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Lead by example to restore the art of compassion

In a year where kindness proved to be the greatest currency of all, a University of Southern Queensland academic is leading the charge in restoring the art of compassion for future generations.
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Recently invited to join the Australian Compassion Council’s Scholar Network, Professor Georgina Barton will serve as an expert to the global Charter for Compassion, in recognition of her research in the field of compassion and empathy within education contexts.

“The Charter is a document that’s part of a worldwide movement designed to bring back compassionate thinking and action into everyday life, and the Scholar Network has been set up to support the emerging research discipline of compassion science in Australia,” Professor Barton.

“My research has evolved after working as a literacy and Arts educator for more than 20 years and recognising that while compassion and empathy are widely recognised as important to living a happy, healthy life, there’s little written about how these qualities can be taught,

“Unlike intrinsic human emotions like joy or sadness, compassion is a learnt behaviour, so it’s critical that children and young people see these traits modelled in the classroom, and of course at home and in their communities, too.”

Professor Barton said her research had uncovered a theme of educational pressures on teachers to perform under complex curriculum and assessment expectations.

“This is having an impact on how they teach, how they interact with students and also how they interact with each other as colleagues,” she said. It is important that we value the work of teachers and pay that respect through compassionate understanding.

“I do think however, that compassion and empathy towards teachers increased due to the COVID-19 lockdowns where parents were more responsible for their children’s learning. We became much more aware of the work that teachers do every day.”

Professor Barton said displaying compassion and empathy in children’s picture books, films and games was crucial for building the behaviour long term.

“Like all learnt behaviours, it’s not enough to just show a child something once or twice and say that lesson has been learned – compassion and empathy must be practiced and taught across the school years through examples every day to ensure that we are building kind communities,” she said.

“In the wake of quite a difficult 2020, a concentrated effort on showing these types of behaviours is critical too, especially if we want to play a part in counteracting the dire mental health forecasts following the impacts of lockdown and isolation.”

woman sitting on a chair
USQ Professor Georgina Barton will serve as an expert to the global Charter for Compassion Credit (USQ Photography)