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Compassion and teacher wellbeing: what's the connection?

Melinda Phillips, Registered Psychologist, Compassionate Schools

Compassion has been described as concern for the wellbeing of others (Cosley, 2010) which, alongside learning, are central to the work of school staff. Interwoven with experiences of compassion are the costs of this caring, which can include compassion fatigue and contributions to burnout.

A hopeful, action-oriented way to respond to this dual nature of compassion is to develop school staff’s knowledge and skills in tuning in, feeling, and responding intentionally to the distress or suffering of others; not to brush it off nor take it on. Strauss and colleagues (2016) provide a great compassion process (which we can remember by the acronym RUFTI), to guide this learning:

Recognising the experiences and suffering of another person (student or colleague)

Understanding that all people experience difficulties; it is part of being human

Feeling empathy for the person, through thinking about or feeling with their experience

Tolerating our own feelings and thoughts that may arise as we empathise

Intending to act to support the other person, and also to support ourselves.

Across school staff teams, the knowledge and skills held in these areas will be unique to each person; and their perspectives on the place of compassion will be unique too. This is more than okay. Building awareness of compassion and compassion fatigue allows us to support ourselves and each other to sustainably care for the wellbeing of others in our care – our allied health and medical colleagues have trod this path before us, and demonstrate it can be done!


Melinda Phillips, Director/Principal Psychologist at Compassionate Schools. School, team and individual services available to Australian schools and teachers; find out more at


Cosley, B. J., McCoy, S. K., Saslow, L. R., & Epel, E. S. (2010). Is compassion for others stress buffering? Consequences of compassion and social support for physiological reactivity to stress. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46(5), 816-823.

Strauss, C., Taylor, B. L., Gu, J., Kuyken, W., Baer, R., Jones, F., & Cavanagh, K. (2016). What is compassion and how can we measure it? A review of definitions and measures. Clinical Psychology Review, 47, 15-27.

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