Mindful School Leadership: Guidance from Eastern Philosophy on Organizing Schools for Student Success

  • Gordon S. GatesEmail author
  • Barbara Gilbert
Part of the Mindfulness in Behavioral Health book series (MIBH)


Organizing schools for high reliability is receiving increased attention in educational leadership literature. The processes of reliability proposed for school improvement are largely focused on mindlessness, which raise questions both practical and theoretical. To address identified issues, this chapter examines mindfulness in Eastern philosophy, connects identified concepts and principles to the processes advanced in research on high reliability organizing, and explicates the affordances and limitations for leadership concerned with achieving success for all students. Recommendations and research on mindful school leadership are proposed that speak to professional responsibilities related to instructional leadership, social justice, and educator stress and coping.


Mindfulness School improvement Resilience Eastern philosophy Reliability 


  1. Anagnostopoulos, D., & Rutledge, S. (2007). Making sense of school sanctioning policies in urban high schools. Teachers College Record, 109(5), 1261–1302.Google Scholar
  2. Balfanz, R., Herzog, L., & MacIver, D. (2007). Preventing student disengagement and keeping students on the graduation track in high-poverty middle-grades schools: Early identification and effective interventions. Educational Psychologist, 42(4), 223–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barrett, B. (2009). No Child Left Behind and the assault on teachers’ professional practices and identities. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25, 1018–1025.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Batchelor, S. (1997). Buddhism without beliefs: A contemporary guide to awakening. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.Google Scholar
  5. Batchelor, S. (2000). Verses from the center: A Buddhist vision of the sublime. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.Google Scholar
  6. Beck, C. J. (1997). Everyday Zen: Love and work. London, England: Thorsons.Google Scholar
  7. Bellamy, G. T., Crawford, L., Marshall, L. H., & Coulter, G. A. (2005). The fail-safe schools challenge: Leadership possibilities from high reliability organizations. Educational Administration Quarterly, 41(3), 383–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bierly, P. E., Gallagher, S., & Spender, J. C. (2008). Innovation and learning in high-reliability organizations: A case study of United States and Russian nuclear attack submarines, 1970-2000. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 55(3), 393–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bishop, S., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N., Carmody, J., & Devins, G. (2004). Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11(3), 230–241.Google Scholar
  10. Blatt, R., Christianson, M. K., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Rosenthal, M. M. (2006). A sensemaking lens on reliability. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27(2006), 897–917.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Borko, H., Wolf, S. A., Simone, G., & Uchiyama, K. P. (2003). Schools in transition: Reform efforts and school capacity in Washington state. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 25(2), 171–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brown, J., & Langer, E. (1990). Mindfulness and intelligence: A comparison. Educational Psychologist, 25(3 & 4), 305–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carroll, M. (2004). Awake at work. Boston, MA: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  14. Carson, S. H., & Langer, E. J. (2006). Mindfulness and self-acceptance. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 24(1), 29–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chiang, H. (2009). How accountability pressure on failing schools affect student achievement. Journal of Public Economics, 93, 1045–1057.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chodron, T. (2001). Buddhism for beginners. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion.Google Scholar
  17. Chodron, T. (2012). Living beautifully with uncertainty and change. Boston, MA: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  18. Christman, D., & McClellan, R. (2008). “Living on barbed wire”: Resilient women administrators in educational leadership programs. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44(1), 3–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Copeland, M. (2003). Leadership of inquiry: Building and sustaining capacity for school improvement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 25(4), 375–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Coutu, D. L. (2003). Sense and reliability: A conversation with celebrated psychologist Karl E. Weick. Harvard Business Review, 6(4), 84–90.Google Scholar
  21. Czarniawska, B. (2005). Karl Weick, concepts, style and reflection. The Editorial Board of the Sociological Review, 53(1), 267–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Daly, A. (2009). Rigid response in an age of accountability: The potential of leadership and trust. Educational Administration Quarterly, 45(2), 168–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dane, E. (2011). Paying attention to mindfulness and its effects on task performance in the workplace. Journal of Management, 37(4), 997–1018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. de Wolf, I. F., & Janssens, F. J. G. (2007). Effects and side effects of inspections and accountability in education: An overview of empirical studies. Oxford Review of Education, 33(3), 319–396.Google Scholar
  25. Dee, T., Jacobs, B., Hoxby, C., & Ladd, H. (2010). The impact of No Child Left Behind on students, teachers, and schools. Brookings papers on economic activity (pp. 149–207). Brookings Institute Press.Google Scholar
  26. Eck, J. (2011). Best in the world: High performance with high reliability. In J. Eck, S. Stringfield, D. Reynolds, E. Schaffer, & G. Bellamy (Eds.), Noteworthy perspectives: High reliability organizations in education (pp. 36–44). Denver, CO: McREL.Google Scholar
  27. Enomoto, E., & Conely, S. (2008). Changing of the guard: How different school leaders change organizational routines. Journal of School Leadership, 18(3), 278–301.Google Scholar
  28. Fabian, J. (2015). Moving forward by sitting still: An autoethnographic study of mindfulness. In G. Gates (Ed.), Mindfulness for educational practice (pp. 39–58). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.Google Scholar
  29. Fenema, P. (2005). Collaborative elasticity and breakdowns in high reliability organizations: Contributions from distributed cognition and collective mind theory. Cognition, Technology & Work, 7(2), 134–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Finnigan, K., & Gross, B. (2007). Do accountability policy sanctions influence teacher motivation? Lessons from Chicago’s low-performing schools. American Educational Research Journal, 44(3), 594–629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fiol, C. M., & O’Connor, E. J. (2003). Waking up! Mindfulness in the face of bandwagons. Academy of Management Review, 28(1), 54–70.Google Scholar
  32. Flessa, J. (2009). Educational micropolitics and distributed leadership. Peabody Journal of Education, 84, 331–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ford, J. D., & Backoff, R. W. (1988). Organizational change in and out of dualities and paradox. In R. E. Quinn & K. S. Cameron (Eds.), Paradox and transformation: Toward a theory of change in organization and management (pp. 81–121). Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.Google Scholar
  34. Foster, W. (2004). The decline of the local: A challenge to educational leadership. Educational Administration Quarterly, 40(2), 176–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Goldstein, J. (2008). A heart full of peace. In M. McLeod (Ed.), The best Buddhist writing 2008 (pp. 19–27). Boston, MA: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  36. Gunaratana, B. H. (2002). Mindfulness in plain English. Boston, MA: Wisdom.Google Scholar
  37. Gyatso, T. (1998). The art of happiness: A handbook for living (with H. C. Cutler). New York, NY: Riverhead Books.Google Scholar
  38. Gyatso, T., & van den Muyzenberg, L. (2009). The leader’s way: The art of making the right decisions in our careers, our companies, and the world at large. New York, NY: Broadway Books.Google Scholar
  39. Hanh, T. (1991). In A. Kotler (Ed.), Peace is every step: The path of mindfulness in everyday life. New York, NY: Bantam Books.Google Scholar
  40. Hanh, T. (1998). Fragrant palm leaves: Journals 1962-1966. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.Google Scholar
  41. Hanh, T. (2008). Nothing to do, nowhere to go: Practices based on the teachings of Master Linji. In M. McLeod (Ed.), The best Buddhist writing 2008 (pp. 54–68). Boston, MA: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  42. Hawk, N., & Martin, B. (2011). Understanding and reducing stress in the superintendency. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 39(3), 364–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Heck, R., Marcoulides, G., & Lang, P. (1991). Principal instructional leadership and school achievement: The application of discriminant techniques. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 2(1), 115–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Helsing, D. (2007). Regarding uncertainty in teachers and teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 23, 1317–1333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Horng, E., Klasik, D., & Loeb, S. (2010). Principal’s time use and school effectiveness. American Journal of Education, 116(4), 491–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hoy, W. (2003). An analysis of enabling and mindful school structures: Some theoretical, research and practical considerations. Journal of Educational Administration, 41(1), 87–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Hoy, W., Gage, C., & Tarter, C. (2006). School mindfulness and faculty trust: Necessary conditions for each other? Educational Administration Quarterly, 42(2), 236–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Jacobson, N. P. (1988). The heart of Buddhist philosophy. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York, NY: Hyperion Press.Google Scholar
  50. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144–156.Google Scholar
  51. Kaplan, H. (2002). Event reporting, mindfulness and the high reliability organization: Is the glass half empty? Vox Sanguinis, 83(Suppl. 1), 337–339.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Katagiri, D. (2008). Each moment is the universe. Boston, MA: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  53. Langer, E. J. (1989). Mindfulness. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.Google Scholar
  54. Langer, E. J., & Moldoveanu, M. (2000). The construct of mindfulness. Journal of Social Issues, 56(1), 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Langer, E. J., & Piper, A. I. (1987). The prevention of mindlessness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 280–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. LaPorte, T. R. (1996). HROs: Unlikely, demanding and at risk. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 4(2), 60–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. LaPorte, T. R., & Consolini, P. M. (1991). Working in practice but not in theory: Theoretical challenges of “high-reliability organizations”. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory: J-PART, 1(1), 19–48.Google Scholar
  58. Lee, J. (2006). Tracking achievement gaps and assessing the impact of NCLB on the gaps: An in-depth look into national and state reading and math outcome trends. Cambridge, MA: The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.Google Scholar
  59. Leithwood, K., & Beatty, B. (2009). Leadership for emotionally hot climates. International Studies in Educational Administration, 37(1), 91–103.Google Scholar
  60. Leithwood, K., & Mascall, B. (2008). Collective leadership effects on student achievement. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44(4), 529–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Levinthal, D., & Rerup, C. (2006). Crossing an apparent chasm: Bridging mindful and less-mindful perspectives on organizational learning. Organization Science, 17(4), 502–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Loori, J. D. (2008). The great way. In M. McLeod (Ed.), The best Buddhist writing 2008 (pp. 104–111). Boston, MA: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  63. Lortie, D. (2009). School principal: Managing in public. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Luyten, H., Visscher, A., & Witziers, B. (2005). School effectiveness research: From a review of the criticism to recommendations for further development. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 16(3), 249–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Lyons, J., & Algozzine, B. (2006). Perceptions of the impact of accountability on the role of principals. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 14(16), 1–16.Google Scholar
  66. Maxcy, B., & Nguyen, T. (2006). The politics of distributing leadership: Reconsidering leadership distribution in two Texas elementary schools. Educational Policy, 20(1), 163–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. McClain, L., Ylimaki, R., & Ford, M. (2010). Wisdom and compassion in democratic leadership: Perceptions of the Bodhisattva ideal. Journal of School Leadership, 20, 323–351.Google Scholar
  68. McDonald, T., & Gates, G. (2015). Mindfulness in educational leadership: Coping with stress and improving professional practice in the superintendency. In G. Gates (Ed.), Mindfulness for educational practice (pp. 59–80). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.Google Scholar
  69. McDonnell, L. (2012). Educational accountability and policy feedback. Educational Policy, 27(2), 170–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. McLeod, K. (2002). Wake up to your life: Discovering the Buddhist path of attention. New York, NY: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  71. Metzger, C. (2003). Self/inner development of educational administrators: A national study of urban school district superintendents and college deans. Urban Education, 38(6), 655–687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Mintrop, H., & Sunderman, G. L. (2009). Predictable failure of federal sanctions-driven accountability for school improvement—And why we may retain it anyway. Educational Researcher, 38(5), 353–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Nairn, R. (1999). Diamond mind: A psychology of meditation. Boston, MA: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  74. Nanda, J. (2009). Mindfulness: A lived experience of existential-phenomenological themes. Existential Analysis, 20(1), 147–162.Google Scholar
  75. Nh’ãat, H. (2006). Understanding our mind. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.Google Scholar
  76. Normore, A. H. (2004). The edge of chaos: School administrators and accountability. Journal of Educational Administration, 42(1), 55–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Palmer, P. (2007). The courage to teach (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  78. Parnes, B., Fernald, D., Quintela, J., Araya-Guerra, R., Westfall, J., Harris, D., & Pace, W. (2007). Stopping the error cascade. Quality and Safety in Health Care, 16, 12–16.Google Scholar
  79. Rodgers, C. (2002). Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking. Teachers College Record, 104(4), 842–866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Roeser, R. W. (2014). The emergence of mindfulness-based interventions in educational settings. In S. Karabenick & T. Urdan (Eds.), Advances in motivation and achievement (Interventions, Vol. 18). New York, NY: Emerald.Google Scholar
  81. Roeser, R. W., Skinner, E., Beers, J., & Jennings, P. A. (2012). Mindfulness training and teachers’ professional development: An emerging area of research and practice. Child Development Perspectives, 6, 167–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Rosch, E. (2008). More than mindfulness: When you have a tiger by the tail, let it eat you. Psychological Inquiry, 18(4), 258–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Rosenberg, L. (1998). Breath by breath. Boston, MA: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  84. Sagan, S. (2004). The problem of redundancy problem: Why more nuclear security forces may produce less nuclear security. Risk Analysis, 24(4), 935–946.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Schoen, L., & Fusarelli, L. D. (2008). Innovation, NCLB, and the fear factor: The challenge of leading 21st-century schools in an era of accountability. Educational Policy, 22(1), 181–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Shields, C. (2004). Dialogic leadership for social justice: Overcoming pathologies of silence. Educational Administration Quarterly, 40(1), 109–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Starr, K. (2011). Principals and the politics of resistance to change. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 39(6), 646–660.Stringfield, S. (1996). Attempts to enhance students’ learning: A search for valid programs and reliable, systemic implementation supports. In R. Blum & J. Arter (Eds.), A handbook for student performance assessment in an era of restructuring (pp. 2–6). Arlington, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.Google Scholar
  88. Stringfield, S., Reynolds, D., & Schaffer, E. (2008). Improving secondary students’ academic achievement through a focus on reliability: 4- and 9-year findings from the High Reliability Schools project. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 19(4), 409–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Sunim, H. (Ed.). (1999). Only don’t know. Boston, MA: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  90. Suzuki, S., & Dixon, T. (1970). Zen mind, beginner’s mind (1st ed.). New York, NY: Walker/Weatherhill.Google Scholar
  91. Swuste, P. (2008). “You will only see it, if you understand it” or occupational risk prevention from a management perspective. Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing, 18, 438–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Thompson, G., Warren, S., & Carter, L. (2004). It’s not my fault: Predicting high school teachers who blame parents and students for students’ low achievement. The High School Journal, 87(3), 5–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Van Dyck, C., Frese, M., Baer, M., & Sonnentag, S. (2005). Organizational error management culture and its impact on performance: A two-study replication. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(6), 1228–1240.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Vogus, T., & Welbourne, T. (2003). Structuring for high reliability: HR practices and mindful processes in reliability-seeking organizations. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 24(7), 877–903.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Wahlstrom, K., & Seashore Louis, K. (2008). How teachers experience principal leadership: The roles of professional community, trust, efficacy, and shared responsibility. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44, 458–495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Wears, R. L., & Nemeth, C. P. (2007). Replacing hindsight with insight: Toward better understanding of diagnostic failures. Annals of Emergent Medicine, 49(2), 206–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Weick, K. (2006). Faith, evidence, and action: Better guesses in an unknowable world. Organization Studies, 27(11), 1723 –1736.Weick, K. E., & Putnam, T. (2006). Organizing for mindfulness: Eastern wisdom and Western knowledge. Journal of Management Inquiry, 16(3), 275.Google Scholar
  98. Weick, K. E., & Roberts, K. H. (1993). Collective mind in organizations: Heedful interrelating on flight decks. Administrative Science Quarterly, 38(3), 357–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Weick, K. E., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2001). Managing the unexpected: Assuring high performance in an age of complexity (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  100. Weick, K. E., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2006). Mindfulness and the quality of organizational attention. Organization Science, 17(4), 514–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Weick, K. E., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2007). Managing the unexpected: Resilient performance in an age of uncertainty (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  102. Weick, K. E., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Obstfeld, D. (1999). Organizing for high reliability: Processes of collective mindfulness. Research in Organizational Behavior, 21, 81–123.Google Scholar
  103. Woods, D. (2005). Creating foresight: Lessons for enhancing resilience from Columbia. In W. Starbuck & M. Farjoun (Eds.), Organization at the limit: Lessons from the Colombia disaster (pp. 289–308). Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  104. York-Barr, J., & Duke, K. (2004). What do we know about teacher leadership? Findings from two decades of scholarship. Review of Educational Research, 74(3), 255–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Washington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  2. 2.Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations