With apologies to Otis Redding for the title, I want to introduce an idea that has helped me over the past few months as a leader. Mindfulness is clearly ‘on trend’ these days; I’m sure you will have heard of it and I have occasionally encountered it being discussed in education although never seen it in action.
Mindfulness is basically a psychological process for bringing your attention to the internal and external experiences occurring at the present moment. It is a practice linked with meditation (not, in this case, with mediation) and is one of those fascinating developments of our post-secular culture. The practice is rooted in Buddhism and could be described as ‘spiritual’ but has no religious overtones.
I am pretty rubbish at it. My mind is a butterfly and I’m constantly multi-tasking, forgetting things and getting distracted. I’ve downloaded a mediation app and I try to give it 10 minutes a day. I probably only manage the 10 minute practice twice a week at the moment but slowly I’m getting better. Those 10 minutes provide a focus on my motivation, my priorities and offer me something of a personal training exercise towards a healthier and less frenetic mind. One of the things I love about it is that it helps me think about how I can be a better person – not just for me but also for those around me.
Here are a few practical things that mindfulness has helped me shift:
- Using the creativity of the morning better. Not everyone is a morning person, but after the battery recharge of sleep we have more capacity to create and make better decisions than after a number of hours of busy mental activity. I try to mediate, write (blogs like this), read and ‘do the worst thing first’ before diving into the mundane later
- Not rocking straight into the email inbox. Your inbox will take you to a hundred different agendas, priorities and distractions. Most of these can wait a couple of hours while you get into more strategic and expansive thinking first thing
- Turning off notifications. I’ve only just done this and already it helps. I have notifications for Google Hangouts, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, BBC Sport, BBC News, not to mention of course phone calls and texts. A hundred distractions a day await me so I’m trying to be more disciplined and log in when I am ready to consume digital media and information.
- Trying to do less multi-tasking. Being a generalist is part of the job spec for a CEO or any leader but to function better my mind needs to be under less pressure and less full and busy. Focusing on one task at a time will I hope impact on my effectiveness and on what sort of colleague I am at work and the sort of husband, friend and dad I am at home.
- Don’t try this alone. From my background I’m used to a bit of mutual accountability and it’s sometimes difficult to manage this. Finding a peer to talk through challenges – perhaps on a monthly basis – is helpful to enable us both to ‘check in’ and try to learn from each other.
Trying to be mindful is teaching me how important it is that we all try to step back, give ourselves room to plan and think, and understand how best to approach daily tasks and other challenges. But how might mindfulness impact children and our schools? This is a worthwhile consideration and there are some great websites to help. One I particularly liked is http://annakaharris.com/mindfulness-for-children/.
As ever always happy to hear views from teachers and others on this topic so please do share your thoughts.
Chris Seaton, CEO of Schoolsworks