We are now more than halfway through half term. I hope you have taken (and are still taking) time to reflect and are not worrying about schemes of work and returning to work on Monday. Yeah right!
Really though, have you ever thought about what your true purpose on Earth is? We only get one life and are you making the most of it? Teaching and inspiring others is a great vocation but it is only since I left teaching I have realised the real reason why I and many others left. Yes it is stressful but so is running your own business - doubly so.
No the real reason I, and I suspect many others, left is that I was not living my true purpose. We are not put on this earth to serve Governments and spend our lives trying to accumulate more stuff. Yet that is at the crux of our education system. Only we can change it from the inside. Reflect on your best lessons - the ones where you felt happiest and the kids came alive. I bet they weren't focused on learning outcomes or targets; more likely you were all having fun. I'm not talking about hedonistic fun here - rather singing, dancing, being connected to nature, telling stories, painting pictures and engaging the imagination in creative ways.
Things are slowly starting to improve - we have forest and beach schools for example. But it isn't enough. Today's children are different. They are more knowing and realise that there is more to life than SATs and GCSEs. Do you have the courage to help your staff and pupils develop as individuals? Perhaps you are unsure how. More than likely you are afraid too. Change is always scary even when it's for the better. Let us lend a listening ear. We know it is lonely at the top but we are here to help. Contact us today and start living your true purpose right now.
While I was working as a supply teacher on and off for 10 years I noticed that as time went on teachers were going off sick for longer periods of time and with more serious conditions. There were also more problems with recruiting and retaining staff and teachers leaving midway through the academic year. A report by BBC News shows that on average each school spends £168 a year on each pupil for extra staffing. The NAHT reports schools are spending thousands of pounds to agencies on recruiting new teachers.
However it is not all doom and gloom. Investing in your staff's well being will pay for itself many times over. A school in London invested in coaching for their staff and not one teacher resigned last year. Another in Bristol created a coaching culture and their last two OFSTED inspections have been outstanding.
Last year I was running a workshop in a school and teachers reported back that using a technique I taught they were sleeping better. So even if one member of staff has a better night's sleep and has one fewer day off sick our mindfulness course has paid for itself.
If you are not able to attend due to time or physical location please contact us to see how we can help you save money.
There are only a few days left of the school holiday and if you haven't started working already you are no doubt thinking about it. As a school leader though have you thought about your vision for the year and how you are going to inspire and motivate your staff? How self-aware are you? Do you know how much your conditioning and beliefs affect your behaviour?
All the exam results are in now. Regardless of whether they were better or worse than expected it is important to remember everyone, teachers and pupils alike, were doing the best they could given their circumstances. I have worked in schools where on the first day back the head has projected their frustrations onto the staff. How do you think that is going to affect them?
So before rushing back take some time to think and reflect on the last year. How have you grown and developed as a person in that time? What do you still need to work on? Remember as the leader you have the most influence on your school and it starts with you. If you are not in a leadership position yet you are still leading your class(es).
Learning to act more mindfully and being aware of how your thoughts and emotions drive your behaviour will help you and your staff and pupils. To find out more about how we can help with coaching and workshops contact us today.
Here at Happy Teachers we are committed to bringing good quality training that will make a real difference to your life. However that also requires commitment from you. We can give you the tools but if you do not use them life will go on pretty much as before.
Our trainers have a minimum of 10 years' experience and a daily spiritual practice. We know you may not have as much time to devote to your own development but as teachers you know that it takes years to perfect your craft. You will not get any lasting benefit from a teacher who has been on a six week secular mindfulness course and what you will learn will be ineffective at best.
Don't take our word for it - try it out for yourself. Contact us today and book a twilight session to get you and your staff started.
The education system is finally realising that it needs to look after its staff, hooray! 'Well-being', 'mindfulness', 'resilience', 'growth mindset' and other such buzzwords are popping up in educational talks and articles everywhere.
With so many teachers leaving & taking time off sick it can't come too soon. However I have heard teachers saying things like 'oh no, something else for us to do!' and I totally get that. We live in an age where were receive more information in a day than someone living in the 17th century would their whole life.
Then there's the problem with the quality of teaching. There is no set standard so it can be hit and miss. For example there is an organisation that trains 'mindfulness teachers' which only requires a minimum of 2 years' experience. So you could join a class or get someone into your school, with all the best intentions, and they would be ineffective at best or end up doing more harm than good at worst. Practising mindfulness has been proved scientifically to be beneficial to one's physical as well as mental health so it could be natural to assume because it is simple in nature it is easy to teach.
Herein lies the problem. The road to enlightenment is not all nice and fluffy. As soon as you become a serious practitioner off come the layers - it has been likened to peeling and onion, tears and all. As you get to really know yourself all that stuff from the past you thought you'd dealt with can pop up any time, and usually again and again with deeper insight each time. So this is why it is important to have a teacher who has that depth of practice.
Mindfulness takes courage, you have to be prepared to face your demons and sit with them. There is more to it than counting breaths and eating raisins. Those are great practices in themselves but as you go deeper with the practice more demons will reveal themselves. The benefits of doing this though are huge. Life doesn't necessarily get any easier, stuff happens but the way you view difficulties will change.
So for today's exercise start noticing how you distract yourself when things get uncomfortable. A big one for many teachers seems to be Twitter for example or maybe you reach for the biscuits or (as in my case) crisps or alcohol or TV. Can you sit with the discomfort even if it's just a few minutes? Notice what you are thinking. What are you craving and what are you avoiding? Do this with kindness and humour. If you are finding it really difficult then reach out for help, no one has to do this alone.
If you are able repeat this several times a week and over time you will become more aware of your habits and what you do to relieve tension. Then you can make more skilful choices. So, for example, instead of having a glass of wine before bed you may opt for a cup of camomile tea, instead of watching the news you will choose to listen to music or instead of getting caught up in an argument on Twitter you may choose to go out for a coffee with a friend.
I have been practising mindfulness meditation for 10 years now. You don't always notice the benefits immediately but one day you will look back and realise how far you have come.
For more information about how Helen can help your school please contact us today.
This week I have read books about two very different approaches to school leadership.
The first was Supporting the Emotional Work of School Leaders ( Leading Teachers, Leading Schools) by Belinda Harris. This is the only book for school leaders that I have come across that goes deeper than improving exam results and passing the OFSTED inspection and advocates transformational change from within. It is very indicative of the current situation in education that this book was written 10 years ago and how little has changed.
Belinda Harris draws on a wealth of experience and research, both theoretical and practical, to back up her claims. With so many teachers leaving the profession and suffering stress-related illnesses working from the inside out is not 'fluffy stuff' but vital to education's future. Now more schools are taking up 'mindfulness' and 'well-being' things are slowly changing but a lot of it is still superficial and does not go deep enough for lasting change. In my view becoming more self aware and the importance of self care needs to be embedded from initial teacher training so this book should be read by everyone who works in education, not just school leaders. Every member of staff is a leader, just at different levels.
A lot of what Belinda writes about is probably still beyond the comprehension of many school leaders who have never worked on themselves. I've worked in over 40 schools and I have seen very few that are aware of their inner processes and how it affects their school ethos. However it will take a few school leaders to take that leap of faith and try it out for themselves to see the difference it can make to life in and out of school. I do think that is beginning to happen but not quickly enough in my opinion.
I was in tears reading this book because there is so much evidence that by becoming more self aware we can change the world for the better but very little is changing in that regard in education.
The second was Headstrong: 11 Lessons of School Leadership by Dame Sally Coates. I call this a 'car crash' book - I read a sample on my Kindle and had to buy the book because I could not believe what I had read and wanted to be qualified to comment fully. This is not a book in lessons of leadership rather a story of management, and not very good at that. I do believe Sally (sorry titles don't impress me, actions do) did nave the best interests of the pupils and staff in her care at heart but she came across as completely unaware of the lasting impact of her actions. She did not give much explanation about her background or what qualified her to be asked to turn around a failing school other than being a headteacher in another school for 10 years. From what I can see, although she had been teaching for 40 years, her experience inside and outside education is very limited. She had only worked in two schools in London and it would appear that she has never worked in any other sectors.
There are many contradictions in this book and I would need to write another to cover them all fully. She bandies about the term 'emotional intelligence' but does not apply it to herself. It is interesting that Belinda Harris is quite dismissive of Daniel Goleman, I've never felt comfortable with his work either, yet Sally Coates cites his work at regular intervals throughout the book. She has no boundaries for herself or her staff, priding herself on always being 'available' yet any good leader knows self-care is paramount. She is proud of the fact that teachers 'drag themselves in' - her words, not mine - rather than take time off when they are sick and calls them at all times in the evenings and weekends. A lot of her staff were young so perhaps they were able cope with this kind of pressure and didn't have many other commitments but I was under the impression that she has dismissed the wisdom and experience that older teachers can bring to the leadership team.
Here is a woman who is so afraid to be vulnerable and let any weaknesses show. Bullies are usually covering up their own insecurities and she openly admitted she wanted her staff and pupils to be a bit afraid of her. There is no reference to what happened in her early life that makes her so hard on herself. I agree with her on one point though and that is the ethos and the culture of the school reflects on the headteacher. However she is blinded by her own definition of 'success' and does not see that it means different things to different people. She was very dismissive of people outside London who, in her view, were not as ambitious. I wonder who cuts her hair? Her lawyer? Her doctor? There is more to life than GCSEs and not everybody wants to go to Oxbridge, just look at their suicide rates.
I am concerned about the lasting damage she has caused with her 'headstrong' approach; to those teachers she told were 'inadequate' simply based on the hearsay of SLT, to those children that did not conform whose spirits she broke by her punitive measures (2 hours' detention after school on a Friday and 8 sides of lines and then only looking at the cause of their behaviour if they came back 4 or 5 times), to her young staff who have not had a good role model in self care and not least to her own children, who as teenagers need their mother at this time more than any other, while she was working 60 hours a week.
This is not a sustainable model as evidenced by the school's exam results which dropped sharply the year after she left the school. Her changes were all about outward appearances and results rather than celebrating differences. She does pay lip service to this but then seeks to get rid of anyone who does not conform to her view of the world. I sincerely hope she has retired and has moved a long way from education so she cannot inflict any further damage. We need more heartstrong leaders not headstrong ones. Read this book by all means to see why our education system is in the state it is and then read Supporting the Emotional Work of School Leaders and take leadership lessons from that.
I was also in tears reading this book but for very different reasons. I feel for Sally who is obviously suffering deep inside, even if she doesn't know it, and all the people who have had their lives and careers destroyed by her actions. I have had it done to me in the past and I know what that feels like.
If you would like to become a more heartstrong leader to create lasting change please contact us today and see how we can help.
There was an article in the Independent last week linking heavy social media use in young people with depression. Whether spending a lot of time on social media causes depression or vice versa is up for debate. On the same day I came across a young NQT on Twitter who had commented that joining Twitter was the best thing she had done since becoming a teacher. This rang a few alarm bells for me. Great to spend a few minutes a day connecting with people but the best thing ever?
As a school leader are you aware if your young (or not so young) teachers are relying heavily on social media? Obviously I don't know the young lady concerned but it did make me wonder what support she is getting in 'the real world'. Social media can be fun in small doses but it should not be a coping mechanism. There is also the problem of cyber-bullying too. It's happened to me but I just delete the comments and block the person. That's not to say it doesn't affect me though but I choose not to react.
Being a mathematician I decided to do a few calculations. A young primary school teacher I follow has been on Twitter since July 2012 (45 months at the time of posting this). She has made 46,800 tweets in that time which is an average of 35 a day. According to the DofE a primary school teacher works an average of 59 hours a week. Taking into account school holidays this averages out at 44.25 hours a week. With 168 hours in a week and taking off time for sleeping, working, travelling and eating I worked out that leaves on average 7 hours a day so 5 tweets an hour. Can you imagine how much time she must spend online, and not taking into account time spent on other websites? What are the effects on her physical health too?
For the record my stats are 83 months on Twitter and 3109 tweets at the time of writing this, an average of 37 a month or just over 1 a day.
So as a school leader are you aware of the impact this could be having on your school? Contact us today to book a consultation to see how we can help.
Imagine how life in your school would be transformed if you and your teachers practised compassion meditation. Some of the effects of a regular practice would be less stress, less sickness as well as less anger and reactivity. Many school leaders are now realising that the only way to transform our education system is from within. More compassionate teachers will have a beneficial effect on the pupils as well as spreading out into life beyond school.
Stacy Colino US News: In recent years, mindfulness meditation has garnered loads of attention for its beneficial effects on the body and mind. Now, there's a new star on the block: compassion meditation, a less well-known but increasingly popular contemplative practice that aims to strengthen feelings of compassion and empathy toward different people (both those you care about and those who are difficult).
At Happy Teachers we know how busy school life is so one of our experienced meditation teachers will come and arrange a course tailored to your needs. We also appreciate that school budgets are tight but the money you will save on recruitment fees and supply cover means you cannot afford not to! Contact us today to arrange a consultation.
Unless you've been in outer space for the last week you will have heard the news that the government intend to 'force' all schools to become academies by 2020. I am not going to get involved with any political debate or say whether this is a good or bad thing. There has been a lot in the news and on social media saying more teachers will leave, schools will be employing unqualified teachers and amongst other reactions.
So where does that leave you? The general consensus seems to be that don't have a choice. We always have a choice. We may not be able to control what the government (or anyone else)does but we can choose our response. I have worked in over 40 schools - primary, secondary, 6th forms, academies, free schools, independent schools as well as maintained schools. In each sector there are 'successful' and 'failing' schools. When I am inside a school the type doesn't make a lot of difference to my experience. The biggest factor affecting the ethos of the school is the leadership.
Several years ago when one of my local schools became one of the first academies with a shiny new building I asked a friend who was working there what it was like. 'New building but still the same kids and teachers,' was her response. What is yours?
We work with visionary head teachers and senior staff to help them stay focussed on their values and regardless of what is going on around them. Contact us today for a chat to see how we can help you.
What is mindfulness?
In a nutshell it's paying attention to what is happening in the present moment without judgement. As well as noticing what is going on around you; sights, sounds, smells etc. be aware of what is happening in your body, any tension, aches and pains and your thoughts and emotions. You don't need to do anything or change anything it is simply what it is. This sounds easy but it isn't always! How often do we react first and think afterwards? Practising mindfulness won't necessarily change your behaviour overnight but you will notice a change over time.
To give an example, I was once teaching a class of lively year 7s with some challenging boys. About halfway through the lesson I was struggling to get them to focus. I paused for a second and stopped reacting and I acknowledged that things were out of control. Just noticing and being aware of how things were without trying to change anything helped me to relax and the lesson went more smoothly after that.
Our experienced practitioners would love to come and work with you. We can do anything from a twilight session to a whole inset day giving you and your staff simple techniques to help them take care of themselves. The benefits are proven and will reduce your sickness and recruitment bills. Contact us today to see how we can help.