How to be Compassionate without being a “Yes” Person

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By Dr. Nasreen Sultana, Teaching and Learning Consultant

Erica teaches a course where students come from diverse backgrounds. She has both domestic and international students in her classroom. She wants to be compassionate in her teaching. As a novice teacher, she is confused about whether she needs to keep giving extensions to the students to come across as a compassionate faculty member. She sometimes pities that many of her students go through difficulties, but Erica does not know how to demonstrate compassion in her teaching without being the “yes” person.

What is Compassion?

Compassion has often been misunderstood as pity because of a lack of better understanding (Agger, 2020). Many scholars differentiate compassion from empathy as well. Klimecki et al. (2013, p. 1) defines compassion as “warmth, love, and concern for the other as well as the desire to help and promote the other’s welfare.” Hamilton and Petty (2023) summarize that compassionate pedagogy is an approach to teaching and education that emphasizes empathy, understanding, and support for students’ well-being and individual needs. It focuses on creating a classroom environment that values the emotional and psychological aspects of learning, encourages inclusivity, and fosters a sense of care and respect for all students.

What Compassion is

  • Is rooted in the belief that everyone deserves care, well-being, and relief from suffering.
  • An integral component of Indigenous teachings emphasizes the importance of compassion (Agger, 2020).
  • Set up the students for success by creating opportunities.

What Compassion is NOT

  • Agreeing to everything.
  • Not maintaining personal and/or professional limits.
  • Trying to fix other’s problems.
  • Sacrificing personal space or energy.
  • Not maintaining academic integrity.

How to be Compassionate while Maintaining the Professional Expectations

  • Sometimes, just expressing genuine care is enough for students. If we think about international students, they need the sense of “being heard” to feel connected to the classroom and the teacher.
  • You do not need to say yes to everything students ask for. Rather, you can guide students to see things they may not be able to see. For example, many international students fail to see the long-term application of the program. You may tell them what skills they are learning from the program and how these skills will be vital for getting them a career.
  • Create multiple opportunities in the classroom where students can feel connected to the course content.
  • However, as a professor, it is vital to understand the difference between a genuine reason and a mere excuse. Compassionate pedagogy suggests using professional wisdom to create the right support for the students.
  • Direct the students to different college-provided supports. Many international students may need help understanding how visiting a SSA (Student Success Advisor) will help them study.
  • Show interest in getting to know students. Encourage folks to reach out to you whenever they need help and show excitement when they reach out to you.
  • Offer suggestions about how students can manage work and studies.
  • Always encourage students and show trust in your students. Let them know that you have confidence in their abilities.
  • Set up clear expectations from week 1 of the semester so that students know what they are expected to do to be successful in the course.
  • Finally, more than anything, recognizing the barriers and challenges in students’ lives could make your students feel connected with you. Most of the time, you have no control over what happens in a student’s life, and you are not there to fix their problems. However, students see the faculty as a trusted and compassionate leader who can demonstrate trust in their teaching.

Being compassionate and understanding students are the most important aspects in teaching. Students feel connected when they see genuine communication by the Professor.


Agger, L. O. (2020). Namegosibiing Anishinaabe compassion: A cure for modern day ills [Master’s thesis, University of Manitoba, Master of Arts]. mSpace.  

Hamilton, L. G., & Petty, S. (2023). Compassionate pedagogy for neurodiversity in higher education: A conceptual analysis. Frontiers in Psychology14, 1093290–1093290.

Klimecki, O. M., Leiberg, S., Lamm, C., & Singer, T. (2013). Functional neural plasticity and associated changes in positive affect after compassion training. Cerebral Cortex (New York, N.Y. 1991)23(7), 1552–1561.

Dr. Nasreen Sultana

​Nasreen Sultana, PhD, has been working in the post-secondary education for more than 14 years. Prior to joining Conestoga College, she taught in the teacher education program at Queen's University from where she completed her PhD in Education with a concentration on curriculum and assessment. In addition to her doctorate, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and language teaching, a Master of Arts in language teaching, and a Master of Philosophy in Education. In addition, Nasreen is a qualified administrator of IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory), a certified ISW facilitator and also earned a certificate in intercultural studies from UBC. Nasreen brings international experience and exposure to the role of the Teaching and Learning Consultant and invites discussions and learning regarding various aspects of diversity in faculty and in students. Her areas of research include intercultural communication, assessment and classroom instruction. Recently Nasreen has started learning about anti racism pedagogy and its implication in the classrooms. Please visit her profile to know more about her:

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