How to Regain Compassion Satisfaction in Your Class

Sandra Burns
Sandra Burns
Elementary school principal; M.Ed. in Educational Leadership
Smiling woman holding a red heart in her hands.

What is Compassion Satisfaction?

Did you ever come home from work with a smile on your face that lasted all night long? Experiencing that “feel good feeling” of knowing that you helped others throughout the day is a feeling that is indescribable. When you are fully committed and passionate about what you do each and every day you truly bring along a positive attitude that seems to stick with you throughout the day. When we positively make an impact on others there is a certain level of satisfaction that goes along with this feeling. Compassion satisfaction is mostly the reason as to why educators want to teach. To make a direct positive impact on their students and truly be passionate about what they do is truly a motivator in itself.

When you think of compassion satisfaction, think of the very best day you ever had as an educator. Take this feeling and imagine having that feeling, or something very close to it, every morning as you walk into your classroom. Most of us bring our passion with us every day into our classes. There is no greater feeling then to watch our students grow, learn, and become well-rounded citizens.

Compassion satisfaction is a sense of fulfillment, but unfortunately when this is no longer evident to those that work in educational fields, or any other career that labels people as “helpers”, sometimes the satisfaction can wear off and result in something completely different.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue sometimes sets in. When educators experience a decrease in their ability to empathize with our students, this is referred to compassion fatigue. This often can lead to a negative attitude that is brought into the classroom as well as there may be high absenteeism. Feeling as if you are at “the end of your rope” and not having much to give in regards to patience and understanding can also be correlated to symptoms of compassion fatigue. Taking on any new task with hesitation or being reluctant to change are also signs of experiencing compassion fatigue.

Unfortunately, when this mindset comes into your classroom, this isn’t a positive thought process. It clouds the vision of what is to come and how to reach any goals that may be set within the classroom community. It may also spill over into working relationships and friction between colleagues. No one wants to experience a situation where they dread going into work and dislike being around their colleagues.

Let’s not overlook the high demands that are placed on teachers that could also lead to compassion fatigue. Until one truly experiences these demands, it is nearly impossible to understand all that educators are facing, More now than ever, as we are teaching during a pandemic and giving it our very best whether we are teaching face to face or navigating through a virtual platform, the daily stressors are evident. This is on top of the high demands that are already placed on educators in regards to high-stakes testing, student growth, wearing many hats that exceed all academics, and just being a safe haven for so many of our students.

As educators we know that we have the most important responsibility of getting our students excited about learning. If we are not excited, we cannot expect our students to get excited. When motivation isn’t present and the desire to learn or teach is no longer there, this could be a disastrous outcome. No one would wish this for themselves, so what can educators do to avoid this or bring back the enthusiasm and compassion into their classrooms? The good news is that it is possible, but will take some work, as all things that are meaningful do often take hard work and commitment.

How to Regain Compassion Satisfaction in the Classroom

Let’s begin with self-care. Often people think of self-are and do not take this seriously. More and more as educators are faced with so many demands and uncertain times, self-care is of the utmost importance. Truly taking care of yourself on a regular basis is imperative to a stable wellbeing. Taking daily walks to clear your mind, exercising, staying away from emails once the work day is over, calling an old friend, coffee with a mentor, journaling, or just diving into a good book are all escapes to really focus on you and taking care of what you need to have a clear mindset and to regain your compassion and satisfaction that you once felt. While self- care often takes a “back seat” to all of the demands around us, it is a necessity to find a balance between work and all the other important things in your life. When you take care of yourself, all of the other things around you seem to fall into place.

Promoting social-emotional learning within your classroom is extremely important. As educators we teach the set of skills, knowledge, and behaviors involved in understanding and managing our own emotions, while we are setting positive goals, feel empathy for others, and engage in positive relationships within our classroom community. We teach our students also to work on solving problems effectively. When educators are suffering from compassion fatigue, all of these things that we are expecting from our students are things that we are suffering with personally. As educators we must take control of our own emotional wellness. Consciously creating a nurturing, caring, and safe environment for students and “practicing what we preach” as we incorporate social emotional learning in our classrooms may help with our own mindset as we are teaching our students how to regulate their own emotions.

We may be overlooking one of the most valuable resources that is available to us. Our colleagues know firsthand what we go through. They live through the same work experiences and may be able to offer a hand or a listening ear. Reaching out to colleagues, collaborating with them, and having genuine conversations to express concerns you may have or just hearing from others that you are not alone may be exactly what you need to help regain compassion satisfaction. After all, our students deserve the very best you, and you are worth it!

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