Mindfulness is fast becoming a ‘hot’ topic for schools in search of strategies and techniques to support staff with ever increasing expectations and a fast changing, increasingly complex world. Here Bernadette Lax, Headteacher at Herne Bay Infant School and Seashells Nursery describes their ‘softly – softly’ journey towards a more mindful school culture.
Introducing mindfulness into our large infant school on the East Kent coast, was not easy to start with. I can clearly remember the pain in writing it into the School Plan a few summers ago, deleting the section adding it and deleting it many times over a number of months.
I’m not a woman generally prone to indecision but I could see that my own commitment to meditation practice that I began in my 20s (and dropped for 15 along the way) was a very personal thing that I didn’t want to impose on my staff. Yet mindfulness was fast creeping into mainstream and I wanted to facilitate the opportunity for staff to be informed and make their own choices and of course I wanted both the staff and children to enjoy the many benefits.
I looked into corporate options such as Mindfulness in Schools however it was beyond both my financial and time budget. We were pulling ourselves out of “Requires Improvement” at the time and other staff training priorities had to come first.
Our collaboration then the Coastal Alliance (now the Coastal Alliance Co- operative) hold an annual common training day for our 14 schools. As part of the working party planning a day on staff well being I booked Mark Leonard – from Mindfulness 4 Change to lead and hour an half session. Mark’s approach was evidence based and experiential. Crucially he advocated mindfulness practice as a vehicle to instigate positive social change rather than a panacea to placate staff and merely help them manage stress. The training was very well received, several staff began to use mindfulness apps and I could see a general openness culture beginning.
Since then I have taken the- small changes can make a big difference- approach to build on what was a very positive whole school start.
- A minute of mindfulness at the beginning of meetings. Using a Timer app bell [very helpfully provided free by Mark’s company] we give ourselves a minute. I always make it clear that the space is being created for spending as each person wishes –breathing practice, scanning your own body for tensions to release, listening meditations, or if preferred planning your dinner. In other words I have no wish to become the mindfulness police.
- Leading short mindfulness practice with the children in assemblies – starting with guided body scans .Also short breathing exercises -tracing fingers of one hand up and down the other hand whilst breathing in and out. The children really do enjoy it and they love telling us how they used it at home with their parents!
- Using a singing bowl in assemblies for short listening meditations. This is a truly beautiful time in our week, many children close their eyes – some spontaneously now do the breathing using the finger exercise described above.
- Teaching staff are also using ideas modelled in assemblies as well as developing their own class, many classes requested a singing bowl, so now each class has one.
- Many staff are using mindfulness apps in their own time, amongst the benefits raved about are -better sleep , the ability to switch off and rest, feeling much more relaxed and in control
- We have TA training planned this term and also a session for our office/communications team to use mindfulness in dealing with change – again with Mark Leonard from Mindfulness 4 Change.
- One our SEN team will be running a yoga and mindfulness club next term – some places will be by invitation to children who we believe will especially benefit
- We can see the very strong links between mindfulness and coaching and so we are looking to implement the Coaching into Appraisal programme from Gary Edwards and John Truman in September. This is all part of a holistic, strategic approach as we will build some more encouragement of mindfulness and meditation as part of the preparation for coaching conversations.
I have no doubt that other practices and initiatives will emerge and develop that I can’t list here – but that is exactly the point. A fundamental principle of mindfulness is about enabling staff to become more aware of themselves and the environment around them and to become more skilled and empowered to make positive decisions.
So we really don’t know what will emerge or who will lead the changes yet but I am sure we are slowly becoming a much more mindful community that will continue to delight in being together, learning together and growing together
Questions for thought
- What opportunities do you find for reflecting and being more aware of yourself and the environment around you? What benefits does or could this bring for you?
- How do you encourage your colleagues in this?
- How do you ensure that you and colleagues can engage in meetings being energised and with the right frame of mind for deep thinking, positivity and innovative problem solving?
- Do you and your colleagues role-model the right kind of reflective, mindfulness behaviours for children/students?
If you would like to find out more about mindfulness or enquire about a staff training session using these techniques then you can contact Mark Leonard via his website: http://www.mindfulness4change.com and there is also further details about Mark and his company here on the PMB website.