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 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!

A Teacher’s Mindfulness- I Can’t Stop Thinking!

 

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Over the last few weeks I have had a lot if time to reflect on my mental health and well-being. I have taken time to relax and recharge and become firmer in my belief that practicing mindfulness is changing my life for the positive.

During this time, I have realised that we have to make a concerted effort to bring happiness, joy and positivity into our lives. Mindfulness takes an effort and commitment. It is medicine for the soul.

On many occasions I have had people say they have tried mindfulness a time or two and they just can’t do it, particularly formal or guided meditation. They say that they can’t stop themselves from thinking. Thoughts keep flooding the silence , they get frustrated with themselves and they give up.

Well, of course your mind will flood with thoughts. That is what brains do, they think! On top of this, we have formed habits of always thinking. We multitask because that has been seen in modern society as a sign of a successful person. We worry that if we don’t deal wth the thoughts immediately we will lose something important. We think about the past, replaying conversations we have had or things we have done. We plan for the future; racing ahead to what we will do tomorrow, next week, next year. It is a habit; a well worn path we default to at any extra moment we have. It literally takes up hours of our day and is like a comfort blanket; predictable and comfortable.

If, for a moment, you allow yourself to have a thought during meditation, you tell yourself off; punishing yourself! You get frustrated and give up. That is the opposite of mindfulness!

So, how can you break those bad habits and create new neurological pathways that allow you to develop your own mindfulness and reap the benefits?

You don’t get better at anything unless you practice and exercise. So, here is an exercise to do to start building new neuropathways and creating a new habit- mindfulness.

1- Find a quiet place to sit comfortably and set the timer or stop watch on your phone for two minutes.

2- Start the timer, close your eyes and take 15 deep breaths- breathe in deeply, hold for a second and then exhale completely. (This will take about a minute.)

3- Then, breathe normally. At this point count your thoughts. As a thought comes to mind, count it, accept it and then let it float away on a cloud knowing that if it is important, it will come again at a more acceptable time to deal with it appropriately.

4- When the alarm rings, stop and make a note of how many thoughts you have had. It really does not matter how many thoughts you have. You are mindfully recognising you are having the thought. The key is that you accept you have thoughts and that they are just that, thoughts.

5- Do this a few times each day for a week. You should start to notice fewer thoughts over time.

This, in itself, is mindfulness. Accepting you have thoughts and that it is OK starts you on the road of being mindful of the moment and give yourself permission to relax. New pathways in your brain begin to form and a breaking of a habit starts to take place.

Once you notice a reduction in thoughts, start to try short guided meditations that can be found for free on YouTube. Slowly increase the length of time over the weeks. In time you will realise you are having a thought, but it quickly disappears and you won’t remember them for the most part. (Don’t worry. If it is an important thought, you will have it again later!)

Some recommendations for guided meditations can be found in the post:  Mindfulness in the Classroom- A Teacher’s Mindfulness.

Remember, you are not your thoughts.

Your thoughts are not reality.

You, here and now, are reality.

Take some time today to start creating more positive habits. It is worth the effort to a more relaxed and happier you.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

How Did I Get Here?

Honestly, I am not very sure!

You see, like most teachers, I trained to teach. My passion is teaching and learning. I think what adds to my confusion to the position I am in today as Principal of one of the first primary academies in England is that I never set out to lead a school.

I grew up and trained in the USA. Then, I went on to teach in the USA for 10 years. When I moved to the UK, I was able to think long and hard about my career. Would my teaching practices be accepted? You see, I have some deep philosophical ideas about teaching and feel very strongly about my own style and abilities. I have been known to do things a bit differently, to put it mildly, and try things that few have tried before. This could have been disastrous!

Fortunately, I had the great fortune of landing in an inner city, multi-culture school that allowed me to be the teacher I am and accepted my, sometimes unorthodox, practices. It was in this school that the road to leadership began. The belief in my abilities by the Headteacher and Deputy Headteacher supported my growing ethos and philosophy and desire to make a difference beyond my own classroom.

In the blink of an eye, which was two schools later, I found myself interviewing to become a Headteacher. I had visited the school and immediately fell in love. Realistically, I didn’t think I had a chance. But, I felt honoured to be able to be a part of the process.

Unbeknownst to me, the governors were looking for someone like me for the school. They weren’t scared that I was a bit different or put off by my ethos. They embraced them and, in this environment, I continued to grow and develop as both an educator and a leader.

I clearly remember my first day as I walked up to the doors of the school. My heart started beating fast and felt a bit panicked. I was in charge of this whole school! The buck stopped with me! Oh my!

I don’t have a secret formula for leading a school. What I do know is that I must always keep looking ahead and not be satisfied to sit back and wait. I try to instil that in the ethos of the academy and give it the room to grow. When I decide to take a leap, the staff embrace the challenge and leap with me. At the end of the day, the top priority is what is best for the children right now!

So, how did I get here? I was in the right place at the right time and, scary as it is, I keep leaping off the cliff into the unknown because it is what I believe is the best thing for the children.

What do you believe in? Will you take a leap into the unknown for that belief?