The Mindful School Leader: Practices to Transform Your Leadership and School
Reviewed by Claire Salkowski
If education is the key to making positive change in the world, then schools must be real communities that educate in every dimension of the human condition for the betterment of self and the world. How can such places exist and succeed without enlightened leaders? This question has never been more critical than today, when the world exacts such demands of both the institutions we call schools and those who seek to lead them. As the founder and head of a small Montessori school for the past 35 years, I have endeavored to create a school community that meets the deep needs of the individuals we serve so that they can grow and thrive in every aspect of their being in order to contribute to the world in positive and productive ways. Such work is deeply meaningful, but also exacting and often exhausting, as the authors of this insightful book, Valerie Brown and Kristen Olson, know only too well.
I so wish this book had been available when I first began my own journey into this exciting but often daunting territory. As the master of mindfulness Thich Nhat Hanh says in his endorsement of the book, “The art of being a mindful leader requires just one thing, and that is cultivating the art of living mindfully.” This book provides a guide to such a practice whether you are just beginning or have been practicing meditation and mindfulness for years.
Although the book is focused on school leaders and educators, its solid research and beautifully practical exercises, specific meditations, and personal stories from educators around the world will be useful to anyone who seeks to find a more balanced way of being in the world. Friends in particular will easily connect with the meditation exercises and find even deeper ways to expand their own practiced use of silence and inner reflection. The ancient art of mindful living converges seamlessly with the Quaker way and provides another dimension to those seeking a profound and perhaps more disciplined practice.
The authors, themselves practitioners with connections to other well-known leaders in the field and consultants to educators for many years, offer a thoughtful and well-researched rationale for becoming a practitioner of mindfulness in every aspect of being. They take the reader through a series of practical and easy exercises that meet the needs of busy people. From 30-second mediations, to longer and more sustained practices, to practical tips for making the connections and learning to simply be in the moment by “Stopping, Pausing, and Observing,” the authors lay out a practical guide for implementing this way of being that can truly transform lives and institutions.
Although this ancient practice was less well known to those of us in the Western culture, it has more recently become extremely appealing to our own hectic society as we hurry through each day, often at a frenetic pace that causes undue and unhealthy levels of stress. As the authors indicate so wisely, “This practice and the breathing practice are perhaps the most essential building blocks of any mindfulness practice and are so common you can download apps for them into your smart phone to tell you when, throughout the day, to practice them.” Throughout the book many other resources are cited through various websites and downloadable apps that make it all the more accessible.
The authors describe in great detail the science of mindfulness and the ways that leaders of any kind can cultivate contemplative mind states and learn to speak, listen, walk, eat, breathe, and become aware more mindfully. A whole chapter is devoted to mindfulness and emotional intelligence, which outlines the principles and practices that are designed to develop self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, and deep empathy and compassion for self and others. This cultivation can transform leaders’ lives and the institutions they aid in significant ways. There are many inspirational stories and case studies woven throughout the book that offer encouragement and authenticity to anyone who has wanted to begin this work but wondered where and how to begin or how to apply such principles to the rigors of everyday life.
Educators from around the world describe their own transformation and the effect it had on the institutions they served and those with whom they came into contact each and every day. This important book will become a real aid to school leaders everywhere and add significantly to the growing literature on how to apply mindfulness to both our work and personal lives.