When times are tough, show compassion.

By Jim Knight
December 2021
The twin hardships of COVID-19 and political polarization are wearing down even the most resilient among us. Unfortunately, at a time when people really need us to show compassion, some of us are finding it harder and harder to be compassionate. Compassion, as Sara Schairer (2019) has explained, is different from both sympathy and empathy. “Sympathy,” Schairer writes, “means you can understand what the person is feeling,” whereas empathy means “you feel what a person is feeling.” Finally, compassion means that you are “willing to relieve the suffering of another.” In short: Sympathy = understanding. Empathy = understanding + feeling. Compassion = understanding + feeling + action. As I’ve reflected on Schairer’s definitions and my own attempts to be more compassionate during these challenging times,

Read the remaining content with membership access. Join or log in below to continue.

Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt. Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem.

Log In


Neff, K. (2012). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. William Morrow.

Schairer, S. (2019, November 23). What’s the difference between empathy, sympathy, and compassion?

Wheatley, M.J. (2009). Turning to one another. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Image for aesthetic effect only - Jim-knight-150x188-1
Senior Partner at Instructional Coaching Group | + posts

Jim Knight, senior partner of Instructional Coaching Group, is a research associate at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. He has spent more than two decades studying instructional coaching, writing several books on the topic.  Knight’s articles on instructional coaching have been included in publications such as the Journal of Staff Development, Principal Leadership, The School Administrator, and Teachers Teaching Teachers. Knight directs several research projects, including Pathways to Success, a comprehensive, district-wide school reform project in the Topeka, Kansas, School District. Knight also leads the Intensive Instructional Coaching Institutes and the Teaching Learning Coaching annual conference. Knight has presented and consulted in more than 40 states, most Canadian provinces, and around the world. He has also won several university teaching, innovation, and service awards.

The Learning Professional

Published Date


  • Recent Issues

    December 2022

    Overcoming barriers to equity takes deep listening, learning about self...

    October 2022

    Professional learning can help educators navigate the competing...

    August 2022

    New teachers have unique professional learning needs and challenges. When...

    June 2022

    This issue celebrates the 2022 revision of Standards for Professional...

    Skip to content