You are here

The Mindful School Leader

The Mindful School Leader
Practices to Transform Your Leadership and School

Foreword by Richard Brady

Additional resources:

February 2015 | 256 pages | Corwin

Big results come from small steps.

If you think you don’t have time for mindfulness, think again. This handbook, named a Best Courageous Book of 2014 by The Center for Courage and Renewal, was written with school leaders in mind—your responsibilities, your stress, and your schedule. When you add mindfulness into your day, bit by bit, you’ll become a more effective leader and a more positive force for your staff and students.

With the help of this inspirational yet practical guide, you’ll start fitting pieces of practice into your busy home and work life, whether you are sitting in your office or walking down the hall. Features include

  • Real-life profiles of mindful school leaders
  • Practice exercises to try right away
  • Guidance so you know if you are “doing it right”
  • Hard-to-find resources, including mindfulness apps

Mindful school leaders are better at managing meetings, responding creatively to complex situations, and achieving resilience at work and at home. Take the first steps to transform your life—and your school.

"This inspiring book makes a strong case for school leaders to include mindfulness in their personal and professional lives.  Based on solid research and enhanced by compelling examples of real people, it shows how school leaders can feel more grounded, connected, clear and focused.  Mindfulness makes leaders more effective with relatively little effort, but be advised that the benefits can be contagious, transforming your school from the inside out."
Christopher Germer, Clinical Instructor
Harvard Medical School

"In The Mindful School Leader, Brown and Olson offer with remarkable clarity and depth a thorough introduction to the practice of meditation, the science behind its benefits, and many firsthand accounts of lives and work situations transformed through this practice. Although this book was written for those in leadership roles in education, it will be inspiring for anyone interested in understanding their own minds and finding more ease in life and work."
Joseph Goldstein, Co-Founder
Insight Meditation Society

Read Valerie's Edweek article: "8 Steps to Be a Mindful Listener"

Foreword by Richard Brady, President, Mindfulness in Education Network
Chapter 1. Why Mindfulness? The School Leader's Life
A School Leader Practicing Mindfulness

Benefits of Practice

What Is Mindfulness?

Why Do Leaders Need a Mindfulness Practice?

Leadership Challenges to Our Sector

Knowing When to Disengage and Recharge

How Stress Shapes Our Brains

Mindfulness for Educational Leaders

Your Leadership Practice Matters

A Leader With a Growing Mindfulness Practice

First Steps: You've Got to Practice

Portraits of Practice

Chapter 2. The Science of Mindfulness
Practice Snapshot: A School Leader Practicing Mindfulness

The Science of Mindfulness

Stress: A Public Health Risk for Educators

Mindfulness Alleviates Stress in the Body and Mind

Mindfulness Practice Aids

Portraits of Practice

Chapter 3. The Well-Focused School Leader
A Sleepless Night for Jason

Mindfulness and Attention Training

Two Ways to Practice: Formal and Informal

Mindfulness Practice Aids

Mindful Attitudes

How Much Practice Time?

Practices That Complement Mindfulness

Distraction: The New Normal and the School Leader’s Dilemma

Negativity Bias: Part of the School Leader’s Dilemma

The Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind

The Myth of Multitasking

Portraits of Practice

Chapter 4. Communication and Connection: Powerful Skills of the Mindful School Leader
Donna S.T.O.P.s

Mindful Communication: Mindful Speaking, Mindful Listening

Having Difficult Conversations

Mindfulness Practice Aids

Portraits of Practice

Chapter 5. Reclaiming Our Wholeness: Four Educational Leaders Explore Mindfulness
Portraits of Practice: Schools Leaders Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness Practice Aids

Chapter 6. Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence: Principles and Practices to Transform Your Leadership Life
A Leader Fails to Notice

A Leader Grows EQ Through Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness Practice Aids

Portraits of Practice

Chapter 7. Mindful Leadership in Action: Putting It All Together
Fundamental Principles: The Evolution of the Leader Evolves the Team

Stepping-Stones in Your Leadership Journey: Know Yourself

What Mindfulness Practice Supports

A Mindful Leader in Action: A Last Case Study

Well-Being and Compassion at the Center of a New Educational Vision

Mindfulness Practice Aids

Portraits of Practice

Appendix A: Books for the Mindful School Leader (Online Only)
Appendix B: The (General) Mindful Library (Online Only)
Appendix C: Mindfulness Apps—Our Top Picks (Online Only)
Appendix D: Our Top Picks for Websites and Places to Practice Mindfulness (Online Only)
Appendix E: Relevant, Recent Mindfulness Research in Education (Online Only)
Appendix F: Comprehensive List of All Mindfulness Practice Aids in This Book (Online Only)
Appendix G: Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (Online Only)


“How can K-12 schools possibly thrive today without wholehearted leadership? With The Mindful School Leader, Brown and Olson offer a sourcebook for bringing the age-old wisdom of mindfulness to current school leaders with compelling stories of people at work, current research, and simple, specific practices to apply. This book delivers an essential resource to the courageous school leader.” 

Terry Chadsey, Executive Director, Center for Courage & Renewal

"The art of being a mindful leader requires just one thing, and that is cultivating the art of living mindfully. Truly being there for ourselves is the best way to bring positive change to our family, our colleagues, and our students - the future of our planet. I am convinced that happy teachers will change the world. This book offers simple practices for nourishing mindful leaders."

Thich Nhat Hanh, Monk, Poet, Peace Activist

"Leaders looking to reach higher or who feel like they are drowning amidst conflicting responsibilities often feel like they have no time to grab a ladder or a lifeline, even though they know those tools would help them achieve their goals. This book is both ladder and lifeline, and I would encourage all leaders to take the time to reach for it."

James E. Ryan, Dean of the Faculty of Education, Charles William Eliot Professor
Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, Massachusetts

"Finally, after serving for fourteen years as a school leader and reading everything I could find, this is the book that I’ve been searching for. By deftly weaving together mindfulness theory, poignant personal portraits, and imminently practical advice regarding specific methods, the authors provide the antidote to the frenetic and oppressive toxins of contemporary education; they remind us that we should stop 'Racing to the Top' and take the time instead to plumb the depths of our own hearts and souls. This is a book that will join a select few on my shelf, as one I know I will return to again and again."

Paul Freedman, Founding Director
Salmonberry School, Eastsound, WA

"Fireflies, cursing, conflict, and clarity - The Mindful School Leader stitches honest stories from everyday school leaders with practical guides and the most up to date research on mindfulness. I saw much of my own struggles and learning in its pages, and I suspect many educational leader will find resonance and helpful guidance for the ongoing challenges of growing our own souls and skills."

Scott Nine, former Director of the Institute for Democratic Education in America

“It’s hard to imagine school leaders surviving (or thriving!) in today’s often stressful teaching and learning environment without a process of regular self-reflection and other mindfulness practices. The Mindful School Leader offers an important set of practices and exercises that should be added to your personal/professional toolbox immediately, used regularly and shared with colleagues and friends.”

S. Kwesi Rollins, Director of Leadership Programs
Institute for Educational Leadership

"Leaders and changemakers actively transforming the educational system to reflect the values of justice and equity frequently suffer from frustration, a sense of overwhelm, and burnout. These leaders need practical ideas and stories that nurture the self-compassion and mindfulness that can help them, their colleagues, and their students work in community to meet the challenges of education today. In this book, Kirsten Olson and Valerie Brown have provided just that."

Dana Bennis, Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer
IDEA: Institute for Democratic Education in America

 "In June of 2013, as I was leaving Baltimore City Public Schools, I wrote a letter to all students in which I paraphrased Tolstoy’s beautiful parable, 'The Three Questions:' Now was the most important time, because it was the only time when we have power. The person with you was the most important person, because you didn’t know if you would ever have the chance to be true to that person. And the most important thing was to do good in the moment, because that was our fundamental purpose in life. This immensely wonderful book, full of practical lessons and next steps, as well as of stories by practitioners in the field, kept reminding me of the lessons in that parable, and why I had chosen them as my final words to my students – leadership, like all life, demands mindfulness, not only for the sake of ourselves as individuals, but in order to be true to the purpose of making life better for those we work with and those we lead. I recommend it enthusiastically for those seeking to lead in our increasingly difficult school and community settings."

Andres A. Alonso, former Superintendent of Baltimore City Public Schools and Deputy Chancellor of New York City Public Schools, Currently Professor of Practice, Harvard Graduate School of Education

"Courageous, visionary, caring leadership is crucial to building and sustaining positive learning environments in schools. Such leaders recognize that to promote optimal social-emotional and academic learning, collaboration is essential, and ongoing. Given the unrelenting, complex demands of our education system, The Mindful School Leader is an indispensable resource for all who exercise leadership in schools. From school leaders with formal authority (e.g. principals) to pre-service teachers, this book presents compelling evidence, and specific practices (e.g. Mindfulness Practice Aids) that can help all educators to both develop resilience and cultivate optimal learning in schools."

Deborah Donahue-Keegan, Co-Founder and Lead Organizer, Massachusetts Consortium for Social-Emotional learning in Teacher Education and Lecturer, Tufts University

"Well-researched, lively, scientific, and heart-full, this book will not only help, but will truly inspire  school leaders feeling besieged by overwhelming numbers of priorities to respond mindfully, being the best they can be for themselves and others. This book offers leaders the chance to re-find themselves by learning and practicing mindfulness, in the midst of the always-plenty demands on their time and their lives. Being a compelling leader of any school requires mindfulness, and this book makes the case for that in genuine, hopeful, pragmatic ways. Each day is new…you can start right now!"

Chris Wahl, Founder of the Georgetown Leadership Coaching program and Principal of the Miro Group

Sample Materials & Chapters


Chapter 1

For instructors

Please contact your Academic Consultant to check inspection copy availability for your course.

Select a Purchasing Option

ISBN: 9781483303086