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C8BBC7FBA8AEE7FB35E35B2FE37A5949The mindful journey to gold

  • 27 NOV 2017
  • BY LUISA MARTIN-THOMAS
Luisa Martin-Thomas won the Gold Award for Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School in the 2017 Pearson Teaching Awards, and was presented with her Gold Plato at a prestigious ceremony in London in October. In the first of this two-part blog series, Luisa describes how she set up a mindfulness hub at her school, and which has since supported many students through difficult periods.

 Part one
When we were placed in special measures in 2014, I remember the day so clearly. The words ‘special measures’ felt like a tonne of bricks falling on our shoulders. We were labelled as failing and I cried.The next day was a struggle but I decided that we all deserved better: the children, the staff, our parents and community - and it would start today! The mood in school was at an all-time low and as a senior leader, it was my job to instil optimism.  I decided to start with myself and followed an 8-week mindfulness course. This was a challenge for me as I’m often referred to as a ‘whirlwind’. The course provided me with a set of skills to live in the moment and learn to stop, breathe and be. Such an important message that, unbeknown to me, would be of huge benefit on the difficult journey ahead. I began talking to staff about mindfulness and noticed I had a broader outlook when dealing with staff and stress in return-to-work interviews. I organised a taster session in school – the spaces were filled within a few hours of my email being sent and the seed of mindfulness was well and truly planted. Positive impactThe impact of this session was positive and staff began to model behaviour learned on the course. I began planning a trial for students and brought in Gareth Cloude, a qualified mindfulness practitioner, to run another taster session with all Year 8 and 9 students. At the end of the session, students were asked to express an interest in the course and justify their reasons to continue – over 60% applied.  As a college, this indicated to us that students were identifying health and wellbeing concerns early, and we, as a collective, had a duty of care to address their needs. Through data and professional judgements, we identified a cohort of students who would benefit from following a mindfulness course, and which included boys, girls, CLA, FSM and ALN students. After completing the course, evaluations indicated:
  • 100% found the course useful
  • 100% found the course extremely enjoyable
  • 100% said they are extremely likely to keep using mindfulness
  • 85% said it helped them to cope with difficulties
  • 67% said is helped with concentration
  • 67% said it helped with exams 
Other behaviours observed included a young boy suffering with Tourette’s did not ‘tick’ during the mindfulness sessions. Students with high anxiety levels gained confidence and developed the tools to overcome panic, and most of all, students developed a sense of hope. Funding The data and positive evaluation demonstrated mindfulness had an impact on these students; this impact now needed to cover all students. My colleagues and headteacher supported my vision in developing a mindfulness hub, and my headteacher participated in the eight week course (falling asleep in at least two sessions!). However, there was a barrier … money. I needed £11,000 to complete an action research and approached anybody and everybody. I received support from Leanne Woods, our director of education, Esther Thomas, along with the cabinet secretary Kirsty Williams, and the Central South Consortium. The action research has allowed the development of the mindfulness hub and mindfulness is now fully embedded into school life. We start the day the positive way with a mindful reflection – all of us; staff and students. All KS3 and identified KS4 students are following the mindfulness .b programme. We are on our second round of the staff course, a popular after school engagement, and next year, we will launch our community course, targeting parents with a view to narrowing the poverty gap. The impact so far:
  • Staff absences have dramatically reduced 
  • Attendance of students has improved
  • The schools results have improved
  • Categorisation has moved from Red to Yellow
  • We are in quartile 1 for maths, science, average Capped Point Score, capped 8 including English and maths and the Welsh Baccalaureate Skills Challenge Certificate. 
  • We have trained a group of Year 10 students in coaching and wellbeing. They have become mindfulness ambassadors. They have designed logos and had uniform designed. They have lanyards and ID cards. They offer peer to peer support to all students and have a duty station every break time. 
  • We have developed an openness to mental health and staff have been trained in youth mental health.
  • Our Year 11 performing Arts group launched the WG’s ‘Agenda’ document, promoting positive relationships and acceptance through an honest production, which has subsequently been rolled out in assembly to the whole school. 
  • We have established an accurate tracking system of wellbeing where the panel meet termly and mental health is high on the agenda. This allows accurate and early identification of key students. 
  • Staff and leadership have modelled openness that we are all ‘human’ and have re-evaluated meetings to include a balance of support and accountability. 
  • Around the College there are .b stickers to remind us all to stop, breathe and be. 
  • There has been an impact on culture and ethos. We have a random act of Christmas kindness target.
  • There has been a development of resilience, observed in classroom situations, behaviour and performance. Students are not hesitating in tackling challenges. 
  • There is a culture of ‘I can’ or ‘I can’t...yet’ and we have been removed from special measures!
In part two of of this blog, Luisa shares what her award means to her, her students, colleagues and community, and her appearance on the BBC Breakfast red sofa.

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