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Compassionate School Practices

Compassionate School Practices
Fostering Children's Mental Health and Well-Being

  • Christine Mason - Founder and Executive Director, Center for Educational Improvement
  • Dana Asby - Director of Innovation & Research Support, Center for Educational Improvement
  • Meghan Wenzel - Researcher, Center for Educational Improvement
  • Katherine T. Volk - Senior Advisor, C4 Innovates
  • Martha Staeheli - Yale School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry

Foreword by Larry Davidson

Additional resources:

January 2021 | 296 pages | Corwin
Already Ready For What Will Come - SEL For A Culture Of Care

Is your school prepared to care for all of the students, staff, and families in your community? Sadly, your school might be the only point of care for many. Be already ready--Establish a compassionate cultural foundation for strong relationships and holistic skills to weather stress, trauma, and promote well-being for your entire school population.

Help your school or district use available resources to create a compassionate culture of justice and care for all by leaning into this book’s approach to leadership and social emotional learning. Discover a collaborative visioning process to elevate compassion through dialogue, policies, and protocol. Readers will find:
  • Practical strategies for working with parents and communities
  • Activities for the whole school
  • An implementation framework for elementary, middle, and high school
  • Deeper understanding of trauma, ACEs, and mental health concerns
  • Support for teachers’ mental health
  • What not to do – practices that don’t work, and why
  • In-depth case studies and vignettes

Read this and usher in transformational and compassionate change that may be the difference in whatever today, tomorrow, or the next day may bring.
Online Resources
Why Is This Book Important Now?

Who Should Read This Book?

What Will I Be Able to Do Once I Finish This Book?

Acronym Guide

Why Is This Book Important Outside of New England and the United States?

A Framework for Cultivating Well-Being in Schools

Key Principles

About the Authors
Part 1: Needs and Approaches
Chapter 1. The Why? What? and How?
I. WHY Is a Focus on Children’s Mental Health and Well-Being So Critical Right Now?

Educators as Protective Factors

Why Are Teachers and Schools Not Better Prepared?

Risk Factors Influencing the Increase in Behavioral and Emotional Challenges

The Influence of Trauma on Mental Health

Equity Issues in Access to Mental Health Support and Advocacy

When a Crisis Strikes

II. WHAT Do We Need?

III. HOW Can We Approach Mental Health in Schools?

Partnerships for Building Student Mental Health and Well-Being

Implementation of Heart Centered Learning (HCL) in New England

The Power of Community-Based Approaches

Chapter 2. Best Practices for a Healthy School Climate and School Culture
How Can Schools Improve Children’s Well-Being?

A Model for School Cultures That Foster Mental Health

The Five Cs of Heart Centered Learning: Strategies to Take a Schoolwide Approach to Supporting Staff and Student Well-Being

The Five Cs

Using Heart Centered Learning to Build Compassionate School Communities in New England Through Visioning

Chapter 3. Tiered Systems and Mental Health Screening
Learning From History

ACES and Social Emotional Learning

The Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports

Universal Screening in Schools

How Are We Screening and Why?

Potential Issues in Screening

More on the Tiers of Systems of Supports

Following Up and Fostering a Support System

Chapter 4. Considerations for Staff Mental Health and Well-Being
Uncertainty and Isolation

Staff Stress and Trauma Are at an All-Time High

What Stressors Are Unique to Educators?

Teacher Attrition Is at an All-Time High

The Relationship Between Student Trauma and Teacher Stress

Understanding Current Needs and Concerns

Practical Solutions to Improve Educator Mental Health and Well-Being

A Schoolwide Approach to Foster Well-Being

Part 2: Leadership
Chapter 5. Adaptive Leadership Within the Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative
Resiliency and Finding Hope

Leading in a Time of Fear and Uncertainty

Action Informed by Assessment

The Importance of Professional Development

What Is Effective School Leadership?

Characteristics of Transformational School Leaders

School Leaders as Change Agents

Evolving Leadership: Being Inclusive and Visionary

Transactional School Leadership Management Practices

Balancing Transformational and Transactional Leadership

Adaptive Leadership

Chapter 6. Caring and Competent Leadership for Children’s Mental Health and Well-Being
Understanding Our Vulnerabilities: Leading With Care, Love, and Acceptance

Three Overlapping Lenses to Develop Positive School Leadership and Improve Children’s Well-Being

Caring School Leadership

Heart Centered Mindful School Leadership

Addressing Mental Health Concerns With the Compassionate School Mental Health Model

School Safety

Principals Set Policies and Protocols

Self-Care Exercises

Part 3: Child and Family Supports
Chapter 7. Belonging and Building Community
The Drive to Belong

Belonging: A Psychological Need

Finding that One Caring Adult

School and Agency Collaboration

Key Players

Wraparound Services

Strategies for Getting Started

Chapter 8. How Schools Can Help Families
A Sense of Urgency

Communication Is a Two-Way Street

Increasing Mental Health Literacy

Cultural Considerations

When a Mental Health Diagnosis Is Part of the Equation

Home School Collaboration

The Transmission of Trauma

Working to Heal Intergenerational Trauma by Cultivating Compassionate School Communities

Offering Parent Education to Foster Compassionate Parenting

Parent Teacher Associations: A Network Made to Partner With Schools

Reflections on Strengthening Mental Health and Well-Being: Leverage Parent Resources to Fulfill Needs, Wants, and Dreams

Part 4: The Future
Chapter 9. Reaching Our Destiny—Overcoming Challenges and Moving Forward
Our Encounter With Destiny

Time for Reflection Allows for Visioning



This publication is a timely contribution to promote child and youth’s social emotional development. It provides a useful ecological framework and specific practices that educators and specialists may incorporate into their daily work. 

Songtian (Tim) Zeng, Assistant Professor
College of Education and Human Development Research Director, Institute for Early Education Leadership & Innovation University of Massachusetts

Compassionate School Practices exemplifies Mason’s expertise in the field of Mindful Education, and creates real-world learning for “whole educators” who truly wish to address social emotional issues with their students. Mindfulness, restorative justice, equity, trauma informed care—it’s all wrapped into a single cohesive message here with practical applications for the modern teacher. This is a book every educator must own.

Jeffrey Donald
Mindfulness Coordinator, Montgomery County Public Schools

Teaching the facts of mental illness in schools is comparable to teaching students rote math facts without understanding the systems that numbers function in and how this is applied to solve problems. Having basic knowledge of a subject does not lend itself to deeper thinking to promote both individual and systemic growth. Without analyzing our data, identifying areas of need, and altering how we navigate mental illness we will inevitably continue to repeat the same pattern of misunderstanding and inadequate treatment. Compassionate School Practices provides thoughtful exercises to guide your district in identifying specific areas of need, integrating these into your district vision, and developing comprehensive professional development. This is not an expensive initiative that is implemented and forgotten, but rather a process to shift the collective understanding and treatment of mental illness. Building protective measures of resilience and compassion helps to vaccinate your students and staff against complacency and despair that affects generations.

Rachel Santa, Ed.D
Cumberland School Department

Our schools, our children, our society face a profound moment of reckoning with global pandemic, climate crisis, political polarization, systemic and structural racial and social injustice, and more. These times call for a mindshift of being, thinking, and acting, and that begins with centering compassion, mindfulness, empathy, and kindness within our schools. This book is rich in solid research and practices that supports teaching and learning through mindfulness, trust building, cultivating belonging and awareness, and more. It is a must-read for educators seeking to meet the challenges of our time with evidence-based, equity-centered practices that support growth and learning to heal our school communities and our world.

Valerie Brown, Leadership Coach
Co-author, The Mindful School Leader: Practices to Transform Your Leadership and School

The authors conceive of a heart-centered, compassionate learning community bound together by trusting, safe, authentic relationships that include the child, family, educators and the broader community.  Central to their vision is a single caring adult who supports each student, and is embedded in both the school and surrounding community. This approach builds a trauma informed school culture that enhances children’s health and well-being. Their strategy is supported by tools and tips that makes the implementation of this creative vision possible. This visionary book would be transformative and is a must-read for everyone involved in helping children grow and thrive. 

Ellen L. Bassuk, Founder
C4 Innovations

Who better to guide our children’s mental health than our educators? Compassionate School Practices gives a comprehensive blueprint to managing our mental health inadequacies in a 2020 pandemic/post pandemic world. Beyond medical diagnosis and pharmaceutical treatment, the book focuses on our most at-risk and underserved children. I have firsthand experience with a child who has thrived through services provided at school. As a physician who has worked with diverse communities, I recognize how compassionate  public schools can be a healing force for vulnerable children.  

Alex Thacker

Finally! As crisis after crisis threatens the future of our children, we have a book that outlines specific and deeply researched ways to approach children’s mental health and wellbeing from a truly holistic, heart centered, community-based perspective. Never has the need for inspiration and resources to change the future of education been greater than now.

Adam Grove, Physician
Head to Toe Holistic Healthcare

Compassionate Schools Practices provides useful tools for confronting the complex nexus of mental health, education and trauma. Importantly, the authors realize that educators cannot pour from an empty glass and must maintain their own well-being in order to effectively support their students in the long term. Mason reassures her audience that while there are aspects of our reality that we may be out of reach for improvement (teacher budgets, state curriculum policies, etc.), there are specific practices and strategies we can implement both on an individual and community level to combat teacher stress and burn out. The suggested resources and insights are invaluable, particularly in this era of wide-spread social instability. 

Norrell Edwards, Assistant Director
Prisons and Justice Initiative, Georgetown University

Christine Y. Mason

Christine Mason, PhD, an educational psychologist, is a nationally recognized expert in the areas of educational reform, visioning, trauma and mindfulness, teacher and principal mentoring, and special education. She is also a yoga, mindfulness, meditation instructor who was trained in New Mexico and certified in 2001, with a Level II yoga certification in Conscious Communication in 2005. From 2005-2009, she was chair of the Education Committee for Miri Piri Academy, an international yoga boarding school in Amritsar, India. In 2009, she served for 5 months as the interim principal at Miri Piri. Since being certified to teach yoga, Christine... More About Author

Dana L. Asby

Dana Asby, M.A., M.Ed., is the Director of Innovation and Research Support for the Center for Educational Improvement where she conducts research and writing, oversees management of the School Compassionate Culture Analytical Tool for Educators (S-CCATE) assessment, and is the copy editor of the Compassion Action newsletter. She is also Education Coordinator at the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center where she helps manage several projects including the Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative. She is co-founder of Parent in the Moment, where she teaches families how to use mindfulness to reduce stress and increase the bond... More About Author

Meghan Wenzel

Meghan Wenzel, M.A., is a Researcher and Writer with the Center for Educational Improvement. With a background in developmental cognitive neuroscience and education, Meghan is interested in early brain development and its implications for learning. She studied Cognitive Neuroscience at Brown University, as well as Neuroscience and Education during her Masters at Teachers College, where she worked in Professor Kimberly Noble’s lab on Neurocognition, Early Experience, and Development investigating how socioeconomic inequality impacts brain development. Meghan has worked in a policy and advocacy non-profit focused on improving the health,... More About Author

Katherine T. Volk

Katie Volk, M.A., is a child development specialist with a particular focus on early childhood and families living in poverty. She has worked with hundreds of community organizations to provide training and technical assistance in the United States and Australia, particularly focused on implementing trauma-informed practices. Katie understands the multidimensional needs of vulnerable children and families, the needs of the paraprofessionals who serve them, and the systems and contexts in which they live and work.  Katie is currently a Site Director with C4 Innovations at the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center. More About Author

Martha Staeheli

Martha Staeheli, Ph.D., is a faculty member at the Program for Recovery and Community Health in the Yale School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and the Director of the School Mental Health Initiative for the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Trained as a secondary English teacher, and with a PhD in Public Health, she has extensive experience in population health and epidemiology; qualitative and mixed methods research design, analysis, and evaluation; and community and clinical intervention implementation. Her research interests are focused on recovery within substance use and mental health disorders, issues of... More About Author

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