Training teachers to be compassionate creates a better classroom environment

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Training in compassion could improve the mental health of teachers and boost staff retention, according to a new study.

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Researchers at the University of Derby delivered a six-module compassionate mind training (CMT) programme to teachers from schools across Derbyshire with the aim of providing greater understanding of emotions and improving mental well-being. 

More than 70 teachers and support staff took part in the pilot programme to investigate the effectiveness of CMT in a school setting.

CMT focuses on developing awareness of distress as well as techniques to alleviate and prevent it.

Sessions included:

  • an introduction to the basic concepts of compassion
  • applying the CMT model to educational settings
  • opportunities to practice compassionate mind exercises, including soothing rhythm breathing, compassionate mind imagery, developing compassionate self-imagery, and developing the ideal compassionate self
  • fears, blocks, and resistances to compassion and compassion-based practices

The research found that the more staff practised the exercises and engaged with compassion outside sessions, the greater their self-compassion and the lower their self-criticism became.

frances-maratosDr Frances Maratos, associate professor and reader in emotion science at the University of Derby, who led the research, said, ‘Over the course of six modules, we introduce teachers to a series of exercises including breathing techniques to help them maintain calm. We also show them how to switch from emotional states to motivational and compassionate states to counteract stress.

‘We are really pleased with the results. This is the first study in the UK attempting to investigate the application of CMT in a school setting and, as results appear promising, CMT for educators may be a very useful and beneficial CPD tool. Of course though, we are still very much working with teachers to perfect the curriculum content.’

The team is now working on the second phase of the research and is trialling a CMT curriculum for pupils in collaboration with Roundhill Academy in Leicester.

Dr Maratos added, ‘CMT should help create a better classroom environment. If you have a teacher who is feeling stressed, overworked and tired, and who is struggling to maintain good mental health, this soon can start to affect the children they spend eight hours a day with, creating a stressful environment for all.

‘With such a high number of teachers reporting that working in education is adversely affecting their mental health, our results suggest that compassion-based interventions may provide help from the stresses that teachers’ experience.

‘As a result, we would suggest CMT, alongside changes in self-concept and their implications for staff well-being in school settings, now needs further examination.’

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