Teacher & Leader Mindfulness- Autumn Meditation

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Stop! Take a deep breathe and look! Autumn seems to be firmly here.

The air has a new crispness, the trees are undressing themselves as the technicolor leaves whip around and fall to the ground as the wind blows around you. There is a new earthy scent. Autumn is here.

When did that happen? For those that work in schools, this time is filled with the fast pace of settling into a new school year, Parents’ Evenings, data analysis, resource making and more. We juggle our days either like novices or pros and it all depends upon the day or moment.

Stop! Take a deep breathe! Autumn is here!

Take five minutes now to take part in this lovely Autumn Mediation to help you relax and find peace within your Mindfulness practice.

Autumn Meditation

For this mediation, you will need a fallen Autumn leaf.

Find a space where you can have five uninterrupted minutes. Maybe it is in your back garden, in a local park, or a walk through some woodlands. It may even be that you collect a leaf while out and about and complete the meditation within the comfort of your home. It really doesn’t matter as long as you have your leaf.

– Pick up the leaf and lay it in your hands.
– Notice the colours, the different in shades of colours and fading of one colour to another colour.
– Notice the veins in the leaf, the main stem, the edges of the leaf.
– Feel the leaf. Run your fingers over the top and bottom; along the edges. Notice the differences. Rub it against your face or over the top of your hand. Use nerve endings that normally are not used to feel objects. Notice the difference.
– Smell the leaf. Note the scent. Inhale deeply and notice the memories it may bring up.

Close your eyes and take a minute to breathe deeply and allow yourself to be in awe and wonder of the moment you have had with the leaf.

Proceed with a new found calmness and appreciation.

Happy Autumn!

 

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Mindfulness In the Classroom – Mindful Language

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The highly respected psychiatrist, John H Reitman, once said that, “It takes an average person almost twice as long to understand a sentence that uses a negative approach than it does to understand a positive sentence”.

Everyday since most of us were about two years old we have spoken a countless number of words. It doesn’t matter which language we have spoken. Just the fact that we use words to convey our needs, wants, desires and emotions.

As a young child my parents taught me the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” However, far too quickly, I learned that words could be even more powerful than sticks and stones and that words could hurt the deep psyche that can leave lasting scars. Those lasting scars lead to powerful emotions for most of our lives.

As educators, we need to be even more mindful of our words and consider what we are saying and why we are saying.

Negative vs Positive

Negative language often:
* tells the person what cannot be done.
*  has a subtle tone of blame.
*  includes words like can’t, won’t, unable to, not to or don’t.
* emphasises the negative behaviour over the desired positive behaviour.
* does not stress positive actions that would be appropriate, or positive consequences.
* Is ambiguous and doesn’t explain what you want them to do. “Don’t spill your drink! ” (How does a child not spill a drink?)

Positive language often:
* tells the person what can be done.
* suggests alternatives and choices available to the person.
* sounds helpful and encouraging rather than chastising.
* stresses positive actions and positive consequences that can be anticipated.

Examples of Positive Mindful Language choices:

– ” Mary is making right choices.”
– “Remember Mary, we make the right choice.”
– “You have two choices.” ( Then give two positive choices which you are willing to compromise on to get the desired behaviour. It allows a child to feel in control but in a safe range.)
– “I wonder why Mary has hit John.”
– “I like it when Mary sits in her place when she comes into class.”
– “Mary, shut the door quietly.”
– “I can tell you are not happy right now. You are breathing fast, your face is red and you have tears in your eyes. Take some deep breaths with me.”
– Give a child time to calm down with other mindful strategies and then discuss what has happened and LISTEN to what they have to say. Ask guiding questions and repeat your appreciation for how it made them feel and refer to how it has made you feel.
– When having lengthier conversations with a child about their behaviour, end with restating what they did well.
– In the Classroom, end the day on a high note by giving a minute to everyone reflecting on what one positive thing happened that day. Let that be their “exit ticket” at home time.

It is also important for you to encourage kindness and positivity in the words the children use to speak to you and others. Give some time to practice HOW we say things, how we use our words and explore how that makes us feel.

At the end of the day, we must remember that positive language leads to positive self-esteem. If a person has positive self-esteem, than they are likely to have a more even temperament and a healthy balance of the stress hormone, cortisol. Negative self-esteem keeps a person at a heightened stress point with high levels of cortisol which keeps them in the constant moment of fight, flight or freeze.

How positive is your language? Challenge your class and yourself this week, change one thing you say in a negative way and make it a powerful positive phrase. Let the child’s actions speak for themselves.

Note: In addition to positive language, one must also consider the importance of body language. (To be outlined in another post shortly.)

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Mindful Assemblies

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In my opinion, the development of Mindfulness should be a whole school initiative that sees the development of these life long skills by adults and children alike (and parents). It should be a part of the everyday life of the school and part of the school’s deeper ethos.

Whole School assemblies are a great way for the leaders of the school to use and model Mindfulness and emphasise the importance the practice has in your school. The use of basic mindfulness strategies can have positive impact on Assembly behaviour and continue calmness for children and staff following the Assembly. I have personally used the strategies with assemblies a big as 450-500 children.

Before using the strategies for the first time, set a basic ground rule.

Ground Rule:
If you choose not to take part in the mindful breathing, meditation or Follow Me game, they are to be respectful to all others who have chosen to partake and sit quietly. (This may have to be reminded a few times. But, the vast majority will take part and many who don’t at first Do eventually start participating or continue to be respectful.)

How do I use Mindfulness in Assemblies?

1- Meditation Music:  I ensure that meditation music is playing as the children come into the hall. The calm music sets the scene and expectations for the Assembly. (A variety of music can be found in the blog post Music or on my YouTube channel.) The expectation is silence. But, seldom do I have to remind the children of this expectation.

2- Follow Me game: It is similar to Simon Says without the verbal aspect. Children MUST be paying attention and following the hand movements you make. The hand movements are slow, deliberate movements that flow with the music being played. (The focused attention and concentration required for this activity is relaxing and puts children in the moment.)

3- Mindful Breathing: When the last class is being seated, the leader guides the children and staff through one of these breathing meditations:

– One Minute Meditation: You verbally guide the children through 15 deep mindful breaths (Various breathing techniques can be found here. However, the two that I am partial to for large assemblies are the basic breathing and the snake breaths.)

– Starfish Meditation: The strategy can be found here and is usually a whole school favourite.

4- Mindful Singing: Singing is made up of deep breaths and long exhales which is natural calming strategy. We also know that music itself can have meditative properties. How to use this strategy can be found here.

Note: At anytime during the Assembly that the children seem to be becoming more talkative or less attentive, guiding everyone through a few deep mindful breaths usually settles everyone. Also, end the Assembly with either Mindful Singing or Mindful Breathing.

The content of the Assembly is now yours to choose.
I hope to share some of the assemblies we do this year that have a clear, direct or indirect focus on Mindfulness development.

Top tips:

– Be in the hall BEFORE the first class arrives. This works best when everything is in place and you are playing the music and playing Follow Me as they come in and sit down.
– Periodically, remind children of what they are doing, why and how it helps them.
– If you are still unclear about how this work, please let me know and I will help accordingly.

When children see adults using Mindfulness strategies successfully, they will see the value of these skills.

A Teacher’s Mindfulness – Mindful Daydreaming

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You may be thinking, ‘How can daydreaming be mindful?’. It doesn’t necessarily fit what we know about daydreaming.

What is daydreaming anyway? It is the state of consciousness that happens when our brain triggers a thought process that is not anchored in the immediate surroundings. It is usually pleasurable and takes us to a place that allows us to relax and be happy. On average, a daydream lasts only 14 seconds!

As children in school, we were likely told to “stop daydreaming” and it was seen as a waste of valuable school time. Along with other natural reflexes like sighing, we have tended to suppress a natural mindful strategy that helps us to relax.

We can make Mindful Daydreaming a part of our mindfulness practise by making the daydreams the object of the mindful focus.

When we are mindful of our daydreams, we are able to:

– Receive feedback on our own conscious or unconscious well- being. Our spontaneous daydreams can help us to know whether we are more positive or negative in the moment, depending on the emotions evoked by the daydream.
– Manipulate our thoughts allowing us to engage with our emotions without physical risk.
– Take a mini- holiday allowing us to explore places that bring us peace and relaxation. This may be a particular landscape, activity or alternative reality.

If we mindfully daydream, we are bringing focus, formality and purpose. Treat these daydreams as a meditation.
– Find a quiet place and sit or lie in a comfortable position where you will not be disturbed.
– You may want to set a timer to give a definite time to this meditation or you can use this as a bedtime meditation to fall into a peaceful sleep.
– Play soft meditation music and take deep, mindful breaths.
– Allow your mind to roam without any specific purpose.
– As the thoughts come through, pay attention to them but do not judge. Just note them and allow them to flow.

So, why not try it right now! Take a deep, mindful breath, close your eyes and allow yourself to take part in a daydream. Relax and let yourself drift off for a few moments. It is good for your health!

Holiday Mindfulness To Do List

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Anyone who works in a school knows the full out relief of a long summer break. Day in and day out the strain of the overwhelming responsibility weighs on the shoulders of each person. Some loads are heavier than others but they all put a relentless stress during school time.

Most of us know all about this before we even enter the profession. We are warned and told the horror stories. However, over the years the stresses of continued curriculum changes, societal changes and ever increasing expectation and accountability puts our health and well-being at risk.

So, it is very important that we take the time during to summer break to look after ourselves and start developing habits that will support us through the rest of the year.

Summer Mindfulness To Do List

1- Gratitude– In the hustle and bustle of the school year, we can sometimes forget to bask in the success that have been achieved. Take some time to write out all the wonderful things you can think have happened this last year.

2- Meditations– Meditating is a habit. When forming a new habit you must:
* Set a Reminder– the trigger that initiates the behaviour. I suggest an alarm on your phone early in the day (after you know you will be awake but before you would go out for the day) that goes off daily.
* Make a Routine– when the alarm goes off stop whatever you are doing and begin your meditation. An overview of meditations can be found here.
* Reward– Once you have finished your meditation, smile and give yourself a mental pat on the back as you recognise how you are feeling in those first moments following the meditation.

A number of guided meditations can be found here:  https://tinyurl.com/EducationsVoiceMeditations

3- Mindful Walks– We all know that walks can clear the cobwebs and make use feel better. This holiday, when you take the walks, focus on one aspect of the walk. For example, decide on a colour you want to notice. As you walk, look for that colour. When you see it, use it as a reminder to take a deep mindful breath and focus on the object with the colour and the characteristics of that object. If other thoughts, like work, come to mind, allow them to float past you like a cloud and not allow yourself to wallow in the thought.

4- Learn Something New– Studies suggest that adult learning has a positive impact on self-esteem and self-efficacy when the learning provided meets the needs of the learner, and when the learner is at a stage in their life when they are ready and receptive to benefit from it. So, basically, if we learn something we want to learn and not because we have to learn it, the positive benefits support our well-being. What will you learn to do this holiday? Knitting, crocheting, making tissue flowers, baking?

5- #RAK – Pledge to do one Random Act of Kindness each day. It doesn’t need to be big. It could be to allow a car to go ahead of you in a traffic jam or it could be paying for the person behind you at the coffee shop. Maybe it is to give a lonely looking person a sincere smile or leaving little positive notes in high traffic areas a rays of sunshine for other people.

During this break, make your well-being a priority. No one can do it for you. YOU have to do it!

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Top Mindfulness Tips for Supply/Substitute Teachers

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Being a supply/substitute teacher is not an easy gig. Many times you are walking into an unknown classroom filled with children that may find Ann known teacher distressing or a license to test the behaviour waters. A supply/substitute teacher needs to have a tool kit of quick and easy ways to support calm across the classroom. Many mindfulness activities can do just that!

Here are my Top Mindfulness Tips for Supply/Substitute Teachers:

1- BREATHE! Within the first few minutes, teach the children how to do Deep Mindful Breathing. Start off by explaining you are teaching them how they can trick their brain to believe they are calm. Explain the science of this technique. The strategy can be found here.
(You could even tell them it is a secret trick and show them one of the themed Breathing strategies.)

2- MEDITATION MUSIC Have a USB drive that you have downloaded a significant number of meditation songs or, better yet, download a 3-4 hour meditation music compilation from YouTube. Keep the music handy to play in the background while children are doing independent work. It will help to keep a sense of calm. More about this strategy can be found here.

3- MINDFUL DOODLING  Children are usually told NOT to doodle. Explain to them that this Doodling is special and will help them to remember what they have been taught today (relaxes the mind to allow the learning make connections in the brain. Play the meditation music in the background. The strategy is explained here.

4- MINDFUL LISTENING Explain to the children that the Headteacher/Principal has a special mission for them today. When they hear a special bell ring, they are to stop, close their eyes and just silently listen to all the things they can hear inside and outside the classroom. Then when you say stop, they are to quietly write the sounds down and go back to work. At the end of the day, all the lists are collected and given to the Headteacher/Principal. (You must give to the Headteacher/Principal as the children WILL as them!) You can find a special bell here.

5- GRATITUDE Throughout the day, get the children to stop, take three mindful breaths and silently write one thing they are thankful for on their special GRATITUDE LIST. By the end of the day, the list will be long and filled with happy thoughts. Send it home with the children to share with their parents. More information on Mindful Gratitude can be found here.

Sometimes it is the simple things that have the greatest impact.

Mindfulness for Children- Top Mindful Sleep Tips For Parents

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A common concern for parents is the lack of their child’s ability to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. According to research by the National Sleep Foundation, sleep deprivation  in children results in:

  • Poor concentration leading to a fall in academic performance.
  • Chronically sleep-deprived teenagers become more impulsive leading to risk-taking behaviours.
  • Sleeping problems increase the risk of disorders such as depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Children start getting negative feelings which may lead to depression.

How Much Sleep Does a Child Need?

National-Sleep-Foundation-recommendations

A study showed that an increase in sleep time by approximately 30 minutes every night for 5 nights had an immediate impact on emotional ability and restless-impulsive behaviors of children in school. (1)

With this in mind, how can you, as a parent, support your child in getting the right amount of sleep each night?

Top Sleep Tips 

  • Bed Time:  Have a set bed time or wind-down time to bed time. Set patterns trigger the habit of sleep.
  • Mindful Breathing:  The breathing changes energy from tension to relaxation. It does this by turning off our sympathetic nervous system that produces stress hormones. This then turns on our parasympathetic nervous system, which turns off the stress hormone pump. So, deep breathing relaxes the body, decreases the heart rates lowers the blood pressure and creates the feeling of calmness.
    • Belly Breathing– Sit or lay comfortably. Place your hands on your belly and take a deep breath in for four counts, blowing up your belly like a balloon. Hold the breath for one count and then slowly exhale for five counts, deflating the balloon in your belly. Continue to do this for a few minutes until you see or feel calm and relaxed. (With young children, have them place their soft cuddly animal on their tummies to do this exercise.)
  • Mindful Gratitude– Once the child has relaxed with the mindful breathing, have them think of one thing they are thankful for or made them happy during the day. Have them imagine what it felt like, encouraging them to close their eyes and see it in their mind and smile.
  • Meditation Music:  Sometimes silence is worse than noise and can keep children awake. Playing soft meditation music can help children relax as they listen and drift off to sleep. (You can find several free options on my YouTube channel that can be found here.)
  • BEDTIME – GUIDED MEDITATIONS for Children:  Turn off the lights and play one of the following guided meditations (or find your own in my library of sleep meditations found here.)

If, after a period of time, this does not help your child drift off into a peaceful sleep and get the recommended sleep time, I suggest visiting your family doctor for support and advice.

(1) Gruber R, Cassoff J, Frenette S, Wiebe S, Carrier J. Impact of sleep extension and restriction on children’s emotional lability and impulsivity. Pediatrics. 2012 Nov;130(5):e1155-61. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-0564. Epub 2012 Oct 15.