As contemplative approaches are being applied in educational settings with increasing frequency, early studies using self-report and academic outcomes suggest that these programs hold promise for the well-being of both teachers and students. However, the field currently lacks empirically rigorous measures to evaluate important real-world behavior and psychological change due to the cultivation of compassion, empathy, care, and kindness. For example, do teachers who are trained in compassion and care actually change their behavior when interacting with students? Similarly, do students who have been exposed to contemplative interventions begin to treat their peers with more kindness and compassion? Scientific research on these outcomes (beyond self-report) will be essential in understanding the broad and lasting impact of compassion-oriented educational programs.

In response to this need for innovative, mixed-methods, and pragmatic tools to measure these important human capacities, Mind & Life launched a new funding initiative in 2015. The Measures of Compassion, Empathy, Care, and Kindness grant program had two main goals: 1) to promote the development of rigorous, novel, behavioral and interpersonal measurement tools to assess the dimensions of compassion, empathy, care, and kindness in K-12 educational settings, and 2) to establish a network of research sites interested in developing and cross-validating such novel measurement strategies.

We are pleased to announce our two winners of this grant program, Lisa Flook and Rob Roeser. Their projects will develop targeted observational and mixed-method measures to assess key outcomes such as teacher care, and daily life experiences and interactions (for more information, see below). In addition to evaluating teachers and students from their local populations, these researchers will be able to work together to cross-validate their new measures across a broader, combined sample. At the end of the development phase, measures will be made available to the larger research community, to enable a more comprehensive and accurate assessment of compassion-related outcomes.

Congratulations to our winners! We look forward to the results of these exciting projects.

Lisa Flook, PhD

Associate Scientist
Center for Investigating Healthy Minds
Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging & Behavior
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Novel tools to assess the impact of contemplative practice in education

Mindfulness and compassion-based trainings that are offered under the rubric of contemplative education have the potential for wide-ranging effects, both individual and interpersonal. The current proposal seeks to utilize novel measures to investigate the effects of contemplative training in school settings for teachers and students. Measures administered in the laboratory under tightly controlled conditions do not necessarily reflect real-world behavior. Therefore, in order to understand and explore the complexity and nuance of the impact of practices, we focus on methods that are capable of capturing naturalistic experiences and interactions in the daily environment. Methods include daily diary reports, speech sampling, activity/sleep tracker (Fitbit) data and global self-report measures for up to 1 week before and after the intervention period. We will examine these measures in conjunction with students’ school records (grades, attendance) and student self-reports related to academics, relationships, and mood along with teacher self-reports of stress, well-being, and mindfulness.

We will target 5th & 6th grade students along with teachers from elementary and middle school. In Year 1 we will collect data from 40 students and 20 teachers over a one week period. In Year 2 we will collect data from 150-200 students and 40-60 teachers before and after their respective contemplative intervention training periods. The measures proposed here place an emphasis upon external validity as they are collected in naturalistic settings. An outcome of this project will be the availability of a digital daily diary report form that can be administered on-line for use by other researchers.

Robert Roeser, PhD
Department of Psychology
Portland State University 

Measuring teacher care in elementary and middle school classrooms: Positivity, presence and patience

The goal of this project is to capitalize on two on-going school intervention studies: The Mindfulness in Elementary School Study and the Mindfulness in Middle School Study, to (a) develop new observational measures of teacher care in the classroom (b) to provide initial evidence for aspects of the validity and reliability of these new measures; and (c) to see if such measures are amenable to change through a well-studied teacher mindfulness program. The specific measures of teacher care in the classroom that we plan to develop as part of this project include: (1) teachers’ emotional positivity in classroom speech (derived from transcriptions of teacher speech in specified segments of classroom video); (2) teachers’ embodiment of a calm, clear, and kind presence in the classroom (derived from trained coders ratings of the same specified segments of classroom video); and (3) teachers’ patience in pedagogical exchanges with students during question-and-answer exchanges in the classroom (derived from trained coders ratings of actual wait time in teacher-student exchanges in these same specified segments of classroom video). Classroom observation, survey and executive function data from 22 elementary school teachers (grades K-3) and 78 middle school teachers (grades 6-8) will be used to develop and evaluate the teacher observation measures. Our goal in this project is to create rigorous, reliable, valid and feasible measures of teacher care in the classroom that can be shared with other labs to evaluate teacher-focused mindfulness and compassion programs like the Call to Care Initiative in Education.