Poverty and Wellbeing

Poverty and Wellbeing

At a time when the gap between “the haves” and “the have nots” is widening year on year. When statistics are manipulated to make us believe we are better off, yet 3.9 million children in the UK are living in poverty there is no denying that something needs to change. 

The UK is one of the wealthiest countries in the world yet some schools had to open throughout the 6 week holidays this summer to ensure that their students had at least one meal a day. Teachers are providing everything from stationery to food and school shoes for their students, all while struggling to pay their own bills.

It isn’t just in the UK a similar tale can be told in the US, Australia… 

We are watching the situation get worse. The rich get richer and the poor poorer and the majority of the population are helpless to change this trend.

 

How does this affect wellbeing?

Well, you don’t need any fancy qualifications to work out that is a child is hungry they aren’t happy. The problem goes deeper than that though. 

Recent headlines about knife crime in the UK might on the surface seem worrying but let’s stop and think about what is causing these changes. 

Happy citizens don’t feel the need to attack others. Someone who is mentally content doesn’t think that stabbing someone with a knife is a sensible exchage for an iphone or a bike. The people who commit these crimes are desperate. They are hungry, maybe they are just fed up of being the only person in their gang who doesn’t have the trappings of wealth. Let’s be honest, we are taught every day that we will be happier if we own the latest gadget. 

Many of these young people have never had a good role model. The financial crisis hit in this country in 2007, that means that many of our teenagers would have only been toddlers. Difficult times economically always hit the poor much harder than the wealthy. Some young people will never have had a decent meal, will have been raised by parents who are depressed, exhausted, working every hour they can… What about the many more whose parents are addicts? Who have reached such depths in their own mental wellness that they just have to shut the world out using drugs. What about the army of young carers?

If children from happy, affluent homes are struggling with anxiety and depression, what chance do the children from such challenging homes have?

When many young people can see no light at the end of the tunnel, no job prospects, no hope of life every getting any easier, it is easy to see how they can feel desperate and as though no-one cares.

 

Instead of looking at the symptoms and trying to solve the signs we are seeing of mental ill health, we need to start looking at the causes and poverty is definitely a huge factor. There is a direct correlation between times of economic prosperity and better mental health, equally the reverse is true.

Fortunately, the world is waking up to the size of the problem we are facing. We are talking about mental health and the stigma surrounding it is gone.

 

This week saw the launch of an amazing campaign by the Dukes and Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex, Every Mind Matters. After the first airing of the advert the website crashed. 

On Saturday night ITV also added their support with their own campaing Britain Get Talking. Which started with a pause during Britain’s Got Talent and then went into a silent ad break to encourage the country to talk to the people they were sitting with. I have heard wonderful stories about how successful this was. 

Talking is so important when you are struggling with anxiety, stress or depression. The old adage “a problem solved is a problem halved” is definitely true. But what if you don’t have someone to talk to? What if you are afraid that you will be judged for opening up? What if the idea of talking to someone about how you are feeling only increases your anxiety?

Mental health is such a complex issue.

Whatever the reason you are struggling, whether it is financial pressures, academic anxiety, illness, an abusive relationship, work place issues… please, please, find someone to talk to. As individuals most of us don’t have the ability to solve poverty, but we do have the ability to open our hearts to others. We can make a cup of tea and sit and listen. whether it is adults or children who are struggling knowing that someone cares and is listening to them, really listening, can make all the difference. 

We must start reversing the current trends. A 48% rise in childhood anxiety and depression over the last 15 years is terrifying.

This has to stop and stop now!

This time of year can be difficult for many people in the northern hemisphere. As the nights draw in and the weather changes we are less likely to spend time outside, less likely to socialise and just the darker, gloomier days can have a huge impact on how upbeat we are feeling. Let’s all make an effort to reach out to others and show them that we care and maybe, just maybe if we all take the time to care for each other we can begin to reverse this trend. Whatever the cause of someone’s anxiety and depression, love and listening are the start of the solution.

I have a dream…

I have a dream…

The 25th September is World Dream Day.

This is a new one on me. Every day seems to be some international day now everything from cheese to children is celebrated on a special day of the year.

If I’m honest I can get a little jaded with it all, but when I saw dreams it immediately pricked my interest. When I looked into it more it total inspired me.

I am a big believer in dreaming.

I love my sleep and can never seem to get enough, but that isn’t the sort of dreaming we’re talking about here.

World Dream Day is about Martin Luther King type dreams. The aspirational kind. The kind that inspires action. The type of dreams that can change the world.  

I have always believed that if you want something enough you can almost always make it happen. The most difficult thing is often working out what you want enough to manifest it in your life.

I always wanted to make a difference to children and teachers, I am only at the start of my journey in the scheme of things but I never stop dreaming of what I can do next to make my dreams a reality. Whether it is thinking of new ways to support you or what resources I can create. The thing I struggle with is recognition and as a result if I’m not careful I get so far and then pull back a little so that I’m not too visible. That’s something I’m working on because I know I can’t help more people until I can be brave enough to be seen.

Teaching children the importance of dreaming big is something I am very, very passionate about. Children are capable of totally immersing themselves in the most incredible dreams. 

They have no concept of the hard work and statistical probabilities of their choices and often disregard reality completely. It is so powerful!

If a child wants to be an astronaut that’s what they are going to be. They don’t know how many hours of rigorous training and testing they will have to go through or how statistically improbable it is. Thank goodness! If they did, we would never have any astronauts! 

By believing whole heartedly that they will be an astronaut they start a magical chain of events which might just lead them to fulfil their dream, as long as no-one puts up a barrier to that dream along the way.

When we are told we can’t do something, or something is hard, we start to build a wall between us and our dreams.

We need an incredibly supportive network of friends and family to believe in our dreams and help us to make them a reality. Alternatively, we need to be very stubborn and have lots of self esteem. (One of the many reasons we should always build a child’s self esteem!).

Inevitably at some point in our lives a well meaning family member or teacher will inadvertently say “That’s never going to happen” or “Do you know how few people make it?” when a child says that they want to be a footballer, popstar, actor, brain surgeon… whatever it is. There will always be someone who tries to be “realistic” and “prepare them for real life” by deflating a child’s dreams a little. It is rarely done out of malice and often done in a protective way. It may be that that person had big dreams and someone squashed theirs and they never made them a reality. 

Realistically, most children who want to be astronauts, footballers or popstars don’t end up doing that. More often than not it is because they change their mind along the way though, not because it isn’t possible. The same way most children who want to be nurses, teachers and train drivers don’t end up doing those jobs either. It isn’t our job to squash their dreams though. As adults it is our job to help them believe that they can achieve anything they want to. To encourage them to dream big. The bigger the better!

There have been so many inspirational young people over recent years; Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai and Jack Andraka to name just a few.

These teenagers have changed the world for millions of people. If they hadn’t dreamed big and been brave we would never have heard of them and nothing would have changed. 

We all change the world, just by existing, but we can choose to make a bigger difference. Whether it is in our own little life, our own community, or for the whole world. Dreams don’t have to be big and bold. Your dream might be to create a litter free environment for the children at your local park. It might be that you want to do a half marathon or climb a mountain. You might want to learn to paint, or dance or play golf. Whatever your dream is, why not take some time this week to work a little towards your dream and support a loved one in their dream too.

Working together on shared dreams and goals is a wonderful way to strengthen relationships and support another on their journey.

Dream big and be bold in your dreams. You will never regret the things you tried to achieve, only the things you weren’t brave enough to attempt.

 

Want to read more about dreams, check out these blogs:

Following your dreams

The importance of following your passion

Goal Mapping for Kids

Change, tis the season

Change, tis the season

When September the 1st arrives here in the UK it is like walking through a door between Summer and Autumn, the change is instant. One day you are wearing suncream and short and the next it is misty and there is a nip in the air and you begin to think about where you put your gloves. 

It should feel a bit sad. Especially for someone like me who loves the warm, sunny weather. But instead it feels exciting and full of promise. So many adults, whether they work in education or not, get the urge to buy stationery supplies and a new school bag. We are preconditioned from an early age that September means a new start and it certainly does for me. 

I do all my business planning September-August, just as I always did when I was teaching. I do buy new notebooks and pens to help with that planning, and invariably give in to the urge to have a new handbag or work bag too. 

This year I have gone a step further and even had a “back to school” hair cut. 

 

I’m not alone in this either. I remember a couple of years ago booking a hair appointment for the first day the children went back. When I looked around the hairdressers I saw two women I knew doing the same thing. Later on social media three or four other friends had also had dramatic changes in their hair that day too. 

There is definitely something about September that sparks people into change. 

I wonder whether it is the same in other countries.

Maybe you could let me know?   

Do you get the same urges in the month you return to school for a new year? 

I would love to know. 

I know some people are really scared of change but I have always loved it. Whether it is rearranging a room, planning new projects and new responsibilities at work or going on a trip. I love the infinite possibilities. It feels like anything is possible.

Every September I feel full of ideas and options. I am always really excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. What I might achieve this year. I also try to remember to look back on what I have achieved in the previous year. It is so important to remind yourself how far you have come.

I am constantly amazed by the things I have achieved.

I know that sounds silly and maybe to some a little boastful even, but that isn’t how I mean it. 

When I started teaching I was going to be a teacher until I retired. The idea of running a business was alien and terrifying to me, I didn’t have a clue where to start. I could use a computer but wouldn’t have known how to build a website, file my tax return, keep accounts, and there was no such thing as social media!

All of these things I now I have to do as part of my business. I have built Calmer Classrooms pretty much single handedly. My amazing husband has helped with my videos and writing the music for my MP3s, I have an amazing friend who is my emergency IT depeartment and I had Mojo professionally created, but everything else you see is me. 

This blows my mind when I stop and think about it but I have learned these skills gradually over the last 15 years of running my own businesses (I was a childminder, did Usborne Books, was a holistic therapist then started my work in schools).

I have never been more proud of anything in my professional life that I am of what I have created here. It isn’t just a business, it is a community, a support network. Teachers contact me from around the world with questions, feedback and needing support either with their own wellbeing or implementing wellbeing in schools. 

Without a willingness to change though none of this would have happened.

Just 6 short years ago the idea of me working in schools was just a dream. I never thought mindfulness and meditation would be accepted in education the way it has been. 

When I was asked to create Calmer Classrooms with Mojo I was terrified. Who was I to create something of such magnitude? But I have learned that I need to be brave, to agree to some things that terrify me. Only then can I learn and grow. 

This year, I have had my hair cut. I have my plans in place, all written with my new pens in my new notebooks and my new diary. I have my new handbag and some new school clothes and I am all ready to tackle whatever this year brings. 

I know this year will be the best ever for Calmer Classrooms, because this amazing community grows year on year and I get so much joy from meeting and helping new teachers and schools. 

So, here’s to change, here’s to being brave and here’s to new friends, new colleagues and new connections.

 

Arrive at school feeling calm everyday.

Arrive at school feeling calm everyday.

At this time of year many of us are trying to get back into that school morning routine. 

Having a routine makes such a difference to how smoothly your morning goes and if your morning runs smoothly you arrive at school feeling calm. It is as simple as that. 

For as long as I can remember I have had the same routine on a school morning. It goes something like this:

  • Brush teeth
  • Shower
  • Hair and make up
  • Get dressed
  • Empty dishwasher
  • Make lunches
  • Make breakfast
  • Eat breakfast
  • Leave for school

It sounds simple enough doesn’t it?   

That’s because it is.

While I’m doing all this my children are going through the steps in their morning routine too so that by the time breakfast is ready they are dressed and ready and have their bags packed. We have breakfast together and off we go.

There are sometimes deviances if there is something unusual happening but most days if you arrive at my house at 7:40am I will be emptying the dishwasher. If you arrive at 7:15am I will be putting on my make up.  

You might be thinking “What are you some kind of control freak?”  Well, no, I’m really not, I just know that if I do everything in the same order every morning then I don’t forget to do things. The children feel happier because they know what is happening too.   

There is nothing worse than dashing round grabbing at random objects, flying out of the door and wondering if you have remembered everything. It is stressful and feels icky. 

So when does my morning start?  

Well, it actually starts the night before. Not in a big formal way but if there is anything I know I need with me for the day that isn’t normally in my work bag I make sure I put it in the night before. I also make sure the children put anything they need into their bags. I plan in my head what I am going to wear the next day and sometimes even how I will wear my hair (sounds daft but some styles take longer than average and I need to allow longer to get ready). Then I make sure I am in bed and asleep at a reasonable time. Being tired makes everything take longer in the morning and I am much more likely to forget something or knock something over. By getting enough sleep I am making sure I have time to recharge and also helping my morning routine run more smoothly.

By planning ahead a little I can stay in bed until 7am (I love my sleep!) and still be ready to leave the house by 8:15am.  

Routine is so important in order for children to feel safe and secure. What we forget is that it also makes most adults feel the same way. If you know that you always do the same things before you leave the house then you don’t have to worry about whether you have forgotten to do something. 

We have all had those days when something happens which we aren’t expecting; someone rings or you have to take the car to the garage on the way, everything suddenly feels wrong and we panic.

 

Those days are always going to happen. There will always be a day when you have to take into account something different, but if you can keep your routine as similar to usual as possible you will feel calmer and happier leaving the house.

Allow plenty of time to get to school

It always amazes me how many people are running late, every day. If you know that you are always pushed for time, get up a little bit earlier so that you aren’t dashing round every day. There is nothing worse than being stuck in traffic knowing you need to photocopy those worksheets for first lesson! You will feel so much calmer if you do!

When you arrive at school

When you arrive at school, make sure you allow time to do all the preparation you have to do, but also to have a few moments to chat with colleagues, or have a hot drink, before the children arrive. I appreciate that this can be difficult if you have your own children to drop off but if you can do more preparation the night before to enable you to have those few minutes of calm before the bell it really does help you to feel more calm and collected.

Take a few deep breaths

When the bell rings, take a few seconds to take a few deep breaths and really collect yourself. Being in this calm and contented place when the children come in will set the tone for the whole day. The children will pick up on your mood and will mirror it back to you. It’s like magic!

Quick recap

Be organised – plan and prepare as much as you can the night before.

Get enough sleep.

Routine – have a workable morning routine and stick to it.

Allow plenty of time to get there so you arrive at school feeling calm.

Take time to collect yourself.

Breathe!

 

You’ve got this!

Remember calm happy teachers, have calm, happy classrooms.

 

Do you want to read more about creating a calm and happy classrooms?

Check out these old blogs:

Back to school, are you ready to create a calmer, more focused classroom?

Dedicated or dangerous? Is your work ethic killing you?

 

 

 

Mindful Planning

Mindful Planning

Why am I planning when I’m not a teacher?

I may not be a teacher in the conventional sense these days, but I still spend a lot of my time teaching. I also spend a lot of time in schools and colleges so working in academic years works much better for me than trying to work with calendar years.  

This time of year is crazy in schools here in the UK. As everyone starts to wind down towards the summer holidays there is a complicated mix of activity and lethargy. Even as a parent the never ending list of additional extras gets tiring; sports day, summer fair, leavers, disco, special assembly, end of year play… there seems to be something almost every day! As a teacher of course that is amplified because you are organising it all not just turning up. 

For me though it is perfect. It gives me a few weeks at the end of my working year to look back on what I have achieved and start to plan the coming year. A big part of my “why” is being there for my children so having time off with them over the summer is really important to me. I still do some work but it is mainly planning, writing and keeping everything bubbling ready for September.   

So, July is my planning month. I love it! Stationery out, new diary, new planning file and of course always new pens! Then I start to dream of all the things I would like to achieve over the coming 12 months.

 Planning for change

This year is going to be a big one for me personally so I have to make sure I allow myself time to process all the huge changes happening.

My daughter is going into Y11 so will be sitting her GCSEs at the end of this academic year, my son is going into Y6 so he has SATs and will be leaving Primary School. My babies are all grown up and if you have been through this transition yourself you will appreciate that this can take some getting used to. 

It also means that next year when I am planning I won’t have to take into account the hour and a half a day that I spend doing the school run at the moment. For the first time in 12 years I will be able to do a full working day every day!

For me it is really important to plan, not just for work events and changes but to incorporate any significant personal events and changes too. So next May I will be allowing myself time to fully embrace the Real Full Monty 2020 experience

When I say I will be allowing myself time, what I mean is that I will plan to do more in the weeks before so that I can have more time during the experience. When I am planning I try to sit with all the events I know about in advance (of course there are countless that I can’t predict at this point!) and make everything work as best I can.

For the last few years I have used a combination of paper and technology to help me stay organised. I use a bullet journal which I have designed to suit my needs for my weekly planning/notes about resources/ideas for talks and training etc. I have a wall planner, which again I have designed so that it has everything I need it to. This has the whole year planned out in highlights; significant dates, what resources I could create and my top three priorities for each month. I also have to use the calendar on my phone so that my husband knows where I am going to be and whether he needs to step in and do school runs/cook etc. 

 

I also have a file where I document all the statistics I need for the business side of my business; social media stats, subscription targets etc. 

The thing I love doing most at this time of year though is my vision board. For me this is a creative joy. I sit for a while in meditation thinking about my goals and what I want to achieve. Then I start a Pinterest board where I collect images of things that I want to represent. Then I use Photoshop to put all the images together into one page.This then becomes my screen saver for the year and I print one copy off for the wall over my desk.

Now I appreciate that this may seem a little bit woowoo for some of you but I am a big believer in the power of attention and intention. 

When we concentrate on something we can bring it into our lives. Which is why it is so important that we choose to focus on positive things. (I talk about this in my post on Gratitude) So, by putting images of things I want to achieve in places that I look often and can really focus on those dreams and objectives I am putting energy into the things I really want. It might sound crazy but I have achieved I would say 75% of the objectives on my vision boards over the last few years. Some of the images on there were total pipe dreams when I added them; trips to countries I had no intention of going, cars I couldn’t even dream of affording… and within months they were a reality.

Don’t ask questions, just try it!

As you can see, there is a mix of work and personal aims on my board. This year probably more personal than work. I’m not even slightly worried by this though because I know that by caring for me as a person my business always flourishes more too. This is something that as teachers it is often hard to appreciate and achieve. When we care for ourselves and put ourselves first everyone around us benefits.

When we take time away from work to look after our physical and mental wellbeing we always return to work feeling refreshed, more enthusiastic and we do a much better job of the task in hand.

When you are planning your classroom do you think about how this environment will impact you as well as your class? 

You will spend more time in your classroom than anyone else.

Do you like the way it looks? I love Instagram and follow a lot of teachers from all over the world (please do add me if you haven’t already, I will follow you back and we can get to know each other!). Because teachers in the US are currently enjoying their Summer break I love seeing all the amazing preparation they do over the holidays. Unlike here in the UK many teachers in the US provide the furniture for their classrooms. They also have more license to decorate their classrooms and make them really personal to them. Some of them are incredible. If you don’t know what I’m talking about have a look at some images online. 

I know that it is a lot of work creating these amazing spaces, but they benefit from being in an environment they really love too. 

I spend a lot of time in my office. It is a converted garage that is attached to the house. When I first claimed it as my office it was painted plum and had a real mix of furniture in there. We have to have a sofa bed for guests (we have lots of family who live a distance away so have many guest bed options for when they all descend at once!) and for years I tried to manage with second hand furniture and bits and bobs I could make work. Then for my 40th birthday my husband treated me to all new furniture for my office, right down to my chair. I repainted in grey and navy and it is now my favourite room in the house. I come in here to meditate. Love working in here and it is all completely me. 

When I am in my office I feel happy and contented and the work I have created over the last 3 years has been so different to anything I created before that point. I feel like a capable professional in my beautiful office. It isn’t always tidy but it is always mine. 

Your classroom should make you feel like that.

Maybe you can have a theme for your classroom this year, something that you really love. It might be a colour or a motif. Maybe you want to rearrange the furniture but by the time it gets to the holidays you never have the energy. 

Planning for you 

As teachers it is easy to think that everything in the classroom has to be about the children and their learning. It is also your workspace. It should feel comfortable and reflect you a little bit too. The children love getting to know you as a person better. So if your classroom is covered in flamingoes because they are your favourite animal, they will love that and you will too. 

When you do your planning for school, do you treat yourself to new notebooks, pens and a planner with personality? Do you just use whatever you can find in the stock room at the end of the year? I used to get bargain basement essentials and then wonder why I didn’t enjoy planning, and creating. Since I started treating myself to planners, pens and notebooks I love it is a joy working every day. It sounds so silly but it can make such a difference to how you feel.

So when you sit down to plan the coming year, plan mindfully. Plan for you as well as the children. Let’s make planning fun!

 

Passion Projects – why they are so important

Passion Projects – why they are so important

I’ve had a very interesting few days combining work and passion projects.

In just over a week I have:

  • Visited The Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital in Chelsea to help deliver a cheque for money raised through an amazing local project
  • Had a meal out with good friends
  • Spent a beautiful three days in Rome with my gorgeous husband
  • Led some training with some trainee teachers
  • Supported several teachers through challenging times
  • Planned my work for the Autumn term
  • Had a picnic with my daughter
  • Been to the doctor and made two big hospital appointments for myself
  • and much more…

No two weeks are ever the same in my life anyway but the last month has really highlighted how busy and diverse life can be sometimes.

What I have been really grateful for this month has been the perfect balance of work and play. We have celebrated my daughter’s birthday, Father’s Day, a family Christening… but I have also led two big training sessions and done lots of really life affirming work too. 

Being passionate about your work is brilliant. When you enjoy your work it makes life joyful. There is little need to “work life balance” because it is all just life. 

However much you enjoy your work though, it is still important to balance that with none work activity too. 

My husband and I are both fortunate to love our work. Don’t get me wrong there are times when it is stressful (like when I have a scary new project on that takes up every minute of the day and every brain cell in my head), but it means that we don’t get that Sunday evening sinking feeling. Everyday is great.

If you’re not careful though, every day is a work day.

 I’m sitting writing this blog at 9pm on a Friday evening because I haven’t been able to get on my website.  

I run training sessions and workshops on weekends and evenings. 

Taking calls and answering enquiries regularly happens on weekends and evenings, because that’s when you are free to get in touch. 

Does it bother me? No. Not at all.

I LOVE my job. I am passionate about Calmer Classrooms and helping teachers and children to live happier calmer lives.

Do I sometimes get carried away and forget to rest?  Not any more! 

I used to forget to rest, I used to work every day. I felt that if I didn’t do some work every day I wasn’t giving it my all.  

It wasn’t sustainable or sensible though. 

I meet teachers every week who love their job so much that they give it everything. They are passionate about supporting children’s learning and they try to give 100%, all the time. They eat, sleep and breathe teaching. 

Are you that teacher?  

I’m hoping that as time goes on, and there is more emphasis placed on wellbeing in schools, that fewer teachers will feel that this level of dedication is necessary.  

Being dedicated isn’t a bad thing. We need passionate, dedicated teachers. But we need teachers who live outside school. Who have a passion for things other than education so that they children they are teaching can see that they are people, not teaching robots. 

Children love nothing more than feeling like they are being let in to your life and sharing your passions outside school can give them inspiration for hobbies and pastimes that they might enjoy. 

No matter how passionate you are about teaching, you need to have other things in your life.  

I don’t know a single teacher who doesn’t go on holiday a find themself thinking “ooh what could I use that for at school” as they stare at the museum shop.  

I can still remember taking photos round a castle in Germany of all the amazing tessallating patterns in the roof tiles, heaxagonal bricks, piles of wood… 

As teachers we never completely switch off from school. But we have to try.

 

What do you do to make sure you switch off from school?

Finding a passion project can be the key to taking time out.  

Whether you love playing for a sports team, crafting, amateur dramatics, playing in a band, helping with Brownies or raising money for a local charity, passion is the key to dedication.  

The same passion that drives you to spend lots of time creating magic for your class, can fuel your desire to make sure that you take time away.  

It might be that you want to always be able to take your daughter to football, or that you want a date night every week. Perhaps you love crafts and decide to create cards or soft toys for a local charity. If you are passionate about something, you will always make time for it.  

It’s no good saying; “Well, I quite like playing golf so I will go for a round sometimes”. That isn’t passion and it won’t ensure that you stick to it. 

What are you passionate about? 

I am passionate about lots of things; spending time with my loved ones, travelling, singing and at the moment I am really looking forward to getting into rehearsals for my big passion project for 2020, The Real Full Monty. This will take up much of my spare time once rehearsals start, but I will be with my husband and son for most of that time (my husband is their media man and producer and my son loves coming and being part of it) but I will make sure I spend lots of time with my daughter too. She is doing her GCSEs next year so there will be lots of escape time for her. 

This amazing project is raising money for three charities that are really close to my heart and will provide me with untold therapy. I am already starting to face some of my body confidence issues (a residue from my pre-op Acromegaly days), but it will also be my “me time”, time with friends and the perfect passion project for a year when I not only have my daughter taking her GCSEs but my son doing Y6 SATs! 

Without passion projects we drift from day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year, without spending any time doing things we really love. It might be that your passion is music gigs. I wonder how many teachers manage to get to festivals at this time of year? Perhaps you are making time to watch the Women’s World Cup (I know I am, I’ve never been that interested in football but I’m really enjoying this tournament!). Whatever you are passionate about, make it a priority.    

When you give yourself permission to do things you enjoy, you return to work feeling refreshed and with renewed enthusiasm.When you have a passion project you feel better and you work better. Click To Tweet

  

 Why not read my other blogs in this subject?

Passion – Why sharing our passions is so important in teaching

The importance of following your passion

Teaching, a calling not a job

What do you make a priority in your life?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life is better when you live in the moment.

Life is better when you live in the moment.

How often do you live in the moment? 

Life is busy. 

We have created a culture where busy is important and the busier you are the more valuable you must be.

We are so busy that we are constantly either ruminating over something that has already happened, or worrying/planning something in the future.

Our obsession with social media has only made the situation worse. We are so obsessed with documenting our lives that if we’re not careful we forget to live them.  

We can’t drink a coffee or eat a meal without taking a carefully framed photo of it to post on Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat so our friends all know we’re drinking coffee.  

I want you to know that if you are a user of these platforms and like to take photos of what you are doing, I’m not judging you. Not at all. 

When my children were little and I was home alone a lot at one point I realised I was commentating my life in the form of Facebook updates: “Kate is feeling tired and wishes the kitchen would clean itself.”, “Kate is about to change her 5th nappy of the day and thinks it would be good if someone else would cook tea tonight”.

I know! 

As soon as I realised I was doing it I took a long look at myself and stopped it. I was home alone a lot and social media was my way of staying in touch with the world and letting my friends and family know I was ok. 

Social media has a role to play in modern life and I use it a lot, mainly for business these days but I do still pop on for personal reasons sometimes (it is harder to update now the children are older). 

As a business owner social media is essential. Most of my contacts found me online. I have to make sure I update all my platforms regularly.

I’m useless at it. Some people seem to manage to take photos everywhere they go. They post amazing photos of them doing their job or with people they are working with. 

I forget. 

This photo is the only photo I took last Saturday. It was taken on my drive at 11:35pm when I got home. 

 

So what? You might be thinking. 

There are lots of days we don’t take photos.  

The difference is, I had an amazing work day. I was up early to drive to Spalding, Lincolnshire. I delivered two great workshops to groups of amazing people, many of whom I had never met before but I know through social media. I then spent the rest of the day with two of my favourite people, Taz Thornton and Asha Thornton-Clearwater and I didn’t take a single photo.  

I should have had photos of my workshops. Most of my work is in schools where it is impossible to take photos because of child protection. This was a beautiful workshop in the most idyllic setting and no-one will ever see it.

Part of me is sad that I didn’t remember to take any photos. I know that a business mentor would be furious that I haven’t capitalised on the situation.  

I’m glad.  

I’m glad that I was enjoying spending time doing what I love, with amazing people in a stunning location. That I was so present, listening so carefully to those people and enjoying their company so much that it never crossed my mind to take out my phone and post a photo to social media. 

My Dad is the most amazing documenter of our lives. Before taking photos of food was a thing he was taking photos of meals (with the people, not just a plate!) and he has the most incredible collection of photo albums. I can see myself on holiday in France in 1984 and know what I was wearing to go to Le Mans. I have often worried that he takes so many photos that he forgets to enjoy being in the present with his loved ones. It is his gift to the family though and he loves taking photos.

Interestingly, the one time of my life he didn’t document was my time in hospital with my tumour. There is only one photo to my knowledge of that week that I was in hospital and that is of my daughter sitting watching Cbeebies by my bed. This isn’t the only time he didn’t document. He didn’t snap a photo of me crying after I fell off my bunk bed and broke my collar bone either.

He was present. He was far too busy making sure I was ok. Worrying about my wellbeing. He didn’t care about documenting it. 

Life is a gift. It is our most important purpose to live it. 

We recently took my son to the Natural History Museum. He loved it. It was an amazing day out. We sat outside having a drink and an ice cream after we had looked round (it was at Easter before Noah started building his Ark!) there were lots of families doing the same thing. Some sitting at tables, others on the grass, but when I looked at all these groups everyone was staring at a screen. Families with the children eating an ice cream and both parents staring at their phones. We are missing out on so much living by obsessively sharing our lives with others and checking what other people are doing.

We get stuck in a cycle and we can’t get out. 

More worrying for me is the effect this has on our mental health. 

We don’t share the struggles, the difficulties. We share the highlights. This leads everyone to believe that we are living perfect lives and to question their own lives. 

As teachers we are constantly looking for evidence to document a child’s progress. We take photos and photocopies of work and if we’re not careful we forget to just enjoy watching the learning process. Seeing a child suddenly grasp a concept or achieve something for the first time is something to be celebrated, and yes it needs to be documented, but enjoy the moment first. 

When you are with your loved ones, enjoy every moment. They are precious and you never know when the last time you will get to spend that magical time with them will be. I have had a few wake up calls recently and I am pretty good at being present. Make the most of every moment you have. Enjoy being where you are and if you manage to take a few photos, great, but if you are too busy enjoying yourself, that is great too. Sometimes our memories are more important than our photos.

 

 

 

Dedicated or Dangerous? Is your work ethic killing you?

Dedicated or Dangerous? Is your work ethic killing you?

Teachers are among the most dedicated professionals I have ever had the pleasure of working with but is this dedication doing more damage than just making you feel tired? 

At this time of year the internet is full of memes and posts with the hashtag: #teachertired. 

There is no doubt that this time of year is when teachers really feel the strain. Testing season is ending for most age ranges, reports are looming, in the northern hemisphere we are just starting the last push until the summer break and our reserves have been empty for a while. 

We have to somehow find the enthusiasm required to prepare for sports day, end of term assembly, a production, summer fair, disco, family picnic… the list seems never ending. They all sound like such fun activities to the parents, surely this is the easy end to the year you have been needing?   

Yes, they are fun.  

The also require massive amounts of planning, organisation and energy, just at the point when energy is something as scarce and precious as glue sticks in June.

It’s ok though isn’t it? We can just keep burning the candle at both ends for a few more weeks and then catch up a little bit in that long summer break. (Before you all start emailing me, don’t worry, I am fully aware that the long summer holiday is a myth!).  

Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.

It would be nice if it did. 

The problem is, and I’m not saying this to scare or alarm you but to protect you, when you are over tired you actually begin to do physical harm to your body.  

I’m not talking about bags under your eyes and aching muscles (although they are designed to be the external warning systems). When you don’t get enough rest your body can’t process all the chemicals and hormones it produces throughout the day. Every time you get a little bit anxious or stressed you release chemicals into our blood stream which can then be processed and removed while you sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep they remain in your body and can build up to dangerous levels.

This is when we have to be really careful. 

From a mental health perspective this is dangerous because you get to breaking point and that is when you cry or shout for no reason (or a very little, insignificant reason), but from a physical wellbeing point of view these chemicals collect around your major organs, particularly your heart and begin to do physical damage. It is no coincidence that people are more likely to have heart attacks, strokes etc when they are stressed, over worked and exhausted. 

Don’t get me wrong, I know you are a superhero. You do incredible things every day with very few resources and often even less support and encouragement. 

Your will may be strong but your body is still human. 

I know, it’s a shock, but it’s true.

What can you do?

I know you are all screaming; “Well I can’t just not do it can I? It’s my job!” 

 I know, I really do. Your dedication to your job and your children is amazing and I have nothing but respect for you but what can we do to make sure that you don’t burn out before the school year is out. 

With so many teachers leaving the profession and citing exhaustion and stress among the primary reasons for their decision we have to do something.

Well, there are a few things you can do. 

  • Prioritise: It is so easy to think that we have to tick every single box and do everything. I bet if you make a “to do list” and look through it honestly you will discover that there are some things that could wait, or that maybe don’t need to be done to quite the standard you would like to do them to. We are notoriously perfectionists in our work but sometimes done is better than perfect.
  • Ask for help: If there are things other people can do and you are lucky enough to have that support then make sure you ask. It might be asking your partner to make dinner or asking your parents to have the children for the weekend. Whatever it is, if it is going to give you a few minutes to get something finished so you can rest earlier it is worth swallowing your pride and asking for help. They will be more than happy to help, believe me.
  • Prioritise yourself: It is very easy to think that everything and everyone is more important that you. You want to be everything to everyone and forget the most important person – YOU! If your child or your partner was working the hours you are would you sit back and watch or would you insist that they took a break? Give yourself the same respect that you would a loved one.
  • Give yourself permission: Permission to stop. To take a bath. Go for a run. See that film at the cinema. You will be amazed how reviving and energising it is to give yourself that time to switch off. You will return to work feeling more enthusiastic and focused.
  • Exercise: One of the other ways our body processes this build up of chemicals is when you exercise (which is why people use gyms as stress relief). It is easy when you are busy to sit and focus on getting work done but taking time to exercise will help you to relax, sleep better and process your stress.
  • Massage: Massage helps your body to process the chemicals which build up and are incredibly relaxing too. Pamper yourself, you can absolutely justify it for your mental and physical wellbeing.
  • Eat well: When we are tired and stressed it is easy to reach for the snacks and junk food. Eating properly is so important for your physical and mental wellbeing. Try to pre-prepare meals in the freezer for busy times so that you aren’t tempted to reach for convenience foods.
  • Alcohol and caffeine: It is easy to think that you can keep going if you just up your coffee intake. Caffeine actually adds to your anxiety levels though and can make your restless. At the other end of the scale many teachers reach for a glass of wine or a gin to help them unwind. Unfortunately alcohol also raises your anxiety levels and is counter productive.
  • Sleep: Working later and later into the night or getting up earlier and earlier might feel like the best option for catching up on all the work you have to get done but as I have already mentioned sleep is even more important than usual when you are busy and stressed because this is the time that your body can process all the stress. Of course it is often harder to sleep too so make sure you have some good sleep strategies ready to help you if your struggle to sleep. (check out this old blog if you need help sleeping)

 

You are far too important to risk burning out. The very reason you are working so hard is also the reason you need to put yourself first. If you don’t care for yourself and you do yourself a mischief who will teach your class as brilliantly as you do? Who will care for your family as lovingly as you do? Wouldn’t all the people you love rather you take a break and not do everything quite so brilliantly as usual? 

Take care of yourself.

No-one else can make you a priority, only you can make that decision. Unfortunately if you don’t take the time to focus on your wellness your body will make you take time out by giving you illness.

What promise can you make to yourself today to help you cope with the last few weeks of school?

Why not declare it publicly in the Facebook group or send me an email and let me know what changes you are going to make?

 

Stretching your comfort zone

Stretching your comfort zone

My comfort zone is a very lovely place. I consider it to be moderately sized and a very warm and friendly place. I like to think that it is average sized maybe even a little larger than average, after all I have performed on stage at the London Palladium, sung at weddings, spoken at conferences and been brave enough to teach primary, secondary and Higher Education. 

I like to think I know my limits. There are some things that I physically can’t do now because of my condition (read more about Acromegaly if you are interested), I am not good with heights but I’m usually happy to try most things. 

Or so I like to believe.

The reality is I’m very good at making excuses for not doing things if I know that I’m not really brave enough to push myself that far out of my comfort zone. I’m happy to flex my zone, to bend it slightly, but bursting out and running off over the hill…nope!

We’re all the same, to a degree anyway, we all convince ourselves that we are really pushing the limits of life, that we are doing all we can, going as far as we can go to really live our best life, that we don’t live only in our comfort zone. We encourage children to try something new; “you don’t know if you like it if you don’t try” then a friend calls to say they are starting a salsa class and would you go and your immediate thought is; “I can’t do that! I have no sense of rhythm, people will stare at me, what if I hurt myself, or worse still, embarrass myself!”.     

Why do we expect more from children than we are prepared to do ourselves?   

Well, we have learned that sometimes when we try something new it hurts, we discover we can’t do it, or don’t enjoy it. Once we are adults we honestly believe that if there is something that we are going to enjoy we will have tried it and know all about it by now.        

This, of course, isn’t true.    

So what can we do about it?   

Well, we can take a gentle leaf out of Danny Wallace’s book and say yes. Danny Wallace decided to say yes to everything for a whole year and see what happened. If you aren’t familiar with his story there is a book and a Jim Carey film which tells you the resulting outcomes. I’m not suggesting you go to that extreme but make an effort to say yes more often.    

Every day opportunities are presented to us, how many do we actually take?    

Instead of finding excuses not to do something, do it. Don’t doubt your ability to take on that role or responsibility, take it. Don’t use work or your children as an excuse to not go out, get organised and go!    

Life it short.    

Don’t have any regrets.  

Why are comfort zones on my mind at the moment?

Well, I have just agreed to break out of mine! 

Back in March my husband was involved in the most incredible show at our local theatre, The Real Full Monty. A group of local men and women, who had been impacted by cancer, agreed to do the dances from ITV’s cancer fundraising programme for a local cancer charity (KMAC)

I go to the theatre quite a lot and we like going to concerts of all different types, but I can honestly say that this was the most uplifting and positive theatre experience I have ever had. Throughout the evening there were various local acts; singers, dancers, a magician, the usual. My husband had created incredible videos to disperse through the evening with some of the stories of the dancers who then brought the evening to the most life affirming ending you could imagine by doing these beautiful dances.

None of the people taking part were dancers. Some of had never stood on a stage before. Some had been personally affected by cancer and were sharing their scars with the audience. They were all defeating their insecurities, fighting their fear and doing something wonderful for an amazing cause. All this while raising over £32k and raising awareness of the struggles they had been through. 

Well, the evening was such a triumph that within days the Gatehouse Theatre (who had provided the theatre and staff for free), were calling Richard (the organiser) asking if he wanted to repeat the show next year but this time doing three nights and over the weekend. 

Wow! Incredible!  

How does this affect my comfort zone?   

Well, I have agreed to take part next year.   

I am terrified. Can I dance? Well, once upon a time I did a few bits as part of shows I was in. I danced the Landler when I played Maria in The Sound of Music at our local theatre in Wakefield 20+ years ago. I had to dance when I did the show at the Palladium 18 years ago. But, I haven’t stepped foot on a stage or done more than dance round my handbag since I had two children and my diagnosis.  

I have wanted to join local amateur dramatic groups but been scared of letting them down. Part of my condition is joint pain and chronic fatigue so I don’t know whether I could cope with rehearsal schedules.

As you can see from these images my body changed dramatically before I had my surgery and I still occasionally dream that I look in the mirror and the face in the middle photo is looking back.

I have joint problems and have had two children by c-section since I was last on stage.   

The nearest I came to taking my clothes off in public was wearing a bikini on stage during a song from Miss Saigon. At the time I was 25 years old and in pretty good shape.   

I’m now 42 (I will be 43 when we do the show) and my body has been through a lot, more importantly so has my mind.   

I am a reasonably confident, happy person. 

Do I love my body? No.

Are there things I would like to change? Yes of course. I want my joints to be the way they were pre-diagnosis so I can clean the hob without my fingers locking up.   

Is this the perfect opportunity to get myself into better shape and discover what my body can really do again? Yes.

I am also passionate about raising awareness of lesser known illnesses like mine and this seems like the perfect opportunity.  

When someone tells you they have cancer you are immediately affected by this news. You understand how serious it is, you have an idea of the sorts of treatment they may have to undergo, and if you have had personal experience before, you probably understand something of the physical and emotional scars they may be left with.  

If someone tells you they have been diagnosed with a condition you are less familiar with you don’t know how to react. You don’t know how serious it is. How they will be affected? What might happen to them?  

My body and mind were both affected dramatically by my diagnosis. In the space of weeks I was told that I had an incurable condition, that my body wouldn’t return to what it was previously and that I wouldn’t have any more children (which was the way we discovered that I had this issue). 

Those are some pretty devastating realities.  

There are no support groups. I wasn’t offered counselling. I was sent away and told to wait for a letter with details of my surgery. 

After my surgery I received medical check ups (I still do, and the hospital look after me brilliantly) but no emotional support.   

Now, 12 years on, I am perimenopausal!

This is a difficult enough time for any woman, but imagine that the symptoms of a condition you have are; sweating excessively, short temperedness, tiredness, being overly emotional… then imagine how many questions the symptoms of menopause might throw up.

So I am facing my fears head on and I will be rehearsing for 6 months and performing in front of  over 1.5k people in our local theatre. 

Will I be scared? Of course!

Will I regret not taking this opportunity more? YES! Definitely!

I want to show my children that you can face your fears, that if there is something you are worried about that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. I’ll take a deep breath and use every tool in my calming toolkit and I will raise awareness of my condition and hopefully raise lots of money for three amazing local charities. 

I’m going to do this for all the people who haven’t had such positive outcomes from their Acromegaly diagnoses. I will be bursting out of my comfort zone and growing as a result I’m sure.

What can you do to expand your comfort zone?

Journaling for mental wellness

Journaling for mental wellness

Journaling has become increasingly popular over recent years.  

People are increasingly returning to pen and paper when they want to get their thoughts out or explore their emotions. Whether it is beautifully decorated art journals or a more structured bullet journal there is something enchanting and magical about sitting with a piece of paper and writing or drawing. 

There has been lots of research over recent years about the difference between writing and learning from a screen as opposed to using a book. Every single study that I have read has come down in favour of paper. 

Many schools are returning to text books as they have noticed that children interact differently with a paper book as opposed to a white board or iPad. If you are interested in this subject why not read more from Business Insider.

What has all this got to do with wellbeing though? 

 

Well, the benefits of writing are much greater than just enabling more effective learning and remembering. The benefits to your mental wellbeing are dramatic too. 

So often when I talk about stress and anxiety it comes back to having too many thoughts in your head, too much to do/remember or a story you are telling yourself. When you write without boundaries you can allow all that out onto the page and it helps your brain to rest.  

We know that if we have something to remember, a to do list or shopping list, that writing it down helps out brain to recall that information. Writing it down with a pen and paper has been proven to help us remember better than typing it on a device. We also know that if you are waking in the night going over and over all the things you need to do the next day, writing it down can help get it out of your thoughts and back to sleep more quickly. 

I know most people don’t send letters any more, I’m as guilty as anyone of sending a quick email rather than a letter. When I was younger though I wrote a lot of letters. I had pen friends all over the country and if I was ever away from friends or family for any length of time I would always write. I found it very therapeutic. Often as I was writing I would discover something I hadn’t realised I needed to share with them, or sometimes just tell someone 

Imagine the power of just allowing yourself to write.

Just write freely, with no agenda, not to anyone or for anyone, except you. Imagine the things you could discover, confront and deal with, with very little effort. You don’t have to share what you write with anyone. Your mind thinks it has shared it with someone though when you have written it, it is as powerful as talking to a friend or counsellor. As you write your brain untangles all the thoughts, it processes things, it vents about things that have upset or annoyed you. It offloads.

Whenever we write we allow ourselves time to process what we are writing. We may discover that we feel differently about a subject or situation than we at first thought. We often feel more calm as a result of getting it out.

I know what you are thinking. 

“I spend my life writing; lesson plans, assessments, reports… I don’t need anything else to write!”

This is different. This is enjoyable. This is life changing.

 

You see there is no pressure to do this. You can use all your favourite pens, even if they aren’t the colour school policy allows.

You can spend 5 minutes or 5 hours. You can doodle, colour, scribble or write beautifully crafted pages of outpourings. Whatever you need to do.

As you write, don’t set any limitations on what you can write about just see what comes out. You might need a topic to help you get started or to imagine you are writing to someone. I have been writing to my Grandma ever since she passed. It helps me to focus and is helping me with my grieving process because I feel like she is still an important part of my life. I could always tell my Grandma anything so there are no limits on what I can write when I write to her and I just allow my train of thought to travel on whatever track it likes, to choose its own destination. If you prefer to draw or paint you can do that too. But don’t worry about what the finished result is, it isn’t about that, it is about expressing yourself freely.

Over the years I have had a few surprises as I have written,  a few “Aha!” moments. But most importantly I am always filled with a sense of peace afterwards. I know I have made a significant difference to my wellbeing. 

If you need a reason to go buy a new notebook or sketch pad I have just given you a brilliant one! So grab a notebook and get started. 

Whether you write or draw your emotions out give journaling a go today.

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: