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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 book is a vital resource for all educators who are dedicated to promoting student mental health and well-being. Built on a solid foundation of research and experience working with schools, Christine Mason and her colleagues offer readers key principles and actionable strategies, stories that illustrate and inspire, exercises to reflect upon and apply lessons to one’s own school, and references to numerous additional online sources. The heart and soul of this book are clear and present on every page—the centrality of caring, compassion, and community to the ability of students to thrive in school. I would highly recommend this book in ordinary times. In this period of uncertainty, unrest, and distress, it is indispensable.

Mark A. Smylie, Professor Emeritus
College of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago

This outstanding contribution to the literature on our students' mental health and well-being provides an exemplary blend of cutting-edge research, step-by-step practical interventions, and a true humanistic vision for the future of our schools and society. Before COVID-19 this book would have been important; today it is indispensable. Wherever you are teaching or working in the education sector, Compassionate School Practices is essential reading for all of us, both during the pandemic and in the years to come.

Dennis Shirley, Duganne Faculty Fellow and Professor
Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Boston College

As schools begin to shift away from the industrial model of education, we see many implementing student-centered and inquiry-based practices that are designed to help students develop their curiosity and become more proficient thinkers and problem solvers. While these practices are laudable, the unaddressed mental health needs of many students will stand in the way of desired progress for all. Thankfully, Compassionate School Practices offers an easy-to-follow four-phase model and a series of nine principles to help school personnel, parents, and psychologists better support students’ social and emotional well-being. Simply put, the authors’ approach puts much needed structure into what for many educators may otherwise be just a vague directive. This book’s compassionate voice and sound tools unlock the promise that successful schools going forward will balance students’ acquisition and the demonstration of knowledge with proper attention to their social and emotional needs.

Jeff Ikler and Kirsten Richert
Authors, Shifting: How School Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change

I started my career as a teacher in the New York City neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant where many students came to class hungry, sick, abused, homeless, or all of the above. It was then when I first realized the health and welfare of our students surpasses the importance of their academic achievement. That was 1968. Fast forward to today. Suicides rates are the highest they’ve ever been. Drug use is just as alarming, which begs the question, “What’s more important, scores on a test or keeping kids alive?” Compassionate Schools Practices unpacks a myriad of informative principles that can help school systems build a framework to enhance their social and emotional programs. The well-being of a child is of the utmost importance, especially during this public health crisis. The demand for quality SEL is at an all-time high. I applaud the authors for creating this resource.

Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director
AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Quality education cannot exist in the absence of compassion. And even if it could, it would be difficult  - if not impossible - for such “education” to be applied in a way that would move humanity forward. This book provides a comprehensive and evidence-based blueprint for how to create a heart centered and compassionate school environment that allows all children - especially our most vulnerable - to heal, learn, and thrive.

Steve Gross, Chief Playmaker
The Life is Good Playmakers

When it comes to children's mental health, school is among the biggest stressors that kids have to deal with. Compassionate Schools Practices is the bridge that we need to redesign the school system in a way to meet the needs of youth. If we are able to implement at least some of the recommendations, all of us stand to substantially benefit!

Akeem N. Marsh, Psychiatrist
Bellevue Hospital Center, NYU School of Medicine

Compassionate School Practices captures our imagination, with principles and action steps to strengthen student mental health and well-being. The authors offer a practical approach that goes beyond screening and identification as it promotes collective kindness and caring. Their blueprint for schools shows how to embed compassion into everyday interactions between teachers and students to bolster student self-esteem, while strengthening self-care practices. They show us how to uplift our neighbors and our communities so that schools first and foremost address what is most important -- the lives, the hearts, the souls of students, families, and ourselves. An inspirational work that is so needed today!

Paul Liabenow, Executive Director
Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association (MEMSPA)

An important new look at how we can foster mental health in schools. Educators have the capacity to buffer against adversities their students face, and schools can lessen the impact of trauma and toxic stress. At the same time, teachers themselves face unique stressors. Mason, Asby, Wenzel, Volk, and Staeheli present numerous practical suggestions for promoting mental health and well-being among students and teachers alike. 

Kimberly Noble, Professor of Neuroscience & Education
Teachers College, Columbia University

In the midst of this horrific pandemic, there’s more than learning on the minds of educators. Many youth depend on teachers and their schools to connect with peers and caring adults. Mason and her co-authors provide valuable insights as they tell the story of the New England Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative - stories from principals, social workers, teachers and school psychologists, about how they are building student self-esteem and resiliency, and how they are teaching while addressing the critical needs of students who are most at-risk. Whether learning is virtual, hybrid, or in-person, caring leaders will be inspired by the network of practices, guidelines, and resources that Compassionate School Practices provides. An ideal book for book studies, an ideal blueprint for a brighter future, an ideal resource for transforming education and transforming lives!

Mark Terry, Deputy Executive Director
Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA)

The social and emotional health of students is interdependent with that of teachers and school leaders. But one-size-fits-all or piecemeal programs won't improve true resilience. Compassionate School Practices provides the tools you need to be intentional about identifying your learning community's current needs and your capacity to influence, no matter your position. And you'll discover research-based strategies for self-care, for assessing student needs, for increasing needed staff knowledge--and more--to create the safe and supportive environments that lead to serving and educating the whole child.

Jane Kise, Ed.D., Principal
Differentiated Coaching Associates
Key features

Readers will find:

·       Practical strategies for working with parents and communities

·       Activities for the whole school

·       Framework for implementing with fidelity in elementary, middle, and high school

·       Deeper understanding of trauma, ACEs, and mental health concerns

·       Support for teachers’ mental health

·       What not to do – common practices that don’t work, and why

·       In-depth case studies and vignettes from the authors’ experience implementing these practices in schools across New England, with takeaways that apply across the country

For instructors

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