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Building Sustainability through Mindfulness

Tue, April 16, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Bay (Level 1), Bayview B

Proposal

Title: Building Sustainability through Mindfulness

In the realm of education, the role of a school principal—i.e., the school leader—carries deep responsibilities and challenges. These professional expectations are increasing in the contemporary educational scene, causing a rise in occupational stress levels, both psychological and physical; such heightened stress acts to compromise professional job performance as well as the physical and mental health of principals. Even more worrisome, the stress in contemporary education is increasing not only for principals but also for teachers and students, affecting professional performance and student learning at all levels and areas of education. Students may have high self-perceived stress but lack the social and emotional skills to manage their achievement and relationships with others to overcome the stress. Recently, there has been a call to address these issues through various mediums. The practice of mindfulness has emerged as a promising method of reducing stress and increasing professional competence in the educational field, as well as fostering one’s self-monitoring and equilibrium. Enlightened educational leaders can be instrumental in creating and maintaining a nurturing, low-stress environment in which all can learn and thrive. Mindfulness describes a set of practices and therapies, including cognitive, interpersonal, and meditative, that help to reduce the emotional and psychological suffering that stress so often produces.

Although mindfulness is growing increasingly popular in K-12 education (Mendelson et al., 2013), the movement is not without its detractors. Many scholars have questioned both the validity of the research that supports mindfulness training as well as the axiological assumptions and lessons that mindfulness carries with it. Indeed, given the origins of mindfulness in general – a mixture of eastern philosophy and practices and western pedagogy – many would raise concerns about how closely mindfulness training gets to religious teaching. According to a recent op-ed in the Huffington Post, “Teachers and administrators welcome offers by Buddhist meditators to teach ‘secularized’ versions of practices that instill the same moral and ethical virtues as religion” (Brown, 2016). If education policy concerning mindfulness-related interventions in school is to fall within the legal parameters prohibiting the establishment of religion, systematic examination of the programs’ underlying ethics is imperative.

Thus, the purpose of this study is to unpack the notion of mindfulness as a contemporary conceptual framework by calling on the theories and perspectives of three mindfulness scholars: Korean Zen master Seung Sahn; Japanese Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki; and American professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the MBSR (Mindfulness-based stress reduction) program. Sahn emphasized “only go straight—don’t know,” “moment to moment,” and “nothing mind”; Suzuki emphasized “accept the current moment”; Kabat-Zinn provided the first modern definition of mindfulness, describing it as “present moment” and “nonjudgmental.” The study will, then, discuss mindfulness in its many aspects and applications, including its presence in both Eastern and Western philosophies and the value that meditation brings to it; I will present an inclusive examination of mindfulness-based programs implemented in education as valuable tools to reduce stress and anxiety for students, teachers, and administrators. The study will also clarify the connections among these mindfulness perceptions and theories by examining the underpinnings of mindfulness as a stress reduction practice for school leaders, and a tool that could aid principals in fostering a positive healthy school climate.

This research is highly relevant to this year’s theme as mindfulness-based interventions are gaining traction as a means to redefine what good education entails and how we could sustain a healthy wellbeing for all.

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