K-12 settings are occurring. The defining characteristics of Compassionate Schools will be considered along with characteristics of other movements such as Positive Behavior and Instructional Supports (PBIS), Differentiated Instruction (DI) and Whole Child Education. Exemplars of states operating in alignment with compassionate schooling principles will included.

Teachers responding to the needs of a diverse learning population that include such variables often feel unprepared and isolated. Attempts to connect with colleagues and others within their educational context can yield limited results. Creating Compassionate Schools will also include resources for reflecting on the level of complexity present in classrooms today. Research-based information and strategies will provide course participants with:

  1. a pedagogical framework which recognizes a definition of student diversity that includes students impacted by adverse childhood experiences,
  2. strategies for professionals attempting to meet the immediate needs of learners impacted by adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s),
  3. tools which teachers may use immediately within a compassionate approach, and
  4. strategies and tools for engaging colleagues to respond similarly so that a culture of care is the long-term result in educational settings where children with complex needs are served.

Designed with a K-12 professional audience in mind, Creating Compassionate Schools offers insight into challenges faced by professionals across the educational spectrum in identifying, addressing, and collaborating around the complex needs of students.

Course Objectives:

  • Distinguish between “empathy” and “compassion” within the school setting
  • Understand the role compassionate schooling plays within the broad context of school reform
  • Consider legislative efforts reflecting increased awareness of need for social emotional learning standards (SEL) nationwide
  • Understand the concerns some professionals may have regarding creating compassionate schools
  • Locate information on rationale for compassionate schools that supports a balanced reform approach
  • Understand the philosophical framework that supports the compassionate schooling approach
  • Locate and access best practice government resources relevant to social emotional learning and concepts associated with compassionate schooling
  • Utilize a self-reflection tool to determine the current level of implementation of social emotional learning for the course participant’s context.
  • Learn a working definition of a “compassionate school”
  • Understand how different movements (e.g., Differentiation Instruction, PBIS, SEL) fit with a compassionate schooling approach
  • Identify characteristics of positive behavior intervention supports (PBIS) that may already exist in teaching context
  • Understand and assess for level of evidence of social and emotional learning (SEL) within current teaching context
  • Review one state’s model for supporting school districts to implement compassionate schools.
  • Identify barriers to creating compassionate schools
  • Understand the significance of the concept of a “standard of care” within educational settings
  • Articulate the ways in which creating a compassionate school demonstrates a professional “standard of care”
  • Understand the basis for a shift from reliance on educational labels toward understanding learner complexity
  • Consider how professional responses to student needs can alleviate or increase student needs
  • Identify one state-level attempt to implement social emotional learning (SEL) standards
  • Understand and apply terminology of “compassion satisfaction” and “compassion fatigue” to their own work context
  • Apply a specific reflection strategy that demonstrates understanding of the challenges associated with serving students with complex needs
  • Understand the significance of students feeling connected to their school experience.
  • Recognize the degree to which adverse childhood experiences create disconnects for learners as they experience school
  • Review importance of complying with mandatory reporting requirements
  • Understand the ways in which students who have experienced adverse childhood experiences are in “triple jeopardy”
  • Discern the difference between behavioral forms and behavioral functions
  • Validate the need for professions to listen for a student’s “voice” through their behaviors
  • Understand how an increased awareness of the impact of maltreatment reinforces the need for brain-compatible learning approaches
  • Understand the educational significance of the current scientific research on the impacts of adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s)
  • Understand how ACE’s can potentially increase complexities for students, parents, and professionals, and communities
  • Develop awareness of a tool for assessing individual and collective (eg, classroom, school) levels of student maltreatment and ACE’s.
  • Conduct a survey of colleagues on the concept of ACE’s and report observations demonstrating understanding of concepts
  • Demonstrate ability to reflect on your own level of ACE’s and how this may influence your interactions with students
  • Distinguish characteristics of “good stress” and “bad stress” and how these impact capacity to learn
  • Locate resources that could be useful in identifying characteristics of students experiencing childhood traumatic stress
  • Learn basic components of effective engagement with students who are currently experiencing varying levels of stress
  • Demonstrate understanding of course concepts by completing a functional based assessment on a particular student
  • Interpret information about the negative impacts of early adversity and “toxic stress levels” and apply this information to current teaching context
  • Articulate different types of trauma and how they might impact educational routines
  • Implement a “compassionate schooling action plan” at the individual, classroom, or school level and provide evidence of impact.
  • Demonstrate understanding of core compassionate school concepts through submission of personal teaching philosophy statement reflecting course concepts

Student Expectations:

This online course is experiential and interactive. Participants will need to do the exercises, complete the online assignments, and post responses that are indicated to the forum for feedback. In addition, participants will be expected to apply certain skills-building exercises in their own setting and report the results of that to the forum. Participation is necessary for passing the course.


Upon completion of the course, students can decide if they would like to receive credit and from which university they would like to receive credit. Please see University Affiliations under the Information Center for the cost per credit.

Class Outline:

1a Concerned About Compassion?
1b Addressing Concern # 1: Compassionate Schooling is Unscientific
1c Addressing Concern # 2: Compassionate Schooling is a Distraction from “Real Reform”?
1d Understanding How Reform Efforts Move at the Speed of Relationships
1e When Relationships Slow to a Crawl
1f Addressing Concern #3: Can Educators Opt Out of the Compassionate Schooling Approach?
1g Compassion Helps Frame “The Big Picture”

2a Characteristics of Compassionate Schooling
2b Principles of Compassionate Schooling
2c A Working Definition of a Compassionate School
2d Barriers to Creating Compassionate Schools

3a Common CARE Standards
3b What is Education’s “Standard of Care”?
3c Why A “Duty To Care” Will Not Satisfy
3d Compassion Is Fueled by Curiosity
3e Compassion Anticipates the Essential Questions of the Learner’s Heart

4a Compassion Honors the Complexity of Diversity
4b Complexity in the Context of Compassion
4c Complexity is a Moving Target for Compassion
4d The Core of a Compassionate School Professional
4e What Kinds of Problems Does Compassion Solve?

5a How the Need for Connectedness Leads Us to Consider Compassion
5b A Disconnect for Education
5c Connecting the Disconnected
5d Compassion Hears a Voice Through Behavior
5e How Compassion Helps Professionals Learn

6a Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s)
6b Findings of the ACE Study
6c Reflecting on the Meaning of ACE’s
6d How Becoming ACE’s-aware Challenges and Changes Us
6e Implications of ACE’s Research for Educators
6f How Being ACE-informed Increases Protective Factors

7a Stress In Context
7b Understanding “Good Stress” and “Bad Stress”
7c The Impact of Stress On Learning
7d Trauma Is Sometimes the Elusive “Something Else”
7e How Stress Impacts Us Physiologically
7f Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
7g Our Brains are a “Driving” Force
7h Does All Stress Lead to Trauma?
7i Strategies That Promote a Culture of Calm

8a The Importance of Sharing Power with Learners
8b Improving Our Relationships with Learners
8c Course Conclusion

Course Evaluation

Final Exam

Contact Information:
425-788-7275 ext 104


Graduate credit is available after course completion for an additional fee from various universities.

Registration Fee
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