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Mindful Leadership for Educators

Geese - mindful leadershipIn the field of education, we are all leaders. Though our roles within school districts and school buildings vary, we all have an impact on the young people we work with and the adults we interact with. And from this place of leadership—daily, we have opportunities to create interactions with students and colleagues that build trust and support learning and collaboration.

At PassageWorks we focus on something we call Transformational Leadership — which is an approach to leadership that is not just for those with leadership titles, but for anyone who wants to make a positive difference in their professional or personal world. In our view, Transformational Leadership starts from the inside out—and is rooted in the authenticity of the individual and our willingness to show up with presence and awareness in all of our interactions with students, parents, or colleagues. Our approach supports individuals to foster greater capacity to infuse every interaction with social and emotional intelligence, mindfulness and cultural responsiveness.

Transformational leaders put a premium on relationships built on genuine concern for and curiosity about everyone we meet. These relationships then become the foundation for greater learning and collaboration.

One essential aspect of Transformational Leadership is the development of “interpersonal mindfulness”. (Others, such as Sam Himelstein, call it relational mindfulness.) To begin to understand what we mean by this term, let’s start with a definition of mindfulness, adapted from Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“Paying attention, with intention, in the present moment, without judgment
and with an attitude of kindness”

Mindfulness is developed through a wide range of practices taught both in our SMART in Education courses and infused into our other projects and courses. To experience a sample practice, please listen to the Pause Practice below:


In all mindfulness practices there is an object on which we place attention and to which we gently return the wandering mind when attention has strayed. When practicing mindfulness we can place our attention on internal “objects”, such as the breath or other bodily sensations, thoughts or emotions. Or we can attend to individual elements of the world of external objects that come to us through our five senses.

When we are developing Interpersonal Mindfulness, the object of our attention becomes the very relationships we are engaging in. In this practice, we attend deeply and non-judgmentally to what another person is saying,  we develop awareness of the thoughts and emotions that arise within us as we listen, and we learn to let go of distractions, judgments and habitual thoughts and feelings as we return to listening in the present moment. In this practice, we come to our interactions with others with curiosity, openness, and a willingness to meet whatever is present in our selves and others.

Imagine what our schools, offices, lives and homes would be like if we all set the intention to transform the way we interact with those we speak with every day. Even if we only showed up in some of our daily encounters with an open mind, an open heart, a genuine commitment to share who we are, and a willingness to find out who the person in front of us is—we would be mindfully leading the way to a much better world.

Why not try it out just once a day for the next two weeks? Let us know how it goes.

Interpersonal Mindfulness Activity: Asking open-ended questions

 The next time you are in an interaction with a parent, colleague or student—consider asking one or more of the following questions.

  • What do you think/feel?
  • What do you notice?
  • What does situation remind you of?
  • What about this situation/issue matters to you?
  • How can I support you?

The next time you are in an interaction with a parent, colleague or student—consider tuning into the following in your own self:

  • What bodily sensations am I feeling as I relate to this person?
  • What’s happening with my breath?
  • Am I present or distracted?
  • Am I meeting this person with a fresh perspective and willingness to learn or with pre-conceptions about who they are or what they are saying?
  • Am I being my authentic self with this person?
  • What biases, world views, filters, perspectives might I be bringing to this situation?



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