Ten Principles of Compassionate Education


This book is dedicated to the young men and women with whom I shared my classroom. I am forever grateful for their willingness to lend me — and, more importantly, one another — their ears, hearts, and minds. Thank you.


Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

- Walt Whitman (1819-1892), from "Song of the Open Road"


One — The most important value in my classroom is humanity – honoring every individual’s inherent worth, unique selection of talents, and yet-to-be-realized potential. By upholding this value, my students and I remain dignity-driven.

Two — In my classroom, we are all people first. We are students and a teacher, second. If we lose sight of this essential dynamic, we must pause, reflect, and re-assess. Our respective roles drive our collaboration — but they do not dictate it.

Three — Despite the discomfort that it causes, I sometimes allow myself to be vulnerable because I want my students to feel safe to be themselves. I carefully lower my teacher’s mask at times, so that they may trust me enough to share what is real.


Four — My students and I practice listening before speaking, because reasoned voices are more effective than reactionary ones. By doing so we learn that compassionate leaders are servants before they are guides, and that they exhibit humility — not hubris.

Five — My students’ creativity and my own are exercised regularly, so we feel justified in taking calculated risks. Occasionally, failure results. More often, though, we succeed because fostering creativity leads us to be flexible, adaptable, and always curious.


Six — I invite others’ diverse ideas and opinions because the opposite signifies ignorance, and that is anathema to teaching and learning. At times of impasse, we can agree to disagree – a mature sign of respect. Intimidation, however, is forbidden; it breaches our shared humanity and violates the principle that we are all people first.

Seven — My students are not common, and neither are their futures. They are unique and evolving. Consequently, my instruction, classroom activities, and assessments are not common. Instead, they are innovative, rigorous, and customized to my students’ changing needs. As a professional educator, I am well-trained for fulfilling this responsibility.


Eight — My classroom is expansive enough to hold a broad range of ideas, but one concept that has no place inside its walls is shame. Feeling disconnected, flawed, or lesser are not acceptable where we teach and learn. Each one of us is a part of our community, and my students and I watch vigilantly to ensure that no one feels apart.

Nine — As a teacher who earned an advanced degree in his content area and accumulated many years of experience, I make no apologies for my deeply-held beliefs about education. My convictions are strong. But they are also supple: they evolve in response to my students’ needs, my colleagues’ insights, and my ongoing education.

Ten — Service is my calling, and teaching is my art and science. But if I can no longer uphold humanity as the core value in my classroom – if data is privileged above dignity, and policies supplant people — then it is time to straighten the desks, push in the chairs, and turn off the lights. The open road extends beyond, and I will find my students there.


“In our rush to reform education, we have forgotten a simple truth: reform will never be achieved by renewing appropriations, restructuring schools, rewriting curricula, and revising texts if we continue to demean and dishearten the human resource called the teacher on whom so much depends.” [Emphasis is my own.]

— Parker J. Palmer, PhD, The Courage to Teach (2007), p. 4

About the Author

A former high-school English teacher of 15 years, Brian is now designing the next phase of his career — or what he thinks of as Plan B. In the meantime, he works as a tutor and writing consultant at Bishop Writing Services, LLC, and he shares his photography and writing on the blog ink + sky. Brian’s former students, who are now out forging their own paths in the world, are never far from his mind. And he hopes that they are making every day count.

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2 thoughts on “Ten Principles of Compassionate Education

  1. A. THIS. This is why we are all friends. Deeply shared values. I love what you believe and how well you articulated it and “illustrated” it.

    B. “ The open road extends beyond, and I will find my students there.” ❤


  2. How grateful I am that my daughter’s educational path took her through your classroom, Mr. Bishop, even if only for a brief time. I feel certain the echoes of your voice continue to impact her living and learning. Thank you so very, very much.


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