School Holidays

Missing your teacher friends

Holidays? Teachers are always on holiday! 

If you haven’t had this conversation with a friend or family member then I am guessing you aren’t a teacher. I lost count of how many times people told me that I was “always on holiday”. What few people realise is that there is a mammoth amount of work to do during the school holidays. Lessons don’t plan themselves, classrooms don’t move themselves and set themselves up for the new year. It can take a day just to label all the new books for the new school year, can’t it?

If anything the challenge for most teachers is remembering to actually take a break. I remember when I was a newly qualified teacher I went to germany and the Czech Republic in the summer holidays. I spent the whole holiday taking photos of tessellating tiles on buildings, buying Pied Piper resources and taking photos of statues etc in Hamelin and buying cfairy tales in different languages to show my class. 

 

 

This is not a holiday.

This is a resource gathering expedition.

Hands up if you have done the same thing?

I know you have, because if you are reading this you work in a school!

We have all spent Christmas day asking family members not to screw up their Quality Street wrappers so we can put them in the art corner, or saving Toblerone boxes for next time we do 3D shapes. It took me almost 10 years after I stopped teaching to stop doing these things!

We spend the whole of our holidays doing things which are, directly or indirectly, school related.

Now we have identified the issue, what can we do to sort it out?

Shift your priorities

When the holidays start make your personal life your priority. Whether it is spending time with your family and friends, catching up on jobs around the house or days out. Those are top of your to do list for the next few weeks.

Get outside

Whether it is a day out to a local beauty spot or just sitting in the garden with a cuppa and a good book, spending time in nature is calming and you will feel more relaxed just by being in the fresh air. Even if it is tackling a big garden project, you will feel tired but rejuvenated from the physical exercise and the fresh air. Whatever the weather, getting outside has physical benefits for your physical and mental health. We spend so much time indors during term time so even if it is taking some planning onto the patio or to the local park, get outside as much as you can.

Sanitiser

Get your school work done as soon as you can

I know that some schools won’t let you in during the start of the holiday to set up, but I always used to try and get everything set up in my classroom and all my planning etc done during the first week, if at all possible. That way my brain could relax knowing everything was ready for going back. That way I could fully relax and enjoy the time off.

Make fun plans

If you have plans that make you smile during the holidays, whether it is days out, coffee with a friend or a visit to somewhere you have always wanted to go, having plans in place, preferably before the holidays start, ensures that you will have things to look forward to and you won’t drift through the holidays in a haze of Netflix and sleep. Making happy memories with loved ones will give you things to look back on and ensure you are making the most of your time off.

Do things you love

It’s easy to fill the school holidays with things that you feel you should be doing; sorting out the garden, decorating that room, giving everywhere a deep clean… It might give you great joy to get those jobs done, and if it does, great. If it doesn’t then maybe you can leave them? If you really feel that you have to get those jobs done, then try to balance them with things you love. So if you spend two days decorating the spare room, have two days away in a cottage somewhere, or spend two days sitting in your favourite place reading a book you have been wanting to read, whatever makes you happy.

Start good habits

Have you let your diet slip? Stopped exercising? Maybe you always wanted to get into a daily meditation practice? Whatever it is that you know you would benefit from introducing to your life, start the habit during the holidays and by the time you go back to school it will be a non-negotiable and you will find time to keep it up. I used to tell myself I didn’t have time for exercise. The reality was, I hate it! A few months ago I bought an exercise bike/cross trainer and put it in my office. Now I cycle for at least 15km every morning before I do anything else. I realised I can read while I cycle so it doesn’t feel like wasted time because I am reading for about half an hour a day too and I feel stronger and happier than ever before. What can you start doing that you will benefit from in the long term?

Learn to be more mindful

Mindfulness is a great way to learn to control your mind. Simple daily strategies like morning meditation or journalling can help you to quiet your mind and relax. Why not find a technique that you enjoy and try it every day of the holidays. By the time the holidays are over you will probably keep it up and stay calm and happy all year long. Another of my favourites is yoga. It’s such a lovely way to start the day. It strengthens your body but calms you mind at the same time. I thoroughly recommend Yoga with Adrienne if you are looking for an online option to test the water. She has videos for every condition, every competence level and always gives simplified versions for beginners or people who are less flexible.

 

The most important thing of all though…

…is giving yourself permission to switch off. As teachers we are so used to being busy all the time, we find it hard to stop and just rest. It is so important that you are able to rest you mind and body when you have chance. I appreciate that everyone’s personal circumstances are different. If you have young children it might be more challenging to find time to do some of these things, but spend real quality time with your children. Get some popcorn and have a film afternoon. If they are old enough and have the attention span have a film day. We used to have themed days. We watched Harry Potter films all day one summer, we made beds on the floor, ate jellybeans and chocolate coins and made coke floats and called it butter beer. The children loved it and I had a day of resting while we made amazing memories. If you can of course, you can find a new series on Netflix and give yourself permission to just sit and watch them all, even if it is just after the children have gone to bed. 

Don’t feel guilty for taking time off. You have earned this time and your loved ones deserve time with the calm, happy you, not the tired and stressed version. 

 

Ripples of Calm

ripples of calm

Ripples, however small, slowly move out from the source and impact much further than we ever know. Whenever we do a small act of kindness or impart some small wisdom we never know the full impact that will have. 

“Even a pebble cast in the middle of a lake creates ripples that eventually reaches the shore.”
Jeffrey G. Duarte

 

I was talking so someone the other day who said that they thought it was ridiculous teaching children at primary/elementary school mindfulness and wellbeing; “what did they have to be stressed about?”

I should point out that this person did not work in a school or even have young children.

 

The more I explained why I felt that this was the best possible age to teach mindfulness and wellbeing, the more amazed their face became and the more excited I became. It’s funny how often being forced to defend your point of view makes you realise just how passionate you are about something. Of course I knew that I was passionate about teaching children wellbeing. What I hadn’t fully realised until I had this conversation, was the wider reaching reasons that it is so important to start young. The most obvious comment of course is that younger and younger children are struggling with stress and anxiety. They do need help with their wellbeing. 1 in 6 children of school age has a diagnosed mental health issue. This has risen dramatically over the last twenty years from 1 in 10 in 2004. By giving our young children coping strategies and techniques to use then we can hopefully begin to reverse this trend. We must support those who are already struggling.

We aren’t just equipping them for primary/elementary school

In addition to helping our young people while they are at primary/elementary school, we are teaching them techniques to help them with exams right through their education. Not just that, we are showing them how to manage their emotions. This will support them in ever relationship they will ever have and help them stay calm throughout their lives. When they go for their first job interview they will remember to breathe and calm themselves before they walk in. When they take their driving test they will do a few rounds of 7-11 breathing before they set off to ensure they are focused on the task in hand. 

The impact is even further reaching than that though.

You see the one thing we know about children is that they love to share. Whether it is sticky fingers, cuddles, head lice or sweets, they share things with those they love. The knowledge that they pick up at school is no different.

I often have parents and grandparents telling me that their child came home and taught them the breathing technique they learned at school that day. Sometimes even that they sat down and talked them through the meditation they had learned. 

Children love to show the adults in their lives that they know something and they learned something new. I know that I have learned many things from my children (particularly about the periodic table, which it seems has doubled in size since I was at school!). The magical thing about children sharing this particular knowledge though is that it can then be implemented by those adults and help them stay calm and happy too.

Picture the scene

Grandma returns from work looking a bit stressed and asks their grandchild to just give them a minute because they are a bit tired, they have had a difficult day. 

sharing

That grandchild picks up on the tension in their Grandma’s voice (they have become really good at reading emotions because they have learned a lot about emotions at school) so they give Grandma a minute. They then snuggle up next to her on the sofa and gently tell Grandma that they learned some ways to feel happier and more calm at school this week, it’s easy, I can show you if you like? 

Of course Grandma loves hearing about what her grandchildren have been learning so they encourage the child to tell her everything. Before she knows it, Grandma is breathing like a bumble bee and is beginning to feel more calm than she has in ages. 

Grandma then goes into work the next day feeling calmer and more grounded and notices that her colleague is looking a little tense today. She subtly stands next to her while she makes her coffee and asks her if she is feeling ok. Grandma’s colleage explains that she has a lot going on at the moment and apologises for being a bit stressed. So Grandma tells her colleague that her granddaughter taught her this amazing breathing technique to calm her down last night. Her colleague asks if it is easy and can she teach her…

Before you know it the ripples of that one child are wide reaching and so many others in her wider community have benefitted just from that one technique.

calm

Ripples keep spreading

You see when we teach our children methods of staying calm we send ripples out not just into the wider community, but also ripples into the future. These techniques will be passed from parent to child in the same way nursery rhymes or recipes are.

 

We aren’t just helping our children to stay calm in their next test or exam. This isn’t just equipping them for the next school year or the next step in their education. The techniques we teach them now will stay with them throughout their lives. They will share these with others they meet who need support.

The strategies will be passed from parent to child and before we know it everyone will have these simple and effective ways of supporting their mental health. 

We may never know the true impact of our actions but I do know that when we teach children to care for their mental health the calm ripples we send out into the world are far reaching and life changing.

Start teaching you class these simple but effective life skills today and watch your school community be transformed.

 

Is your breathing making you stressed?

Breathing

Breathing is the most important thing in life. 

There is no denying that really. You stop breathing, you stop living. Did you know though, that your breathing could be making you stressed? Learning to breathe in the right way might just be the most important thing you ever learn – in my opinion anyway.

You may have heard me talk before about how important it is to breathe correctly. I’m not going to even pretend that this isn’t something I preach whenever I get the chance. You see, I know how dramatically it has changed my life and I am just so eager to share this impact with as many people as I can. 

I’m sure there are some of you reading this thinking, “I am pretty effective in my breathing skills thanks Kate, I’ve literally been doing it since the moment I was born, I think I’m ok on this one.”.

You are of course right, however, there are many way to breathe and most people I meet aren’t breathing effectively, or even properly. It’s true, really.

 

Take a moment to just think about how you breathe. 

Place your hand on your stomach, perhaps put your other hand on your chest and just take a few breaths in and out, don’t change the way you breathe, just relax but be aware of how your body moves as you breathe.

For example, does your stomach move in or out when you breathe in? Does your chest move in our out as you breathe out? Do your shoulders move at all when you breathe? Where can you feel your breath when you breathe in? Perhaps you can feel it entering your nostrils? Maybe you can feel it in your throat? 

Just be aware of how you breathe.

 

Ok, so now you know how you breathe, let’s just check a few things to make sure you are breathing efficiently.

When you took a breath in did your stomach go in our out?

It should go out.

I know that goes against what we have been unconsciously taught by phrases like “breathe in” (when we are trying to get through a narrow space) but when you breathe in, your body should expand, it has to, it is filling with air. So your diaphragm should move down and push your stomach out slightly.

Likewise, when you breathe out your stomach should go in. Your chest should also get smaller when you breathe out, and bigger when you breathe in.

As for your shoulders, they shouldn’t move when you breathe. If you need to use your shoulders to breathe in and out you are struggling to breathe and should probably see a medical professional to check for conditions such as asthma. 

breathing
breathing

Optimising our wellbeing

Now we know how to breathe effectively so that our body is getting the most oxygen for the least amount of effort, we need to look at other factors which  affect the impact our breathing has on our lives.

Obviously things like the quality of air we are breathing has an impact on our ability to focus and our general health. The most important factor though, by far, is the speed at which we breathe.

I can pretty much guarantee that when I asked you to focus on your breathing that it would have slowed, just becoming aware of our breathing we automatically slow our breathing down.

That’s exactly what we want to happen. When we breathe quickly our breathe becomes increasingly shallow and this means that, not only do we not get as much oxygen, but our body goes into fear mode. You see when we are scared or anxious one of the first things that happens is that our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. Because of this our body has learned to detect this as an early warning sign and to release chemicals into our blood stream to send messages to the rest of our body to enable us to run or fight. This is great if we are in real, physical danger, but if we are just worried about an observation or interview, these chemicals create a chain of events which can be quite damaging to our physical body. Worse still, if you have got into the habit of always breathing in a fast and shallow way, your bodies then believes you are permanently in danger so keeps you in a permanent state of alert.

What can we do to change our breathing?

There are many ways to change our breathing. Any mindful breath work is based upon this principle of focusing on your breathing and slowing your breathing down in order to calm your nervous system and relax your body.

7-11 Breathing

7-11 breathing which is perhaps the simplest of all breathing techniques. This is the first breathing technique I teach anyone when we start to learn about breath work. As soon as you can count to 11 you can master this simple technique. All you have to do is to count to 7 as you breathe in, and count to 11 as you breathe out. It is so incredibly simple. It is also one of the easiest techniques to use in any situation. You can count in your head and breathe in time whether you are at home alone or sitting in the middle of an exam.

Give it a try, do about five cycles and see how different your body feels. I guarantee you will feel more relaxed. Obviously techniques like this are to calm your body in the short term, but if you can learn over time to breathe more deeply and more slowly, your body will feel calmer all the time.

There are many more breathing techniques you can use to slow your breathing and calm you body. 

Here are some starting points: 

Hot chocolate breathing

Changing the way you breathe can change your life

breathing

When you breathe effectively and slowly your body functions better and you feel more calm all day every day. 

Breathe better, stress less, it’s really that simple.

If you would like more ideas for mindful breathing and want to introduce breathing techniques to your class, Calmer Classrooms with Mojo has a whole day a week dedicated to learning to breathe mindfully. This is of course available as part of my Calmer Classrooms school membership along with all my other resources for primary/elementary schools. If you want to have a little experiment without any committment you can also download my Calmer Classroom cards for free when you sign up for my fortnightly newsletter.

Find out more about the benefits of mindful breathing. 

 

The Happiness Code: 5 easy changes to create a happier life

Happiness

Happiness is the most important thing in the world.

I am sure many of you are familiar with one of my favourite quotes:

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light” 

Albus Dumbledore

Before I go any further, I am going to confront the elephant in the room. I know that the author of Harry Potter is a contraversial figure for many people now, but I firmly believe that someone can create something truly magical and have questionable personal beliefs. Whether you feel that her comments over recent years are acceptable or not is irrelevant in this context. The fact is, this quote resonates with me and it always will.

 

Now that is out of the way, let’s return to the real reason for this article. 

Happiness. How many of us rate it highly when we are looking at what we need in our lives? We focus on family, work, holidays, possessions and what everyone else is doing. Do we ever really give ourselves time to stop and think about what really makes us happy?

I know, you are reading this and thinking; “Kate, please, I don’t have time to think about eating my dinner let alone what would make me happy!”.

I know! I really do. 

Life is busy and more so now than ever.

The last year has been one of the hardest many of us can remember. It has been a time of intense fear and anxiety for many people. A time when we lacked the support from loved ones we rely on so heavily. We have been alone, or with our little family groups for the vast majority of the last 18months now and even when we have been able to meet up with friends and loved ones or go out somewhere, for many people those things which used to bring us pleasure are now tinged with worry.

Many people have really struggled with their mental health during the global pandemic. Understandably. However, as Dumbledore says in this quote, we can often find happiness if we just turn on the light. 

How often do you allow one small issue early on in the day to determine what sort of day it is going to be? 

Your alarm doesn’t go off, the car won’t start, the kids can’t find their homework… by the time you get to school you have already decided that today is going to be a challenge, and sure enough, things continue to go wrong. 

What would happen if you could turn those moments early in the day around to see the positives?

What if you could see the alarm not going off as some much needed extra sleep? The car issues mean that you walk to school and you get some more steps in before school? You could be grateful that your children have done their homework so that they have something to lose? Could changing the way you see things really change your whole day? 

 These may not necessarily all be practical changes in attitude for your circumstances but do you see what I mean?

You can choose to find the happiness by turning on the light.

You don’t need anyone else to turn the light on, only you can choose to find the switch.

 

Happiness light

Find the light switch.

The light switch for you might be making time to go for a run at least twice a week. That might help you find your happiness. Perhaps you have always wanted to tap dance so your happiness is finding an adult tap class. You might have always wanted to learn a craft or to spend more time with your children, perhaps you always wanted to find time for a massage every week… Whatever it is that will bring you true happiness, even if just for a few minutes every week, do it.

Here are some scientifically proven light switches if you are struggling to find your happiness switch:

Smile

It might sound like an obvious thing, but so often people forget that simply by smiling more we can trick our brains into believing we are happy. The mere act of smiling, or laughing, even if you are feeling really fed up, will release all the happy chemicals and make you feel happier.

Make others happy

If you are feeling down, do something thoughtful for someone else. You will feel happier because you have made them smile and who knows, they may even do something lovely in return. Double happiness!

Count your blessings

I know I harp on about being grateful and thankful for the things you already have, but that’s because it really works. Counting your blessings helps you to realise how fortunate you are and helps your brain start to look for the positives in life rather than those negatives that evolution has taught it to focus on. Get a gratitude diary and write down at least 5 things every day that you are grateful for and see how your life changes. 

Meditate every morning

What if I told you that waking up just five minutes earlier and spending the first few minutes of your day in meditation could make you feel happier and more calm all day, wouldn’t it be worth losing just 5 minutes sleep every morning? Well it really works. In the same way starting our days with a few things going wrong can set us up for a day of disappointment, starting the day well will set you up for success. Just 5 minutes of mindful breathing or a short guided meditation could be the change you have been looking for.

Choose your fuel well

I know it’s boring but what we put into our bodies has a huge impact on our mental wellbeing. Our gut is known as our second brain because it really does have a huge impact, particularly on our mental health. Try to stick to the 80-20 rule. 80% healthy to 20% processed or unhealthy. By eating more fruit and vegetables and cutting our processed foods, sugary drinks etc your body will start working more efficiently, you will have more energy and feel great.

Small changes for big impact. Commit to being happy today. 

 

Is it time to scrap the exam system?

Exams

Exams. Just the word is enough to put many adults into fear mode. 

In the UK we have used fundamentally the same system of assessment in schools since public examinations were created in 1858, when two examinations were introduced to schools, the Junior (under 16yrs) and Senior (under 18yrs) exams. These exams were requested by schools in order to help them assess the students and Oxford and Cambridge Universities created them and they were sat in schools, village halls or church halls.

More than 150 years on and schooling has changed beyond recignition.

When these first exams were introduced education for many children was not accessible and certainly wasn’t compulsory. Most children from poor backgrounds would have been working rather than learning at school. Education was a luxury for the few who could afford to both pay the fees and lose the income from their children being at work themselves. 

That is far from the only change though.

 

When exams were introduced our whole approach to education was vastly different. Children of all ages sat in rows, usually with every child in the same classroom working from the youngest at the front to the oldest at the back. Corporal punichment was accepted as an essential part of learning and education was about learning by rote not encouraging independent, inquisitive thought. There was certainly no moving around the classroom, exploring their surroundings and very little creativity. Children were to be seen and not heard and were very definitely second class citizens in most families.

Over the years we have changed our pedagogy dramatically. We now celebrate difference and encourage children to think outside the box. We nurture their personalities and teach them the importance of critical thinking and not just regurgitating everything they are told.

Yet our exam system is fundamentally the same as it has always been.

Do exams go against the modern ethos of education?

More than just being a little dated though, does our education system go directly against the rest of our school system? 

In lessons throughout the year we encourage children to be creative and think around issues, then we have to teach them how to answer the questions in exams just the way they need to in order to get the marks they need.

Sanitiser

There is no wonder so many teachers feel they must teach to test in order to get the best results for their students. There are very few exams which allow the flexiblity which we know is important in education. Gone are the days when we needed rows of workers in factories or typing pools to all conform and do as they are told. The modern world needs people who can problem solve, think outside the box and be confident to try new things. Many of the exams that we use to show how well a student has learned, fail to test any of these things. They test memory, recall and an ability to stick to a formula. 

In addition to this aspect of the examination system being a little dated, the last two years schools and exams have been disrupted greatly and most children achieved the results they truly deserved. Last year the results were purely based on previous results and teacher assessment. this meant that the students who had worked consistently hard throughout their time at school got the results they truly deserved, whether they panicked on the day or not. Unfortunately some students didn’t do as well as they might have done if they had taken the exams, because they were relying on cramming before the exams to bring their grades up and they didn’t get that opportunity. In future years many students will learn from this though, hopefully, and work consistently during the length of their course, which can only be a good thing for everyone. 

 

Younger children

Of course the younger children were also affected by assessments being cancelled. Has this had any impact on the children though? Well, not a negative one, that’s for sure. Many people will argue that the assessments sat before going up to high school are important to give the high school an idea of the children’ ability. In reality, high schools reassess them when they start and many children have a mental growth spurt around this age and achieve very different results when they start high school than they did in primary school. There is definitely an argument that the assessments taken in primary school are more about assessing the teachers than they are assessing the children.  

Children don’t learn in a linear way. They have mental growth spurts just as they have physical growth spurts. They may struggle one year because they have something happening at home or because they are growing rapidly and they are struggling to concentrate. That is no reflection on the teachers. Many generations passed through primary school with little more than a weekly timestables and spellings test, I did, and it didn’t do us any harm at all.

 

Sadly much of the stress and anxiety children experience at school is due to assessments. Whilst I am not suggesting that we stop testing our children all together, there must be a better way to support our children and ensure that the piece of paper they carry with them out of school is a true respresentation of their abilities and talents. Since I was at school myself, long before I had any understanding of the impact of mental health on learning, I have been aware that some students weren’t achieving their potential due to stress. We had one girl in our school who got so anxious that she couldn’t hold a pen to write her answers. She was incredibly intelligent, but exams made her so scared that she had to do all her exams wearing cotton gloves. 

What we understood less then, was that the impact of this stress wasn’t just affecting her physical ability to complete her assessment, it was also impacting her memory recall, her problem solving ability and so much more. She was in a permanent state of fight, flight or freeze and that is a thoroughly distructive place to try to sit an exam in.

We can teach our children strategies to help them control their biological responses to exams all day long, but at some point surely it makes sense to stop and think about whether we actually need to be subjecting them to this stress in the first place?

Surely now is the perfect time to stop and think about our assessment system in the world. We have had to change countless things in schools this year so why not use this as a catalyst for having a really meaningful look at the whole education system. Starting with the exams makes perfect sense to me.

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

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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

 

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