This book review, by Christopher Wooleyhand, appears in the November/December edition of Principal magazine. Copyright 2014 National Association of Elementary School Principals. All rights reserved.
The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-being in Teachers and Students. Daniel Rechtschaffen. W.W. Norton & Company, 2014, 318 pages.
How much better would your school be if the teachers in your building were focused, attentive, and compassionate? Extend those same thoughts to students. Would your school be the ideal learning environment if your students were trained to handle the stress and trauma that can keep them from realizing their full potential? In The Way of Mindful Education, Daniel Rechtschaffen offers educators the tools to develop classrooms and schools that cultivate attention while promoting kindness toward ourselves and others.
Rechtschaffen, a therapist and founder of the Mindful Education Institute, has trained educators around the world. He discusses the history of mindful education and provides the reader with ample research supporting the benefits of this unique approach. According to Rechtschaffen, mindfulness was given birth after World War II when the World Health Organization commissioned a study on the psychological health of European children. Researchers and educators finally began to understand the emotional needs of children in context to their academic and worldly success. Rechtschaffen presents the science behind mindfulness to support its use in education. He believes that mindfulness, “[c]ultivates attention, compassion, happiness, and relaxation and decreases impulsivity, anxiety, and other emotional states.”
After establishing the credibility of mindfulness, Rechtschaffen goes to work on teachers first. He encourages teachers to begin a personal journey toward mindfulness that will serve as a good example to their students. Readers may be tempted to skip this section and move onto how mindfulness can be applied in the classroom. Rechtschaffen would suggest that we have to, “[t]ake care of ourselves and cultivate our own mindful practice, and what we need to embody our practice in the world.”
It is in the final two chapters that Rechtschaffen shares the “how to” of mindfulness. These chapters describe the mindful classroom and the mindful curriculum. The reader will gain a clear sense of how mindfulness can be employed in any classroom. Rechtschaffen outlines the qualities of a mindful teacher and the essential ingredients of the mindful classroom in his closing chapters. Most importantly, he provides the reader with ample resources and lessons that can be used immediately in the classroom.
While the concept of mindfulness may initially seem complex and unconventional, it is a low-risk, high reward approach to helping teachers and students manage the stresses that impact their daily performance. That alone makes it worthy of consideration by any school leader who values the emotional needs of students and staff members.