What could they achieve if they were really in their element?

What could they achieve if they were really in their element?

Since I was a little girl I have heard people say “they were in their element”…

I knew that it meant that they were enjoying what they were doing and always thought it was a brilliant thing. But then I read the brilliant Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element: How finding your Passion Changes Everything and the phrase took on a whole new meaning. 

I have always believed that everyone has at least one gift, whether it is for astrophysics, painting, gardening or being a really great friend and everything in between. This has been brought home to me even more over the last few weeks watching my husband working. 

If you read my katebeddow.co.uk blog you will know that our family have been through something of a metamorphosis over the last six weeks. If you are interested to know more why not pop over and read my last couple of blogs.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, for those of you that don’t know my husband, he is one seriously talented guy. He is a musician, composer, audio technician, videographer and video editer, journalist, commentator… he even dabbles in graphic design and does so brilliantly! If you ask anyone he has ever created anything for they will corroborate that he does everything to the highest possible standard and has changed many lives with his gifts.  

In all our 18 years together though he has never been able to work with anyone watching him, well not me certainly. So for years I have seen these amazing finished projects and not known how or what he had done to create them. I knew how talented he was but had never seen him in his “element”. 

However, as I mentioned earlier, over the last few weeks our family has undergone a pretty dramatic transformation and now when he is busy (and he always is!) instead of me sitting alone watching tele or having a bath I sometimes sit with him while he works.

It is incredible! 

My mind is completely blown by the way his brain works. He can write a piece of music with so many layers of instruments that my brain can barely differentiate between the sounds and he knows exactly where each note needs to be and how it should sound, and he plays all the instruments himself. If you have ever used any of my MP3s he produces all those for me and writes the music underneath them and they are basic compared to what he creates for himself! If you are interested please do go look at his music website. He is just finishing his fourth album and it is truly amazing.

But then, as if that isn’t enough, ten minutes later he is editing a video for a documentary he is making at the moment and he is choosing different camera angles and clipping them together seamlessly and effortlessly. He watches two or three minutes then just puts a marker in, what to me seems like a completely random place, and then puts the two shots together and the sound and video are perfectly synced! It is genuinely like witchcraft to me!

When Ian is working with audio or video he is totally in his element. He may enjoy working on certain projects more than others but he is able to do everything instinctively. He genuinely struggles to believe that it is something unique to him, he believes on some level that anyone can do it.

Anyone can’t! 

As I have sat watching him it made me wonder, why we don’t capitalise on these amazing gifts more at school. 

 

Obviously when we have 30+ children in a class it is very difficult to nurture each and every one’s unique spark, but once upon a time we a little more had time and flexibility to discover what each child excelled at. When I was at primary school in the 80’s in infants (KS1) we had “free choice” almost every afternoon! All our curriculum was completed in the morning and the afternoon was for art, crafts, DT, PE, music, construction. Even at the start of KS2 we had Friday afternoons “free choice”. We had a nature table, musical instruments, art and craft materials, lots of physical play and none of the things we did at school felt “more important” than the others, not until we got to high school anyway. 

 

Often now I hear from children how they are “rubbish”, “stupid”, “not clever enough”… yet they are bright and beautiful children who are being made to feel like failures because Maths and English aren’t their “element”. They might have the ability to be the next James Dyson, Darcey Bussell or Freddie Mercury but because their self esteem has been dinted they may never be brave enough to try, or even worse, they may never even discover that they have that ability. 

 

My husband’s school reports were full of comments like “if he knew as much about history as he does about The Beatles and football then maybe he would achieve more”. Well, maybe he would have got better results in history, but becoming a historian was never his thing. Listening to lots of great quality music growing up undoubtedly developed his ear and deepened his passion for all things musical though. He might have spent a lot of time playing and watching football. But if he hadn’t spent all those hours recording his own commentaries into a tape machine in front of the TV he would have found it almost impossible to become a BBC Sports commentator. 

All those moments we spend immersed in something that truly makes us feel happy and alive are all learning and growing too. Not everyone is destined to be an academic and as teachers it is important to remember that and not get caught up in worrying about how Johnny’s lack of interest in all things mathematical are going to impact on our results this year. Johnny might not be good at maths but he might be passionate about plants or sport or music or caring for people. All those skills are just as valuable and needed in the world.

I know too many people who as children were made to feel “thick” or “stupid” because they didn’t fit into the box that school wanted to put them in. Many of those people are contributing to the world in a much greater capacity than their classmates who were top of the class now they are out in the real world. 

Hopefully no teachers now would ever intentionally make a child feel this way and certainly wouldn’t ever use that language. How much of it is implied by the emphasis placed on particular subjects at school though? 

So much of our mental wellness is dependent upon feeling valued and valuable that if we believe we have nothing to offer the world it can lead to serious depression and stress. 

What is your special gift? Have you ever sat down and really thought about it? 

We all know that every child is special but imagine how wonderful a world would be if we were given the time and flexibility to really discover what has the potential to make every child soar.

 

 

Except from Chapter 1 of The Element by Sir Ken Robinson courtesy of Penguin Random House:

CHAPTER ONE

The Element

GILLIAN WAS ONLY eight years old, but her future was already at risk. Her schoolwork was a disaster, at least as far as her teachers were concerned. She turned in assignments late, her handwriting was terrible, and she tested poorly. Not only that, she was a disruption to the entire class, one minute fidgeting noisily, the next staring out the window, forcing the teacher to stop the class to pull Gillian’s attention back, and the next doing something to disturb the other children around her. Gillian wasn’t particularly concerned about any of this—she was used to being corrected by authority figures and really didn’t see herself as a difficult child—but the school was very concerned. This came to a head when the school wrote to her parents.

 

The school thought that Gillian had a learning disorder of some sort and that it might be more appropriate for her to be in a school for children with special needs. All of this took place in the 1930s. I think now they’d say she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and they’d put her on Ritalin or something similar. But the ADHD epidemic hadn’t been invented at the time. It wasn’t an available condition. People didn’t know they could have that and had to get by without it.

 

Gillian’s parents received the letter from the school with great concern and sprang to action. Gillian’s mother put her daughter in her best dress and shoes, tied her hair in ponytails, and took her to a psychologist for assessment, fearing the worst.

 

Gillian told me that she remembers being invited into a large oak-paneled room with leather-bound books on the shelves. Standing in the room next to a large desk was an imposing man in a tweed jacket. He took Gillian to the far end of the room and sat her down on a huge leather sofa. Gillian’s feet didn’t quite touch the floor, and the setting made her wary. Nervous about the impression she would make, she sat on her hands so that she wouldn’t fidget.

 

The psychologist went back to his desk, and for the next twenty minutes, he asked Gillian’s mother about the difficulties Gillian was having at school and the problems the school said she was causing. While he didn’t direct any of his questions at Gillian, he watched her carefully the entire time. This made Gillian extremely uneasy and confused. Even at this tender age, she knew that this man would have a significant role in her life. She knew what it meant to attend a “special school,” and she didn’t want anything to do with that. She genuinely didn’t feel that she had any real problems, but everyone else seemed to believe she did. Given the way her mother answered the questions, it was possible that even she felt this way.

 

Maybe, Gillian thought, they were right.

 

Eventually, Gillian’s mother and the psychologist stopped talking. The man rose from his desk, walked to the sofa, and sat next to the little girl.

 

“Gillian, you’ve been very patient, and I thank you for that,” he said. “But I’m afraid you’ll have to be patient for a little longer. I need to speak to your mother privately now. We’re going to go out of the room for a few minutes. Don’t worry; we won’t be very long.”

 

Gillian nodded apprehensively, and the two adults left her sitting there on her own. But as he was leaving the room, the psychologist leaned across his desk and turned on the radio.

 

As soon as they were in the corridor outside the room, the doctor said to Gillian’s mother, “Just stand here for a moment, and watch what she does.” There was a window into the room, and they stood to one side of it, where Gillian couldn’t see them. Nearly immediately, Gillian was on her feet, moving around the room to the music. The two adults stood watching quietly for a few minutes, transfixed by the girl’s grace. Anyone would have noticed there was something natural—even primal—about Gillian’s movements. Just as they would have surely caught the expression of utter pleasure on her face.

 

At last, the psychologist turned to Gillian’s mother and said, “You know, Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick. She’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”

 

I asked Gillian what happened then. She said her mother did exactly what the psychiatrist suggested. “I can’t tell you how wonderful it was,” she told me. “I walked into this room, and it was full of people like me. People who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.

 

She started going to the dance school every week, and she practiced at home every day. Eventually, she auditioned for the Royal Ballet School in London, and they accepted her. She went on to join the Royal Ballet Company itself, becoming a soloist and performing all over the world. When that part of her career ended, she formed her own musical theater company and produced a series of highly successful shows in London and New York. Eventually, she met Andrew Lloyd Webber and created with him some of the most successful musical theater productions in history, including Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.

 

Little Gillian, the girl with the high-risk future, became known to the world as Gillian Lynne, one of the most accomplished choreographers of our time, someone who has brought pleasure to millions and earned millions of dollars. This happened because someone looked deep into her eyes—someone who had seen children like her before and knew how to read the signs. Someone else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down. But Gillian wasn’t a problem child. She didn’t need to go away to a special school.

 

She just needed to be who she really was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click the link and buy the product/service associated I will receive a small payment in return. The product/service will not cost you any more. I never recommend anything I have not experienced myself. I always appreciate any purchases made using my links as they enable me to continue writing and helping more people. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing your class for assessments?

Preparing your class for assessments?

It’s that time of year! 

Teachers around the world are feeling anxious knowing that they have to subject their class to the inevitable assessments. Unfortunately most teachers know that assessments, particularly for young children, are not the way to get the best out of children. Despite this they are forced to carry them out, and their job may even be dependent on the results the children get!

What can you do to support your children at this uncomfortable time?

Well, there are lots of ways you can support your class before and during assessments. It is vital that we approach any test with a calm and happy attitude. The thing responsible for more disastrous results than lack of revision, even poor attendance, is nerves. 

The problem comes from our physical anatomy. You see nerves (stress and anxiety) are physical reactions to being afraid. As soon as we feel scared our body responds with a series of chemical and physical changes (fight, flight or freeze response), one of which is shutting down the part of our brain that we need most during stressful exams, our prefrontal cortex. When this part of our brain is compromised we lose the ability recall information, reason, solve problems… all the skills we need to successfully complete an assessment.

 Fortunately there are lots of practical techniques we can teach our children in order to help them calm down and focus on the task in hand.

1. Breathe

One of the first things that happens when we feel anxious is that our breathing becomes quick and shallow. Our brain picks up on this change in our breathing and initiates our fight, flight or freeze sequence. So, in order to reverse this process we simply need to slow our breathing down. There are many simple breathing techniques children can learn but for use during assessments 7-11 Breathing is probably the most discreet. 

 7-11 Breathing

This breathing technique is so simple, anyone who can count to 11 can do it. Simply breathe in as you count to 7 and breathe out as you count to 11. (don’t count too slowly 11 is a long time to be breathing out!) Just repeat this process 3-5 times and that is enough to make you feel calm and reverse the fight, flight or freeze response.

2. Exercise

My heart breaks when I hear about schools who reduce the curriculum to core subjects before assessments because having a broad a balanced curriculum is more important than ever at this time. I also regularly hear of schools keeping children in at break and lunch times to do extra work. This can be so counter productive. When we feel anxious or worried there is a build up of chemicals in our bodies and one of the best ways to reduce these levels is to get plenty of exercise. As adults we know we feel less stressed after an hour at the gym or a run but so many schools reduce the amount of physical activity the children get before assessments which just makes them feel more anxious. 

Even if you just get your class to stand up and run on the spot or do some star jumps It will make them feel so much calmer.

3. Laughter

When we laugh our bodies release happy chemicals which relaxes us and makes us feel happy. As we have already discovered, when we feel relaxed our brain functions much more effectively. Encourage laughter, be silly and put your class at ease during times of assessment, but not just then, all the time!

 

These activities are essential during times of assessment but not just then. We not only recall facts better when our brain is feeling relaxed and calm, we also learn better. Make your classroom calmer by practising these techniques all year round. You won’t be sorry and your league tables, as well as your children, will be happier and healthier as a result!

 

Why is being present so important anyway?

Why is being present so important anyway?

” Living in the moment, and seeing everything afresh without judgement and worry lets us experience life rather than

simply get through it.”

Dr Patrizia Collard

(The Little Book of Mindfulness)

Being present is the very essence of mindfulness. Learning to be more mindful is about focusing on the here and now not what has been or what will be. In my last blog (The Science of Mindfulness) I discussed what happens to our body when you practice mindfulness. Reducing your stress levels isn’t just good for your mood and temper, it has a very significant biological impact. 

Why do you need to be present though?

Well, there are many benefits to trying to live more in the present. So often in modern life we are dashing from one event or job to another. We are constantly planning what we have to do next, what we have to remember and where we need to be, who we need to call…

We are always busy.

Even when you sit down to relax you are watching tv and checking Facebook. Once upon a time you did one thing at a time. If you were baking you were baking. You weren’t baking and talking to someone on the phone or planning what you needed to do for that big presentation at work. You were thinking about how the mixture looked, what ingredient you needed to add in next and how much your family was going to enjoy the cake when it was finished.

Being busy has become a badge of honour. If you ask someone how they are how often do you hear the reply “busy”.

We are all busy. We are all juggling. But it is important to balance that with time to untangle your mind and de-stress.

 

Stress and anxiety are formed around things that will happen or that have already happened. You worry about something that happened, something you said, or did, or someone else said or did. You worry about something that might or might not happen.

 

What if?

What if they don’t like me? What if I make a fool of myself? What if I embarrass myself? What if I’m not good enough? 

What if…

None of these are things you know will happen. They are your brain trying to second guess what might or might not occur given a particular set of conditions. 

Many, many things can happen between the point you are at now and that possible outcome. Despite this you still worry yourself into a state of anxiety or worse.

Equally, you cannot change what has already happened. 

There may be times when you realise that you need to approach a situation differently next time. You may need to apologise to someone. You cannot take back words once they are spoken or actions once they are taken though. If you can’t change it is there any point in worrying about it? Of course there isn’t. 

Our rational, intelligent brain knows all this. But as we learned in my last blog, this doesn’t work too well when we’re feeling anxious. The more anxious we become, the less rational and able to work out problems.

It is because of this basic biological response that you lie awake at night. Something pops into your head, you obsess about it because there are no distractions and you are still carrying the stress from the previous day. Instead of being able to rationally work through the issue as you might in daylight you go round and round in circles getting more and more worked up.

How will being in the present help us with these moments of stress and anxiety?

Well, the more you learn to focus on what is happening now the more you can control your body’s response to these thoughts and feelings. When you sit and just accept where you are, you immediately relax, your breathing slows down, your heart rate slows and your rational brain function slowly returns. 

That’s all great, but how do I live in the moment?

There are many ways to learn to focus on what is happening now. The simplest and most effective is to focus on your breathing. I have discussed many times the fact that by altering your breathing you can change your physical state incredibly quickly. When you start to feel worried or feel yourself slipping into that middle of the night spiral try this technique:

  • Place your hands on your stomach on begin to focus on your breathing.
  • You will notice that as soon as you make your brain aware of your breathing, it will automatically begin to regulate your breath and it will slow slightly.
  • Focus on every sensation in your body, notice where there is tension, if there is any pain or discomfort.
  • Allow your thoughts to focus on that area of your body and send calm and love to it. Imagine your body is healing itself. (There is a wealth of scientific evidence now that just by focusing on an area of your body in a calm state allows your body to heal itself).
  •  Keep returning to your breathing.
  • If you struggle to focus on your breathing try focusing on a sound in the room, a ticking clock, the hum of the radiator, whatever it may be. 
  • Allow your mind to rest and every time something pops into your thoughts, and they will, often, just observe the thought and go back to focusing on either your breathing or the sound you have chosen.

Congratulations! You just meditated.

Of course being in the present isn’t just about meditation and breath work. It could be as simple as doing the washing up, the gardening, washing the car, going for a run or brushing your teeth, and not thinking about anything except what you are doing.

It sounds easy doesn’t it? 

Well, it is. When you have given yourself time to get used to it. When you first try it might be the most difficult thing you have ever tried to do. I often have people say to me; “I just can’t turn off my inner monologue”. That’s ok. It takes practice. Just acknowledge what your inner monologue is telling you and return to your breathing or listening to the sound.

Don’t start out trying to be present, or meditate, for hours or even half an hour. Start with trying for 2 or 3 minutes and build up. You will be amazed how quickly your brain and body get used to the idea. Whether you are sitting and meditating or being present while your cook or paint the shed, try to find a small pocket of time every day to practice being present. The more your practice, as with anything, the more instinctive it becomes.

The more present you become, the calmer and more contented you will become. Your health with then improve, you get a better quality of sleep and your patience will be increased. What more could you want?

 

 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click the link and buy the product/service associated I will receive a small payment in return. The product/service will not cost you any more. I never recommend anything I have not experienced myself. I always appreciate any purchases made using my links as they enable me to continue writing and helping more people. 

 

The Science of Mindfulness

The Science of Mindfulness

For years I have been an advocate for relaxation and using calming, natural methods in the classroom. 

Let me give you some background.

When I was 7 years old I had a teacher I loved, Mrs Duffy. She was the most incredible teacher. But her method for teaching us our timetables left me scarred for life. We would all learn the same timetable and then we would have to all stand on our chairs and recite the timetable for that week. Not only in front of the whole class, but, if you got one wrong she moved on and you had to stay on your chair until you got them all right. This often meant staying in at playtime. I was mortified. As a very shy child (at school at least), and one who already found timetables almost impossible, I grew worse and worse as time went on. 

When I was older and sitting my GCSE’s I remember looking round the gym filled with rows of table and seeing the panic on my friends faces. 

There was a girl in the year above me at school who had to wear cotton gloves to sit her exams. She got so stressed that her hands sweat so much she couldn’t hold a pen. She was quite possibly the most intelligent girl in the year. Later she went to study at an Obxridge University and was a lovely, kind, genuine and very hard working young woman. Unfortunately she also felt so much pressure to achieve that she could barely function during exams. 

Let’s be honest, very few people enjoy exams and tests, but should we be allowing our students to get into such a state?

More importantly, in order to understand why these situations occur we need to understand the science of stress and how we can combat that with some simple mindfulness techniques.

 

The Science of Stress

When I visit schools, whether I am talking to teachers or students, I always start by explaining why it is important to stay calm. Many people think that it is just about feeling happier but there is so much more to it than that. 

When we get stressed or feel scared our body has a physical reaction to the situation. The first response team is our heart rate and our breathing. Both our heart rate and our breathing speed up when we feel scared or worried. This change is received by a tiny gland in our heads called the amygdala. This then sends a range of messages to our body:

  • directing more blood to the heart 
  • sending more blood to our muscles, particularly in our arms and legs
  • redirecting blood away from the prefrontal cortex (the front and newest part of our brain)

During stressful times our body focuses all its attention on our fight, flight and freeze essentials. These responses were really helpful when the things that scared us were sabre tooth tigers and the scary caveman from over the hill. They helped us to run faster and fight. They are much less helpful when we are scared because we have an exam or an interview.

Worse than that, they actually hinder us, a lot! 

When our body redirects blood away from the prefrontal cortex it is sabotaging our ability to succeed in an exam or interview. Why? Well this is this newest part of our brain. The part that deals with memory, problem solving, decision making, planning… all the things we need to be at their best during stressful times.

This is the reason that when we feel stressed we get stuck in a thought loop and don’t make any progress.

 

By creating stress and anxiety for the children in our class, whether it is for the weekly timetables test or for GCSEs, we may think we are helping them focus and giving them some urgency. In actual fact we are shutting down all the functions we need to be nurturing. 

Of course, even with the most nurturing approach possible, some children will naturally worry and get themselves into this state.

 

The Science of Mindfulness

How does a mindful approach help with this issue?

Well, mindfulness teaches us to live in the moment. Not to worry about what will happen and what has already happened. This in itself can be helpful. We can only do what we are doing right now. We can’t change what has already been and we can’t accurately predict what will be, we might as well just be our best self right now.

That’s all very well but we need some practical strategies. Some tools to help us combat these emotions when they are triggered by situations out of our control. 

Mindful breathing is perhaps the greatest weapon we have in the fight against academic anxiety. 

If our breath becoming more rapid sends a signal to the brain to trigger our stress responses, our breathing slowing and becoming more controlled tells our brain not to worry, we are safe. This then almost instantly stops all those initial responses to stress and anxiety. 

Using any mindful breathing technique will help you instantly calm your body. Re-activating the brain functions necessary for exams, interviews and all those other stressful situations we encounter at school. 

Why not try this simple breathing meditation and see how you feel afterwards?

 

Awareness Mediation

by Kate Beddow - Calmer Classrooms

Learning to live more mindfully, whether it is being more aware of your emotions, meditating daily, paying closer attention to the world around you, eating mindfully or breathing mindfully, will help you to live more in the present. It will also allow you to feel more calm and in control of the world we are living in. Through mindfulness you learn to focus on the positives. When you do, the world becomes a more positive place to live. You attract more positive people and situations and everything feels more manageable. 

Research has shown that people who live mindfully are more resilient. They also heal quicker, their brain function and attention span improve, and physical changes can even occur in the brain. They also feel more secure and more optimistic about the future. 

Are these not all things we would wish for our students?  

Imagine a class full of resilient, focused, quick thinking, calm children all sitting ready to learn and then take their exams, wouldn't that be amazing? Click To Tweet

Well, it can happen.

Many schools have been trialling this approach for many years now. Their results are improving year on year. Exclusion rates have fallen. Drop out rates in FE and HE settings has fallen, and the students enjoy their time in education much more.

If you don’t already practice some form of mindfulness in your school I cannot recommend this approach enough. Let’s end this period of stress and anxiety in schools. Create an education system where teachers and students can thrive and really embrace the opportunities they have. Enable students to leave our care with a hunger for knowledge, a love of learning and the skills they need to combat stress and anxiety for the rest of their lives.

 

How can Calmer Classrooms help your school to be more mindful?

Looking for affordable mindfulness and wellbeing resources for your school? Have you looked at the wide range of Calmer Classroom resources recently? Whatever your needs we have something for your school or setting.  

Maybe your feel that some training for your staff would be beneficial? Kate can provide training for your school, find out more about the range of workshops and INSET she provides.

Valentine’s Day – a love celebration

Valentine’s Day – a love celebration

Valentine’s Day can be quite devisive. It’s the Marmite of holidays. Some people love the romance and the whimsy, while others see it as a consumerist celebration exploited by card manufacturers, florists and chocolate producers to make us spend money unnecessarily. 

I sit somewhere between these two camps. I agree that we shouldn’t have to wait until a designated day to tell those we love that we love them. We also shouldn’t feel pressure to buy over inflated red roses just because it is a particular date on the calendar. But at the same time, I just can’t resist the urge to make a little extra effort because it is a celebration of this romantically minded Saint. 

There are many legends surrounding the origins of Valentine’s Day but the origins are unknown. 

One thing that is for sure, the western world has embraced it and for many a day they celebrate more passionately than any other day of the year.

Whatever your views on Valentine’s Day I would like to give your a few thoughts and activities which might make you think and give you a new perspective on this celebration.

Why should we celebrate this day in schools?

I know schools have varying ideas about celebrating this day. Some see it as being associated only with romantic love and therefore inappropriate. Some embrace it as a day of celebrating love in all its many forms, sending little notes of appreciation to each other and making cards to thank special people in their lives.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to tell people I love them. Not just anyone obviously, but if I do love you, you will know it and I will tell you often. In fact it is not unusual for my husband’s response to me saying “I love you” to be “you just said that!” – *giggle*

What I want to think about this Valentine’s Day in schools though isn’t just showing appreciation to others (which frankly we should do everyday anyway!), I want to think about self love. 

Increasingly we hear about younger and younger children self harming. We hear about teachers committing suicide, self medicating and worse. We are facing a mental wellbeing crisis. 

Social media and the media in general project unrealistic images of what life “should” be like. Fake photos of photoshopped people living in set-like houses and showing only the good side of life.

All of this contributes to our feelings that we are failing. We believe we are too fat, too thin, not wearing enough make up, wearing too much make up, that we need to own certain products and live in a certain way to be happy.

None of this is true.

Happiness can only come from within.

It doesn’t matter what you own, how much “stuff” you have, what you look like, you will never be happy unless you can learn to be happy with who you are and what you have. Some of the wealthiest people in the world are some of the most unhappy. 

 

Our children are so precious. There is a very famous quote by Frederick Douglass“it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men“. This is as true now as it was in 1855 when he wrote it. He was talking about the slave trade but it is applicable to life in general. 

 

Often the biggest issues we have to deal with in our adult life have roots in comments or treatment in childhood.

 

It is almost impossible to raise a child or teach a child without ever saying something which might negatively impact on them, they might misinterpret a comment or overhear part of a conversation that they shouldn’t be listening to. Sometimes as a parent we just get tired and despair and say things we don’t mean.

 

How can we teach children to love themselves?

 

How we speak to our children becomes their inner voice. We must make sure that as far as possible we speak kindly to children. That is not to say that we must never correct, or even tell them off, but making sure that the issue is theirs not ours is a useful thing to remember. Use positive language.

Encourage them to try new things. Give them opportunities to prove that they are capable, that they can learn new skills and that they are able.

Complement them on their achievements not just their appearance. It is so easy to comment on how lovely they look but do we remember to comment when they find a solution to a problem without help?

Emphasise the differences between the children in your class in a positive way. We all have different skills and that is a magical thing, not something to fear or be upset about.

Why not spend Valentine’s Day this year celebrating self love in your classroom?

There are so many ways to celebrate self love.

  • Remind the children how special they are by asking them all to write one kind thing about each of their classmates. You could write a child’s name at the top of a piece of paper or index card and then pass them round until everyone has written something positive about every member of the class. Then return the paper to the person whose name is at the top so they can read what everyone else has said about them.
  • Ask the children to write down all the things they are good at, all the things they are grateful for or what makes them special.
  • Ask the children to fill a heart shaped piece of paper with words which make them loveable.
  • Have a talent show where the children can show their class mates the amazing things they can do.
  • Ask the children to write “I am…” at the top of a piece of paper and then write all the words which describe them all over the paper. They can be physical descriptions, talents, personality traits, positive and negative. 
  • Why not read stories which teach about the importance of being your own special self (I have included a selection of my favourites below).

    I also have a collection of worksheets which creates a lovely booklet called “Sparkly Me” which is very reasonably priced at just £4.50. It explores all aspects of self confidence, body confidence , self esteem and many more aspects of self love. Why not take a look and use that as a focus this Valentines Day?

    Buy Now

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click the link and buy the product/service associated I will receive a small payment in return. The product/service will not cost you any more. I never recommend anything I have not experienced myself. I always appreciate any purchases made using my links as they enable me to continue writing and helping more people. 
Mindful Movement

Mindful Movement

January is the time when we are all thinking about getting in shape and losing some of those Christmas lbs.

Gym memberships apparently increase by 40% during January as people realise that they need to get moving. However 80% of those new members will have stopped going by the second week in February.

I’m sure there are similar statistics about healthy eating and reducing alcohol consumption too.

We all start the year feeling fired up and wanting to improve our health and slowly lose momentum if we’re not careful.

Does it matter though? 

So we don’t lose that bit of weight. Maybe we don’t fit into that pair of jeans we were hoping to. 

Well, we all know that there are more important reasons to look after ourselves than vanity. Our physical health can be in serious jeopardy if we don’t stay physically active.

What we don’t always think about is how it can impact on our mental wellbeing

I’m not talking about low self esteem because we don’t look the way we want to either. 

 

The “science bit”

When we exercise our body releases endorphins which make us feel happier and even reduce pain. This is why when we force ourselves to go for that run or even to take that walk that we really can’t be bothered to we feel so much better afterwards.

It’s more than that though.

Exercise also reduces our cortisol levels.

Cortisol is the stress hormone which we release when we feel scared, angry or anxious. When cortisol levels build up in our body it can inflame and ultimately damage our organs, particularly the heart. Increased cortisol levels also make us short tempered, can cause us to gain weight, affect our skin and much more.

I’m sure you will agree that we need to ensure that we keep those cortisol levels as low as possible.

 

How much exercise do you need to do to reduce your cortisol levels and improve your mental wellness?

Surprisingly little actually. I have been known to get to bedtime and realise that I haven’t moved enough during the day and literally run up and down the stairs 4 or 5 times. Something as simple as that can make a huge difference.

I am not naturally sporty. I never have been. But I do like to try to keep in shape, but I tend to exercise in waves, I’m enthusiastic and then it wanes.

I have a rowing machine in my office which I use regularly to make sure I don’t spend too much time sitting working. I also do yoga, although not as often as I know I should.

This week though I have found something I think may really help me to hit my fitness and mental wellbeing targets this year. I have just bought myself a kettlebell, similar to this one. It really does work for me. It isn’t too time consuming and is really having an impact. 

I am realistic though. I know that I need to make sure that I keep momentum but I always find that easier when I can feel a difference early on. Change is a great motivator isn’t it?

When we make small meaningful differences we can make lasting change

It is ALWAYS better to make a small change which lasts than a grand gesture that is short lived. If you want to make a difference to your diet it is better to commit to smaller portion sizes or cutting out biscuits, rather than going from fast food to veganism overnight.

The same is true with movement. 

Commit to going for a walk every day or doing an exercise class once a week rather than going to the gym for 2 hours every day. 

Exercise doesn’t have to be a sport or class either.

Maybe you love gardening or cleaning, these can be great exercise too. 

When you do any exercise pay attention to the messages the body is sending you too. Listen to when you feel you can push yourself a little more but equally ensure you stop if you feel any pain. 

The important thing is to keep moving, and moving doing something you enjoy. Happiness and pleasure will amplify the mental wellbeing benefits of exercise so get the most out of every moment. 

 

 

Mindful Eating – the hidden benefits

Mindful Eating – the hidden benefits

January has become synonymous with dieting, gym membership and starting a new healthy routine in western culture. The excesses of the holiday season often result in us gaining a few pounds and perhaps spending a bit too long sitting in front of the TV and when the new year arrives we pledge that this year will be different. This year, we tell ourselves, we will eat healthily, we will go to the gym every day, we will walk everywhere and we will be our ideal weight by Easter, just in time to blow it all with chocolate eggs!

Sound familiar?

We also see many food related “movements” such as Veganuary and Dry January. People come together in tribes to support each other in the changes they hope to make. 

How many people actually manage to make meaningful, lasting changes through these resolutions?

Well, statistically 80% of us have failed by February!

So not many.

 

Do I have the answer?

Well, perhaps. I certainly have an interesting suggestion. 

If you have been following my work for a while you will know that I am a big advocate for mindful eating, and mindfulness in general.

What is mindful eating?

Well, you have probably heard me talk about mindful eating in the context of giving someone a raisin or chocolate button. In this exercise you allow them to eat one of the raisins, or whatever you are using. You then give them another and ask them to really look at the item of food closely. Smell it. Move it around in their fingers. Explore it thoroughly without putting it in their mouth. 

You then ask them to put it in their mouth but not eat it. Just to allow it sit in their mouth, explore it with their tongue. 

Finally you allow them to eat it. 

Even very young children will notice a considerable difference in the taste of the first and second item. 

By really thinking about what we are eating, by thinking about how it looks, how it really tastes we appreciate our food on a whole new level. 

This is also true for drinks. Exercises such as hot chocolate breathing can help you appreciate your morning coffee or cuppa in a whole new way.

 

What are the hidden benefits of this type of eating and drinking?

There are many benefits of mindful eating.

When you really focus on what you are eating rather than mindlessly shovelling food in, you tend not to over eat. You stop when you are full and many people find that they make healthier choices.

It doesn’t mean that you have to eat nothing but salad, but one of the biggest issues in tackling weight issues is portion control. Many of us are guilty of eating while doing something else; watching TV, talking etc. If we aren’t careful we over eat and stretch our stomach, so we then feel that we need to eat more the next time we eat, and on it goes.

 

Eating mindfully often results in us being more in tune with what our body needs

Something interesting also happens when we become more mindful about what we eat and drink. We start to notice that actually the things we reach for out of convenience aren’t necessarily what our body wants to be eating. We might see a big bar of chocolate and all of our receptors start to flash but if we really stop and think, is our body telling us that it would be good to eat it? 

Believe it or not it often isn’t.

Let me give you an example from my life. 

I am wheat and dairy intolerant. I don’t have an extreme reaction but it makes me feel tired, bloated and my joints ache a lot more so it is sensible for me to avoid them.

Every 6 weeks I have to have an injection to keep my acromegaly under control. The injection regulates my hormones, one of which is a hormone produced in the stomach. As a result I have 24hrs of fatigue and a very upset stomach after my injection. 

I am fortunate that I can plan when this will happen and I always clear my diary for that 24hrs and am kind to myself and rest as much as I can. 

I also know that I am able to eat pretty much anything I want within the first few hours of having my injection because it won’t be in my system long enough to have any ill effect. As a result I have started treating myself to a cake or butty from the hospital bakery on the way home, often a Belgian bun, yummy!

Last week I had my injection and as is now routine, I stopped at the bakery on the way out of the hospital. Instinctively I ordered my Belgian bun and walked out of the hospital. 

When I got home though I realised that that really wasn’t what my body wanted. It was too sugary, much too sweet. If I had stopped and really thought about what I wanted instead of going on autopilot I may have had a sausage sandwich or something else that I would have enjoyed much more. 

Next time I go for my injection I will be much more mindful and not allow the hustle and bustle of the early morning hospital to distract me. 

So the next time you walk past the display of chocolate bars and mindlessly grab one to keep you going, stop and think; “Do I really want to eat this? Is this what my body needs today?”. Don’t worry, sometimes the answer will be, “er yes! I do, I need a treat and I have been really good all week!” but be prepared to listen truthfully to what your body is telling you. 

How can you change your routine to allow yourself to eat more mindfully?

 

 

Wellbeing and OFSTED

Wellbeing and OFSTED

As we wait patiently for the new OFSTED Framework we have been given a few clues as to what changes might be afoot. One of the key focuses of the new guidelines seems to be wellbeing; that of staff as well as students. 

OFSTED has been a cause of stress for schools since its birth in 1992. At the time I was sitting my GCSEs but my Mum was a teacher and I can vividly remember her getting very anxious when they received “the call” the first time. 

As I then embarked on my own teaching career it was like a cloud hanging over you all the time. You knew roughly when an inspection was due and were waiting with sweaty palms and impeccable planning for that day when they arrived. 

Of course in those days you had much more notice and had time to prepare fairly thoroughly for their visit. My first OFSTED as a qualified teacher was just before May half term and I spent the whole weekend before re-writing my entire planning file, not to change anything, but in case they couldn’t read something!

 

I have not been the biggest fan of OFSTED over the years I have to confess, I don’t think many teachers are. Between their unrealistic targets and other enforced demands on schools have resulted in many schools feeling compelled to teach to test rather than looking at the children in their classrooms and helping them to achieve the best they can, whatever their strengths and give them a genuine love of learning along the way. 

 Despite the best efforts of teachers to do just that, they have been acutely aware that should their class not meet all the academic targets that have been set they will be scrutinised and criticised for not ticking that box. 

As a result, for reasons based in fear, many teachers have had to resort to teaching to test and have not been able to do the job they passionately wanted to do when they began their teaching career. It’s heart breaking. 

 

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

 

According to Amanda Spielman’s in October last year we have reason to be hopeful. 

During her speech she said that OFSTED should be a “force for improvement”, well, yes it should, is she implying in any way that it isn’t at the moment? We will never know. She also acknowledged that the current system is putting too much pressure on teachers and that there has been too much focus on testing and not enough on curriculum and learning.

There will be greater emphasis on the needs of the child and schools will be rewarded “for doing the right thing by their pupils”. After years of focus on results, this could indeed be the change we have been looking for. 

According to The Telegraph, on 22nd December 2018, OFSTED is also considering introducing wellbeing and mental health assessments for schools too. Whilst I am a little cynical about this, the fact that the focus is shifting to look at the impact of our education system on the whole child and the wellbeing of staff too is undoubtedly a positive. I am slightly concerned about how they intend to carry out this “assessment”, after all, mental health is incredibly difficult to measure. We all have mental health, some of us have good mental health, some of us are less mentally healthy.

Looking at the relationships within the school, teacher attitudes, teacher workload and absence for me would be a good place to start. I believe wholeheartedly that the atmosphere in a school is dictated by the staff, if the staff are happy, calm and content to be there, the children will feel secure and be happier while they are at school too. 

Mental health is a huge area

It is important to remember that there are many factors that contribute to our mental wellness. Our time in school and engaging in school work is undoubtedly one factor but other factors such as family, physical health, relationships, financial stresses and many more, all contribute. I wonder then if there will be increased funding for schools, since this is something which comes up time and time again when I talk to teachers about causes of stress. Perhaps there may even be a meaningful pay rise for staff so that they can afford to live and support their own children, as well as providing stability and good mental health for the children in their class.

I am trying hard to remain positive about this new framework and look forward to it being released to see what it actually contains. Of course at the moment, nothing is official, but it certainly seems that it could be a step in the right direction. A move towards empowering teachers to do the best for the children in their care, enabling them to use their professional judgement to educate the whole child rather than navigating them towards the next test or exam. A move towards a holistic education system which values the whole child. 

Of course, I am delighted that there is going to be a focus on wellbeing, in my opinion this has been the biggest shift in education over recent years. Schools have independently seen the need to care for the mental wellbeing of both staff and students, but it is wonderful that they will be rewarded for this. Staff and students will never perform as well when they are stressed and anxious as they do when they are calm and happy. By focusing on wellbeing we will naturally see an improvement in results and we will also be sending happy, well rounded, emotionally secure children out into the world. I hope this new framework will be a force for powerful and significant change in our education system, it is long over due. 

 

If you are expecting a visit from the inspectors check out my tips for surviving OFSTED.

 

 

Glitter and Grimaces

Glitter and Grimaces

Seasons Greetings!

Tis the season to sparkle and scream in schools, particularly in primary schools as we approach the end of the first term of the year. 

As if you haven’t had enough to cope with this term getting used to a new class, settling them into your routines and ways of doing things you come back from half term knowing that if you are going to get everything done before Christmas you are going to have to start now, in October, if you are going to have any chance of getting everything done!

As a parent I regularly overhear moaning from unhappy parents who complain that they are having to take time off work for the nativity, or that they have to drop their child off and collect them from the disco. I wonder what their reaction would be if teachers decided to work to rule and not put so much of their own time and money into trying to make Christmas such a magical time of year for their classes.

If you have never worked in a primary school and you are sitting wondering what on earth I’m talking about, just take a minute and think about all the amazing things children get to enjoy in school at this time of year.

 

Let’s take a look at all the things schools have to get ready at this time of year:

  • party
  • pantomime trip
  • carol service
  • nativity
  • discos
  • Christmas dinner
  • Christmas jumper day
  • Winter Fair
  • cards
  • costumes
  • presents
  • decorations for the classroom
  • class presents

And all this while trying to keep up with the demands of an ever challenging school curriculum oh and did I mention it is usually report time too so they have to write their reports while juggling Christmas baubles!

If you work in a primary school of course you don’t need me to tell you any of this, but I thought you might appreciate a photo of my daughter playing Mary in her Nativity. 

Of course it is still a busy time of year in secondary schools but for different reasons and I am going to focus on primary teachers today so I apologise if you are one of my amazing KS3/4/5 readers.

 

 

Why do you do it?

 

You could be forgiven for thinking that teachers don’t enjoy this time of year by my comments so far, but for most this is far from the truth. This time of year more than any other I miss being in school. I am fortunate that I am able to spend a lot of time in schools all year round but December is always so busy that I rarely get asked into schools. 

 

I don’t have many physical souvenirs of my years teaching, I have slowly passed on most of my resources to people I knew who were training because it made me sad to look at them all getting dusty in the loft. I did find all my notes from the nativities I lead when I was in the loft the other day though and I had a little smile.

 

It is a beautifully busy time when you are permanently covered in glitter, your caretaker hates you with a passion but the kids smile and sing and make every sleepless night worthwhile.

 

 

 

What can you do to make sure that this season is joyful and triumphant?

 

If you are a teacher and you are feeling a little overwhelmed as we get closer to Christmas what can you do?

Get organised 

Lists are your best friend at this time of year. Have lists for everything; what Christmas presents you have bought and still need to get, what food you need to buy, what needs to be finished by the holidays at school, what you need to remember to bring home… everything! Keep them all together, in your phone or in a little notebook so that you can have them with you all the time to amend and tick off.

 

Ask for help

If there are things that need to be done that someone else can do, let them! 

 

Make things as simple as possible

Buy easy to prepare food, find a charity gift wrapping station and let them wrap all your presents. Whatever you need to do to take the pressure off just do it. We always have everyone over when my stepson comes down for Christmas and I used to spend two days baking and cooking. Then 10 years ago I decided enough was enough. I was 9 months pregnant that Christmas and I wasn’t doing it so we went and got KFC buckets for everyone. Do you know what? Everyone loved it so that’s what we’ve done every year since!

 

Enjoy yourself

Remember to stop and enjoy all the amazing moments that this time of year brings. Laugh with the children, smile a secret smile when a child gets their line wrong in the nativity and enjoy those moments that are so precious.

 

The greatest gift you can give is time and love 

Anyone who is worth sharing your life with will be more grateful if you find time to spend with them than they will be if you buy a big expensive gift. When children come back to school in January and you ask them what they enjoyed most over the holidays they never list the presents they got. They talk about the days they watched Christmas films in their pyjamas, the fact that their grandparents came to stay, or they were sledging with their cousins. Creating memories is so much more precious than anything money can buy.

 

Take time to breathe

Find pockets of time when you can just sit and enjoy a quiet cuppa, or perhaps go for a walk, take a bath. Maybe take time to stand and just watch the nativity for a moment and see they joy on the children’s faces, or perhaps just stand in the kitchen between straining the potatoes and carving the turkey just to appreciate the moment and be present. Make sure you aren’t so busy making memories for everyone else that you forget to make them for you too!

 

Be grateful

If you are fortunate enough to be spending time with loved ones and have delicious Christmas food to eat this year, if you have presents to give to your loved ones and receive presents in return. Remember to be grateful. So many families won’t be having such a magical Christmas this year. If you are able to do anything to help those less fortunate at this time of giving please do. Whether it is donating to a charity, buying a hot drink and something to eat for someone living on the streets or giving a donation to a shelter. At this time of such excess it is easy to forget those who don’t have the luxuries many of us are fortunate enough to have.

 

Being a teacher in December is one of the most exhausting jobs in the world, but also one of the greatest joys and privileges. We get to see a side to the children in our class even their parents don’t always see and we get to spread love and happiness which some children don’t receive at home. We make magic for children around the world and that makes us second only to Santa in my book! 

 

Remember if your class are getting over excited this week you can always calm them down with one of my lesson plans! Christmas Magic is always popular at this time of year or why not use one of my free lesson plans?

 

 

 

 

 

Passion – why sharing our passion is so important in teaching

Passion – why sharing our passion is so important in teaching

Passion is an interesting word. 

I believe it is too often associated with intimacy and sex when for me what it is really about is that drive, that burning desire to do something, whatever it is that sets your soul on fire.

Teachers are passionate about the well being and education of the children in their class. That is a magical and powerful thing.

People are passionate about all sorts of things. Anything can become a passion and I believe if we all really stop and think about it we all have a passion. It might be music, baking, a particular sport, reading, theatre, games, hiking, flying, travelling… the possibilities are endless but if we allow ourselves time to think about it there is at lease one thing that makes us happy, that might have always made us happy. 

I’m sure you can think of at least one passion you have if not several. I know I have many passions! 

Why is it important to share our passions with children?

Whether the children are in your class or your family, I believe that sharing our passions is so important. 

Why?

Well, there are several reasons:

  • If they don’t see that you have passions how will they know that adults still get really excited about things
  • You might introduce them to something which will then become one of their passions
  • Any imparting of knowledge is only ever a good thing

How often do we share our true passions with the children around us? 

Do your class know that you are a massive Harry Potter fan or that you love baking? I suspect they probably do. But do you understand the amazing impact that may be having on them?

I have been reminded of this phenomena so much recently.

We have been to my daughter’s parents evening this week. She is doing brilliantly. It made me smile because the subjects that she really shines at are the same subjects I always loved too; English literature, performing arts, history. She also shines in music and photography. She gets those from her Dad.

I watch my son playing football. I know that he loves it with a passion I will never understand. He gets that from his Dad and his older brother. The passion he gets from me is his social and emotional intelligence. He is incredibly caring and loves spending time with younger children and helping them, even though he isn’t 10yrs old yet. 

They both love music, which they get from both of us, but their amazing ear and natural ability to just pick up and instrument play it they definitely get from their Dad. The ability to remember song lyrics might be me though!

Last night we shared one of my husband’s passions for the first time with all three of our children, something we rarely get a chance to do given that our eldest is 24yrs old and our youngest is only 9yrs old. Usually there is a staggered introduction but for Christmas last year we all got tickets to go see the War of the Worlds Tour. My husband has loved this story and the music Jeff Wayne created since he was a little boy sitting in the dark in his parents dining room with his head phones on listening to his LP (that’s a big record for anyone under 35, a record is a big black disc that plays music for anyone under 30 😉 ).

We have been to see this amazing show several times over the years

Although I wasn’t really familiar with the music at first I am now a fan too (Ian shared his passion and I discovered a new passion too, see it works!). The children have listened to the music over the years and our daughter has even read the book now because she was so intrigued by the story, but none of them had ever been to see the show. It was such a lovely experience taking them all to see something so important to my husband together and seeing their reactions.

Over the years I have been fascinated to see our children collect our passions and add their own too.

Our daughter loves going to the theatre and in particular musicals, something I have always loved too. I love the old musicals. Oklahoma, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Calamity Jane… but also the musicals which were still relatively new when I was her age; Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Phantom of the Opera… She of course loves Hamilton and Dear Evan Hanson. We both love Wicked and Matilda and we’re always happy to accompany each other on a trip to see anything at the theatre. 

My son has had several passions; The Beatles, David Bowie, Lego, Star Wars, Spiderman, Harry Potter and of course football. All of these passions were introduced to him by someone he loves. He would never have known who The Beatles were when he was 6 years old had it not been for his Dad’s passion. He shared his passion and enriched our son’s life as a result.

When I was teaching I shared my love of music and dancing every chance I got with my classes and when I see ex-students now they often mention the fact that they still think of me when they hear certain tunes. 20 years on that’s quite an impact to have had!

What is your passion? 

How can you use it to enrich the lives of your children and those in your class?

Do you find time to pursue it even when you are busy?

Spending a few hours doing something you really love will light you up for days, sometimes weeks afterwards. It is NEVER time wasted. It is one of the highest forms of self care and yet so often it is seen as an indulgence. You wouldn’t want your children to grow up depriving themselves of something they really love, would you? If they don’t see you leading by example they will grow up thinking adults don’t have anything that lights them up. That as an adult you always have to sacrifice what you love doing. 

When was the last time you shared something you are passionate about with your students?

Try it. 

You might be surprised at the impact it has. 

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