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.

Mindfulness in the Classroom- Every Little Bit Counts

Design

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!

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!

Mindfulness in the Classroom – Mindful Facial Massages

 

DesignThe development of mindfulness has, at its heart, the reduction of stress hormone levels. Teaching children a number of Mindfulness strategies allows children to find the ones that best meets their needs and successfully reduces their stress and anxiety.

Massage and the power of touch is naturally relaxing and is a way to reduce these stress hormones. Maria Hernandez-Reid is a researcher at the Touch Research Institute. She says that the lowering of stress hormones not only reduces the feelings of anxiety but also supports a healthier immune system.

Here are some simple personal facial massages that children and adults can do to support their own mindfulness.

Before you begin:

– Ensure that hands have been washed well.
– Play gentle meditation music in the background.
– Sit or lay down comfortably.
– Take some deep mindful breaths to kick start the relaxation

Chin Massage
– Use your index and middle finger of each hand.
– Begin at the top of your jaw near your ears on both sides at the same time and move in a small circular motion five times.
– Move your fingers down the jaw line and move then in a circular motion five times.
– Repeat the motions as you move down the jaw bone towards the chin.
– At the point of the chin, use one set of fingers and repeat the circular motion five times.
– Repeat the sequence as many times as desired.

Eyebrow Massage
– Use your thumb and index finger on each hand.
– Begin at the area between your eyebrows and softly pinch for a count of five.
– Move your fingers outwards over your eyebrows and, again, softly pinch for a count of fives.
– Repeat the motions as you move towards the temples.
– Repeat the sequence as many times as desired.

Ear Massage
– Use your entire hand and cup the top of each of your ears and gently squeeze for a count of five.
– Move down the ears, continuing to gently squeeze for a count of five.
– Finish by placing your thumbs in the dent behind the bottom of your ear lobe (where it joins your face) and apply gentle pressure for a count of five.
– Repeat the sequence as many times as desired.

Cat’s Whiskers Massage
– Use your three middle fingers of each hand and make a W.
– Place the fingers on either side of your mouth, applying gentle pressure.
– Gently sweep your fingers across the face with gentle pressure as if you were drawing cat’s whiskers.
– Repeat the sequence as many times as desired.

You can use one massage or a combination of massages. Try out a variety of ways to find what best fits you and your class.
Top tip: Encourage deep, even mindful breathing during all of the massages and have them focus on the feel of their fingers against their skin.

If you like this, try Mindful Head Massage.

Mindfulness In the Classroom – Spread Positivity!

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Sometimes, despite our best efforts in teaching children (and adults) about mindfulness, using mindfulness strategies and being mindful, we forget about it in the times of greatest distress unless it is truly embedded in our minds. This is why I believe it is important to have visual reminders that support that subliminal message to take control of our emotions and believe in ourselves.

This post is a simple one. It is filled with pictures that I have created over the last year that can be copied, saved and made into printable posters for your classroom and across the school. All I ask is that there is some acknowledgement that it came from Education’s Voice. Otherwise, use as is appropriate for you and your school.

Please note, some pictures are more appropriate for staff than children and we MUST NOT forget the adults in our schools! They need reminders as well.

 

 

 

Mindfulness For Children – Top Test Taking Tips for PARENTS

Design

As outlined in the post, Mindfulness in the Classroom – Test Taking Tips, despite our best efforts as teachers in preparing children for these tests and ensuring they have the right skills to be successful on them, test anxiety can throw a spanner in the works; causing children to react in ways that sabotages their ability to show all they know.

The use of Mindfulness as we support children in preparing for the test can give them the edge to perform to their best ability and not allow the stress to impact on the greater spectrum of life. The lifelong skills of dealing with stress will support them not only for the test but for the general stresses in life.

We need to remember that Mindfulness is not about not having stress. It is about controlling how you react to the stress.

As parents, we can mindfully support our children before, during and after the test.

Before:
Support any homework:  We know that, at times, the homework can be confusing and frustrating for both the parent and child. This is a good time to practice a simple 10 Second Mindfulness exercise together, STOP.

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10 Second Mindfulness- STOP
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.

Remind your child that it is ok to get things wrong sometimes and not everyone is perfect.

– Discuss How They Are Feeling: Developing emotional intelligence is to get children to understand that their emotions are valid. It is not bad to have emotions, good or bad. It is how they deal with and react to these emotions that makes a difference. Talk about emotions like you talk about the weather- Often and every day!
* What emotion are you feeling right now? How does it feel? Is this a good emotion to have in control? How can we change emotions?

During:

SLEEP! The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following:

Children 6-13 years: Recommended- 9-11 hours Appropriate- 7-8 hours
Teenagers 14-17 years: Recommended- 8-10 hours Appropriate- 7-11 hours

We should never underestimate the power of good sleeping habits. Children who are persistently sleep-deprived seem irritable and overactive, seek constant stimulation, are easily distracted and don’t concentrate well.

To help ease your child to a peaceful sleep, use a Guided Sleep Meditation like one of the following:

Everything Will Be Ok: https://youtu.be/FPdANK5jLWE
Always Do Your Best: https://youtu.be/nRD-vwY95JM
Dealing With Emotions: https://youtu.be/OfeJ91mleFE
Deep Sleep (for teenagers): https://youtu.be/kUEUm0BcgBo

Eat Well! Make sure they have a good evening meal as well as a good breakfast. It gives them the energy to take on the challenges of the day. Add a simple Mindful Eating exercise to get the day started.

First Bite Mindful Eating Exercise

1- Have your LOOK at the food they will be eating. Silent,they are to observe what it looks like? What do you notice?
What colour is it?
Is it small or large?
2- Have your child smell the food.
Does it have a smell?
What does it smell like?
3- Have your child, very slowly, put the piece of food in their mouth but not chew it! Leave it on the tongue.
How does it feel on the tongue?
Can you taste anything?
Does it smell differently in your mouth?
5- Have your child begin to chew slowly; one mindful chew at a time.
Does the taste change?
How does it feel in the mouth?
6- Try to get them notice when they swallow, and see how far you can feel the food into your body.

Be Flexible and Calm: Don’t over plan the days your child will be taking their tests. Follow their lead and do as much or as little as they want on the evenings. Sure, you may have paid for a club on the evening of the tests. But, if they don’t feel like going don’t! Change it up! Go for a walk! Grab an ice cream! Watch a movie! Be FLEXIBLE!

Afterwards:

CELEBRATE! Remind them that it doesn’t matter what they get on the test. There are far more things that the test does not measure, like their love for art, their sporty skills, their kind heartedness, their passion for creativity, etc. Do something that celebrates THEM!

But, MOST IMPORTANT of them ALL is to teach them THIS TOP TEST TAKING TIP:

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Parenting is not easy. But, by adding some mindfulness into your life and the life of your child, you ease the journey you take together as they become adults.

Mindfulness in the Classroom – Using Play Dough Part 2


In Mindfulness in the Classroom – Using Play Dough Part 2 , we continue to explore ideas of using Play Dough to develop mindfulness in the classroom that we began in Part 1.


Worry Stones

How to Make a Worry Stone:

– Give each child a small ball of dough. A good option at this point is to do a Play Dough Meditation outlined in Part 1.
– Get each child to slightly flatten the ball into the palm of the hand.

– They then place the slightly flattened ball on the table and press their thumb into the centre leaving a thumb sized indention.

– With damp finger tips, softly smooth the edges and cracks.

– Air Dry for 3 days or Oven Dry for 20 minutes at 200c

– Decorate as desired or leave more plain and Stone like.

– Coat with a thin layer of Modge Podge or PVC Glue. Repeat. (This will seal and give a smooth surface to the worry stone.

How to Use the Worry Stone:

Hold the stone between the index finger and thumb and gently move your thumb back and forth across the stone. While doing this, take deep, slow belly breaths focusing on the feel of the stone in your hand and the feel of the air as you inhale and exhale.


Finger Labyrinth 

How to Make a Finger Labyrinth from Play Dough:

You will need:

– large ball of Play Dough and a smaller ball of Play Dough

– Large piece of aluminium foil or wax/baking paper

– Rolling pin

– Photo/ print out of a finger Labyrinth you would like to make

How to Make a Finger Labyrinth:

– Take a larger ball of Play Dough and flatten into a large, thin round circle on a piece of aluminium foil or wax baking paper.

– Following the photo or print out, trace out the design into the dough

– Break off smaller pieces of the small ball and continue to roll out into a thin string and place on the lines drawn, applying pressure to join the dough and smooth the surfaces.

– With damp finger tips, smooth all edges.

– Air Dry for 3-4 days or combine OvenDry/Air Dry by oven drying for 15 minutes at 200c and then allow to air Dry for 1-2 days.

– Once dried, seal with two coats of Modge Podge or thin PVC glue.

How to use a Finger Labyrinth:

Take deep breaths to begin to relax and focus on the entrance to the labyrinth.

-Place your pointer finger from your non-dominate hand on the entrance of the labyrinth. If you find this too awkward at first, use your dominate hand. However, over time, keep trying your non-dominate hand. This helps keep the mind focused on the meditation due to the challenge it presents.

-Slowly trace the pattern of the labyrinth with your finger allowing your mind to clear from extra thought and focus solely on following the path of the labyrinth.

-“Walk” to the centre of the labyrinth and rest momentarily, taking deep breaths observing how you are feeling.

-Retrace your path out of the labyrinth.

-Sit back, breathe deeply and relax. Observe how you are feeling again.


Stone Tower Stones

Stacking stones to make towers have a very meditative quality as children concentrate to balance the stones. It gives children the opportunity to be quiet, think and focus just on what they are doing. Their silent fixed attention is fully in the moment of balancing the stones.

Traditionally, natural stones would be the preferable option. However, children will enjoy making their own “stones” and when connected to the Play Dough Meditation in Part 1 allows children to also use their own creativity.

Materials required:

– Give each child a ball of dough. You can use a variety of colours and even swirl a few colours together.

– While listening to calm meditation music, have the children make a variety of sizes and shapes.

– Allow to air Dry for 3-4 days. You can seal with Modge Podge or PVC glue or leave rough.

How to Build Stone Towers:

– 
 A collection of “stones” of different sizes, ensure that a large amount have some flatness on each side. But also include a variety of colours and roundness.
– A few pictures of stone towers so that children get the idea of the task and a challenge, “How many stones can you use to make a tower?”
– A place to do the building
– Optional: a camera so the child can take a picture of their tower or paper and pencils so they can make a sketch of their finished tower.
These are just a few examples of how Play Dough can be used to facilitate mindfulness in the classroom. What activities have you used that are successful?

Read Mindfulness in the Classroom – Using Play Dough Part 1