Compassion in Teaching and Learning

How do we learn? Wow, what a lot has been written about this! Psychologists have spent many hours researching how learning takes place and how to optimise the learning process.

I would like to add my take on an aspect of the learning process which comes purely from my experience as a student and as a teacher. Having completed two undergraduate and one postgraduate degree, plus several diplomas and more short courses than I can even remember, I think I have learned a lot about learning from the learner’s viewpoint. Plus, thirteen years as an educator have given me a lot of hands-on experience of that side of life.

I put it to you that we as educators should not be too quick to label all under-achieving learners as lazy or inept. Yes, there are a huge number of students who just can’t be bothered to put in even the slightest bit of effort to master the material. I have watched people in a university auditorium fiddling with their mobile phones the entire time during a series of lectures (I sat behind two particular students, I and they obviously being creatures of habit and occupying the same seats each time, who never raised their eyes from their phones to look at the material projected onto the screen or to take notes).

But there are the few who really do try and who get stuck on an aspect of the work and just need a little encouragement for them to enjoy success. For such people, a touch of compassion often provides the small push needed. A gentle enquiry asking what the sticking point is can lead to the student revealing what is causing his frustration: this provides the opportunity for the teacher to explain the material again, or from a different angle, with different emphasis or different examples. And wow, the penny drops, the student finds he can now comprehend the work, and he can continue with the study programme.

Let’s all of us educators decide to keep our cynicism aside and first see all students as people who really want to learn. Let’s show compassion to those who are not achieving the marks we would like them to achieve. Let’s find out whether there are factors outside the learning environment that impinge on achievement: let’s find out whether there is an aspect of the work that the student just can’t get to grips with. Sometimes these students lack what it takes to approach the teacher.

If we can help the student to come to overcome his stumbling block, he may just flourish. If not, and he is just plain uninterested and lazy, oh well, we have lost nothing except a few minutes of our time.

But to unearth a jewel of a student – wow, that is terrific!

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