Towards a Compassionate University – Kathryn Waddington & Theo Gilbert

29th September 2021

The Compassion Salon, in partnership with the University of Edinburgh Global Compassion Initiative and The Chaplaincy, presents Dr. Kathryn Waddington and Dr. Theo Gilbert in conversation.

This was the first two salons which considered how we integrate compassion into our work, cities, and lives. There is an expanding evidence base for the use of compassion to transform educational environments for students and indeed for us all so our first salon in this series considered how we integrate compassion into university curricula. 

The salon also coincided with the launch of an Edinburgh University online self-directed course for individuals in compassion which has been developed by an interdisciplinary group of educators passionate about integrating compassion into University curricula. This has been supported by the University’s Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme.

Dr. Theo Gilbert, Associate Professor, Teaching and Learning, University of Hertfordshire, was awarded the 2018 Times Higher Education’s/Advance HE’s ‘Most Innovative Teacher of the Year’ and in 2020 delivered the keynote to the annual symposium of National Teaching Fellows/CATE. Theo draws together rich, current scholarship on the evolution of compassion (not as itself an emotion) but as a psychobiological motivation, to notice, not normalise, distress or disadvantaging of others and to do something wise to reduce or prevent that. From a background in anthropology, he translates this understanding from brain sciences into practical compassionate communications strategies for use by staff or students in their task-focused teams/group work. Studies of this amongst students have shown enhanced inclusivity and critical insights across their teams with consistent statistical significance – in contrast to controls. The skills of vigilance and wise follow-up action to reduce known types of suffering in teams constitute compassion (Compassionate Mind Foundation) and are now being taught and assessed in HE group/teamwork across degrees/disciplines, including STEM. 

Theo has created a Compassion in Education website providing resources for and from compassionate curricular-active educators working across the sector. Staff from 70 HEIs in the UK and beyond are now an irreplaceable part of this inclusive, welcoming network that seeks to get smart, up-to-date, science-based understandings of compassion operationalised quickly and easily on the HE curriculum where it belongs. His research and practice is available in journals, book chapters and YouTube videos. 

Twitter: @TheoGilbert

Dr Kathryn Waddington is a Chartered Psychologist, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and Reader in Work and Organizational Psychology at the University of Westminster. She cares deeply about research and scholarship that brings academics and practitioners together and that makes a positive difference to people’s lives. Her interests include organizational communication and knowledge, and the development of compassionate institutional cultures and practices, and has published widely in these areas. Kathryn recently edited the book Towards the Compassionate University: From Golden Thread to Global Impact, published by Routledge. The book draws upon a wide range of interdisciplinary theoretical and professional perspectives – including social sciences, modern Darwinism, higher education policy, and organization studies – to address key challenges facing 21st-century universities. 

Twitter: @KathrynWadding2

Kathryn’s book is available now through our bookshop.