Mindful Listening – Top Tips For Leaders

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During the day, whether you are the Headteacher, class teacher or office manager, you have many conversations. These conversations with children and adults range from fleeting to lengthy and form important parts of our lives.

Using Mindful Listening strategies can make those conversations more positive and productive. The strategies are not difficult; but, they may take some practice.

Mindful Listening Top Tips for Leaders

1- STOP! What people want from these conversations is to be listened to with full interest and intention. Take a deep breath, look them in the eye and LIsTEN to what they are saying. Don’t allow your mind to wonder and don’t start formulating a response before they finish talking. To them, what they have to say is extremely important and, many times, they don’t expect a full answer straight away and will usually appreciate the pause that will be required to formulate your response when they are finished talking.

2- CONTROL– Control your reactions. Notice your body’s response to what is being said, particularly if what is being said goes against your own feelings about the situation. Notice any rise in your own stress levels and take action immediately. Take deep steady breaths, relax your shoulders and continue to focus on what is being said.

3- NO PROMISES – Never make any promise you are not perfectly sure you can keep. Promises are an easy out of difficult conversations or situations. However, broken promises can destroy trust and make your life as a leader more difficult. What you can promise is that you will continue to listen to them, consider their opinion and make decisions based on what is best for the needs of the children. If you do make a promise, ensure that you follow through!

4- PROCESS– After conversations, allow yourself a moment to process what had been said between the people involved, make your plan of action and then allow the conversation to be put to bed. Obsessing over conversations will not do you or anyone else any good. It will not change what was said and steal time from your busy day. If you find yourself obsessing, take a Mindful Minute and then proceed.

Remember, that, as a leader, you will not make everyone happy with your decisions. However, they will respect those decisions if they know they have been listened to and given the time for consideration.

Take a deep breath, hold it and then exhale slowly. You can do this!

2017 – The Year of Mindfulness

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I find it interesting that a random date can have so much significance. Why should the 1st January mark the beginning of a new year, the beginning of fresh starts or a difference of such significance that copious amounts of sparkly beverages and loud fireworks blast into the air?

We should treat each new day with the same exuberance and positive outlook that we use to celebrate a new year on a calendar.

Earlier this week I shared my Mindful New Year’s Resolutions. Life is not easy. As we go about our lives, it can feel like a roller coaster. Some days are exciting, peaceful and perfectly awe inspiring and other days plunge us to the very edge of insanity. Taking control of the ride takes daily practice, even for the most experienced.

Even for the most experienced mindfulness practitioners, a refreshing of mindfulness practice can bring us deeper peace and control of our emotions.

So, let’s kick start 2017 and work on developing our own mindfulness so that we can be models for others around us.

#MonthOfMindfulness Challenge will only take a few minutes a day. There will be some tasks that you take to easily and there will be others that will not suit you. That is ok. This is about opening up and building your toolkit of mindfulness strategies.

The #MonthOfMindfulness Challenge can be started on ANY day. So, don’t worry if you don’t begin on 1st January. Just begin on Day 1 and take it one day at a time!

Share the strategies with others, document your progress and give yourself permission to be more mindful in 2017.

Follow me on Twitter @Ed_Tmprince or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/educationsvoice/

You can also email me at EVMindfulness@outlook.com .

Prepare Now for a New Year of Mindfulness

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Ok, so you had the best of intentions to start the academic year mindfully. After a restful summer, you were determined to be mindful. But, before you knew it, you were knee deep in teaching, marking and new policies, all thoughts of mindfulness went out the window.

It happens! That is ok. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Make the development of your own mindfulness and the mindfulness of your class your New Years Resolution.

But, we all know that doing anything cold turkey can be counter productive. So, in preparation for the new Mindful year, get in a little mindfulness practice. Over five days, complete a new part.

Part 1 – Shoulder Relaxation

Part 2 – Mindful Object Meditation

Part 3 – Morning Mindfulnes

Part 4  – STOP Meditation

Part 5 – Meditation

Then, in January, join me for a #MonthOfMindfulness. Keep active in your thoughts and conversations mindfulness strategies. Like all things it takes practice and nurturing. Even if you have practiced mindfulness for a while, refreshing your practice will support your mental well being as well as the mental well being if your class and family.

 

Stress, Mindfulness and My Story

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Introduction

Over the last few weeks, people have asked me to recount my own road to mindfulness and what impact it has had on my life. I was fine telling my story to individuals. But, the thought of putting it down in black and white was very scary. The thought had my heart begin to race and tension build in my jaw and shoulders. I am fortunate that I recognised the anxiety quickly, breathed deeply and did a quick meditation followed by reflecting on the reasons this caused me anxiety.

I came to the conclusion that I have grown up in a society that can sometimes see the admission of the effects of stress as a weakness. Did I actually want people to see me weak in any way? In my role as a headteacher/principal, I felt I needed to be the strong foundation supporting others so they can do the best that they could for the children they taught. I then realised that to be that strong foundation, I must also be a good model and sharing my story may also lead others in the education profession to seeking better ways of dealing with the relentless stress we are under everyday.

So, here is my story!

Before

I have always been an intense person; striving to be the very best I could be and applying myself with relentless pressure to do better and improve. I remember with great clarity getting my first stomach ulcer at 11 years old in the run up to the state standardised end of year tests. So, how I dealt with stress has been very ingrained.

Before Mindfulness:
– I did not sleep well at night. Waking at 2 am was the norm. The thoughts would swirl in my head on long, endless loops. They would force me out of bed and I would send and answer emails at this crazy hour in the hopes that by putting them into words they would leave me alone. All I ever got was new swirling thoughts to take their place!

– I was on a constant adrenaline high! I was on constant high alert; reacting to the smallest things or the biggest things with equal passion. I began to read into things when there was nothing to read. I became paranoid! Everything was about me and it all was not good. I took even the challenges in education as a personal attack on me!

– I had developed high blood pressure. That adrenaline high was keeping my BP at a constant high level risking my health and damaging my immune system.

– I was having panic attacks nearly on a daily basis and many times it was happening several times a day. My self confidence was plummeting.

– I replayed difficult conversations over and over in my head. I analysed it for hours or days. I dwelled in the emotions of the conversations that seemed to get bigger and bigger with each rehashing!

– I cried A LOT! I cried driving to work. I cried going home. I cried when I was upset. I cried when I was happy. I cried when I was scared. I cried and didn’t even know why I was crying! I had begun to laugh less. The world was turning grey.

– About a year ago, I took an online stress test. I scored 35/40.

You see, after seven years of headship/principalship, the pressures were interfering with my own mental health and well being. Stress is part of the job when you are in leadership and I think, in some ways, I thrive on that stress. I enjoy solving problems and seeing things differently. I am also passionate about education and have a deep ethos in educating the whole child.

However, in the current ever changing education climate, it was becoming harder and harder to keep the wave of stress overwhelming my own mental health. The never ending  “To Do” list had me on, what felt like, a never ending roller coaster at warp speed.

After

So, as you can see, I needed to do SOMETHING! I just wanted to stop the millions of thoughts flying through my every waking moment!

I started with guided meditations and, as I began to see the positive impact that it was having on me, I did more research into WHY it was working and I found and began practicing many other strategies. As the time has gone on, I have realised the mindfulness is just part and parcel of my daily life and it has made a HUGE difference; enough for people who haven’t seen me for a while to make comment on the changes.

What has changed?

– I sleep! Waking up at 2 am is a thing of the past! I still wake up earlier than most people, 5 am, but I don’t wake up with swirling thoughts. This is only an hour before the time I need to get up. Instead of filling the time with emails, I fill it with meditation and reading research on mental health and how mindfulness works.

– The constant adrenaline rush has ceased! The peacefulness of a resting body and mind wraps me like a warm blanket. I am content. Then, when an adrenaline rush does occur as it should from time to time, my reactions are appropriate, proportionate and clear.

– I went to the doctor last week and my BP was perfect! Enough said.

– I remember the last panic attack I had. It was back in September. Over a few months they had become less and less. But, this one I remember clearly. I wear it like a badge of honour as I was able to take control of it completely. Now, I recognise the warning signs and take immediate mindful action. In the beginning, I had to do at least 30 minute meditations. Now, I usually only takes a few deep breathes. I feel confident and happy about life!

– I stopped dwelling on those difficult conversations. I will repeat them if required to inform others. But, I don’t dwell in the emotions. I allow them to drift out of my thoughts like a cloud floating in the sky.

– I stopped crying! I can’t remember a time in my entire life that crying hasn’t been a sign of ANY of my emotions. For me, this is significant! Now, I laugh and laugh and laugh some more!

– I took an online stress test today. I scored 7/40!

What do I do on a day to day basis?

– I do at least 10 minutes of guided meditations most days. I miss it on the days I don’t do them. I call them my mini-holidays/vacations. They are varied from visualisations to body scans, muscle relaxations, claiming, etc.

– On days that I am finding particularly more challenging, I do longer guided meditations; particularly in the evenings to ensure I sleep well.

– At various points in the day, I just do a quick scan over my body to notice any tension and do deep breathing exercises like a One Minute meditation or practice STOP. I practice all of the things I outline in the A Teacher’s Mindfulness series and in the Mindful Leadership posts.

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– I practice gratitude! I identify all of the positives in the day and ensure that on my way home I list these in my mind. Every day has a positive. So, I dwell on that!

-I take the time to notice small things; like the colours of the sunset or of a flower, the smell of the air after it rains or the taste of the chocolate I am eating. I just NOTICE the moment.

– I do a lot of Mindful Doodling. I love it!

– I have meditation music playing in the background while I am working.

– I research, write about and talk about mindfulness! I share my knowledge and experience.

There! You have it! This is my story. I will be forever grateful for finding Mindfulness. It hasn’t stopped the thinking. But, I have found a way of controlling the thoughts rather than the thoughts controlling me.

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Mindful Laughter

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About ten years ago I was appointed as a Deputy Head Teacher of a school that was in the mist of massive and constant change. The school had persistent and changing challenges which generated a great amount of stress. During that time, I did learned a lot. It shaped my leadership style in ways that a less challenging school would never have done.

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 I was lucky enough to have an amazing Acting Head Teacher (AHT) at the time and together we tackled more obstacles in one day than most schools tackled in a week or even a month. The work was exhausting! But, the AHT and I had an interesting way of relieving the stress and not letting the challenges get to us, we LAUGHED!

I never laughed so hard than I did on some of the hardest days at this school. It wasn’t those soft little giggles. It was full on, wet your pants, coming deep from the belly and not letting you catch your breath kind of laughs. I am sure those laughs rang through the corridors, much to the disturbance of some of the staff.

On one occasion, a teacher at the end of his career and fed up with the changes happening around him, told the two of us off during a staff meeting for our laughter. He couldn’t understand what we had to laugh about. We quickly told him that we HAD to laugh because, if we didn’t, we would cry. This, of course, was proceeded by our loud laughter ahd his stern look!

Laughter was a lesson I happily took with me to my headship a year later. I was determined that our school would be a school filled with laughter as I knew that laughter brought more laughter and with that a happy attitude can be born even in the most dire times.

So, you can imagine my immense joy when I came across the amazing act of Laughter Yoga!

The website http://laughteryoga.org/english/home states, “It intends to generate mindfulness wherein people become aware of others and become more considerate and selfless. The laughter exercises are in fact less physical in nature and more of a social benefit as engaging with people is an enjoyable thing and leads to a network of sharing and caring people.”  

Laughter Yoga itself is simple, it encompasses clapping, playful exercises, deep breathing and, of course, laughter. The creator, Dr Madan Katari, explains the basic exercise along with variations in this video:

He has identified the benefits of laughter through scientific research as:

-Good Mood and More Laughter: Endorphins are release almost immediately upon the commencement of laughter.

-Healthy Exercise to Beat Stress: Laughter Yoga is like an aerobic exercise.

-Health Benefits: Reduces the stress and strengthens the immune system.

-Quality of Life: Laughter is a positive energy which helps people to connect with other people quickly and improves relationships.

-Positive Attitude in Challenging Times : Laughter helps to create a positive mental state to deal with negative situations and negative people. It gives hope and optimism to cope with difficult times.

People who have tried the exercises say that the fake laughter quickly turns into real laughter. The infectious quality of the ring of laughter begets more laughter. Once again, positivity begets positivity.

Somehow, my AHT and I instinctively knew that, in order to survive the challenges we faced, we HAD to laugh. We had cultivated a strong mindfulness strategy that still rings through the corridors of my school today.

This is a wonderfully fun way to develop mindfulness in your classroom, your school and in your life!

So, what are you waiting for? Let the laughter ring!

Mindful Leadership in Education

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Leadership in general is a lonely position and leadership in education is no different.   Senior leadership is fraught with obstacles and, like never before, educational leadership is teetering on a tight rope trying to balance the needs of the children with the needs of the staff and then government throws in an unexpected detour!

Take a few minutes to watch this video.

Companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Apple, Intel and Starbucks, to name a few, are advocates of mindfulness in the workplace and leadership. Successful leaders, like Evan Williams (Twitter co-founder) and William Ford (of Ford Motor Company), praise the benefit of mindfulness.

Janice Marturano, one of the pioneers in bringing mindfulness to corporations defines Mindful Leadership: “A mindful leader is someone who embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity and compassion in the service of others.”

What is Focus?

Focus is the ability to stay present to what must be done right now and in this moment. You can’t be distracted by a wandering mind. It is the ability to identify that the mind is wandering and ensure that it comes back to the here and now.

The jumping of thoughts from the conversation you had first thing in the morning with the care taker, to the email that popped in your email a half hour ago about a meeting you have to attend next week, to the difficult conversation you will have to have with a parent at the end of the day, to… It is never ending and before you know it, the meeting you are currently sitting in has come to an end and you are really not sure what has been said.

What is Clarity?

Clarity is your ability to see things for what they are and with full awareness of the emotions we are having and not allowing those emotions to biases our decisions.

Experiences make us who we are; they shape our emotions, good or bad. We can react to situations, logical or not, because of these experiences. I personally do not like the use of standardised test to judge the teaching and learning of a school. It evokes very strong emotions and frequently gets me into a rant. However, I also know I must find clarity of those emotions or I could make some bad decisions that would be detrimental to the school.

What is Curiosity?

Curiosity is the ability to stay open-minded by truly listening to all viewpoints and ideas and not automatically making a default decision. We cannot just assume that what we have done before is right for this moment in time.

If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got!

Sure, you may have been doing parents evening in a certain way since the dawn of man. The outline of the event was developed before technology became easily available and mothers seldom worked outside of the home. But, is this still effective? Do others have ideas? Listen and consider the possibilities.

What is Compassion?

Compassion is the ability to care for others, see different perspectives and make right decisions and take right actions for a person’s well-being.

As leaders, we can get caught up in our own thoughts and emotions. Sometimes things are not black and white. Being a compassionate leader is a humane thing to do. How YOU see things or would react to things is not the same as what another person may see or react. Surrounding yourself with other viewpoints allows you to gain a better perspective and better leader.

It can also mean being NICE!

How can I become a more mindful leader?

  1. Take a minute and breathe! Throughout the day, when you feel yourself becoming stress, uptight or upset, take a minute to centre yourself and breathe.
  2. One Minute Meditation
    1. Sit or stand comfortably
    2. Bring your attention to your breath
    3. Breathe naturally and count each inhale
    4. Focus your attention to your nostrils and notice the inhale and exhale of air
    5. Continue to count each breath until you reach one minute. This is roughly 15 breaths.
  3. Check In! Be fully present where you are listening to a member of your team, working on a strategic plan, having a meeting or preparing for a presentation. Take a breath and be in the moment; be present!
  4. Guided Meditation– Just 5 -15 minutes a day can start to train the mind to become calmer and gain greater focus and clarity. I like doing this first thing on a morning while the house is still quiet. However, others enjoy doing meditation at lunch time or on an evening just before going to sleep. You can find many guided meditations on Youtube for free. Here are a few:
    1. Guided Meditation for Anxiety and Stress Relief- https://youtu.be/Fpiw2hH-dlc
    2. 5 Minute Guided Meditation for Anxiety- https://youtu.be/MR57rug8NsM
    3. 5 Minute Miracle Guided Meditation- https://youtu.be/utfw-rJUvy4
    4. Positive Thinking Meditation- https://youtu.be/o0EQEiecSxs
    5. Ocean Escape- Guided Relaxation and Visualisation Meditation- https://youtu.be/vaHJ7WjKTaE
    6. Progressive Muscle Relaxation Meditation- https://youtu.be/PYsuvRNZfxE
    7. Sleep Meditations- These are longer and are to be listened to once you are in bed and ready to sleep.
      1. Guided Floating Meditation for Insomnia- https://youtu.be/S6jkW3AR9z4
      2. Floating Clouds Sleep Talk- https://youtu.be/JFf4vV5GKZ0
      3. Power Sleep Affirmations- https://youtu.be/pybN0TLnbbo
  5. Mindfulness Development- We have all trained to do the job we do, particularly in education, with most of us having a variety of degrees and years of education. So, it does make sense that we may also want to train in developing our own mindfulness.
    1. Apps for phones and tablets-Calm and Headspace offer free beginners sections on their apps that include daily meditations of various lengths and reminders for you to meditate.
    2. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programmes– These are usually online for 8 weeks or a two day weekend residential. There is a systematic learning of the scientific evidence of mindfulness as well as development of practice. There can be various costs involved with these programmes. However, there is a FREE 8 week online MBSR programme at http://palousemindfulness.com.
  6. Practise Gratitude– It seems like common sense, but consider how you can be a compassionate leader.
    1. Listen- Listening to what everyone has to say. That doesn’t mean that you will have to go with the consensus. It means that you get to hear and see different perspectives. This MAY change your decision or it MAY NOT. However, people will feel valued regarding to what they have to say.
    2. Do unto others what you would want them to do unto you.- Sure, you are the leader. But, how do you want to be treated? Can you treat them in the same way?
    3. Do fun or quirky things to show your appreciation! I personally enjoy doing a Lucky Dip Christmas Card Give Away at Christmas and an Easter Egg Hunt with prizes for Easter. It is the silly things that can make the greatest impact.
    4. Celebrate #PositivePostItDay- Find out more here:  https://educationsvoice.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/positivepostitday/

So, how in these stressful times, can Mindful Leadership make a difference?

  • It improves mental focus and mindful wandering.
  • It extends our attention span.
  • It discourages black and white thinking.
  • It assists in staying organised, managing time and setting priorities.
  • It lifts us from a constant, low level of panic and guilt.
  • It lowers wear and tear on our bodies.
  • It toughens immunity.
  • It improves mood and emotional stability.
  • It builds self-monitoring capacity.

You may be saying you just don’t have time for mindfulness. My question is to consider this; can you afford NOT to develop your mindfulness?

 

 

 

 

 

Mindfulness Starts Here

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Up until 1950, the word mindfulness was hardly used. Sometime around 1950, it started to be used more and more with a big climb in usage during this decade. Despite it becoming a word that is generally used more often, the act of mindfulness is still not fully understood by many in society.

What is the definition of the word, mindfulness? A quick Google search brings up this:

mindfulness
ˈmʌɪn(d)f(ʊ)lnəs/
noun
1.
the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
“their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
2.
a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

The word itself usually conjures up images of people sitting in a lotus position, hands with pinched fingers resting on the knees and the person saying, “Ooommmmmm”, at regular intervals. This perception  is not entirely wrong. This is a form of mindfulness called meditation and meditation, though extremely effective and powerful, is only one way to be mindful.

My journey, still in it’s infancy, began because I had become stressed and anxious to the point that it was impacting on my health and well being. My discovery of mindfulness to support my own health and well being led me to research on mindfulness in children, what has changed in society that has seen a generation or two have to learn mindfulness as adults and how we can support the development of the life long skill of mindfulness in adult as and children.

Studies already conducted in childhood mindfulness have revealed numerous positive benefits. The most promising benefits include:

Stress relief
Restlessness relief
Mental focus
Discover life balance
Deepen social skills
Develop math skills
Better sleep
More self-esteem
Emotion control
Improved decision-making skills

The next series of blog posts will focus on mindfulness, top tips for you personally as an educator, top tips for using mindfulness strategies in the classroom and top tips for parents.

In the meantime, please share your experiences in mindfulness as an individual, educator or parent in the comments section.