“Compassion is Empathy
—Jeff Weiner, Executive Chairman of LinkedIn and Founder of The Compassion Project
The Trebek Family Foundation, always looks for ways to help educational programs that are truly worthwhile. Danny Bemel from UBS, reached out to me about a potential donation opportunity to support EVERFI’s, The Compassion Project. When I learned that their mission was “to ensure that every primary school student in the US understands what compassion is and how to practice it”, I immediately knew that this was truly aligned with the Foundation’s values.
When I spoke to the founder, Jeff Weiner, I learned of The Project’s vision of, “a first-of-its-kind national initiative to provide compassion education to elementary school students across the US” and that currently they are working with over 20,000 elementary schools and over 42,000 teachers… I was truly impressed.
I like to connect our readers with goodness and The Compassion Project sincerely embodies that.
I am so grateful that Jeff Weiner took the time to answer our questions about The Compassion Project.
Jeff Weiner’s Vision & The Importance of Teaching Compassion
Jeff, What is The Compassion Project?
The Compassion Project is a national initiative to provide compassion education to elementary school students across the US. Our mission is to ensure that every primary school student in the US understands what compassion is and how to practice it. If you think about the state of the world today, how much polarization is taking place, and the fact people are increasingly seeking to reinforce their own world views, I’m not sure I can think of anything more important than teaching our kids compassion. I believe that compassion education is really the foundation for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom and in life.
What sparked your vision for creating The Compassion Project?
I first learned about the true meaning of compassion 20 years ago while reading “The Art of Happiness,” a book about the teachings of the Dalai Lama. That’s when I started to understand the difference between compassion and empathy. Empathy is feeling what another living thing feels. Compassion is walking a mile in someone else’s shoes to understand their perspective for the sake of alleviating their suffering. Put another way, compassion is empathy plus action.
Years later, as a young executive, I found myself making the same mistake many less experienced leaders make — I expected people to do things the way that I did. Over time, I increasingly recognized that approach could lead to frustration on both parts, as opposed to taking the time to understand where the other person was coming from, their strengths, their weaknesses, their hopes, their fears, and doing everything within my power to set them up to be successful. It was through that evolution that I recognized compassion can be an incredibly powerful dynamic in terms of getting the most out of people and helping them to realize their objectives and goals. Several years later, after practicing compassionate management and making it a first principle, it became increasingly clear we shouldn’t wait until people are in the workforce to teach compassion. Rather that compassion can and should be taught as early as possible.
Understanding & Appreciating Compassion
“The vision for The Compassion Project is to ensure that every student in the United States not only understands the meaning of compassion but can actively practice it as well.”
— Jeff Weiner
Founder of The Compassion Project
What are some of the lessons and programs offered?
The Compassion Project provides a simple framework that teachers can use to embed compassion education into the school day. The curriculum is made up of 15 short lessons that provide students with a foundational understanding of concepts such as empathy and compassion, identifying emotions, performing acts of kindness, and practicing mindfulness and growth mindset. The story-based approach really resonates with younger students. Students put on “Empathy Goggles” to help them understand others’ perspectives, or travel through a “Mindfulness Maze” to practice techniques for managing stress. We developed the award-winning curriculum in partnership with education technology leader EVERFI and with input from dozens of prominent subject-matter experts.
Compassion Education in Our Schools
How has this program benefited the teaching community?
Something that has really resonated is the teacher community that we’ve built through the program. Building a place where educators feel like they can share their voice is really important.
In November 2020, we hosted The National Compassion Challenge, and encouraged teachers to share stories of the program’s impact. The outpouring of teacher support was tremendous. Teachers shared hundreds of inspiring stories of how the program is helping students work better in teams, practice gratitude, resolve conflicts, and support one another during a very challenging school year where many students are learning remotely. You can see some great examples using the hashtags #SeeCareDo and #Compassion Challenge on Twitter.
How have the students responded to your compassion education program…can you share a specific story?
I’m inspired anytime I have the opportunity to join a classroom and watch the students use the materials firsthand. I was particularly moved by my experiencementar at MungerEley School in Detroit, first spending time in two third-grade classrooms, and then leading a schoolwide assembly. Afterwards, a young girl, no older than 7 or 8, approached me and handed me a little handwritten note. It said “You’re cool.” Anytime you can contribute to the idea that compassion is cool, it’s been a good day.
“The Compassion Project is the first comprehensive, no-cost program designed to help educators facilitate lessons around fundamental Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills. This 15-week curriculum combines engaging animated videos, classroom-based lessons, and digital activities into a toolkit that any educator can use.”
— The Compassion Project
“We made a very deliberate decision to offer this curriculum at no cost to elementary schools so that it was accessible to anyone regardless of their zip code.”
What are The Compassion Project’s future goals?
In just two years, we’ve reached more than 30% of the elementary schools in the US, and we are proud of that progress, but we’re not stopping until we’ve reached all 70,000+ elementary schools nationwide. Our primary goal is expanding the program to an additional 10,000 schools in the 2020-21 school year. A secondary goal is to expand The Compassion Project to reach older students. The current curriculum targets students in 2ndto 4thgrade, so the most logical extension would be middle school, then potentially high school once we reach all primary schools.
“It truly takes a village…
The more folks we have talking about the importance of compassion and contributing to the effort, the more successful we are going to be.” — Jeff Weiner
Follow the Founder of The Compassion Project and Executive Chairman of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, on Twitter.
Making Connections to Move Beyond the Classroom
Jeff, what do you personally spend most of your time doing for the Compassion Project?
I spend a lot of my time speaking about the importance of teaching compassion, connecting with subject-matter experts, exploring partnerships, and connecting with donors who are helping fund national deployment of the Compassion Project curriculum. We hope that this effort goes beyond the classroom. We’d like to bring in companies, philanthropists, athletes, and influencers. It truly takes a village. And this is something that we can all get behind. Hopefully the more folks we have talking about the importance of compassion and contributing to the effort, the more successful we are going to be.
Social Emotional Learning Skills Complement Traditional Academic Education
Is there anything that you wish more people knew about this project?
An elementary school principal once said to me, “Compassion is not a soft skill — it’s a strong skill,” and that has really resonated with me. With so much emphasis placed on traditional academic areas, skills like compassion and empathy often receive minimal or no formal classroom time. Yet, students exposed to social emotional learning have better academic outcomes, and when it comes to the skills that really matter in the workplace, employers are more likely to point to these “soft skills” as the ones they look for when hiring.
How can people help and get involved?
It’s important for people to know that we made a very deliberate decision to offer this curriculum at no cost to elementary schools so that it was accessible to anyone regardless of their zip code. This would not be possible without the support of generous individuals and companies who donate to the non-profit, and we are deeply grateful to the Alex and Jean Trebek Foundation for their support. As a parent or individual, you can make a donation to the Compassion Project, or you can help facilitate introductions to principals or teachers in your community (there are great templates on The Compassion Project website to help you do this).
As a teacher or principal, you can raise your hand and sign up on our website to gain instant access to the materials you’ll need to get started. As a superintendent or district administrator, you can reach out to EVERFI to learn more about integrating the Compassion Project into your district curriculum. We’re really looking forward to working together.
Bring The Compassion Project to your school, access curriculum for your child or consider making a donation here.
Why Jean & Alex Trebek Feel The Compassion Project is So Important
Aiding educational institutions from colleges to high schools to elementary schools has been high on their list of priorities.
The Compassion Project
Motivating children to see “compassion” as an action word, The Compassion Project teaches kindness, patience and social emotional learning skills to elementary school children.
Founded by Jeff Weiner, Executive Chairman for LinkedIn, and designed by social impact innovator, EVERFI.
By JEAN TREBEK
Jean is a Professional Religious Science Practitioner, Reiki Master and Sound Healer. She grew up on Long Island, NY, and now lives in Los Angeles. She has two wonderful adult children, Matthew and Emily, with her beloved late husband, Alex. Jean enjoys taking long walks, watching movies, and traveling. She is very grateful for her family, friends, Luna (the dog) and good coffee.
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