This post was originally published on Finding Common Ground.
School Leaders’ Dilemma
Education is undergoing a significant sector shift and redefinition as the meaning and purpose of learning, and how and where learning occurs evolve. In the highly stressful, increasingly complex, 12 to 14-hour-day leadership cycles, most school leaders face mounting complexity to close the achievement gap, to transform outdated organizational infrastructures, and to meet accountability goals with little space to reflect and renew, and few resources and supports.
Outstanding school leadership rests on focus, clarity, creativity, compassion, and connectedness—bringing yourself to your work and to life, being fully present. However, stress, fractured attention, and crazy-busy overwhelm steadily erode your capacity to lead. Further, despite the empirical studies on the effectiveness of mindfulness for teachers and students, school leaders are largely absent from the conversation on mindfulness.
Mindfulness practices offer a way of being, a path to transformation in life and in school. To be mindful is to remember the very basic building blocks of your humanness: how to breathe, how to listen, how to speak, how to be with strong emotions, and how to be skillful even in challenging times.
Focus & Concentration
Mindfulness improves a school leader’s ability to notice and to focus, slow down, stop, pause, breath, and avoid automatic reactions that you might later cause regret. The capacity to focus in the moment is a hallmark of leadership excellence. Connecting with others, taking a genuine interest in the wellbeing of another, and listening for what is said and what is left unsaid supports true understanding and promotes a trustworthy school community. This strengthens the leader’s capacity to influence others in a positive way.
Clarity & Insight
Clarity is generated by the capacity to notice what is arising in the present moment, to be aware of how you are feeling, emotionally and physically, and the flexibility to pause long enough to choose how to respond, and not to react out of habitual or unconscious patterns. Seeing the situation clearly—not what you want to see, hope to see, or expect to see—you know how best to respond, to choose wisely; skillful action based on insight supports wisdom.
It’s hard to be creative when you’re overwhelmed, distracted, and stressed. Mindfulness creates a disciplined space, a powerful pause, helping leaders slow down and calm down. In this spaciousness, creative ideas have a chance to grow and develop.
Compassion & Connectedness
When you understand the suffering of another person and have the desire to eliminate that suffering, compassion is present. Compassionate leadership offers understanding and kindness to others instead of judging them harshly. When you feel compassion, you recognize that suffering, failure, imperfection are part of the shared human experience, fostering a sense of connectedness.
Authentic connection that truly influences others is strengthened when school leaders express sincere and genuine interest in the wellbeing of another. Self-compassion is acting in these ways toward yourself. Too often school leaders hold themselves to punishingly high standards.
As self-compassionate school leaders, you learn to soothe and to comfort yourself in the moment when faced with your own personal failings, to honor and to accept your humanness. Mindfulness is an essential path of practice to transform your relationship to yourself and to your school.