The Mindful School Leader by Valerie Brown and Kirsten Olson (Corwin, 2015)
What are the big take-aways?
An extraordinarily practical handbook for PreK-12 educators, The Mindful School Leader masterfully navigates between the science of mindfulness, its benefits, the basic how-to’s of it, and real-life examples of educators who share compelling stories about how they manage to fit mindfulness into their crazy days (and explain in relatable terms exactly how it helps them).
Written by a pair of leadership development specialists who are “converts” to the stress-reducing and resiliency-enhancing aspects of mindfulness themselves (one of whom – Kirsten – is my friend and fellow alumna of the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program), the book addresses “the school leader’s dilemma” (p. 3):
Buffeted by global happenings, and the speed and pace at which we operate in school as information and connection are increasingly available at every moment, our leadership selves can be sorely tested and profoundly challenged. Not only are our leadership selves asked to grow bigger by sometimes tragic external events…, but the complexity of our leadership environments and accountability systems, and the new turned-on-ness [authors’ emphasis] of our reality in which we are expected to respond to this complexity almost immediately, challenges us intellectually and spiritually in ways that are unprecedented in human life.
The good news is that there are scientifically-validated strategies for flourishing in this reality.
Why do I like it?
There is so much to like about this spectacular tool, which is jam-packed with compelling facts, easy practice tips, compassionate coaching questions and targeted references to research, apps, curricula and institutes. It starts by making a persuasive case for how mindfulness practices can help any educator who is living in an “everything is urgent” atmosphere all the time. The Mindful School Leader goes on to review the neuroscience behind the practices as well as explaining how educators can gently wade into them; the “Mindfulness Practice Aids” are very straightforward and accessible. The heart of the book describes precisely what mindful leadership looks “in action” when it is applied, and what impact it has on not just the educators but also everyone around them at school and at home.
I was impressed by the sheer number of intimate profiles of real teachers and school administrators offered throughout the book, and how powerful and invaluable they are to the book’s purpose. These nuanced portraits turn this transformative guide for educators into what is, in many aspects, a guide to authentic leadership in any values-driven profession. (To this point, I must also add that another reason I like The Mindful School Leader so much is because it draws beautifully and deeply from the wisdom of many of my favorite sages of authentic leadership, such as Bill George, Margaret Wheatley, Mark Nepo, Brene Brown, Parker J. Palmer, Diana Chapman Walsh, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee.)
In what situations would this be useful?
I can’t imagine any PreK-12 educator who wouldn’t derive a great deal of much-needed perspective, hope and energy from reading this book (and parents of school-age kids would do well to check it out, too)! I recommended it to my sister who is a 6th-grade school teacher in the Boston area, because she is always looking for like-minded companionship on the path to developing herself professionally in ways that transcend and include traditional modes of running schools while also strategically embracing the rapid rate of change in her sector.
What other resources might “pair” well with it?
In addition to the array of free or low-cost apps and other wonderful web-based mindfulness resources cited by the authors, a couple of sites that I really like for their versatility are Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life at http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/ and On Being with Krista Tippett: The Big Questions of Meaning at http://www.onbeing.org/. I would also underscore the authors’ references to Tara Brach’s meditations and any work by – or featuring – the Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
As for books, regular readers of the Leadership Library know I am a fan of the classic guide to beginning mindfulness meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (Hyperion, 1994). If you’re interested in the neurobiology of mindfulness as well as its practice, I recommend Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom by Rick Hanson (previously reviewed in the Leadership Library). Hanson has a newer book out that I haven’t read yet, entitled Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence (Harmony, 2013), from which The Mindful School Leader borrows a sweet “One Minute for Good” practice.
Valerie was my teacher for a two-part seasonal Circle of Trust retreat series. I sense her clear and kind presence is palpable even in her writing. I’m going to have to get myself a copy!