When we find ourselves in the eye of a storm, everything in our immediate environment is eerily calm while all around the edges chaos swirls. In those moments, as the storm rages, we close our eyes, we take a few breaths, we gather our strength and prepare for what comes next. We are present in the moment, focused on what we must do with a clarity of purpose that empowers us to choose our own destiny and emboldens us to stand against all odds. This is the essence of empowerment and resilience through mindful leadership.
When our students die by accident, or acts of violence committed by others, we grieve those losses openly, we rail at the unfairness and question the wisdom of our higher power. But when our kids take the lives of their peers, or take their own lives, we are caught in a whirlwind of why? We look for someone or something to blame and regardless of how our kids die, the empty desk is an object lesson in the loss of promise. The chaos that ensues leaves everyone in its wake feeling beaten, bruised and at a loss as to how to move forward. There are always more questions than answers.
Immersed in the moment, all one can think of is how important it is to reach out to those who are suffering, how invaluable it is to share the burden of another's grief. These actions serve to empower individuals to reach out to others in times of despair, these are the underlying behaviors exhibited in mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally (Kabat-Zinn, 2018). So, for me, when one practices Mindful Leadership one is practicing the art of being present, (and as defined by the Institute for Mindful Leadership) of cultivating focus, clarity, creativity, and compassion in the service of others. By truly being present in the moment, by listening with intent and without judgment, we can focus on the needs of our people (students, parents, teachers, counselors, school psychologists, colleagues and our school community), meet our people where they are emotionally and provide them with the level of support they need to become stronger, more confident individuals.
As we practice mindful leadership, we improve our ability to be present in the moment. As a result, we are more attuned to our environment, our people, and their needs. As we establish cultures where people are encouraged to be creative, to think outside the box, to embrace failure not as an end but as a means to excellence, we begin to cultivate resilience.
As school leaders the world is coming at us at a hundred miles an hour, twenty-four/seven. We are required to carry cell phones so we can be reached at any time. We are bombarded by email, phone calls and people popping in with a “quick question”. It is easy to be distracted, to get lost in the cacophony that is the day in and day out of school leadership. So, maybe, every once in a while, we need to shut our door, take some deep breaths and give ourselves a few minutes to slow the world down, be present in the moment and pay attention to ourselves with purpose and without judgment. As Simone Well said, “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity” and it is a gift worth giving ourselves.
I wish you well my friends! May we empower those we serve to be their unique, authentic selves and to be resilient in the face of adversity.
President - UASSP