A Mindful Ofsted -Top 5 Tips

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Just the word OFSTED, uttered in a whisper, can set the heart rate rising across an English school. ( Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. They inspect and regulate services that care for children and young people, and services providing education and skills for learners of all ages. However, it is also synonymous with the inspection regime that grades schools from outstanding to inadequate.) Even the mentioning of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI), sends some of us into a cold sweat. The fight or flight impulse is strong and causes countless amount of stress for educators up and down the country.

I applied to become the Headteacher of my new school knowing that Ofsted was imminent. It was discussed when I viewed the school for the first time. It was discussed when I interviewed for the job. It was discussed when we decided I would start earlier than expected in order to get a head start on getting a grip on what the school needed and putting plans into place sooner rather than later. It was the journey I had chosen to take.

None the less, when we received that 11 am call informing me that the inspectors were going to be visiting the next day, I had to say that I had a few moments of shock. You see, it was day 11 of my new headship. Not only was it day 11 but it was also SATs Week (UK national standardised testing for primary schools) and we had an EYFS (Early Years and Foundation Stage) moderation of final assessments scheduled for the Friday.

What followed was typical for spending the next 21 hours preparing for the visit with gathering documents, discussing details with governors and prepping staff. But, the most important thing was preparing myself.

Here are my Top 5 Tips for a Mindful Ofsted.

#1
Prepare before you have to prepare.- Developing your own understanding of mindfulness and use of mindfulness practice allows you to automatically shift into Mindful gear when you get the call. A good way to begin Mindfulness Development is to try a number of mindfulness strategies over a period of time. Why not try #MonthOfMindfulness which is 30 days of 30 simple mindfulness strategies? They can be found HERE.

#2
Learn to Breathe!– Learn how to use breathing techniques to trick yourself into a state of calm. You can learn more HERE. After, you receive the call, allow yourself a few minutes to just clear your mind and breathe, focusing on the breath as the cool air enters your lungs and the feel of the warm air as you exhale. Allow yourself relax. This is important for you and your team. Continue to have those moments of solitude before, during and after the inspection.

#3
Meditate – Ensure you have a favourite guided meditation ready to use when the time comes. My favourite for these kind of occasions is a nice walk on the beach which can be found HERE. Allow yourself to have this time to yourself before the day begins and again at the end of the day as go to bed.

#4
Keep Hydrated– We all know that we function best when we are hydrated. Ensure that you have a jug of fresh water is on your desk with your favourite glass. Then, make sure you drink it! Use this Water Meditation to enhance your Calmness.
Water Meditation
– Pour yourself a glass of plain water. (It can have ice.)
– Sit down with your water and allow yourself to be aware of drinking the water.
– Take a sip. Allow the sip to linger in the mouth. Notice the temperature of the liquid against your tongue, cheeks, gums and palate. What can you taste? Is there a sweetness, bitterness, acidic or even slightly salty taste?
– Notice the sensations of the water being swallowed and flowing down your throat and into your stomach.
– Continue to be mindful of each sip; allowing yourself to be in the very present moment of drinking your water.

#5
STOP!- 10 Second Mindfulness
This is a simple but effective strategy to refocus our attention.
S– Stop what you are doing.

T– Take a deep breathe. Breathe in for a count of 5, hold for a count of one and exhale for a count of 8.

O– Observe what is happening around you at this moment.

P– Proceed with what you were doing.
Do this as often as you need during the day. Those few mindful moments can change your reaction to what is happening around you leading to a better positive response that changes the course of events.

Conclusion:

The key to surviving an inspection is to stay in control of your emotions rather than letting them control you. Your team will feed off of your reactions and follow your lead. If you stay calm, they will be calmer.  Also, by being mindful, we can be more clear about what we want inspectors to see and know about your school.

The end result for me was a positive one, mainly because I felt in control of a situation that was out of my control. I realise that not all inspections can or will be positive. However, by using mindfulness strategies before, during and after will put you in control of your own health and well being during a stressful time.

So now, BREATHE and carry mindfully on.

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Mindfulness in the Classroom- Every Little Bit Counts

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This past week has been a busy one for many Primary schools across England. It is collectively known as SATs (Standard Assessment Tests) Week for Year 6 children. The instructions for giving the tests are strict and must be given at specific times on specific days. Over a period of four days they take six different tests. Anyone who works in a primary school or is a parent of a Year 6 child, will know about the overwhelming stress that this puts on the children; particularly as they have become much harder over the last few years.

This year has been no different, except that I felt helpless with supporting the Year 6 children at my new school. The tests were scheduled for my third week of school! The school had not been teaching any of the strategies for mindfulness and it made me sad that I may not be able to help this group of children properly prepare themselves mentally to face the challenges the tests would present.

After some discussion with the class teacher, I decided to teach the children a few basic mindfulness strategies.

First, we discussed how they were feeling about the tests, considering the emotions that were attached to these feelings and how our body responds. Of course, what they told me was of no surprise; nervous, scared and anxious. We discussed how this was normal and then I explained what was happening in their body with the brain triggering stress hormones to set off the primitive “fight or flight” response. I then asked them if they would like to trick their mind and body into believing it was clam. They whole heartedly agreed.

We discussed three basic strategies:
(Click on each strategy to take you to details of the strategy.)

1- Basic Deep Mindful Breathing– Including the One Minute Meditation
2- Starfish Meditation– To support those more active and sensory based children
3- Guided Meditation, particularly Visualisation- We used The Magic Shell Meditation in full and used their “magic shells” each day of testing to hold on to their worries and concerns during the testing so the wouldn’t bother them.

During the testing week, in the morning before the tests began, I spent time on the first two days of the tests with the class, supporting them through some breathing and visualisation exercises they had learned. On day three and four, I was unable to do this because Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) decided it was time to inspect the school (In my third week at the school! This is were my own mindfulness was significantly used and is featured HERE.). However, the staff had paid close attention to my modelling and continued to use the strategies with the children the last two mornings.

The result?
I will let the children explain. (I received these letters and cards.)

Will this positively impact on their final results? I am not sure. It was only a few weeks. But, I do know that they have quickly learned a life long skill that has supported their mental health and well-being this past week and, with that success, many will continue to use the strategies as they move into secondary school.

Mindfulness, every little bit counts!