Self-Compassion: A new direction in wellbeing By Ben Weir

It’s no surprise that teaching can be stressful, and the consequences of this are wide ranging, impacting teacher’s personal and professional lives, as well as their students’ learning. One emerging area of interest is in self-compassion.  Do teachers who have a self-compassionate way of responding to themselves during times of stress experience fewer negative effects of stress?


What is teacher stress?

“Teacher stress” refers to negative, unpleasant emotional experience resulting from some aspect of their work as teachers (Kyriacou, 2001).  When teachers experience negative consequence of this stress, they can experience some of the following:

  • dysfunctional behaviours in relation to students, colleagues and teaching activities (e.g. Bora, Vernon, & Trip, 2013);
  • decreased life satisfaction (e.g. Bano & Malik, 2014);
  • burnout (e.g. Fisher, 2011);
  • negative teacher-student relationships and negative affect (e.g. Yoon, 2002).

A review of the research yields lots of description of teacher stress and its impacts, yet there is less research indicating what types of interventions may assist in reducing the negative outcomes associates with teacher stress.


What is self-compassion?

Kristen Neff (2003a, 2003b) recognised that ways of describing healthy attitudes towards the self were required and investigated a definition of self-compassion from Eastern and Buddhist traditions as an alternative to self-esteem.  Self-compassion is defined as a positive self-attitude that protects against the negative consequences of self-judgement, isolation and rumination; and consists of self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness (Neff, 2003b).  Subsequent research has shown that self-compassion is associated with psychological wellbeing, cognitive wellbeing and positive affect; and negatively associated with negative affect, each with medium to large effect sizes (Zessin, Dickhäuser, & Garbade, 2015).


Teacher stress and self-compassion

McCarthy et al. (2009) studied teacher burnout symptoms both within and between schools.  They found that individual differences between teacher’s perceptions of personal resources and demands was the most predictive of burnout.  This suggests that interventions targeting teacher’s personal perceptions of themselves and their contexts may be an important aspect of reducing the burden of teacher stress in learning communities. Because self-compassion fosters the development of positive attitudes towards oneself, it may be that developing a more self-compassionate view of the self may help reduce the impacts of stress teachers experience.


What could self-compassion look like during a teacher’s day?

Self-compassion can be considered a way of responding to oneself during a time of suffering. It is about being kind to oneself, regardless of whether the difficulties we are experiencing are caused by our own failings, or by others; or just a result of the daily hassles of living and working. It is easy to consider the myriad ways a teacher may experience difficulties during their work: balancing demands within the classroom, dealing with difficult students (or parents… or colleagues!), feeling uncertain about how to improve outcomes, feeling unable to achieve the standards they have set for themselves, feeling pressure to perform, feeling regret over mistakes made… the list goes on!


When these difficulties arise, a teacher might respond without a compassionate attitude towards themselves: they may judge themselves harshly, and feel alone – thinking themselves uniquely isolated in experiencing this difficulty.  They may become over identified with feelings of failure or inadequacy, and believe these to be true and permanent reflections of themselves.  They may ruminate on these thoughts of failure and inadequacy.


Alternatively, a teacher could respond with self-compassion: instead of self-judgment, they could take steps to exercise kindness towards themselves. They might ask what they really need during this moment of difficulty.  They may focus on a sense of shared humanity, recognising that others have experienced these difficulties, and also have experienced the same difficult consequences of experiencing them: reminding themselves that most teachers find teaching is hard, difficult and stressful at times. Finally, they may become notice the thoughts and feelings they have during these difficult times, without becoming overly focused or attached to them.


How is self-compassion taught?

Self-compassion training usually consists of teaching people about the model, as well as practicing a range of mindfulness techniques, as well as more informal practices. Self-compassion is often taught in person. However, recent research has indicated that online programs can be an effective way for people to develop self-compassion (e.g. Finlay-Jones, Kane, & Rees, 2017).


Our Research

We are interested in understanding how self-compassion may be related to teachers experiences of stress, and whether self-compassion might impact the way teachers experience stress.


We are recruiting Australian teachers to participate in a series of surveys and an online course Self Compassion for Educators.  This course is a modified version of a program developed by Finlay-Jones et al. (2017). Participants will complete a series of surveys, then be assigned either the course, or a waitlist. At two intervals following, the surveys will administered again. At the conclusion of the study, teachers who were allocated to waitlist will be provide with access to the course.


The online course used in this study may be eligible for teacher identified professional development, in addition, participants can enter a draw to receive one of three $100 vouchers.


For more information about the study, and to participate, please go to: or




Bano, S., & Malik, S. (2014). Effect of Occupational Stress on Life Satisfaction among Private and Public School Teachers. Journal of Independent Studies & Research: Management & Social Sciences & Economics, 12(1), 59-69.

Bora, C. H., Vernon, A., & Trip, S. (2013). Effectiveness of a Rational Emotive Behavior education program in reducing teacher’s emotional distress. Journal of Cognitive & Behavioral Psychotherapies, 13.

Finlay-Jones, A., Kane, R., & Rees, C. (2017). Self-Compassion Online: A Pilot Study of an Internet-Based Self-Compassion Cultivation Program for Psychology Trainees. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 73(7), 797-816. doi:10.1002/jclp.22375

Fisher, M. H. (2011). Factors Influencing Stress, Burnout, and Retention of Secondary Teachers. Current Issues in Education, 14(1), 1-36.

Kyriacou, C. (2001). Teacher Stress: Directions for future research. Educational Review, 53(1), 27-35. doi:10.1080/00131910120033628

McCarthy, C., xa, J, Lambert, R., xa, G, . . . T. (2009). The Relation of Elementary Teachers’ Experience, Stress, and Coping Resources to Burnout Symptoms. The Elementary School Journal, 109(3), 282-300. doi:10.1086/592308

Neff, K. D. (2003a). The Development and Validation of a Scale to Measure Self-Compassion. Self and Identity, 2(3), 223-250. doi:10.1080/15298860309027

Neff, K. D. (2003b). Self-Compassion: An Alternative Conceptualization of a Healthy Attitude Toward Oneself. Self & Identity, 2(2), 85.

Yoon, J. S. (2002). Teacher characteristics as predictors of teacher-student relationships: Stress, negative affect, and self-efficacy. Social Behavior and Personality, 30(5), 485.

Zessin, U., Dickhäuser, O., & Garbade, S. (2015). The Relationship Between Self-Compassion and Well-Being: A Meta-Analysis. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 7(3), 340-364. doi:10.1111/aphw.12051

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