Mindfulness? More than ever!

Guest blog by Chris Alekkou, Primary School Teacher & Associate Trainer for MiSP

“slowly, slowly, mindfulness will hopefully begin to help my colleagues in the same way it has helped me, and the practice and its approach might become a bigger part of school life.”

I am one of those few lucky ones that knew, from around the age of 3, that I wanted to work with children. I qualified in 1997 and fast forward 26 years later and I am still teaching, and for the most part, still loving my job. But with the lingerings of the post pandemic damage to our children, the frustration and uncertainty around supporting the strikes but then having to cope with the loss of pay, when we are already in hard times, I have to ask myself what is left to inspire the next generation of teachers? And what will happen to the good ones we currently have?

I have a role in a school where I am not so tied down to all the conformities of a heavily burdened curriculum, an already crammed timetable, cuts in budget, lack of support staff and endless targets. This is because I work within an autistic unit in a mainstream primary school, and I have more freedom to work at the pace of my children and be creative to meet the needs of my class.

However, it’s not like that for many teaching friends and colleagues. I continue to see excellent and dedicated teachers struggling to find reasons to stay in teaching, just about getting by week by week and if they are on their knees, I wonder, what effect that has on our biggest stakeholders, the children?

Mindfulness as a support for my teaching

It got me thinking about how mindfulness has supported me in my teaching and how it could support others:

  • The biggest thing for me has been “turning towards the good stuff” every day. No matter how hectic or stressful the day has been I deliberately choose to turn my attention to some joy that is always there, but we forget to notice it.
  • Also, being aware that I have choices within those moments of frustration, means that I can choose to support myself in a helpful way, and feel better about myself and how I teach – that choice to take an uninterrupted coffee break, in the staffroom, amongst friends, rather than in isolation whilst marking in my room. The choice to not get pulled into the negative discussions heard around school.
  • To look at parents more sympathetically, as individuals, who are also struggling to make sense of all of this with their children, after they have lost huge chunks of education, socialisation, consistency and routine.
  • Simply changing my lens on how I see things has been the most helpful.  I have mindfulness to thank for this.
  • Along with my (for the most part) ahem…daily practice and inordinate amounts of .b’s (pauses) throughout the day, I am able to keep a certain level of balance – I feel as if I am thriving, not just surviving.
  • And I am no longer one of those who starts each new term by announcing how many weeks, days and hours to the next school break. I am now someone who wants to savour the days instead of counting them away.

Sharing mindfulness with others in my school

So, what can one person do in a school where there might be many members of staff struggling to come up for air? Well, I remember the mantra with all the courses I have done with MiSP – that to take things slowly and steadily is the best way.

So firstly, in my school, I started to offer a Monday morning sit (mindfulness practice group), just ten minutes in the morning before the school day begins and all are welcome.  Some come to have a quick nap, others to chat about the weekend but we do manage to keep these going and it has become quite a popular staff group!

Next, delivering Paws b regularly in school to students meant I could train as a School Mindfulness Lead, so now I am in a position where I can offer the 8-week .b Foundations course to school staff. Again, it was a slow process of trying to drip feed to colleagues the potential benefits of mindfulness and how it could support us in our lives, over a period of about 2 years.  Last year,  a small group tentatively joined my course. This year I ran it again and now have 3 senior leaders on it. So slowly, slowly, mindfulness will hopefully begin to help my colleagues in the same way it has helped me, and the practice and its approach might become a bigger part of school life.

Final thoughts

In my experience, the teachers that tend to be affected the most with poor mental health are the ones that care the most about their vocation and for their children unconditionally. The job is hard, it can consume you but thankfully there are things you can do.

I would urge anyone in education to start with the 8-week .begin or .b Foundations for themselves and then it will open up a whole other world.

Yes, teaching is hard, but there is still a lot to love.

Chris has over 26 years’ experience as a primary school teacher, working extensively with vulnerable pupils as a Nurture specialist teacher. She currently delivers the dots and Paws b programmes to pupils in North London. She is inspired by the children’s response to mindfulness and how it has helped and empowered them to navigate through tricky situations. As well as her own continuing mindfulness practice, Chris also writes songs for children and uses music as a way to connect and become more mindful. Chris has been a Paws b MiSP trainer since 2016, and has piloted and delivered dots training since 2021.