20 Tips #15: Five tips for guiding practices

Welcome to MiSP’s series of 20 Top Tips for 2020. We have gathered together the 20 questions we are asked most often and, using a decade’s worth of experience in delivering mindfulness in schools, plus the experiences of our mindfulness community of more than 5,000 trained teachers, we provide the answers!

The guiding of the short practices in our courses is one of the things that can really unnerve teachers. While it may take you out of your comfort zone, it is the cornerstone of what the young people learn in the .b/Paws b/.breathe/dots courses, but it takes practice! Our Education Lead, Liz Lord, who has seen countless teachers deliver our curricula lessons, gives her advice on how to do it well…

I’ve seen experienced teachers ‘wobbly’ about this part of the lesson and sometimes the nerves kick in. The children and young people pick up on this as you would expect, making the experience a bit unreal for everyone.

Needless to say, after a few times and a bit of confidence, guiding can become one of the most enjoyable and satisfying parts of the lesson. Don’t forget that these little practices can support young people through the inevitable ups and downs of life… for the rest of their lives. If you want them to take anything away from these lessons, then it’s the practices! So, here are a few tips to help you guide them effectively. These tips come from my own experience and supporting many fabulous teachers.

1. No need for ‘floaty’ voices – celebrate your accent and dialect

Many adult mindfulness apps have almost dreamy, accent-neutral voices, encouraging a sense of relaxation and deep inner peace. Please don’t feel that you need to copy them. In fact, please don’t use any other voice but your own, and delight in its beauty – your authenticity will shine through! Firstly, the intention of most mindfulness practice is not to relax (though this can sometimes be one outcome through simply sitting still and grounding ourselves – see our recent post on this issue), so floaty voices are not necessary or useful. In addition, the children and young people listen to you all the time, so any hint of a change will cause a bit of confusion or even widespread hysteria, and (worse) a loss of their attention. We’ve all been there, don’t worry! Park your preconceptions and deliver the guidance in your usual voice, while dropping into your own body as far as is possible. Be your authentic self and let yourself be grounded in the practice.

2. Use the scripts until you get the hang of them

We are all actors and actresses as teachers, so wanting to deliver the practices well is part of what we do. This will mean that you may need to use the ‘scripts’ (your teacher lesson booklet and/or the ‘How to Teach’ booklet) as a prompt until you become familiar with the practices. Keep the booklet in your hand if you need to move round the classroom as you lead the practice. Alternatively, leave your booklet open on your desk or a stand at the front of the classroom. I’ve seen fabulous deliveries of practices off music stands! The teacher booklets have been designed for this purpose, with a large font size and key words or terms in bold. This allows you to quickly glance at the script and see where the practice is going and any words that need to be included.

Having said all this, don’t be tempted to simply read out the ‘script’ for the practice. This will be the death of the experience for the students and for you. As you lead the practice, it’s critical that you are also engaging in the practice yourself. This may mean that 50% of your attention is on the class, but 50% is in your own body and experience. This is your real ‘script’ and what you notice in your own body can then act as a suggestion for how the students might be exploring. For example, if you notice a sense of weight in the soles of your feet, you can then say to the class, ’you might be noticing a sense of weight in the soles of your feet… or something else’. This helps to make the leading of the practice embodied.

Likewise, if there are words in the booklet that your children wouldn’t use or understand, then find words that they do know and help make it land well for them. You are the bridge between what needs to be in the practices and your pupils, so use your intuition on this. You know the pupils well.

3. Keep the learning at the heart of the practice

Behaviour management needs to remain consistent during the practices, it can take a little time for the class to settle in to a practice, so hold your nerve with this. Act quickly and within the normal classroom procedures (see below) if needed. This will differ depending on the age group. I cannot stress enough that it is these practices that they will take away and hopefully use in their lives both inside and outside school, so keep learning a priority.

For example:

  • Walk around the room if you need to.
  • Make sure you can see everyone. It’s a good idea to model sitting and grounding yourself, but without sitting on a chair at the same level as the students. Instead, sit on the edge of your desk, or simply stand, but all the time modelling how it is to be grounded through the body and connected with the floor.
  • Keep your eyes open (mostly) and stay alert to their learning throughout the practice. However, if possible, lower your gaze to model the idea of bringing yourself ‘into your own bubble’. This allows you to use your peripheral vision to keep an eye out for any issues or disturbance, while being ‘in the practice’ with them.
  • Accept that the pupils may fidget during the practice, and don’t draw attention to it unless it is disturbing others. Be kind and discreet with any adjustments that need to be made.
  • Pupils having their eyes open is absolutely fine, though it’s a good idea to invite them (via a whole class invitation and not specifically to individuals) to lower their gaze so eye contact with others in the class doesn’t distract or cause giggling. It is only ever an invitation to close the eyes.

4. Ground and anchor yourself when you are guiding

Perhaps taking your attention to your feet or seat and having a couple of deep breaths can be a helpful preparation to start the guiding. Nothing too obvious, but simply shifting into a different gear so that you are guiding from an authentic and alert place.

5. Don’t take yourself too seriously … lighten up!

Any pressure or striving you are experiencing will affect your ability to guide these practices, and the pupils will pick up on this, so keep it light and enjoy the words. Support yourselves with the scripts and anything else that will help. Don’t take yourself too seriously, keep grounded and a maintain your sense of humour!

Guiding the MiSP practices is central to the courses you are running and we really appreciate the time, energy and courage it takes to deliver them. These tips will hopefully give you some practical help and support as you continue on your journey with us. Don’t forget that YOU are the most important and precious resource in the classroom and we really appreciate everything you are doing as a bridge to help our courses land well with your pupils.

To practice with other MiSP teachers, to share experiences and to learn with each other, join our fortnightly Hub Sit which takes place via Zoom.

To discuss challenges and find support, join our Inclusion and Support Groups.

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