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.

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Talking Heads: Tammie Prince

This week I shared my thoughts on leadership with Talking Heads. If you are an educator and considering going into leadership, this is a great place to read what practicing leaders have to say.

Here are my thoughts. Click on the Talking Heads link below for the full article.

Talking Heads

Leadership Biography

Name: Tammie Prince

Phase: Primary

Sector: Maintained

Region: Yorkshire

Years Served in Education: 26 years

Years Served as a Headteacher: 9 years (I have just started my second headship in April.)

Leadership Journey:

  • Went to university in USA and taught there for 10 years.
  • Hillside Primary School, Leeds- EYFS/KS1 Leader
  • Bankside Primary School, Leeds- AHT
  • Kinsley Primary School, Wakefield- DHT
  • Green Lane Primary Academy, Leeds- Principal
    • Designated NLE (continues)
    • Led Teaching School Alliance
    • Executive Principal
  • Newlands Primary School, Wakefield- Headteacher
    • Continuing as NLE
  • Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration: There are far too many to name.  I tend to look at all leaders and take what I think is the best from them all to make my own style.

Twitter Handle: @Ed_Tmprince

Blog: educationsvoice.wordpress.com

Leadership Reflections

Why did I become a teacher?

Like most teachers, my desire to become an educator sprung from my love of learning. My fascination with the way…

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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!

#MonthOfMindfulness Challenge -Developing Mindfulness One Day At a Time

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The key to mindfulness is acceptance. Letting go of things we can’t control and not whining, whinging, moaning, complaining or dwelling on upsets in our lives. Choosing not to waste energy getting stressed and upset with the reality of life. Not allowing those things to take up the mental space and, not getting rid of the thoughts, but allowing the thoughts not to control you.

We need to remember that mindfulness is a way of life and not a one time, fix all activity. Thus, the development of mindfulness takes time. By taking a few moments to complete easy mindful tasks each day, you are supporting your own mindful practice and help yourself to reduce stress and anxiety.

Join me for a #MonthOfMindfulness. Each day , there is a new blog entry with an easy mindful task to complete for the day. Most will only take a few minutes.

Each day you can share your experiences with the task through comments this blog,    on Facebook via  https://www.facebook.com/educationsvoice/ or via Twitter @Ed_Tmprince using #MonthOfMindfulness .

Why don’t you start today by pledging to taking up the challenge by commenting on this blog or tweeting your commitment with #MonthOfMindfulness .

It is all for a good cause… YOUR HEALTH and WELL-BEING!

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.