Mindful Leadership and
Principal Mentoring
March 2015
In This Issue


The official
Random Acts of Kindness Week has past,

 but it's never out of fashion to do good works.

The KindMinds Project described in this week's newletter is a good reminder!

   Surprise others with good works.

hair, cars, time, goods.
someone's toll or the grocery bill for
an elderly woman.
a child a hug.
a neighbor's walk.
And here are more ideas.

Want more
STEM information?
Check the newsletter from the CEI archives on STEM and School Resources.



Dear Educators,                        

Every ten years or so I, probably like many of you, reflect on where I am, who I am, and where I want to go. Sure, there are more frequent planning sessions and goals, but just about every decade, I look at the master plan and ask myself, "Is that all there is?" This is frequently followed by "Have I done all I could?" and "Whew, is this really where I want to be, is this really how I want to be spending my life?"

You may have noticed that organizations, including schools and government agencies, also go through these cycles.

To me it feels like we collectively are at another one of these points. In this month's Wow! we pause to consider some of the how's that might help us get out of the dilemmas that many schools are facing and back into the game, that is back into being vital and making a difference. We invite you to look over what we are presenting. This newsletter is focused on some big ideas related to heart centeredness and support. Next month we will both delve into early childhood concerns and also consider more of the science that will lead us into the future.


Educational Leadership in 2015 and Beyond: Part I


By Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director


Note: Part I in a series looking at educational leadership in this time of transition.


                                                spirit of ubuntu 

"Educators must believe in and exhibit behaviors that support the concept of universal success for each and every child. The foundation of these behaviors is the twin belief that each and every child has sufficient learning ability to become academically proficient and that school systems are responsible for educating each and every child so that each can meet high standards."

--The American Association of School Administrators


Universal Success for Each and Every Child - an ambitious goal for schools, districts, and our nation. To arrive at universal success, principal leaders today walk the fine line between establishing and leading innovative and resourceful communities driven by local needs and passions and meeting the basic requirements of their districts and states. Not an enviable position as there is often conflict and contradictions between local concerns and requirements. With the increased pressure to meet high academic standards, more and more principals are finding it difficult to pursue those special projects that in the past created communities of excellence. Whereas in the past, principals might meet with parents, teachers, and community leaders to develop a vision and establish goals, in recent years the requirements for academic advancement have been front and center.


However, with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act up for reauthorization, and with the current backlash against the Common Core State Standards, it may be that principals and teachers are entering a new era. If so, what will be ushered in, in this new era? Or where could schools focus for the greatest "common good?"


At CEI we have been relentless in urging educators to pursue the path we believe will lead to the greatest good for the planet. As stated in our mission we have reiterated our ideals of

  • Principal leadership,
  • 21st century learning that is fueled by STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and rigor,
  • Application of advances in neuroscience, and
  • Considering the whole child and implementing a Heart Centered approach.

Over the past six years we have talked with many about ways to advance this agenda. Our dialogue with educators has resulted in careful consideration of "technology guidelines" for school principals, conducting forums for deeper discussion and input, articulating the needed research and investigation, and envisioning change in the context of global concerns and global competence.


However, at this juncture, we are completing an environmental scan as a double check for our state-of-the-art recommendations. Our environmental scan has led us to reconsider issues such as barriers to change, systems change, and sustainability. In conducting this scan, we are finding some cross-cutting themes that may help schools and districts as they continue their journey to excellence.


Networks and Collaboration. Yong Zhao has suggested that "locally-driven, grass-roots, bottoms-up initiatives connected through sensible networks of innovation-minded leaders and schools are much more effective in bringing about meaningful changes to education than mandates by a centralized authority" (AASA, 2014). With a focus on building level collaboration, Gail Connelly, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, has written recently about the power of collaboration and the network of human relationships as the "key enabling factor when it comes to serving the students in our charge." (p. 52). In describing the value of teacher leaders who "extend the eyes and ears of a principal" through professional learning communities, Connelly references Desmond Tutu and ubuntu, the concept of "I am because you are."


In a similar vein, Susan Bunting, Superintendent of the Delaware Indian River school district describes how in implementing the Common Core she has networked with others to promote a culture where teachers and administrators promote experimentation with and evaluation of innovative programs and practices (2014). In Delaware, the Indian River School district earned a reputation for its excellence in a district where 65% of the students receive free and reduced lunch and 16% are English Language learners. Bunting describes the path she led to this distinction-a path of collaboration, communication, and connections where principals were called upon to be not only communicators but also catalysts for change. It is indeed encouraging to hear from a district leader who set the pace by analysis, allocating resources for continuous growth, and charting a course with shared vision and shared leadership.


Courage and Fearless Leadership. It is refreshing to note that in some districts grass has not grown under anyone's feet as schools and districts have forged forward to achieve their passions. Such passion is also visible in national leadership provided by experts such as Yvette Jackson, Executive Director of the National Urban Alliance. Dr. Jackson, with Veronica McDermott has recently authored Aim High, Achieve More: How to Transform Urban Schools through Fearless Leadership (2014). Just as CEI speaks of the importance of courage, Drs. Jackson and McDermott urge school leaders to be fearless through radical presence (consciousness), confidence, and strategy. Rather than waiting for others to set the agenda for moving forward, Jackson and McDermott lay out steps for establishing communities, amplifying student voices and fostering student engagement.



Mindfulness. Valerie Brown, a yoga teacher and zen master, and Kirsten Olsen, an educator and leadership coach who is the "Chief Listening Officer" at Old Sow Coaching and Consulting, have just published a book on mindful school leadership to transform schools. In their text, The Mindful School Leader, Brown and Olsen explain the importance of mindfulness (awareness, consciousness) for school leaders. They cover territory that examines:

  • Stress and its impact;
  • Antidotes to stress through healthful eating, exercise, and mindfulness practices; and
  • Ideas for shifting one's consciousness through small steps, practice, and community.

Their book is also filled with examples of how school leaders have implemented their recommended practices. Their unique contribution provides keys for mindful speaking, listening to your "inner leader" and self-regulation, all in the context of school leadership.


Universal Success, Collaboration, Courage, Mindfulness, and Heart Centeredness. Many of us entered education with the hope of making the world better, even if our impact was mainly at the local level. Over time, many have become disillusioned as the world has seemingly become more chaotic, schools have lost autonomy, and we have seen safety nets fall by the wayside. In what seems to be a time of transition, the visions of a handful of educators may be instrumental in helping all of us coalesce around key themes. These themes, we believe, are gaining in importance as part of the national conversation. Adhering to rigor and relying on Heart Centered classroom strategies will enable school leaders to move forward during this next evolutionary stage. While many of the educational themes have been with us for a long, long time, they are being articulated with more evidence and knowledge concerning the "how"-with more examples of schools and districts that have transversed the territory to embrace this common vision of shared leadership for excellence.


Note: Part II will focus on the path to excellence for early childhood education.




Brown, V. & Olsen, K. (2015). The mindful school leader: Practices to transform your leadership and school. Thousand Oakes, CA: Corwin. Press


Bunting, S. (May 2014). The Common Core C's of change. School Administrator, 5, 71, 20-26.


Connelly, G. (2014). A collaborative enterprise. Principal, 94, 2, 52.

Jackson, Y. & McDermott, V. (2012). Aim high, achieve more: How to transform urban schools through fearless leadership. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


Zhao, Y. (2015) .Testimonial for AASA's collaborative.  http://www.aasa.org/content.aspx?id=33376


The KindMind Project  


By Jillayne Flanders, Principal

Plains Elementary School

South Hadley, Massachusetts and former NAESP Board member


"Because she had a Kind Mind, a Kind Mind,

   A caring and sharing and fair mind!"

We have heard snippets of this song in the halls, on the playground and at lunch time this year at Plains School, and we are delighted. Three years ago, a small team convened by a parent, including faculty members and the principal, sat around a table thinking about how to bring a better understanding and practice about kindness to our young children. Although the Second Step curriculum had been in use in our building for over 15 years, the team at the table felt there was more we could do to elevate acts of kindness and have kindness be an integral component of how we do things at Plains School. Our parent organizer has recently participated in a concert with local singer and storyteller John Porcino, and felt there were components of his program that aligned with our challenge. When asked to join the conversation, John eagerly brought ideas that took life and blossomed with the assistance of our children and teachers. Additionally, our school psychologist had been deeply involved in Mindfulness training with John Kabat- Zinn, and the team acknowledged a powerful connection between these efforts. 



                                           John Porcini singing with students

In the first year, John met with every class and gathered stories directly from the children about how they solved problems using their words or actions. He incorporated some of his original stories into the discussions with the children, and developed new character interactions based on our therapy dog, Ruby, our school mascot, a tiger cub, and a little mouse from his own repertoire. The Kind Mind Song started to evolve, and the team added sign language actions to it. John introduced it to the school at an assembly, and followed up by sharing it again in the small class groups as he continued to collect new examples of the children using their Kind Minds.


Our team also wanted some visible signs of using Kind Minds to be part of the program. We knew that with our young children, we needed to have reminders about Kind Minds every day, and ways to allow them to practice using their Kind Minds - we never expected that everyone would be perfect at this right at the beginning! We looked for additional resources for the teachers to bring to their classrooms.

  • The book "Have You Filled a Bucket Today?" by Carol McCloud, illustrated by David Messing, was an excellent match.
  • The Plains School PTA purchased copies for every classroom, with a colorful bucket to collect acts of kindness, thoughtfulness and helpfulness.
  • Our team decided that the symbol for our Kind Mind acts would be an orange heart, with tiger cub paws printed in the center - an idea designed by one of the children. Any adult or child could fill in a description of the kind act, and we began hanging them up in streams through our halls.


We ended out first year with a whole school assembly, led by John Porcino, who had completed The Kind Mind Song, and started on others to compliment the effort. But we weren't done yet. Plains School is unique in that we serve pre-school, kindergarten and first graders, just under 350 children all seven years old, or younger. When they finish first grade, the children move into another school for second, third and fourth grade. We wanted our vision of Kind Mind to move on with the children to their next school, but

that wasn't all. The Plains School building was also being replaced, and the team felt the Kind Mind project was a perfect bridge to bring into the new facility. So, we collected all the orange hearts at the end of the year, with the plan to use them in some way when the new school opens in August, 2015.


Decision Wheel. For our second year, the project team also began work on what we called a Decision Wheel. We wanted the children to have ownership of their decisions in how to solve problems with their Kind Minds.

  • We brainstormed numerous ways a child could say or do something using their Kind Mind to resolve a problem.
  • We continue to refine a way for children to physically use a wheel or make selections about their decisions that connects them to a Kind Mind act.
  • Through John, we found an illustrator to bring life to our characters in The Kind Mind Song - Ruby, Tiger Cub and Mouse, and we are still working to bring all these components together into an array of activities that make sense for young children.
  • A second song has entered our repertoire, too: "There's Always Something You Can Do" that illustrates real actions that have been taken by the children in our school.

We are dedicated to keeping this project alive and vibrant - and have shared our orange hearts with our families and community.




The Kind Mind Song has helped us focus on the social, emotional, physical and heart-centered development of our young learners. At Plains School, we feel these components of child development are just as important as the cognitive development of the brain. They cannot be separated, and our goal is to keep all of the developmental domains thoughtfully integrated.


The Kind Mind Song - To the tune of "High Hopes"

            By John Porcino


Verse 1


Next time you're found, with your chin on the ground,

There's a lot to be learned, so look around.


Now Ruby the dog really wanted to play

But nobody noticed, they just walked away

I bet you could guess that day she felt sad, when they went away.


But she had a Kind Mind, a Kind Mind,  

a caring and sharing and fair  mind.


So any time you're feeling low, 'stead of letting go,

Just think of what you can say -


When Ruby just asked (spoken) "Woof - Hey everybody,  

I really would love

     to play with you, can I join in the game, too?"

They all said "Hooray!"    

            When Ruby just asked, they all said "Hooray!"

 Verses 2-4 can be found here, at the CEI blog.  

Mentors and Novice Principals:
Can Instructional Leadership Be Taught?

By Kathleen Sciarappa, Ed.D.
NAESP Mentor/Coach/Trainer 


It would be ridiculous for a principal to say the job is getting boring, because boredom is simply not part of the thrilling, demanding, sometimes contentious, and always complex world of the principal. Yet, despite the long hours and endless "to do" lists, those in educational leadership roles can long for something or someone to provide renewal. If you are interested in reviving your leadership, mentoring might be the answer. If you want to hone the instructional leadership of the next generation of principals, mentoring is a must.


Principal mentoring has a promising future. Just as teacher mentoring became widely accepted and then expected, principal mentoring made slower gains, sometimes not truly accepted and rarely expected. After all, aren't leaders expected to know how to lead? Isn't that what they were hired to do? In the past, fellow principals sometimes stepped in to help. Principals who served as buddies to new colleagues believed that providing friendship, giving advice, and sharing war stories was all that was needed. These untrained mentors meant well but often failed to understand how to truly build leadership capacity. Today's principal mentors are better trained, more widely accepted, and focused on strengthening teaching and learning. Much of the work of principal mentors happens during reflective conversations.


The fact is new leaders don't inherently possess all the necessary leadership skills to build teacher capacity and impact student achievement. Although the impact of the principal on student achievement is second only to that of the teacher, many new leaders have a limited background in instruction (Seashore-Louis, 2010.) Millennial principals in particular, Seashore-Louis notes, typically have fewer years of teaching experience when compared to their veteran colleagues. The missing instructional and leadership skills can be crafted over time, a process enhanced by mentoring.


NAESP Mentor Training and Certification. The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) has provided mentor training for thousands of school leaders over the past decade, creating mentors across the nation and in pockets, internationally. As mentors work towards National Mentor Certification, patterns and themes emerge:

  • Mentors may be prepared to jump into enhancing teaching and learning, but in the evolution of a mentor relationship, trust building comes first.
  • Reassurances may be needed regarding confidentiality, including proof that no information will be leaked to the superintendent or to anyone else.
  • There are detractors from concentrating on providing leadership for teaching and learning.
  • The demands of simply managing the school, its resources and people, can be extremely time consuming.
Mentors notice new principals are particularly vulnerable to veering away from teaching and learning. The great temptation for leaders is to continually dwell on problems of the moment. These topics certainly consume a high proportion of mentoring time and some of these problems -student violence; unresolved teacher issues; irate parents; unfair media coverage; callous superiors -become black holes draining time and energy.  


Communication Skills. Skilled mentors employ good listening and careful questioning to help move through the most pressing concerns and weave towards questions of teaching and learning.


A skilled mentor can guide a reflective discussion even when the novice principal is not well versed in the topic. As suggested by D'Auria (2015), principals must possess multi-dimensional skills to run effective meetings; interpret and refine data for instructional purposes; assess and guide instruction; build collaborative teams; and manage conflict. Mentors can help with reflective questions directed at planning and assessing meetings; interpreting school data; and frequently revisiting vision, mission and goals. D'Auria notes skillful leaders must possess a large cache of effective teaching strategies and have a deep understanding rigor. Although mentors cannot imbue years of teaching experience, they can provide helpful tools allowing leaders to become rapidly acquainted with academic rigor.



Mentoring and Rigor. NAESP has developed an academic rigor rubric (Oakes, Conway, & Mason, 2013) to assist mentors, leaders and teachers by describing how teachers and students can: 1) engage in higher level thinking; 2) develop deep understandings; 3) acquire metacognition skills; and 4) competently problem solve on a regular basis.The rubric includes details on teacher modeling; descriptions of what students who are rigorously engaged are doing; details on 21st century skills; and descriptions of how students and teachers can move through stages: beginning-developing-accomplished-exemplary in academic rigor. The rubric removes the mystery of rigor and provides concrete steps on how to infuse every aspect of instruction with rigor. For mentors, this tool provides opportunities for rich discussions on how successful instructional leadership, the hallmark of an effective principal, can become a reality in a school.


Instructional leadership is complex for veterans and novices. School leaders are not experts in all areas and their responsibilities pull them in multiple and sometimes conflicting directions. But principals are well positioned to be catalysts for excellence. Engaging in reflective practice with their mentors encourages principals to in turn engage in reflective discussions with teachers and students. Close listening, careful analysis, and constant reflection pave the way for the instructional leader.




D'Auria, J. (2015). Learn to avoid or overcome leadership obstacles. 
Phi DeltaKappan, 96(5), 52-54. 


Oakes, A. Conway, P. & Mason, C. (2013). A roadmap to rigor: A resource for principals. Alexandria, VA: National Association of Elementary School Principals


Seashore-Louis, K. et al. (2010). Learning from leadership: Investigating the links to improved student learning. The Wallace Foundation. Retrieved February28, 2015, from  
Leaders Come and Go, Leadership Does Not
By Carol Riley, Associate Executive Director, Professional Learning and Outreach

Smalley Elementary School has had four principals in the last six years. The school has had extensive assessments and evaluations from experts in the "turnaround schools" movement, and clearly a strong leader with tremendous skills in rebuilding a complex organization is needed.


Amy Riggins has just been appointed as the new principal. It is no secret that each time a new principal is assigned to Smalley, the staff and students look forward to realistic improvements, only to be disappointed as the problems and issues continue. Previous leaders came to believe that the problems were too extensive and widespread to be overcome. Then the principals would bail out and the search was on again. But Amy is committed to making a difference. She knows that turnover rates are high at this school for both the principals and the teachers. The school needs someone who will commit for the long term. Amy wants to be the face of leadership that sustains change and develops a new culture for learning at Smalley Elementary School.

So now the work begins against all odds.


Current research indicates that school leaders are being selected for principal positions at younger and younger ages, with little training aligned to the needs of struggling schools. Amy is the exception. She is experienced, with 14 years under her belt, and has been a principal in an affluent school in the district. What has prompted Amy to take this risk...to put her job on the line?  


A belief in her ability to achieve results and a confidence that together she and the staff can create a new learning environment.


She also asked for district concessions:

  • Autonomy to make financial decisions
  • Support for staffing changes
  • Resources for community engagement

The district administration agreed and with a look to the future, Amy effectively communicated her needs as a leader. Usually transitions mean a sense of urgency and disruption. Stability is a fleeting hope. In this case, the school district recognized that unilateral leader support, continuous professional training, and a commitment to the belief that district bureaucracy can undermine the process will make a difference.




The turnover of leaders has tremendous implications for school districts that invest funds into the selection, hiring and support of new principals. Many districts also invest in the "grow your own" or "pipeline" programs, which enculturate aspiring administrators for future positions within the school district. With an investment of upwards of $60,000, the district also recognized that the larger implications for Amy's success depended on her support system inside and outside the school.


So where does she start? Amy knows that she has to first assess the school culture and identify the critical areas that need the most attention immediately. She also knows that there are five critical practices that demonstrate effective leadership: shaping a vision, creating a positive climate, cultivating leadership, improving instruction, and managing people, data and processes.


These five practices have been identified by The Wallace Foundation through research studies and reports spanning 15 years. Amy is immersed in the Wallace Foundation work. She also knows that the five key practices have to be implemented simultaneously for the greatest effect.


Beginning with a principal assimilation activity, Amy has asked an outside school staff member to address the teachers with a focus group format in which they identify:

  • What can be changed quickly,
  • What they expect of the new principal,
  • What their individual contributions are to the process,
  • What issues they recognize as most critical,
  • What the strengths of the school and individuals are, and
  • What collaborative work has been done.

The outcomes are shared with the whole staff, and then professional learning communities are formed to explore results of the individual issues. Amy's commitment to provide opportunities for staff members to take leadership roles and to change the perception that leadership is dependent on the principal is one she is eager to shift over to the notion that leadership extends to all stakeholders: teachers, students, other staff, and parents. Basically leadership is shared and must become a sustainable cultural process that far outlives any one person.


Over the next few months, Amy instituted protocols for the work that needed to be done. Also, the focus changed to the student as the central client. Students were given opportunities to share their hopes and dreams and the belief that they have the right to be provided a rigorous curriculum, the best instructional delivery, and a safe environment in which to learn - these goals became the mission. Also, Amy took a strong stand to retaining good teachers and to eliminating staff who are not committed to needed change. This was fundamental to improvement.


School reform takes time. Amy has committed to the hard work that needs to be done. The district has committed to providing strong leadership and supporting the systemic process that Amy was hired to implement. School leaders come and go, but passionate leaders ensure that their legacy results in school leadership that is entrenched in the foundation of the institution! A stable community that is built on trusting relationships and the knowledge that leadership can come through many pathways with one strong resilient leader is important. That leader builds a paradigm that accepts change as the key to improvement in school growth and student achievement. Amy is the person to lead the way! She is up to the challenge and is the right leader at the right time! And Smalley Elementary School is the winner!


Check out the National Association of Elementary School Principals website for archived webinars on The Wallace Foundation's 5 Key Practices for effective principals.



Byways and Highways in Education

Where are you on your career trajectory? Are you starting out and in need of a mentor, or are you a seasoned professional who is ready to give back? And what about your consciousness, your mindfulness, your fearlessness, your courage, your teamwork?

When you examine your career path are you satisfied or are you considering a new direction, a big step, a way to glean new knowledge and insights? Are you ready to take full advantage of this "time between initiatives" to be an advocate for yourself, your school, your kids, your district, your team?

Wherever you are on whatever highway or byway, I urge you to take some time to contemplate your life, your future, and your progress. To reflect, and yes, then to prepare for what is to come next.




Christine Mason
Executive Director, Center for Educational Improvement
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