Mindful Teachers – Easy ways to be more mindful

Mindful teachers

Mindful teachers.

I know what you are thinking. I don’t have time to be adding anything else into my daily routine.

Don’t worry, please read on because I am not going to add anything new into your routine, I promise. 

What I am going to do is to give you ways of doing things you are already doing more mindfully. 

You might be thinking, how is that going to make a difference. If I’m already doing all these things how is that going to change anything? Well, the difference is, how you do them. When you do every day activities more mindfully, you will feel more calm and you will glide through your day with fewer stresses and feeling happier.

Sound good?

 

Of course it does. Who doesn’t want to feel happier and calmer without finding any extra time in the day?

Let’s start with a morning routine for mindful teachers. 

Waking up

Your alarm goes off. Do you jump straight out of bed? Do you hit snooze? Do you set your alarm for the time you need to get up or for an earlier time so that you can hit snooze three times before you move? Be honest. Hitting snooze is the worst way to start your day. You feel more drowsy and less motivated. So set your alarm for the time you need to get up, and when your alarm goes off get up. I highly recommend taking a couple of minutes before you jump out of bed to have a good stretch and just think about how you are feeling and what you are going to do today. It’s that simple. 

Taking a shower

Whether you shower in the morning or at night. Whether you shower every day or once a week, mindful showering is one of my favourite mindful activities. When you get in the shower really pay attention to how the water feels on your skin, how your hair feels as you wash it. Concentrate on all the sensations; the smells, the sensations, the temperature, the sounds of the water, really take it all in. It doesn’t take any longer than usual, you are just concentrating on what you are doing rather than planning your day or thinking about what’s for tea while you are showering.

Breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. We know that. It wakes up your body, feeds your body and gives you energy. I know that you may not always have time for a sit down breakfast, but make sure you eat something. Take time to have a hot drink and drink it mindfully. Why not try some hot chocolate breathing? 

Getting to school

Most of us drive to school. This is a great time to be more mindful. Instead of ruminating on what you are going to get done that day, just concentrate on  what you can see, what you can hear and what you are doing. I’m not talking about daydreaming, that is definitely not to be advised while driving, and of course we never meditate while driving, but we can drive mindfully. The other thing which is an amazing thing to do is to sing in the car. When we sing we have to regulate our breathing, so we are effectively using mindful breathing techniques. Singing in the car on the way to school will help you feel calm and contented when you arrive.

Mindful teacher

Throughout the school day

We can take moments to be a mindful teachers throughout the day. Time to just breathe and decompress. Whether it is just taking some deep breaths while you are using the photocopier. Rolling your shoulders forwards and backwards during assembly or just walking mindfully around the classroom occassionally. Taking time to listen to the sounds on the playground and walk mindfully while you are on playground duty. It may not be possible to  do these things every day, but being aware that they are possible means you might be able to do them every so often. The thing with mindfulness is that every little thing you do will benefit you. Every small change to your behaviour or routine, will potentially have a huge effect on your wellbeing. 

garden

When you get home

Taking a few minutes when you get home, if you are able, to just re-acclimatise is so important. I know if you have small children or you get in just in time to start making dinner it might not be easy to do that. If you can though, just take five minutes to have a cuppa and put your feet up you will feel much calmer for your time with your loved ones. Maybe sit in the garden for a few minutes and just listen to the birds or the children playing in your street. Take the dog for a walk. Whatever suits you, try to take a few minutes before you get back into full on “home mode”. 

The end of the day

This is arguably the most important time of day. How you spend your evening will determine how well you sleep and how you feel when you wake up. Make sure you stop working at least an hour before you go to bed (preferably two!). Don’t spend all evening on a screen. Spend time with your loved ones, if you live alone give a friend a ring or speak to your family. Try to find a small pocket of time to pamper yourself. Whether it is having a bath, reading a book, watching your latest boxed set or putting on a face mask do something just for you, which may only be for 15 minutes, but will feed your soul and make you feel like you matter, you are caring for yourself.

 I hope you can see that it is possible to be a mindful teacher without adding extra tasks to your to do list. They don’t take hours. Yes there are lots of things you can do everyday if you have a bit more time to spend on your wellbeing, but the things I have just mentioned will either take no more time or only a few minutes. They will though, have a mastic impact on your mental state if you use them regularly. You don’t have to do all of them every day, but aim to do 1-3 things from this list every day and see how you feel. I guarantee that you will notice a huge difference after a couple of weeks. 

 

Breathing techniques to help you stay calm

7:11 Breathing video

Roll breathing video

Breathe with Mojo

 

 

 

Wellbeing on a budget

Wellbeing on a budget

Wellbeing has never been more of a focus in schools than during the last twelve months. With budgets being stretched in every direction though, does introducing wellbeing have to be a budget busting expense?

Anyone who has spent time in schools during the last year will have seen how exhausted and overwhelmed everyone is. From headteachers and governors to the smallest children everyone has been impacted by the changes to routine and all the additional worries caused by the pandemic.

Of course there have also been many additional resources to buy, hand sanitiser to name just one. Now that we have hopefully passed through the eye of the storm and are coming out the other side though our attention has turned more than ever to wellbeing. Not just of our children but also of school staff.

Many of us have been functioning on adrenaline and it is only now we are truly realising the impact on our health, mental and physical.

With budgets tight and wellbeing needing addressing what is the solution?

 

There are many companies offering training for teachers in mindfulness and wellbeing, and they are all wonderful, but with many of them requiring hours of study and for staff to attend many days of training during school hours, it makes them out of reach for many schools, particularly smaller ones. While what and how we teach shouldn’t be about budget unfortunately in most schools it has to at least be taken into account.

When you introduce mindfulness in school in a very short time you will see a change in your students. Mindfulness is proven to improve concentration and memory, it helps children to understand and regulate their emotions. In studies students did better in tests and behavioural problems were dramatically reduced when mindfulness was introduced. (Read the research).

Introducing wellbeing can be as simple as doing some breathing exercises with your class every morning, or having a story time every afternoon. Most mindfulness and wellbeing can be introduced with few or no resources and in as little as 5 minutes a day. Of course introducing a structured programme is incredibly beneficial to everyone but it is by no means essential. Neither is elaborate and expensive training. One thing I discovered very early in my teacher career was that we were expected to teach all manner of things without any formal training; gymnastics, ICT, swimming, french… the list goes on. All of these things were either not taught as part of my training and later introduced or were taught but then had to be dramatically updated regularly. I did it. We all do. Teachers can teach. That’s our superpower. We don’t need fancy qualifications, just some basic information and perhaps some instructions and teachers can teach almost anything. 

If you are reading this you have undoubtedly had to teach something in addition to the curriculum you were trained to teach.

I remember vividly the first time I realised that I was going to be in charge of taking my very first class swimming. I had to walk them to the local swimming pool then lead the swimming lessons and walk them back. As I was teaching in Bradford and all the children in my class were muslim I had to take the boys in the morning and the girls in the afternoon. The whole of my Tuesday was spent on swimming lessons. It was overwhelming. Not to give too much about my age away but there was no YouTube and although I had the internet at home, it had limited resources in comparison with the wealth of resources and tutorials now. 

You can learn almost anything by reading…

So, I went to the library and got all the books I could find on teaching children to swim and then I got on with it. By the end of the year my class could swim. It was one of the most rewarding moments of my career. They achieved everything with a little effort and my library books. 

If we can learn to teach swimming with a few words on a page then we can certainly learn mindfulness and wellbeing. In reality mindfulness was not something that needed to be taught until our lives got too busy for our brains to cope. When our grandparents and great grandparents were growing up they didn’t need to concern themselves with mindfulness because so much of their lives was mindful. When they were cooking, or gardening or washing clothes or dishes they weren’t thinking about anything else. Now we spend less time doing these jobs and while we are doing them we have music or television or notifications pinging on our phone, our thoughts are scattered and our attention divided almost all the time. Mindfulness is as simple as doing things with intention and focusing on what we are doing fully. Once upon a time it was not something that needed to be taught, it was our default setting. Now though as attention spans get shorter and lives get busier we need to be reminded how to be mindful.

Sanitiser

When I created Calmer Classrooms it was to allow schools to introduce mindfulness and wellbeing in a budget friendly way.

 aI knew that if I could create resources that had simple and concise instructions teachers would be able to teach wellbeing without any training at all. Whether it is a breathing technique, yoga pose or lesson plan based around a popular story, with a few simple instructions any teacher can pass on these techniques and strategies and calm their class in minutes.

By ensuring that the activities are explained in short, simple terms it is possible to grab an activity and introduce it with little, to no, preparation. There is enough paperwork and preparation in education, if wellbeing is going to be introduced it ought to add little to no extra work, be a pleasure to teach and not blow the budget.

There is no point in calming the children and stressing out the staff!

 If you are wondering how to introduce wellbeing without any stress and without blowing your budget please do take a look at my resources and download my free resources so you can try before you buy.

Whatever your school budget, there is always something else that money can be spent on, so keeping the cost of my resources down is important to me. Everything is in downloadable format which means you get instant access and it keeps costs down. I also offer INSET sessions if you feel that your staff would appreciate additional support or an introduction to teaching wellbeing and mindfulness. 

Whether you choose to use my resources or find wellbeing material elsewhere, I hope that you will enjoy teaching this life skill to your children and that you all soon see the benefit of introducing this to your day. 

 

Screen Time – Has lockdown changed our opinions?

Screen time

Screen time has been a contentious issue in many houses over the years, but has this changed in the last twelve months?

As lockdowns have necessitated home schooling to be conducted on Teams or Zoom, much of the work which has been sent home has had to be done and emailed back or completed on websites, and of course family gatherings and birthday parties have all had to happen online, we have all spent more time on screens than ever.  

We have had many discussions about screen time outside of school hours in our house, and what used to be an hour a day on either phone or Playstation has definitely increased as the need for contact with school friends and cousins has been greater than ever.  

What impact is this increased screen time likely to be having though? 

Are there some things we have learned that have had a really beneficial impact on our lives during this screen heavy time?

 

Before I begin, I would like to point out that these are my observations, based on my own lessons, habits and what I have seen in my children and family, but I am sure much of this will be relatable which is why I wanted to share.

Let me start by listing all the ways our life has changed, in relation to screens, over the last year:

  • Home learning – around 90% of my children’s lessons have either been on Zoom or solely reliant on work on the computer.
  • Parents evenings – the parents evenings we have had have been hosted online this year.
  • Weekly family Zoom catch ups
  • Chats through our Amazon Echo Show to my stepson and his partner
  • Birthday parties on Zoom
  • Catch ups with cousins and friends through Playstation chat (while playing together)
  • Weekly Zoom meetings for football teams
  • Chatting to friends through video messages
  • Online shopping
  • Online quizzes
  • Delivering training online to schools and colleges
  • Running weekly Zoom wellbeing sessions for charities
  • Supporting organisations I work on Zoom
  • Attending support groups to lead wellbeing sessions online

This list doesn’t look very long but when I think about the amount of time all of this adds up to, it is a lot. Especially when I factor in the fact that I spend a lot of time working online anyway, writing blogs like this, newsletters, creating resources… and what I have listed above is only the additional screen time.

How has this impacted our lives?

Well, the first thing I think I need to say is that it has probably saved our lives. Without video chats to family and friends and being able to keep in touch with loved ones the last year would have been immeasurably hard. I think the most obvious thing I have noticed though is how tired we all are. We have really struggled with motivation at time, we have had sleep issues and definitely more headaches (despite investing in blue light glasses for the children).

I have been fairly lucky with my children as they are older and mostly well motivated, but even they have struggled to be as enthusiastic as usual about school work. 

There has been so much to process and adapting to being on screens so much has certainly been a part of that. 

 

screen time

Zoom friends

This is how my friends and family now see me. A floating face on a screen – like Holly from Red Dwarf – talking and smiling and catching up on their news whilst either sitting at my desk or on the sofa. 

I had a realisation a few weeks ago though. 

It occurred to me that although I was missing people, those I see regularly on video calls I don’t miss as much. My brain definitely thinks I have seen people if I have had a video chat. 

 

This opened up a whole area for discussion in my head about the impact of other things we watch on screens. For years and years we have discussed whether violent computer games and films could have a negative impact on the personality of the person watching. I have always been the sort of person who gets invested in anything I am watching. I cry at soap operas. Perhaps it is just that I am more suggestable than some, but it really did make me think about the other things I allow into my head through screen time. More importantly it got me thinking about the things my children and other children are watching. 

During lockdown my son has been talking to his friends while playing with them on the Playstation. He has always done this for a couple of hours a week with his closest friends but during lockdown he has been playing with a wider circle of friends. When he told me some of the games they were playing I was genuinely shocked. At 11/12 yrs old they are playing Grand Theft Auto, which is an 18 certificate and some of the content is really not child friendly. I can’t believe I was concerned about Fortnite!

I know I am quite old fashioned when it comes to screen time. I don’t think children should be on screens constantly. They need fresh air, exercise, books, crafts, sports… When the whole of their school day is conducted through a screen though it makes it difficult to impose time limits. 

There have been some big wins for screen time though this year.

Here are my top 3:

  1. Online Parents Evenings – these were slick and so much simpler than drifting around the school sports hall trying to find the next teacher. More efficient for teachers and parents alike.
  2. Weekly Family Catch Ups – my family live too far away to see them every week. We generally see each other every school holiday. Although I haven’t been able to see them face to face for over 9 months now, we have had a video chat every week for at least two hours and we all agree that we will keep having them even when we are able to see each other again.
  3. Online INSET – although I much prefer delivering training in person, I have loved being able to reach schools who are further afield and who I would have struggled to book in if I had to travel to them. The teachers have also enjoyed being able to be at home with a cuppa on the sofa while they listen so that is definitely something I will be continuing to offer along side face to face training.

It is good to see that there have been advantages to this year of online teaching, increased screen time and the strange year we have all just lived through. I hope that you have discovered little pockets of joy in your new online habits, and like us, you have discovered things that you really enjoy and want to continue. 

Feeling connected to others is vital. Whether we achieve that through face to face meetings or video chat, we are still keeping in touch, seeing the person’s face and reactions. We feel reassured when we see someone’s face, much more than with a phone call or text message. So if you aren’t able to see your loved ones, for whatever reason, make the most of the amazing technology we have and hop on a video call.

This weekend is Mother’s Day in the UK. I can’t see my Mum, but my sister and I have booked for us all to watch the Royal Opera House online streaming of Sleeping Beauty. We are going to sit and watch it at the same time and have a video chat to discuss it afterwards. 

As most children return to school this week, their screen time will decrease rapidly. It will be interesting to see if this helps improve their energy levels and whether they begin to feel more motivated and sleep better again. Too much screen time definitely isn’t good for any of us, but I cannot imagine how any of us would have got through the last 12 months without the reassurance and connection it has given us.

Life isn’t the way we would choose at the moment but as always life is what you make it. Let’s choose to make wonderful.

Lockdown Wellbeing

Lockdown Wellbeing

As I sit down to write this we are a week into lockdown 3.0 here in the UK and whilst I feel compelled to reach out to you, equally I know that many teachers won’t have time to be reading blogs at the moment. I’m hoping that you have found a new rhythm and are able to give yourself 5 minutes with a cup of tea or coffee to remind yourself how important self care is at times like this.

Firstly, let’s just get one thing straight. Lockdown is hard. Whether you are; working or furloughed, homeschooling or home alone, juggling everything or worrying you have been made redundant and have nothing to do, over eating or worrying you can’t put food on the table, everyone is struggling. 

Just because life is testing us at the moment doesn’t mean that we can’t take control of our lives in small and meaningful ways though. It is still possible to find pockets of pure joy and relaxation, even in the chaos of lockdown.

I can hear you shouting, “but I don’t have any time for pockets of joy, Kate!”

Yes you do, you just have to learn to find them and make yourself a priority for once!

5 minutes of lockdown self care can make all the difference… 

Perhaps you can find five minutes while the dinner is cooking. Maybe you grab ten minutes when the kids have gone to bed before you start working. You might even just offer to take the dog out (alone if possible!) to give yourself a little head space before everything returns to normal.  

Obviously everyone’s circumstances are unique and I can’t tell you where you can find your pocket of joy, but I can tell you that if you want to find one enough, you will. 

Here are a few of my favourite quick and easy self care activities to help you stay calm and sane during lockdown.   

1. Take a walk – even if you just walk around the block, getting some fresh air and moving your body will make you feel better. 

2. Call a friend or family member – Just 5 minutes talking to someone you love will make you feel calmer, happier and will help you to remember what is really important in life.  

3. Listen to your favourite music – Music is proven to alter your mood. Put on your favourite tunes, as loud as you can, and just listen and enjoy!

lockdown wellbeing

4. Have a hot drink – Warm drinks are comforting in themselves, but you can always combine this 5 minutes of lockdown wellbeing with one of my favourite mindful exercises, hot chocolate breathing. 

5. Read a book or magazine – Even if you only sit for a few minutes and read a page or two. Reading a book is so much more relaxing than scrolling through your phone. Resist the urge to check your emails and enjoy 5 minutes with a book or your favourite magazine.

6. Have a dance – Why not combine number 1 with number 3? Get up and get moving to your favourite music! 

7. Meditate – 5 minutes is more than enough time to meditate. Whether you find a short guided meditation online or just light a candle and stare at the flame. Meditation has so many benefits.

8. Tidy a drawer or organise something that has been frustrating you – when our outer world feels more organised, our inner world is more calm too. 

9. Eat something indulgent – A little bit of what you fancy does you good. Whether it is advisable from a biological point of view or not, the fact is many of us get a little lift from having something delicious to eat. Treat yourself, you have definitely earned it!

10. Have a quick shower – I’m not implying your are dirty and need a wash. Water is cleansing. Just standing under the flowing water calms your nervous system and helps you feel more centred. 

There are even more ideas to help you to care for your lockdown wellbeing in my free downloadable Teacher Wellbeing Checklist. You can access that and all my other free resources here.

The most important thing at the moment though is that you realise how important it is for you to care for your wellbeing. You cannot support your students or your family if you are exhausted or ill. Taking time to care for yourself and your emotional wellbeing is your duty. 

The Mindful Teacher

The Mindful Teacher

The Mindful Teacher is a subscription box for teachers who love stationery, wellbeing and have a love of all things eco friendly. 

Subscription boxes have become something of a phenomena over recent years. Everything from make up and stationery to beer and cheese can be delivered to your door as a monthly treat. These boxes are curated for you and you receive whatever the creator selects every months for a set price.  

I suppose they have replaced the magazine subscriptions we used to treat ourselves to as a little indulgence every month.  

I have been quite sceptical of subscription boxes in the past. I felt that probably for every item you were sent that you loved there would more than likely be four or five that you either don’t like or wouldn’t have any use for. (I know, negative Nellie!).

Then I was sent the November subscription box from The Mindful Teacher.

 I had forgotten that it was coming and when it landed on my doormat I was filled with excitement. I am a total stationery addict and the combination of stationery and wellbeing could not be more perfect for me.

It was beautifully packaged in cardboard with paper tape, and inside was just delightful. 

This was the contents of my box: two pens, cute post-its, a postcard, notecard, wax seal, sheet of stickers, self care booklet, bath bombs, biscuits, tea and coffee (I hope I haven’t forgotten anything!). The contents were mostly created by little independent companies, which I was really impressed with, we need to support our independents more than ever right now. More than that though they were also environmentally conscious and even the bath bombs were cruelty free and vegan. 

I was so impressed with the contents, they were great quality and just perfect for what we need as teachers. Practical items to use and enjoy, lovely things to send to colleagues and friends and a little bit of self indulgence, all for just £15!

 

The Mindful Teacher

In addition to supporting small businesses and trying to find eco-friendly contents The Mindful Teacher are partnered with Ecologi. For every subscription box they sell they plant a tree, they have so far planted 146 in 4 months! You can even watch their forest growing.

The Mindful Teacher is a small team of full time teachers, at various stages of their teaching careers who are passionate about teacher wellbeing and stationery. They just love creating these boxes and that really shows.

Christmas Subscription box

With Christmas less than two months away, we are all beginning to think about what we can get for our friends and loved ones, and many of us want to support small businesses. 

The Mindful Teacher are doing a special one off Christmas box for just £25. This is a limited edition box and will be full of the usual mindful magic and will include a special card for you to write so you can gift it to your teacher bestie, or maybe you will just treat yourself after a difficult term. If you would like to order this box, you can find the details here

If you would like to subscribe and receive one of these beautiful boxes every month, perhaps ask someone to gift you a subscription for Christmas, you can get 20% off your first box by using my special discount code: CC01.

Please do support these wonderful teachers who are creating something really magical, and I believe, really needed at the moment.

I am always completely honest about reviewing products. I won’t review anything I haven’t experienced and loved myself. I was sent my box for free but I am not recieving any commission or financial gift for recommending these boxes. I was genuinely impressed by the quality of the box and the contents. 

You can follow The Mindful Teacher on social media by following these links:

Instagram         @TheMindfulTeach

Twitter               @TheMindfulTeach

Facebook           @TheMindfulTeach

 

Coping without your teacher friends

Missing your teacher friends

Our teacher friends are a life line in an often stressful job. They are the people we go to for a moan, they understand what we are feeling, they may have experienced similar feelings or situations and can give us invaluable support and advice. 

Ask any teacher and they will tell you that if they are in a school without a teacher bestie it makes life so much harder. 

In my first year of teaching I was in a two classroom portacabin, isolated from the rest of the school. I was teaching Y5 and they were the first Y5 class the school had ever had, so it was all new. Fortunately for me, the teacher in the adjacent classroom was also new to the school, but she had moved down from middle school (it was the year they went from first and middle schools to the primary system in Bradford – you can age me now if you are interested!).

Hazel was amazing!

Without her support I would not have got through that first year. She was my rock and I was hers. She helped me with all the new things I had to learn and I helped her with the rapidly emerging IT demands. 

How have things changed this year

This year, with schools trying to manage all the new demands of the pandemic everything has changed in schools and every school seems to have a slightly different approach to the guidelines. In some schools every year group has a separate timetable, different break times, lunch times, even start and finish times. Some schools have different areas of the playground for the children to stay in and the children are having lunches in the classroom. In some schools the teachers are only allowed to spend time with other teachers in their bubble. Other schools are allowing up to 6 members of staff in the staffroom at a time in line with the ‘rule of 6″. Some teachers are teaching in person and online simultaneously, some are self isolating…

This is just based on the few conversations I have had with teachers here in the UK. I am sure there are a million permutations globally. 

 The impact of not being with your teacher friends

Some teachers have told me that they don’t get to see their teacher friends at all this year. They don’t need to tell me the impact this is having, it is written all over their faces. They miss each other. They are exhausted from remember everything they usually do and all the extra layers that these new measures have added. Many are on the brink of collapse from mental and physical exhaustion.

Teacher friends

What can you do to care for yourself and your teacher friends this year? 

Check in regularly

You may not be able to have a quick chat in the staffroom over a coffee but you can send messages and see how things are going. If you ask if they are ok and get the standard “Yeah I’m fine, you?” response, ask again. When we ask someone if they are ok for a second time it breaks the pattern our brain is used to and we don’t give an automated response, we give an honest one. Always ask twice.

Find time to meet away from school

You may be subject to the rules during school hours but you can still meet up within local guidelines outside school. Go for a coffee or a drink as often as you can. I know that you may feel that you don’t have time, but the pay off will far outweigh the time spent, honestly. I appreciate that in some areas this may not be possible, but if you can, then do, while you are able! 

Use technology

You may not be able to meet up away from school, or you may be too tired, but you can always make a cuppa or grab a glass of something cold and have a quick chat on Zoom, WhatsApp video etc.  Why not have a staff quiz? The possibilities are endless. 

Make sure you have other people to talk to

One of the most important services our teacher besties provide is a safe space to get things off our chest. Make sure you have someone else who you trust not to go blabbing, who you can talk to honestly about situations and how you are feeling to make sure you aren’t letting stress and upset build up. Obviously if it is someone outside the school setting you will have to be careful about confidentiality but you can talk about most situations without using names and that should suffice.

Most importantly you must make sure you are taking good care of yourself. Whether you can see your teacher friends at the moment or not, you have to make sure that you are focused on your wellbeing, not just all the new rules and regulations.

Here are some blogs which will help you to care for your mental health:

Teachers: Put yourself first

Invisible Stress

Wellbeing must be a top priority

Autumn Wellbeing

 

This is also a great article about staff wellbeing: Supporting Staff Wellbeing

Wellbeing must be our top priority

Wellbeing is always a priority for me, and I know for many of you too, but is our desire to catch them up with missed academic work causing us to forget the most important thing this year – mental health. Most children are now back to school now, whether it is in the classroom or working remotely from home. Some have missed six months of schooling and teachers and parents are understandably concerned about the long term impact this will have on their children.

It has been a year of great learning for everyone. Teachers have had to learn to teahc in ways they never imagined they would have to; most had never heard of Google Classrooms or Zoom at the start of 2020. They have had to create contingency plans sould we go back into lockdown again before the end of the year. Most importantly they have had to learn to teach their students without being able to see their reactions. Anyone who has every spent time in a classroom knows how important it is to be able to see the look on a child’s face as you explain an activity. As professionals we constantly scan the room to assess who is going to need a little extra help with today’s lesson. This is so much harder when they are all dotted about on a tiny screen. 

Wellbeing front and centre

Teachers really are amazing

It has really made the many layers of teaching more clear too. Most people don’t realise that teachers don’t just educate the children in their care, they notice whether they are wearing the same clothes every day, whether they look hungry and don’t have a lunch, if they look tired or worried and so much more. Teachers are truly incredible but their job has become harder in the current situation. As I type, many teachers are attempting to teach to a classroom full of children whilst also guiding pupils who are isolating at home to ensure they don’t fall behind.

This year has undoubtedly been the most challenging year most teachers have ever known. Depsite that they continue to give it everything they have.

There is so much pressure to get children caught up on the work they have missed, because despite the fact that teachers have been working hard sending lessons home, unfortunately not all children could access those lessons. Everyone is concerned about the impact this has had, particularly on our most vulnerable children. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am as concerned about this issue as anyone, what I do know though is that if we focus purely on academics our children are not going to make the desired progress.

Sanitiser

 Change can adversely affect wellbeing

This has been a very difficult year for most children. They have had health worries, they may be aware of financial challenges, they have missed their friends and family… and now just when they thought that life could return to normal they have returned to the security of school to find that everything is different there now too!

The classrooms look different, they have to use hand sanitiser, they may have to eat their lunch in the classroom, they can’t play with friends from other classes…

All this change can add up to a whole world of anxiety for some children. 

We know that when children feel stressed or anxious they can’t learn. Their rational brain shuts down and they cannot retain or recall information and they certainly can’t achieve their full potential.

If we want our children to be able to catch up on the content they have missed this year the first thing we must do is to focus on their emotional wellbeing. Help them feel calm and safe at school again and then watch them flourish.

What can we do to help our children’s wellbeing at school? 

Be Consistent

Obviously the most important thing is to be as consistent as possible. Familiarity feels secure. Yes things have changed, but they will quickly settle into a new routine and the new rules. 

Breathe

I know I go on about the importance of breathing properly and using your breath to calm your body, but that’s because it is by far the most effective way to ease stress and anxiety. It is so simple. If you aren’t familiar with the many breathing techniques you can use to help your class breathe for calm pop over to my free resources and grab everything you can!

Take time to talk

Talk to your class about their experiences, let them know that it’s ok if they don’t want to talk publicly about how they feel but give them an opportunity to talk to you alone if you can. There are some worksheets to help you with this in my A Calm Return Pack and also included in the School Subscription Package.

 Focus on the here and now

Don’t worry about where they should be, what they ought to have done and where they need to be by the end of the term/year. Focus on what they are doing now and how well they are coping with that. It can feel insurmountable when we are asked to look at everything we need to have achieved by a certain point. Equally looking back at what we should have done can be excruciating for the children who were unable to complete that work (not always through any fault of their own it is important to remember). Concentrate on what they are doing today, this week and make sure they are happy doing that and that it is achievable and grow their confidence slowly.

 

Whatever stage your class are at. Wherever they are learning. Whatever their personal situation, all that matters is that they feel safe and secure while they are learning. Anything is possible for any child if we can create that sense of wellbeing and allow them to learn with every fibre of their being rather than being in fight or flight mode and trying to survive. 

Teachers have the power to transform the lives of so many children but the key to a successful life isn’t grades and certificates, it is confidence, self awareness and an ability to regulate your emotions. The rest can all come afterwards, if indeed it is needed. So please, continue to teach all the important things, of course our children need to read and write but layer these on top of a foundation of resilience, calm and a can do attitude and you will see your students fly!

 

Invisible Stress

Stress is an issue for most of us these days. 

This has escalated, particularly for teachers and school staff during the pandemic. It has been an incredibly stressful time in schools. This article though is about a problem which is much wider and more universal than additional stress caused by the global pandemic. 

“Invisible stress” is the kind of stress that creeps up on you. The sort that you don’t even realise is there. One day you are happily plodding along, everything seems normal and the next you have reached your breaking point and you can’t stop crying or you’re angry all the time or you realise you haven’t slept in months or you get ill.

Let me tell you a little story about invisible stress… 

Once upon a time there was a newly qualified teacher. She had dreamed of being a teacher her whole life. All the young teacher wanted to do was help the children in her inner city school to flourish. 

Invisible Stress

Every day she would bounce into the classroom, give those children her all, and drive home exhausted. It was a really challenging school, there were all sorts of challenges for the young teacher, including an really unsupportive Head.  Despite all that she smiled, did everything that was asked of her and the whole world thought she was coping brilliantly with the challenges of the job.

Then BAM! One morning the enthusiastic, young teacher woke up and she burst into tears.  Whatever she did, she couldn’t stop crying. A few hours later she was sitting back at home with an anti-depressant in her hand and a sick note from the doctor, wondering if she was going to have to be medicated for the rest of her career. The worst thing was, she hadn’t seen it coming. No clues, no early warning system, nothing! Once she recovered, and came off the antidepressants, she promised herself that she would never let anything or anyone make her feel like that every again!

exam stress

Fast forward 20 years and that same woman found herself in the middle of a global pandemic. Both her children were in key years at school; her eldest sitting GCSEs and her youngest SATs and finishing primary school. Of course these exams couldn’t take place because of the pandemic and she believed that life was so much calmer and more stress-free because of that. 

Ok enough third person. By now you must have realised that the young stressed out teacher was me, and so is the relieved Mum. However, I was wrong!

I have spent the last few months enjoying my time with my family. Thrilled that my daughter, in particular, had had so much stress removed from her due to the exams being cancelled. (My daughter wrote an amazing article with me last year about her struggles with anxiety which you can read here if you haven’t already).

Then a couple of weeks ago I started getting headaches, I never get headaches. So I upped my relaxation and meditation time, but they persisted. I realised I wasn’t sleeping well. Over the following few days the tightening in my shoulders started and that turned into a pain up my neck. Still I walked round finding excuses and possible reasons for all these classic symptoms of stress.

Background

Now I need to give you some background to this situation. I am very good in a crisis. I always jump into action and calm everyone else down then deal with myself later. Over the last few weeks, months, years even, the anxiety levels over exams have been slowly bubbling and rising. So, I have been calming everyone down, giving them tools to cope and, I thought, managing my own levels too. But the last couple of weeks there has been so much uncertainty about these results, the government literally changed how they were being calculated days before the results were announced. This has led to unnecessary anxiety and stress for everyone involved, me included it turns out. Now, those of you who know me know that I am passionate about mental health, but I am even more dedicated to and passionate about my family. This palarva was causing my daughter serious anxiety and my body was reacting to that and getting ready to fight for her (that’s what our stress reaction is, at a biological level). 

I didn’t realise how bad it was until it all suddenly lifted yesterday when the results came in and I got to see my daughter’s reaction as she opened her email from school with her results in.

Now I need to make it clear, that this has not been a “wake up in tears, book a doctor’s appointment” level stress. But it has been a timely reminder that despite all my tools and techniques I am still susceptible to stress at times. It reminded me that in all likelihood I would have been in a much worse state had I not used my daily practices and stepped up my self care.

I was also reminded that no-one is immune to invisible stress. 

 

Laura exam results

What can you do about invisible stress?

The problem with invisible stress is that you can’t see it until it is too late. You have headaches, migraines even, you over eat or under eat, you’re not sleeping, your shoulders are tight and you are really over emotional… these are all early warning signs.

I know so many teachers who are struggling with invisible stress but they have no idea and since I have just demonstrated that even I can be caught out, the only thing to do is to live every day as though you are trying to ease your stress. 

Breathe

Take lots of deep breaths, regularly. Breathe deeply into your stomach and as slowly as you can comfortably and see the difference it makes. Read more about breathing.

Meditate

I have said it a million times but meditation doesn’t have to be sitting in the lotus position and chanting. It can be as simple as walking to the shops without looking at your phone and being really aware of every step and how it feels in your body. Read more about Meditation.

Sleep

I know I go on about this too but sleeping is SO important. It is when we are asleep that our stress levels are processed and lower. Without enough sleep you are starting each day with higher stress levels than you should and you get nearer to tipping point every day. Monitoring your sleep is a great way to detect invisible stress too. Read more about Sleep.

Eat well

When you’re not eating well your body can’t function as efficiently as it should, you lack energy and don’t feel as positive. Read more about mindful eating and the benefits.

Take care of yourself

Run a bath, hug your children, go for a walk or a run, listen to your favourite music and dance around your kitchen, read a good book, eat food you enjoy, arrange to meet friends for a drink… Whatever it is that makes you really happy, do it! As often as you physically can!

 

In summary: take care of yourself all the time, whether you feel stressed or not! 

Lifting Lockdown: Helping our children adjust

Lifting lockdown has been a subject on people’s minds here in the UK for the last 7 weeks. We all know that eveything has to end. As much as most of us were concerned about the impact on our lives of going into lockdown, I think for the most part we have all adjusted, to some degree, to this new reality we are living in. 

Parents are juggling working from home and helping their children with school work. We all know that there is no such thing as “popping” to the shops now, because we may be standing in a socially distanced queue for anything up to an hour and a half. We dutifully take our hours exercise on our bikes or walking in the vicinity of our homes. 

We miss our families and friends, but to a degree at least, lockdown is our new normal.

At some point though, this will have to change. It already is. This week, more people have been advised that they can return to work and we were given a timeframe for certain age ranges returning to school.

Lifting Lockdown

With the announcement this week form the government here in the UK that our youngest children will be among the first returning to school, many are feeling understandably anxious about how this will work in a school environment.

Children aged 4 and 5 years have no concept of personal space, let alone social distancing so many Heads and leadership teams are scratching their heads at the moment and many parents are concerned for the ramifications this may have.

Teddy in a Mask

 No PPE is going to be supplied to schools. Honestly, can you imagine it being of any benefit with such young children anyway? There will just be lots of hand washing, cleaning of surfaces and equipment and social distancing, as far as possible. It is all very scary and different for everyone involved. 

How can we help our children adjust to this “post-lockdown” reality? 

Well, I think it is important to start talking to them now. 

Talk to them about how things will have to be different

Explain that they will not be able to hug their friends or hold hands.

If you haven’t already make sure you really hammer home that they must cough and sneeze into their elbow. They must wash their hands regularly and throw tissues away straight after use (somewhere safe like a dustbin, not tucked behind the nearest item of furniture!).  

As far as you can prepare them for what school will be like when they return. The fact they may be in a different classroom, have a different teacher and not all their class will be together. Explain that lunch times and play times will be different. 

It’s hard because none of us really know how this is going to work yet. But the more we can prepare them for the fact that going back to school doesn’t mean, walking back in and picking up where they left off, the better. 

Build up their immune system

Having a strong immune system is going to be vital over the coming months. Just by being isolated from the rest of the world for a few weeks our body will have relaxed it’s natural systems a little. Make sure you are eating healthily as a family. Lots of green veg and broccoli in particular is great for lung strength. Get some vitamin c and zinc or if you are able to take it echinacea. These are all great for boosting your immune system. You can get vitamin c and zinc in soluble tablets that taste like orange pop, really easy to get most children to drink. 

Stay calm

I know it’s hard. Children pick up on you being anxious about things and they assume (rightly sometimes) that there is reason for them to be scared. When we are scared our immunity is reduced so at the moment, more than ever it is important to stay calm. Do breathing exercises together, meditate if that is something you are able to do, make sure you are getting exercise every day (that helps your body to process any stress and anxiety you may be experiencing). Have a look at some of my free resources for ideas.

Play

Play is how children, especially young children, make sense of the world. Play at going back to school. Pretend that you can’t get too close to each other, make it a game. Make hand washing a game. Use teddy bears and dolls to help them get used to the idea of staying a distance away from each other. Enjoy this time together. It may feel stressful at times, but having all this extra time with our children is really special. (It has been suggested that there should be more focus on play in schools when this is over too. To read more check out this article from The Guardian.)

Sleep

 Getting enough sleep will ensure that you are able to think clearly and rationally and help you stay calm. It is also important to get enough sleep as it helps your body process stress related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

Hugs

During lockdown there aren’t many people we are allowed to hug, but we can hug our children and we must do it often! Hugs release feel good chemicals that help us feel safe, secure and content and that is more important now than ever.

Lockdown Limits

As we prepare to begin a slow and complex return to normality it is normal to have very mixed feelings about all this. It is normal to be scared for ourselves and for our children. Many people are confused and emotional at the moment, for many reasons. As parents we want our children to return to their “normal” lives, to play with their friends and continue their education. It isn’t easy for anyone. As adults we are concerned about the physical and mental health of our loved ones, we might be worried about finances if we are unable to work. We want our children to stay up to date with their learning, but equally we want them to be happy and healthy when all this is over.

One thing is for certain, life will have to return to normal at some point. When that will be, none of us really know. We are all very much in the hands of the government, the scientists and other experts right now. I urge you though, listen to your instincts. As parents we have strong intuition when it comes to the wellbeing and safety of our children. If you feel that your child is perhaps more at risk, or others in your household are, if you feel that they will be upset by the necessary changes that will inevitably have to happen in school before they return, talk to school. Explain how you are feeling, explain your situation but ultimately do what you believe is right for your child.

 

Lockdown or no lockdown I can help!

If you are concerned about how this pandemic has affected the mental wellbeing of your children, or the children in your school, please do get in touch. As soon as I am able to safely I will be back visiting schools, running workshops and teaching both teachers and their precious students how to reduce the anxiety they have been feeling and giving them tools to stabilise their mental and physical health. If you would like to discuss this with me by all means get in touch.

 

 

Supporting your child during isolation

Isolation has come to mean something very different to most of us over recent days and weeks. Before this outbreak most of us associated isolation with the elderly or those who couldn’t easily get out and about. Now almost all of us as self-isolating, in the hope that it will slow the impact of COVID19. 

Here is the UK we are at the end of our first real week of isolation. Our schools have been closed, apart from for the children of key workers, since Monday. Teachers are doing an incredible job; sending work home, putting themselves and their families at risk going in to teach those children who have to remain in school, and sharing incredibly supportive messages to help their students through this difficult time. I take my hat off to all of you. So many people pulling together to keep the essential services of our society going.

Understandably many children are finding the changes difficult. They are suddenly being taught by their parents at home, they can’t see thier friends and everything feels a little bit strange.

Isolation tips

 

I wanted to just pop online, to give you some tips to help us all stay sane during this time.   

 

Life is very different for many people at the moment, but here is my advice. 

 

Try to keep a rough routine  

Routines give security, especially to younger children. Older children may want to embrace the flexibility that this time gives them, but with Primary aged children I recommend having some structure to the day. Many parents are even reading a register at the start of the day, having playtimes, set lunchtime etc. This makes the day feel more familiar, even if you are having lessons at the kitchen table. 

 

Don’t sweat the small stuff

We are all adjusting to this temporary reality. If your child doesn’t want to do any work today. That’s fine. Give them a cuddle and watch a film. There is plenty of time to catch up on school work, what is important right now is your child’s physical and mental wellbeing.  

 

Get plenty of exercise 

Whether it is doing Joe Wick’s Youtube workouts on a morning or having a good dance in the kitchen make sure you are getting plenty of exercise. Exercise reduces your stress levels as well as keeping you physically fit. 

 

Get dressed 

I know that we all look forward to those days when we can stay in our pjs and just relax, but we are potentially looking at 12 weeks of pj days. The novelty wears off and it can really adversely impact our wellbeing. I appreciate that we can’t necessarily get our hair cut at the moment, but we can get dressed and make a bit of an effort. It helps us to be more productive and gets us in the right mindset, especially on “school days”.

Screen time

I am not a huge fan of screen time, but there is a place for it and this might just be one of them. We all escape into our screens when we are stressed if we aren’t careful. Relaxing your screen time rules a little over the coming weeks won’t do any harm. I’m not saying you should let them have screens 24/7 but a little extra time won’t hurt. 

Look after your own mental health 

Chances are you are focused on your children at the moment, and that is great, but it is so important that you care for your own wellbeing at the moment too. You may be trying to juggle work, home schooling, worrying about; loved ones, what the future holds, finances… Make sure you take time for yourself. Take a few deep breaths if it is all getting too much and be kind to yourself. Everyone is feeling tired, stressed and emotional at times at the moment. Allow yourself to really feel these emotions and don’t give yourself a hard time if you do snap at the children, it happens. Take a deep breath and give yourself a minute then get back to it. 

I hope that helps.

The most important thing you can do right now is to love your children and make sure they know that you love them. Take time to play games, watch films, go for walks, spend time in the garden, teach them new skills. This is the perfect time to do all the things you don’t usually have time to do. Embrace the freedom that these restrictions have given many of us in terms of our time. 

Isolation resources:

I also wanted to include a list of all the amazing online resources I have come across to help you occupy your children during this time, so here goes. By all means contact me if you find any that you think I should include:

Free audio books: 

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/uk/lifestyle/editors-choice-book-reviews/a31401009/audible-stories-free-childrens-audio-books/

David Walliams story time: 

www.worldofdavidwalliams.com

Sir Linkalot (Spellings help):

https://www.sirlinkalot.org/spellathome/ 

Joe Wicks PE lessons:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAxW1XT0iEJo0TYlRfn6rYQ 

Live Q&A sessions with Steve Backshall:

https://www.facebook.com/stevebackshallofficial/ 

Homework club with Konnie Huq:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDlSobQTc4IifJEu6Lt22eA 

Carol Vorderman’s Maths Factor:

https://www.themathsfactor.com 

Let’s Go Live Science classes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7EdZa24fMs 

Oti Mabuse Dance classes:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC58aowNEXHHnflR_5YTtP4g 

Edinburgh Zoo webcams:

https://www.edinburghzoo.org.uk/webcams/

Wind in the Willows the Musical:

https://www.willowsmusical.com

National Theatre: 

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUDq1XzCY0NIOYVJvEMQjqw

Paris Opera and ballet:

https://www.operadeparis.fr

Royal Institute science lectures:

https://www.youtube.com/user/TheRoyalInstitution/videos

Science with Professor Brian Cox, Robin Ince & Guests:

https://cosmicshambles.com/stayathome/upcoming-schedule

 

Don’t forget all the amazing boxed sets on the iplayer.

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