Caring Relationships in School Staff: Exploring the Link between Compassion and Teacher Work Engagement

Oct. 01, 2016

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 59, 2016, p. 126-136.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors used a moderated-mediation model to examine the direct and indirect effects of compassion and teacher work outcomes such as emotional vigor, burnout, organizational commitment, and job satisfaction.

Data were collected from 226 teachers from 5 different high schools in Israel.
They filled out a questionnaire in which they rated the amount of compassion received from their school colleagues and principals, as well as their job satisfaction, organizational commitment, emotional vigor, and burnout.


This study demonstrates that everyday acts of compassion generate feelings that seep into individuals’ attitudes and outcomes.
The findings revealed that expressions of compassion toward teachers to be positively associated with key teacher work outcomes (as mediated by teacher positive affect (PA)) including emotional vigor, organizational commitment, and job satisfaction, and negatively associated with teacher burnout. Thus teachers who experience compassion at work are deeply affected in terms of self-realization (teacher PA, emotional vigor, and burnout) and as regards their engagement with their schools (organizational commitment, job satisfaction).

Furthermore, the prime role of compassion was particularly visible under increasingly stressful conditions such as students’ misbehavior. The findings indicate that compassion may serve a major role in teachers’ coping abilities with student-misbehavior stress, and indirectly impacts important teacher work outcomes such as emotional vigor, burnout, organizational commitment, and job satisfaction (via teacher PA).
The mediation relationship through teacher PA as moderated by student-misbehavior stress was strongest when student-misbehavior stress was high, and provided teachers with the ability to cope with the stressful condition and maintain work outcome levels (emotional vigor, burnout, organizational commitment, and job satisfaction).
In addition, the relationship between compassion toward teachers and work outcomes was stronger when compassion was expressed by the school principal than when it was expressed by teaching colleagues. This finding is significant to managerial literature and indicates that the impact school principals have on teachers is both powerful and empowering.
This study thus contributes to the emerging body of knowledge on school effectiveness in educational psychology literature as it demonstrates e theoretically, empirically, and practically e how compassionate feelings can have a major effect on work engagement and the well-being of teaching personnel.

Implications and Conclusion

The findings reveal how fundamental needs and affective experiences at teachers’ workplace e such as being cared for, compassionately supported, and openly heard e are ultimately associated with improving teachers’ school outcomes. Moreover, the findings reveal that the affective expressions given by school colleagues (peers and superiors) can be viewed as representative of the overall school culture, thereby contributing to the teachers’ sense that they are, in fact, supported by the school system and setting as a whole.
These findings are important for policy makers and educators because they indicate that compassion has an important impact not only on students but also on teachers.
Thus, the implications are straightforward: expressions of compassion and emotionality toward teachers can be a useful managerial tool and a key concept in building vigorous relationships with teaching personnel, and may overlap with principals’ objective of improving teacher outcomes and school performance.

Moreover, the study’s findings send a pivotal message to management: expressions of caring, tenderness, and affection by school authorities are by definition a strength and not a sign of weakness or dependence.
The authors argue that school principals can be more powerful and impactful when they begin considering teachers as a whole person e heart and mind as one e with feelings, needs, and concerns.

Updated: Jun. 23, 2016