Feed on

As we continue adapting to remote learning for the second half of the semester, the Kaneb Center would like to help equip you to navigate this transition well. Hopefully, you are now feeling more comfortable with the various platforms, such as Sakai and Zoom, that you are using to teach your class. Now is an opportune time to pause to consider how you might use those platforms to communicate compassionate concern for your students as they navigate this transition as well. We recommend the following strategies not only because they are likely to improve your relationship with your students, but also because they are likely to make you a more effective online instructor and improve your students’ learning experience.

Compassion, at its core, is a social and relational emotion based on a sense of connectedness and concern with the prevention, alleviation or elimination of suffering in others. The following four guiding principles, and accompanying strategies, are ways to implement compassion in an online pedagogical context. 


One vital way to exercise compassion is to be transparent about new expectations for your classes, labs, or discussions. Things to clarify include: 

  • Altered learning goals
  • Grading, evaluation, and assignments
  • Synchronous vs. asynchronous contact
  • Attendance and participation

Another way to be transparent is to communicate with students as early as possible to check in and find out what they need. You might ask questions such as: 

  • Are they in different time zones?
  • Do they have access to computers, webcams, and the Internet?
  • Are they missing materials or resources? 
  • Do they have any past experience with online learning?
  • What will they need from you to succeed in this class?
  • Do they have other extenuating circumstances they’d like to share with you?


A helpful first step toward exercising empathy is to acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and share your own struggles (within reason). Assure your students you’re willing to work with them. Consider creating space for them to share struggles, strategies, and resources as they transition to online distance learning. You might also consider incorporating mindfulness practices into instruction. Finally, where appropriate, you might refer students to mental health service resources and accessibility services where appropriate. 


If you’re the instructor of record, be as flexible as possible with course requirements, activities, assessments, and deadlines. If possible, mix synchronous and asynchronous methods, to accommodate different students’ needs. Be willing to change your methods if something is not working and provide alternatives for students unable to fulfill the stated requirements. In general, it’s a good policy to give students the benefit of the doubt right now. Make materials, resources, activities, and assessments as accessible as possible. 


A helpful way to make your course as accessible as possible is to incorporate frequent comprehension checks and opportunities for students to ask questions. It’s also a good idea to request student feedback on online instruction and make yourself available via virtual office hours and email. Give your students frequent reminders that you’re here to help. You might also consult the following accessibility pages.

Exercising compassion in an online pedagogical context can be challenging, but by intentionally implementing some of these strategies, instructors have the ability to improve the educational experience for everyone. 



This blog post is adapted from the Notre Dame Learning Kaneb Center “Compassionate Communication in Times of Disruption” Zoom Workshop by Emily Pitts Donahoe and Dominique Vargas. As mentioned in that workshop, additional resources include the following. 


Sara Bea Accessibility Services: https://sarabea.nd.edu/faculty-information—resources-for-online-accessible-courses/

Zoom’s Accessibility page: https://zoom.us/accessibility/faq

University Counseling Center: https://ucc.nd.edu 

Notre Dame COVID-19 Response: https://coronavirus.nd.edu 

Notre Dame Instructional Continuity page: https://coronavirus.nd.edu/instructional-continuity/ 

Notre Dame Learning Pedagogical Support for Remote Teaching: https://sites.google.com/nd.edu/nd-learning/ 

Notre Dame Care Consultants: https://care.nd.edu/


Suggested Reading

Federico Perelmuter, A Brief Letter to an Institution that Believes Extensions are the Accommodations We Need Right Now

James Lang, Turn Your Classroom Irritation Into Compassion

Michelle D. Miller, Going Online in a Hurry 

Martha Caldwell, How to Listen with Compassion in the Classroom

Four Part Nonviolent Communication Process, NVC

Gozawa, Joanne. “Contemplative Pedagogy and Compassionate Presence.” In Contemplative Learning and Inquiry across Disciplines. Edited by Olen Gunnlaugson, 341-360. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014. muse.jhu.edu/book/34066.

Smeets, Elke, Kristin Neff, Hugo Alberts, and Madelon Peters. “Meeting Suffering With Kindness: Effects of a Brief Self‐Compassion Intervention for Female College Students.” Journal of Clinical Psychology 70, no. 9 (2014): 794–807. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22076.

Waddington, Kathryn. “Creating Conditions for Compassion.” In The Pedagogy of Compassion at the Heart of Higher Education. Edited by Paul Gibbs, 49–70. Springer International Publishing, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-57783-8_4.

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