Meditation – It’s not what you think!

Meditation is a word that wasn’t used much when I was growing up but over the last few years it has grown in popularity to an extraordinary degree. 

For years if anyone mentioned meditation we pictured someone sitting in the lotus position with their hands in a mudra, while chanting “Ommmmm”. This stereotype is I’m sure what many people imagine when someone suggests that they meditate.  

Fortunately for me you don’t have to conform to this image, although you can if you wish to of course. My legs are long and my feet are big and my joints are damaged by my acromegaly so twisting myself into the lotus position is impossible, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t meditate every single day. I meditate while I’m waiting to collect my son from school, while I do the housework and as I go to sleep most nights.

So what is meditation?

What does meditation mean?

Well, it isn’t quite as limited as many believe. Here is the definition according to the online Oxford dictionary:
verb
  1. focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.
    “I set aside time every day to write and meditate”
    • think deeply about (something).
      “he went off to meditate on the new idea”
    • plan mentally; consider.
      “they had suffered severely, and they began to meditate retreat”
      (Oxford Online Dictionary)

Personally I use two types of meditation:

  • focusing my mind on an issue or subject and either studying or letting my mind find a solution
  • trying to empty my mind as much as possible and just relax

I find both incredibly useful one for finding answers and both for calming my mind. I’m sure others would say that either there is only one form of meditation or there are countless, and both are probably right. Whichever method I am using the result is my brain is calm and my body feels restored. 

I don’t tend to chant or make any noise at all while I am meditating. However, I do use singing as meditation, and always have since I was very young. It is one of my favourite ways of calming my body and clearing my mind. Does that count as a different method? For me it is focusing on one thing and letting my mind find a solution. It is very different to sitting in silence with a problem I need resolving though so maybe it is?   

I also use work and manual tasks such as gardening, baking, decorating, cleaning the car as meditation. Whether it is creating something like a worksheet, digging up weeds, stirring a batter or kneading a dough, painting a wall or polishing the car it is possible to focus so completely on the task in hand that you lose yourself in the moment… meditation.   

I focus on the task in hand and I forget everything else for a few minutes, or even hours. This is meditation.   

Often when I am writing I find the solutions to problems I have been having the same way I would when I sit in silent meditation, so writing works for me as meditation too.  

Reading a book can be meditative. You focus whole heartedly on the task in hand and escape into another world. It is incredibly calming and relaxing too. 

Painting or creating of any form can be meditation. Whether you create using clay or wool or wood you can turn it into a meditative practice. 

Walking is a very popular form of meditation. Many people walk labyrinths or just walk mindfully in nature as a form a meditation.  

Dance and yoga can be meditative, going for a run can be meditative.  

Meditation is so often about how you do something rather than what you are doing.  

So the next time someone recommends that you try meditation to help you with your stress, anxiety or depression, don’t dismiss it because you can’t sit still and chant.   

Whatever works for you, the important thing is to take time to really concentrate on the task in hand. Switch off from your planning, step away from your worries, turn off technology and just be present doing whatever you are doing. 

The reason, I believe, that meditation has become so popular over the last few years is because our lives have become so busy. we see it as a badge of honour if we are juggling more than someone else. The busier we are the more important we must be. We never stop and just pay attention to what is happening here and now.  As a result we are exhausting our brains and we never give our minds time to rest and recharge so our mental health struggles. 

Taking just 5 minutes a day to meditate in some form is life changing. Obviously the longer you can manage the better.  

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” – Zen Proverb 

Other blogs that may interest you: 

Saana Meditation Cushions

“Colouring in” as meditation

 

 

 

 

Saana Meditation Cushions

I love to meditate. 

I have meditated all my life. Admittedly I didn’t always know that that was what I was doing. With hindsight it has always been a huge part of my mental self care. 

Imagine my joy when an amazing new company, Saana Cushions, contacted me and asked if I would like to try their new meditation cushions.  

I am fortunate that I often get products sent for me to review, but I am very selective about what I actually share with you. 

Saana Cushions tick every box for me!

First things first, these cushions are comfy to use. Let’s be honest that is the most important thing, if you aren’t comfortable you are not going to be able to really settle to meditate.

 

The cushions come in 3 different sizes so you can order according to your needs.

I love that Saana Cushions are ethically made with recycled and natural materials. Sarah sources all her fabrics in charity shops and uses things like upcycled theatre curtains to create her beautiful cushions. They are filled with organic buckwheat hulls which are sourced in the UK. 

More importantly for you though, they are easily washed. Let’s be honest if you are going to have cushions in your classroom they need to be easy to clean. The buckwheat hulls are contained in an inner bag so that the cover can be washed easily.  

Quality product and friendly service

Having used my cushion for a couple of weeks now I cannot recommend them enough. Not only are they beautiful but they are so tactile and because they come in a cotton storage bag they are easy to stow away when you aren’t using them. 

Whether you are wanting to introduce a regular meditation practice to your class or you meditate occasionally but you are looking for flexible seating options or new seating for your reading corner, these cushions are perfect. 

I am a big believer in supporting start ups and helping small businesses as much as I can. There are thousands of people at the moment trying to support themselves and their families by creating a business built around their passion and this is a wonderful example of just that. Sarah is a talented seamstress and a genuine and compassionate person. She is just one person creating a really bespoke, beautiful product and for an incredible price too.

If you want to know more about Saana Cushions or order some for your school or family please check out their website and let Sarah know that you discovered her beautiful products via my website. It’s always good to know where recommendations have come from.

I should add that I am not getting any commission for referrals, I was sent a cushion to try but don’t benefit from sharing this review nor will I get any financial reward for promoting this wonderful new business. I never promise anyone that I will write a review of their product when they send it to me. If I don’t like something, or I feel it doesn’t fit with my beliefs I won’t write a negative review, I will simply not review the item at all. So you know that when I do review something it is because I genuinely love it.

 

Relevant blogs:

“Colouring in” as Meditation

Why is being present so important anyway?

 

Children in Need


I love Children! 

There’s no hiding it. I loved children when I was no more than a large child myself. At 14 years old while my friends were raving at the school disco I was looking after the teachers’ children in the foyer. (I know, I sound so sad, but I was a teenager in the time that good taste and good music forgot, I could not do acid house!). I also love Children in Need. When it comes to charities, I have always prioritised children’s charities. I have sponsored children and done all I can to help our most vulnerable and precious citizens.

A couple of years ago I thought it would be lovely to create a mindfulness lesson plan to help our children to live in the present. To help them to notice and appreciate the world around them. If we are not careful, on days like Children in Need where we intentionally shift the focus away from the upset and heartbreak of the people we are raising money to help, it is easy for the message to get lost in the fun. 

Mindfulness is proven to help improve concentration and behaviour, even test results, as well as reducing anxiety and stress. What a wonderful gift to our children on such a magical day. 

The lesson walks the children through an imaginary morning for Pudsey Bear on the day of the big BBC Charity fundraiser programme. As he goes through his morning the children explore very simple mindfulness techniques.

 

The lesson comes in the form of a simple to follow script. All you need is a little time, a little space and your fabulous voice to help your class to stay calm and focused.

If you would like to download this special mindfulness lesson plan to share with your class on Children in Need Day just click here. It is only £3.00 and 100% of the profits from the sales go to Children in Need. Because the purpose of this lesson plan is to raise money for charity this lesson plan is not available as part of any of my subscriptions. 

Autumn Wellbeing

The clocks are changing this weekend here in the UK.

For a few days at least the mornings will be slightly lighter but the evenings will draw in quicker too. Your Autumn wellbeing becomes a focus.

Autumn is a challenging time of year. The shorter, greyer, damp days, drain us of joy and leave us missing the sunshine of a few weeks ago. We tend to spend more time indoors and even our diet changes dramatically during the colder months. 

All of these factors can create a lethal cocktail of mental ill health if we’re not careful. This can spiral if we then fall into the self medicating trap of trying to cheer ourselves up with comfort food, sweet treats and alcohol.  

What can we do to maintain our Autumn Wellbeing?

In no particular order, why not try these easy wellbeing tips to help you beat the Autumn blues:

Drink hot drinks

We naturally drink more warm drinks in colder weather but scientists have now proven that drinking a warm drink has the same effect on the body as a hug. It calms your nervous system and reduces anxiety. Maybe the old British stereotype of putting the kettle on in an emergency isn’t as daft as we thought!

Get outside

I am as guilty as anyone of looking out at the drizzly, grey weather and talking myself out of going for a walk, but when I make myself I know I always feel better. My daughter and I have been going for a walk a couple of nights a week, only for about an hour, but we have both noticed how much better we feel, physically and mentally.

Get moving

If you don’t want to go outside at least get moving. Go to the gym or just dance round the kitchen. Anything to get your body moving, the blood pumping and release all those happy chemicals! 

Embrace the Hygge Life

There is a lot of talk about hygge at the moment. In short it is that cosy feeling you get when you are snuggled under warm blankets with a cuppa and the fire on. Embrace this beautiful feeling by lighting candles, snuggle under big soft blankets, grab a good book and a cuppa and spend a few indulgent minutes in this comforting state.

Eat well 

It is easy to slip into comfort eating at this time of year. That’s fine as long as you choose healthy comfort food. Choose casseroles, curries, stews and lots of green vegetables over take aways, fatty and sugary foods.We are what we eat and this is particularly true in the colder months because our body stores more energy.

Read more  

Screen time is known to affect our wellbeing. Switch your screens for a good book and watch how much better you feel. There is nothing better than snuggling under a blanket with a good book either is there.   

Have a long soak   

A warm bath is a great way to relax your muscles and calm yourself down too. Why not add some sea salt and lavender to really cleanse and calm your body and mind?  

Laugh  

Laughing is proven to improve your mental wellbeing so find a good comedy on Netflix and enjoy a really good giggle. 

Spend time with friends and loved ones

There is nothing quite like spending time with people who make you feel calm, happy and loved. So much the better if they also make you laugh or encourage your to dance!

What changes can you make to ensure this Autumn is sparkly and happy? 

Other relevant blogs: 

Life is better when you live in the moment

Mindful Planning

 

Anxiety in Teenagers

Imagine a girl. She could be younger than you, she could be older than you. But it needs to be someone you know. You may not know them well, but you know them.

Imagine the perfect student. A social outsider. She has friends, but doesn’t exactly conform to teenage stereotypes. She reads. She doesn’t go to parties. But that’s okay. People don’t like her any less for it. She’s clever. Passes every exam. She gets her head down, and she works. She puts in the effort she needs to in order to succeed. She smiles. She laughs. As far as the world is concerned, she’s happy.

Imagine you saw her today. Maybe you spotted her in the corridor. Maybe she came to see you, or perhaps you came to see her. She smiled at you. She helped you solve that problem you’ve been having. Maybe she calmed you down; stopped you from crying. All she did was help you, and you feel nothing but gratitude towards her today. She didn’t just appear happy, she made others happy too.

She’s just a happy person. Radiating positivity. Or so it seems.

Imagine the same girl, only behind closed doors. She sits in her room every night and cries. Yes, she’s clever, but sometimes the amount of stress she puts herself under can crush her. A weight on her shoulders. Yes, she’s got friends, but sometimes the amount of people around her can be so overwhelming, she breaks. Another weight on her shoulders. She solves your problems, but she has her own too. The weight of all of this builds and builds until she can’t take it anymore. It pins her to her bed every morning, and she can’t move. The sheer thought of moving outside of her bedroom makes her shake, and cry, and her hope deteriorates. Everything slows to a halt. She stops going to school. She stops eating. She stops moving. She sees no one, and does nothing but cry. It’s hard for her. She says nothing. 

It doesn’t take long for people to notice. Her parents. Her parents, who do nothing but help her, and have all of the resources to do so, notice. They try their best to calm her down, but nothing works. Her friends. They know that she’s not herself anymore. They want to help. Her friends who were far away, they talked her off the ledge. Her friends close to her came to her house, they made sure she was okay. They cared.

But nothing helped. It was as if she was trapped in a box. She knew how to leave. She could get out. But she didn’t want to. The box made her sick. But she couldn’t leave. She hated it. Every second. But she couldn’t leave.

This girl is me. I’m fifteen years old, and I struggle with anxiety. Living in a household where every person is able to help, but nothing works is unbearable. I try so hard. It’s horrible. But things look up. Talking to someone helps. No one is as perfect as they appear to be. Everyone suffers. So check up on that person. Make sure they’re okay. Sometimes that’s all they need.

The author of this incredibly articulate and self aware piece is my daughter, Laura.

 I wasn’t sure whether to post this blog. There are many voices in my head today as I type, all with conflicting opinions. One voice says I need to protect my daughter. One says it’s professional suicide. Another voice says that it’s important to be authentic and share my experiences. Yet another tells me this post will really help many people. I have always been honest about my mental health journey, and it is an ongoing journey, it is not possible for anyone to have sustained and infinite good mental health. 

I have also been honest about my struggles whether that is confidence, anxiety, physical pain… but this is different. This feels like the worst pain I can imagine. I am having to stop myself from feeling like I have let one of my children down in the worst possible way. Remind myself that I can’t make anyone do anything against their will.

I have watched from the sidelines over recent years as my kind, caring, talented, witty, intelligent daughter has slowly descended into an ever increasing state of anxiety.  I have loved, and supported her every way I know how but she’s a teenager and as we all know, teenagers have to learn their own lessons sometimes.   

Laura has always been fiercely independent. She didn’t want help with anything as a toddler and that has never changed. She is capable and works things out for herself you can’t tell her anything, she has to work it out.

She is an incredible young woman. I know I am biased but: 

  • She has amazing friends
  • We have never been called into school
  • She makes her teachers smile when they see her
  • Her teachers have fought over her throughout school every time she has had to make decisions about which subjects to focus on
  • I have never had to ask her to do her spellings, reading, homework of any kind
  • If anyone is ever upset or needs support she is there
  • When she had her first residential at 7 years old she was a little bit worried, but once we arrived at the coach another little girl was crying and Laura immediately began comforting her and completely forgot about her own worries 
  • She uses social media to support other young people and help them with revision techniques 
  • She sings like an angel! 

She is a teacher’s dream, a parent’s dream. Don’t get me wrong she has her moments just like anyone but I couldn’t be more proud of her. 

She cares, deeply, maybe too much.     

Anxiety isn’t a sign of weakness it is a sign of caring too much.  

Unfortunately I have seen it all my life. People who are caring and compassionate and feel a responsibility to make sure everyone else is happy, who then give too much and forget to care for their own needs.  

I spend my life trying to prevent anyone from feeling the way my own daughter is at the moment. 

I teach techniques and strategies and show people the signs to look out for. I know what you should eat, how you should live and exactly what to do to prevent anxiety getting too severe. Thank goodness I do because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to support Laura the last few weeks. Now that she has acknowledged that things have got too much, we have talked about it, and we have talked a lot. School have been amazing and we are slowly coming through of the worst of it. 

No child should ever have to suffer like this. No-one should. Yes school is important but it is never more important than your wellbeing.

 

We have started going for long walks together. We talk about anything and nothing and the idea of her writing this came up last night while we were walking. I thought it might help her to get her thoughts down on paper. She has now decided that she would like to start a blog. Even while she was off school she was posting on her social media accounts being completely honest about how she was feeling and offering to talk to anyone feeling the same way. She has always been a book worm and loved writing so I think it will really help her to have a place to write and empty her thoughts. 

As parents we are only responsible for our children to a point.

 We are responsible for providing for their basic needs; food, shelter and love. But we are also responsible for making sure they are independent, free thinking creatures who can survive without us. So if you are a teacher who’s child won’t read or do their homework, a police officer who’s child has been in trouble with the law, a dietician who’s child won’t eat anything healthy, or an expert in wellbeing who’s child is struggling with anxiety be kind to yourself. Know that we are not in charge of our children. We can only hope that we have taught them enough for them to make good choices but ultimately those choices are theirs and theirs alone.

Top tips for helping an anxious child

Lots of hugs – just being with your child and allowing them to sit, cry, talk.

Keep talking – they may not want to talk but keep communication open. It may mean texting or sending little notes at first but they will open up and feel comfortable talking eventually.

Don’t judge – it is easy with an adult’s perspective and all the stresses that come with adulthood to see whatever they are worrying about as unimportant. It isn’t to them. 

Care for them – imagine how you would behave if they had flu, treat them with the same level of kindness; let them rest, wrap up in warm blankets, eat what they feel like eating, watch TV all day. 

Be patient – they will get through this but it won’t happen over night. Give them time to find strategies that work for them.

Breathe – breathing is the quickest way to calm down your nervous system so take a few deep breaths together, when you hold them concentrate on keeping your breathing slow and calm and they will mirror that eventually.

 

 

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…

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

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.

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

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!

 

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