Self-Compassion and Empathy

“In all likelihood, someone has taken advantage of me in terms of asking for and getting extensions or make-ups. But I have to balance that risk against one in which I must scrupulously interrogate students’ lives and put myself in the position to say, ‘Well, I don’t believe your word. Show me proof that your grandmother died.’ Kindness to students who are struggling is important to me, and if I am going to err, I tend to err on the side of assuming that students are following the honor code and being truthful.”


Self-compassion is not the same thing as self-esteem; it is a practice of treating yourself like you would a close friend by accepting your shortcomings but also holding yourself accountable to grow and learn from failure (Neff, 2003, 2011). Research on this topic conducted at University of Texas at Austin suggests that “self-compassionate individuals may be better able to see failure as a learning opportunity and to focus on accomplishing tasks at hand” (p. 274, Neff, Hsieh, & Dejitterat, 2005). Neff, Hsieh, & Dejitterat (2005) also assert that with compassion comes feelings of shared humanity and social connectedness, an important component of well-being.

  • Model how you have compassion for yourself and others.
    • When you make a mistake or struggle with something, share it with students and talk about strategies you use to be compassionate with yourself (e.g., self-talk).
    • When a student comes to you with a question or need, show that you are listening and understand where they’re coming from (e.g., smile, shake your head, repeat what they say to clarify).
  • Discuss common humanity among you and students. Examples include:
    • When students struggle or fail, talk about a time when you had a similar experience.
    • Share your own positive and negative experiences at specific times (e.g., before or after giving an exam, when going over an assignment).
  • Try seeing things from a student’s perspective and help them see things from your perspective.
  • Give students the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume they’re lazy or trying to get out of work.
  • Do refer students who are experiencing ongoing challenges to services. Student Case Management and Student Disability Office can provide additional support.
  • Be flexible. Take into consideration students’ lives outside of class. These lives may include:
    • Families, including their own children
    • Jobs
    • Chronic illnesses
    • Other classes

We welcome your feedback for this tool kit.