Tammie Prince talks about mindfulness, the wellbeing agenda and what she says to sceptics…
What attracted you to the practice of mindfulness?
Initially, I was looking for a way to deal with the stress that does with headship. I knew that the stress would not magically go away. Stress is a part of life. However, I knew there must be a way of being able to control my reactions to the stress. A friend introduced me to Yoga. I enjoyed it but found the meditation at the end of the yoga session to be the most relaxing for me. So, I started to investigate that part of the practice and came upon Mindfulness. I decided to take an 8 Week course on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and felt relief nearly immediately. I wished I had known about it before! While reflecting on my personal success with Mindfulness, I realised that the staff and children were suffering as well and they drove my desire to complete Action Research on Mindfulness in the Classroom.
How did the book come about?
As part of the Action Research, I began writing a blog that the teachers in my school could access at home to prepare for using Mindfulness in their classrooms. A bonus to this was the sharing of the ideas and successes we were seeing with a much wider audience (via the blog and through Twitter) that eventually included an editor from Bloomsbury Education Publishing. She contacted me and asked if I would like to put together a book proposal for their #100Ideas series on Mindfulness in the Classroom. I did and the rest is history.
What are your top tips for integrating mindfulness into school life?
1- Develop your own mindfulness. A calm, Mindful teacher or leader will lead to calm and mindful children. When they see you being a good role model of Mindfulness, they begin to see the true impact of the lifelong skill. You will have better days and be happier. So will the children. Positivity begets positivity.
2- Try out lots of ideas that you feel comfortable with and look at how it can be integrated into the daily life of your classroom. Transition periods are excellent times to insert Mindfulness activities. Get your children to “Stop and smell the roses!” Give them moments of peace. Develop it during periods of calm and encourage it in times of distress.
3- Explain to children what is happening to their bodies during stressful situations and then explain the process of calming down. The more they understand this, the better they will understand the process and they will come up with their own ways to be mindful.
4- A whole school approach to Mindfulness that runs through every aspect of the day, including assemblies, class work and behaviour management. Leaders need to be as mindful as the staff.
5- Remember that stress is a part of life. We can’t make the stress of the world go away. So, we need to learn how to minimise the effects of stress and not react in a way that enhances the stress.
Do you see mindfulness fitting into the wider wellbeing in schools agenda?
Yes, if Mindfulness is seen as a whole school approach, deeply embedded in the ethos of the school, the effects on the wider wellbeing in schools agenda can be enhanced. I am not saying we must accept all that is causing our stresses. Everyone has a part to play (from national government to classroom staff) in reducing unneeded policies and procedures that impact on work-life balance. But, we must also remember that this will not make our profession stress free.
Some people are sceptical about mindfulness, what would you say to them?
I can understand why people may be sceptical. Our first thoughts when we think of Mindfulness usually falls upon meditation and people sitting cross legged, fingers pinched, eyes closed and chanting, “Oommmm Oommm”. We imagine that the person is free of all thoughts, a completely blank mind. It all seems impossible. Mindful meditation is not about not having any thoughts, it is about not acting upon the thoughts; not giving them any headspace. In our hectic, multitasking lives, Mindfulness is about allowing ourselves to be single tasked for a moment. It is about emphasising what comes naturally to us when calming down; deep breathing, smiling, movement and sound. But, as with all things, Mindfulness will not ever work if you don’t have an open mind and give it a try.
What’s next for you? Is there another book or project in the pipeline?
Oh, that is Top Secret! If I tell you… well…
Seriously, I have learned to take one day at a time. I have just become Headteacher of my second school and I am enjoying the journey we are taking which includes Mindfulness development. I am training, staff, parents and governors in the development of Mindfulness in schools and expanding my blog. Another book? I never say never!