Principals-How Mindful Are You?

My school counselor asked me in the late spring if she could work with our school staff and present at some staff meetings on mindfulness.  I was happy to oblige and provide some small windows of time for her to present, not really giving a lot of thought as to what mindfulness meant to me.  Additionally, in my classroom visits, I’ve seen teachers using mindfulness activities with students that they’ve learned from the school counselor, and again, I’ve been appreciative of that work and the benefits it has for students but I did not think of my own mindfulness.

If you’re a school principal, you probably have days that looks like this:

1. (Morning) Arrive at school and put out small fires: substitutes/absent staff, bus issues, E-mail
2. (Midday) Classroom observations, phone calls, meetings, office drop-ins
3. (Evening) School committee meetings, school functions, E-mail, paperwork, projects

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I’m not complaining about the above schedule, primarily because I love my job and I feel that I have found the level of balance I need within my work and personal life.  I’ve written about the demands of the principalship and also about what work life balance means to each of us, or should mean to each of us and how we should find the balance that works best in our daily lives. I also know that the schedule (list) above is abbreviated, not including about another 50-100 things that happen in a day.  I’m in my 18th year as a principal, so you see, I’m accustomed to what happens in most days, and honestly, I’m pretty used to it.

Interesting thing though, and that is my prior lack of attention to my own mindfulness, or level of mindfulness.  I pride myself on how much I get done, and those things I am able to accomplish for the benefit of students and staff, yet, as I sat in the session my school counselor did on mindfulness, I began to think about my own level of mindfulness. It also made me wonder if you thought about yours as well!  After all, if you are getting lots done, and your school is doing well, you must have a great level of mindfulness right?  Hmm…maybe not.

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As defined on, “Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to, and seeing clearly whatever is happening in our lives.” I’m sure many of us principals would say that we are mindful because we manage so many things for so many people, including ourselves.  After all, how could you do all that if you are not paying attention? Yet, the definition of mindfulness is really focused on being aware of the moment you are in.  It is not thinking about the past, and it is not thinking about the future, but really, focusing on the “here and now” and the moment you are in.

My guess is that you’re starting to think the same thing I started thinking…”How mindful am I really being?  Am I really in tune with my own mindfulness, or, am I managing multiple things in my head all the time?” points out the following:

It [mindfulness] will not eliminate life’s pressures, but it can help us respond to them in a calmer manner that benefits our heart, head, and body. It helps us recognize and step away from habitual, often unconscious emotional and physiological reactions to everyday events. It provides us with a scientifically researched approach to cultivating clarity, insight, and understanding. Practicing mindfulness allows us to be fully present in our life and work, and improve our quality of life.

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This exercise in starting to think about my own mindfulness, and hopefully helping you think about yours, has been eye-opening.  It has made me think about the many times during my day when perhaps, although I thought I was being helpful or solving problems, or looking at a particular situation, I was probably not as mindful as I could or should have been.  It also made me think about times outside of school, and despite enjoying my “off work” time, was I truly present and mindful?  Was I in the moment with family and friends?  Have you been mindful and truly in the moment as well?

I’m not thinking that I am going to become a principal turned mindfulness guru overnight, but what I do know is that for us principals, we need to be “in the moment” to best help ourselves and our school communities.  A small amount of time each day may result in improved problem solving, better relationships, and an overall quality of life.  So, I’m going to work on my level of mindfulness a little each day, and now that you may be thinking and evaluating your own level of mindfulness, here are a few things you can do…good luck!

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