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.

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!

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.

 

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?