As a former physical educator, I know that students might
need an additional push to try something difficult or a gentle pull to help
them through it. Deciding whether to focus on resilience (the push) or
compassion (the pull) – or both – was a key pedagogical decision for me.
in its truest sense, is developed through an individual’s response to a traumatic
or difficult event. Rather than waiting for post-traumatic
growth, an everyday
resiliency can be crafted every time a student tries a new skill, succeeds
in lifting heavier weights, runs a faster time, or beats a personal goal. These
daily wins can positively impact an individual’s willingness and ability to
push through more difficult experiences, but, some challenges can really
challenge an individual’s fortitude.
These harder challenges may need the physical education
teacher or coach to be compassionate
- to notice, feel, and act to relieve the suffering of their students and
athletes. Words of encouragement, well-timed skills coaching, or encouraging
physical rest or nourishment can be the pull that gets an individual through a
difficult task or activity.
So, how can teachers use compassion to build resilience? Each
part of compassion – noticing, feeling, and acting can be a part of building
positive relationships with students. The below scenarios are simplified illustrations
of the relationship between compassion, resilience, and the gymnasium.
Scenario A: Student Refusal to Engage in Class
Compassion: In the past,
if I’ve noticed that a student is disengaged, I’ve had to check my
feelings of frustration, and ask the student “What do you need to
The answers I have gotten to this
question include: better shoes because a student had to wear hand-me-downs that
were a size too big; a tampon because the student just got her period and was embarrassed;
new clothes because the student had outgrown their gym strip; and a life jacket
because the student didn’t know how to swim.
The action I took was to
have a stash of clothes, menstrual products, and gear to provide to students as
Resilience: By removing
the student’s real reason for refusal, the student no longer has barriers to
participation, and they may attempt, and actually enjoy, the activity.
Scenario B: Student does not enjoy the planned activity
Compassion: If I’ve heard
a student complaining about the activity, I’ve considered how I felt the
last time I tried the activity, and asked the question, “What don’t you like about
My former students have said that they didn’t
want to get sweaty because they didn’t have a change of clothes; they didn’t
feel confident because they lacked the requisite skills; the activity was too
easy and therefore boring; or it was too hard (usually related to own
cardiovascular fitness or muscular strength).
My action was to design
skills-based activities in every lesson to review the fundamental skills including
upskill opportunities related to the activity and to have a stash of extra
shirts so students could change for class (gross, but effective).
Resilience: If a student
admits they genuinely do not enjoy the planned activity, resilience built when
they at least attempt the activity. Finding a way through unpleasant games or
activities in PE can help them face other physical tasks in the future.
Scenario C: Student lacks the skills or competencies to
enjoy the activity.
Compassion: If I’ve noticed
that fundamental skills are lacking, I can remember feeling inadequate when
I’ve tried something new, so I have asked “How can I help you learn?”.
Students have asked for tips and
tricks to improve; private time to practice specialized skills; and
opportunities to build their cardiovascular fitness and endurance.
Resilience: The student gains
confidence to try new activities after improving their fundamental movement
skills and overall physical health.
A fine line exists between pushing a student through
difficulty to build their resilience and pulling a student over the finish line
by being compassionate. An individual’s resilience generates the will to grind
through difficult times, and compassion is the outstretched hand that helps
them out. Both can be built and diminished through seemingly small actions in
Want to learn more? Check out these resources:
PHE Canada Teach Resiliency: https://phecanada.ca/programs/teach-resiliency/home
Centre for Compassionate
Compassion Research Lab: https://www.drshanesinclair.com/
HEARTcare Planning for Educators:
Coaching with Compassion: https://www.executivecoachcollege.com/research-and-publications/how-to-coach-for-compassion.php