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Teachers: changing lives, forever, every day.

changing livesWhen I was 12 years old I was in our annual school musical, “Oliver”. I was a milkmaid. It was a role, but let’s be honest, not the most important character in the show, in fact, one of the only characters who has no impact at all on the plot. I did have to sing a couple of lines in “Who will buy?” with my good friend Becky but it was not a huge role.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it was during that week that my life was changed by the most unlikely teacher. Our head of CDT (as it was then) was a formidable man, he never smiled and was a true perfectionist when it came to the school productions. He created amazing sets, ensured that the lighting was perfect, the sound was impeccable, he worked with our local theatre as well as on shows at school, he knew what he was doing. Well, I was a shy and insignificant 12 year old, barely brave enough to stand on the stage, the proverbial rabbit in the headlights, every night.

One night Mr Stokes, that was his name, came storming into the gym (our “backstage”area) before the start of the show. He was fuming! He started shouting about how disappointed he was with everyone’s behaviour. How shambolic the production was and how if “everyone was as professional as Katherine Smith the show might have a chance”. In case you haven’t already guessed, Katherine Smith is my maiden name. Well, at the time I wanted to gym floor to swallow me up. I was mortified to have been singled out. Over time though, I realised a couple things; firstly, someone had noticed me and not just noticed me but noticed me for the right reasons, secondly, someone with such high standards, had held me up as an example of how “professional” everyone else should be.

That moment changed my life.

Life changing
With gratitude to my Dad for documenting my life so brilliantly in photo form. I am centre right, holding my bucket up and looking scared!

It sounds dramatic, but that recognition gave me the confidence to audition for a bigger part the year after and I continued auditioning for bigger and bigger parts until I was playing lead roles and I even went on to perform on stage at the London Palladium as an adult. I honestly think that that one comment had a huge impact on all those future events.

I have lots of examples of teachers who have influenced me and I’m proud to say that I have been contacted by not just ex-pupils, but also people I went to school with myself, over the years and been delighted to hear that people remember me for a small act of kindness which had an impact on them.

Why am I telling you all this?

Well, you are in a very privileged position. You can make a difference to countless children every day. The teacher who changed my life, Mr Stokes, never actually taught me but he had an impact. It might be a child you commend in the corridor walking to assembly or while you are playground duty. You can change lives.

We are approaching the end of another academic year. What can you do to make sure that you leave your children with something life changing to remember you by?

Well, here are a few ideas I had:

  • Make them a bookmark with a positive statement about them or a few positive words that you think of when you think of them: John is helpful, hardworking and a good friend. A laminated piece of paper could make all the difference.
  • Create an affirmation which you think will help them. An affirmation is a positive statement in the present tense to help you believe something you are currently struggling with. “I have beautiful handwriting and I always try my hardest” The beauty of this is that you are making the child feel good about something they may not be feeling very proud of.
  • Get all the children to write a positive sentence about each of their class mates and compile them and give the list of sentences to each child so they know what their peers really think about them.

I’m sure you can think of lots of lovely ideas yourself.

Remember, the times you have the biggest impact are probably the times you aren’t even aware of. You are doing an amazing job, never forget that.

  • I am now friends with Mr Stokes, he isn’t scary, I’m even allowed to call him Peter, and he had no recollection of these events and was genuinely surprised when I told him this story a few years ago.

 

How can we save our schools from drowning in assessment?

SATs stressAs I sit in my office this morning, enjoying an unexpected day of productivity (I was called for Jury Service this week but haven’t been required, yet), my mind keeps coming back to all the children and teachers sitting in classrooms this week in the middle of assessments.

My son is 7 years old and consequently is doing his Y2 SATs and honestly he isn’t even aware that they are happening. His teacher is doing an amazing job of staying calm and not letting the pressures impact on the children.

Unfortunately this just isn’t possible with the Y6 tests though as they have to be done in such strict exam conditions you just couldn’t possibly conceal them.

Teaching is widely reported to be one of the most stressful professions and it isn’t hard to see why. As one of our caring professions teachers have not just an obligation to provide the children in their class with an education but they also provide a wide range of social care.

Teachers are highly qualified professionals who spend years training to understand, not just the subjects they teach, but also; child development, child psychology, social expectations, assessment strategies, statistics, reporting, and much much more. Despite this we insist on testing the children in their classes to a borderline abusive level in order to, allegedly, check that the teaching is of a satisfactory standard. In addition to these tests the teachers assessments are scrutinised and then as if this wasn’t insulting enough, we send in OFSTED inspectors with 24hrs notice to check that they are doing their job properly on a day to day basis.

Don’t get me wrong, I am aware that there are some teachers who do not do a satisfactory job. As there are in all jobs. But all too often in teaching, the few instances of lower standards have been caused by mental anguish and unmanageable workload which has either led the teacher to fall out of love with the job or to suffer some form of breakdown, physically or mentally.

We are reading this week about children who have been reduced to tears by the Reading Tests (read the full article here: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/sats-pupils-tears-after-sitting-incredibly-difficult-reading-test), children who are unable to eat, who haven’t been able to sleep. These are tell tale signs of fairly severe stress and anxiety and yet we are doing all this in the name of education.  This is not my idea of education, this is torture, both for the children sitting the tests and possibly more so for the teachers who are fighting their every instinct to teach to test and who know that they aren’t doing the best by the children in front of them.

Something has to change

AssessmentSomething has to change and quickly, before we lose all our best teachers either through stress or despair, and before we are responsible for a whole generation growing up with mental health issues.

I was delighted to see parents taking the law into their own hands last week and keeping their children at home for a day to enjoy the freedom of playing outside and having fun (more information here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-36149850), but although they did an amazing job of raising awareness of parental opinion, there has to be a long term solution.

“1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class (1).”

http://www.youngminds.org.uk/training_services/policy/mental_health_statistics

 

One in ten school aged children. Three children in every class. And that is only diagnosable mental health issues. What about all the children who are doing an amazing job of hiding it? This figure is already far too high and with the current trends in education it can only get worse.

What can you do to help?

Whether you are a teacher, a student teacher, a TA, a parent, a childminder… whatever your association with children, you can make a difference.

It is important that we join together now to let our children know that scores, results and assessments are only a tiny part of who they are. There is so much more to a child than a test result. Let’s celebrate the personalities, the quirks, the many beautiful things which make our children unique. Let’s remind them that they are special and that they have a wonderful contribution to make to the world whether they come top of the class or not.

Let’s teach them about the many incredibly successful and intelligent people who did terribly at school but who changed the world beyond measure. Einstein is widely held to be one of the greatest minds the world has ever known but he failed miserably at school.

Most importantly let’s teach children how to cope with stress. If we can’t change the world they are growing up into, let’s give them so many tools to help them deal with that world that they can flourish despite it. If we can educate this generation in the importance of love, calm and compassion as well as subordinate clauses and vertices then maybe, just maybe, they can put right all the things that our generation seem to have messed up.

 

If you are concerned about yourself or the children you teach please get in touch with me and I will do all I can to help. I have a wonderful free ebook, which you can download by filling in the box below, which gives simple 5 minute activities suitable for all ages, and there are also some lesson plans for relaxation lessons available on my blog.
There are also lots of ideas for relaxation in schools on my Teachers Pinterest board.
I am also currently creating a library of lesson plans which will be available before the SUmmer so you can include regular relaxation lessons in your planning for the next academic year. these will be suitable for all ages and based on popular themes and topics. Make sure you sign up for my newsletter by completing the box below to be the first to find out when they become available.

How to switch off during the holidays

How to switch off and relax during the school holidays Since I wrote my last blog; Seven Reasons It Is Important To Switch Off During the School HolidaysI have had so many teachers say “that’s great, but I just CAN’T switch off”. I’m sure most of us have experienced that feeling of having a few days where we genuinely want to take time off but every time we start doing something we think of a lesson we need to plan. We sit down to watch a film with the kids and end up working on our laptop next to them instead of giving them our full attention.

The problem is, teachers don’t go to work every day, they live and breathe their work every minute of every day. The children in your class become your family for the time they are with you and you desperately want to do your best to give them every opportunity to achieve and thrive in your care.

Asking a teacher not to think about school while they are on holiday is like asking a mother not to think about her children.

It is important to acknowledge that of course you can’t step away from school work for the whole holiday. There will inevitably be planning and marking to do at some point. Personally, I would recommend taking a few days at the start of the holiday to get all your work done. Plan your time carefully and be really focused. Use the rest of the break as a reward.

So how can we really switch off and unwind during the precious school holidays?

  • Plan a trip away – If possible, plan a holiday. If you are away from home you will find it easier to switch off. Even if it is just a mini break or a few days in this country being in a new environment removes all those visual and habitual triggers which remind you of school.
  • Arrange some days out – If you can’t manage a holiday plan some days out with friends or family. Go for a walk. Visit somewhere you have always wanted to go.
  • Book yourself onto a workshop – Remind yourself that you like doing things away from school work by booking yourself onto a workshop. Whether it is bread making or needle felting, learning a new skill and meeting people outside the profession will be a welcome break and because you will be learning something new it will keep your busy brain engaged.
  • Get yourself a colouring book – Let’s be honest most of us love all the cutting out, colouring in and making that goes into teaching. Why not treat yourself to a grown up colouring book and let yourself play? Research has shown colouring to be the next best thing to meditation, which can be a challenge for a busy headed person, so grab your colouring pencils and have fun!
  • Start a project at home – It may not seem like a rest, but something like redecorating a room or renovating a piece of furniture, is a great way to switch off a busy brain. It has the added bonus of being something useful which gives you a real sense of achievement at the end of it too.
  • Read a book – How many times do we encourage our children to read a book to help them relax and escape? How often do we manage it ourselves? I have had so many friends who have got to retirement age and when I have asked them what they are looking forward to and how they will spend their time, the one thing they have said is; “I’m going to read a book, for fun!”. Don’t wait for your retirement! Do it now. Escape into a fantasy world or travel through a faraway country. Nothing fuels your imagination better than reading a good book. Grab a cuppa, put your feet up and enjoy!
  • Yoga with AdrieneTry a tried and tested relaxation technique – Whether you fancy meditation, yoga or just want a massage the holidays are the perfect time to start a new self care practice. If you fancy trying meditation why not start with one of my guided meditations. They are perfect for beginners and can even be done with your children. There are some to try hereIf yoga appeals there are some wonderful YouTube channels to help you take up a daily yoga practice. All you need is a yoga mat and you can even do it in your pyjamas. Try Yoga with Adriene, she is very approachable and there is no pressure to do anything. (I am not an affiliate, I only recommend things I use and find helpful myself). I have been doing her 30 Day Yoga Challenge every morning before the school run for about 6 weeks now and I feel so much better. I start the day feeling calm and centred and my body is getting more flexible and stronger. It means getting up half an hour earlier but it is genuinely worth every minute. If neither of these appeal, why not just book yourself a massage and commit to having a massage every week/two weeks/month, whatever you feel would benefit you.

So here are my favourite ways to switch off from work. You might be thinking; “But Kate, you’re not a teacher anymore, why do you need to switch off?” well, believe it or not, running my own business is just as mentally consuming and hard to switch off from as teaching. Just to demonstrate that I’m sitting on my sofa writing this while my 7 year old son pesters me for lunch and wanting to know what we are doing this afternoon! So, I’m going to go make his lunch and then this afternoon I will be switching off by baking some cakes with him. Practicing what I preach!

Whatever you are doing today, take a deep breath, relax and appreciate everything you have.

 

7 Reasons It’s Important To Switch Off During School Holidays

7 reasons it is important to switch off during school holidays Ok, let’s be realistic, anyone who has ever worked in a school knows that you can’t totally switch off from school work for the whole of a school holiday, unless you are incredibly organised and work yourself into a state during the last week of term. I’m not suggesting that you neglect your planning and marking, because that isn’t professional and can induce stress which is counterproductive.

So what am I suggesting? It’s simple really, I am suggesting that instead of having work lingering and hanging over you all holiday that you consciously organise your holiday time in order to ensure that the important jobs are done, but so that you also have plenty of time to switch off.

Why is it important to switch off and step away from school work during the holidays? (I’m sure you don’t really need me to tell you, but just in case it’s so long since you’ve managed to do it, here goes!)

  • To allow you to rest completely. When you are at school you are constantly planning and thinking about what you need to do next and, unless you are very careful, that spills over into the holidays. Your brain needs time to rest. Give yourself permission to switch off. You might even find that you get a good night sleep without waking at 3am with a to do list running through your head.
  • To allow your stress levels to reset. Your body needs time to process and remove the stress hormones which build up during the school term and if you continue to add to these levels during the holidays you will return feeling as stressed and anxious as you finished. Allow your body time to do its job and you will do yours better when you return.
  • Reconnect with familyTo reconnect with your partner/children. If you are managing to teach and not letting that affect your relationships and quality time with your loved ones then congratulations, you are truly an amazing human being. Please get in touch and let me know your secret, because I know I never could and most teachers I know will admit to feeling constantly torn between work and family. Your family deserve a couple of weeks every few months to spend time with you. Relaxed, happy, loving you. Give them that time, you won’t be sorry.
  • To remind your friends who you are. There is a reason many teachers have lots of friends who also teach, because they understand the time constraints of the job. Wouldn’t it be lovely to connect with your friends again, even if they are colleagues or teacher friends, without discussing policies and planning?
  • To allow yourself to return to school full of enthusiasm and energy. By stepping away from anything or anyone, we return with a new level of appreciation and enthusiasm. Your class deserve bubbly, enthusiastic you, just as much as your family do. Step away, recharge and give your class the best version of you.
  • To feed your soul. I know, this one sounds a bit airy fairy and hippy, but do you remember a time when you had hobbies other than resource making? Take time to play board games with your kids, go walking, read a book for pleasure, go to the cinema, whatever it is that makes your heart sing. You give so much to others, give yourself the same treat!
  • To give yourself time to do all the jobs round the house you have been putting off. Ok, it might not be the most exciting reason to switch off from school, but even if it is just to make sure that you return to school with an empty ironing basket, the garden ready for summer, the dining room decorated and all the bedrooms deep cleaned, at least you will have had time away from thinking about school. The first six reasons suddenly seem a lot more appealing now don’t they? 😉

The importance of self care as a teacherBeing an amazing teacher is a wonderful thing, but in the same way that you are told to put your own oxygen mask on in an aeroplane before fitting those of your children and others who need help, you have to give yourself some care before you can care properly for your class. Give yourself the gift of a real break this Easter, allocate days when you can get your school work done and plan lots of fun and frivolous days around them.

Have a wonderful break and remember, you are doing an incredible job, you have earned this time for you.

 

What to do when you get “the call” from OFSTED


What to do when you get -the call- from OFSTEDIf you work in a school you know exactly what I mean by get “the call” and didn’t need the addition of “from OFSTED” in the title. Headteachers, teachers, TAs and nursery nurses around the country know exactly when the dreaded OFSTED are likely to visit.

Since schools now only get a call the day before OFSTED arrive, the days of staff dashing around redoing displays, frantically copying out planning files and generally preening the school in readiness are gone. Less time to prepare also means less time to worry, but for many teachers getting the call means 24hrs of stress, anxiety and sleeplessness.

So what can you do to survive OFSTED?

Firstly, it is important to remember that this is a job. While teachers are among the most passionate and dedicated people I have ever been privileged to know, teaching is a job. Inspections are not a matter of  life or death, although at times it feels like it! So what should you do?Coping with OFSTED

  • Take a deep breath, make a cuppa and sit down and make a plan. I know, more planning, but this is different, you need to plan the next few hours so that you do the most important things first, including making time for self care.
  • Eat and drink sensibly. As much as you may want sugary, fatty food to comfort you, and as much coffee and wine as your body can hold, all of these will give you a temporary high but then increase your stress hormone levels and leave you feeling tired and craving more.
  • Get moving! The last thing on your mind right now is exercise but even just a ten minute walk round the block or some simple stretching exercises will help your body deal with stress and you will sleep better.
  • Breathe. Everyone will be telling you to take a deep breath but they are absolutely right. Breathing deeply enables your body to counteract the basic fight or flight reaction your is being controlled by.  I created the video below to help students deal with exams but everything I teach them applies to you right now so give it a go!

  • Get an early night. I know, you want to stay up all night making sure everything is perfect but being awake and alert is crucial to surviving and doing your best. If you are tired and short tempered the day will be even more of a challenge.
  • If you struggle to sleep try some simple mindfulness to help your brain disconnect from the inevitable mental chatter. As you lie in bed think about how your body feels. Does it feel tense anywhere? How is your breathing? Deep? Shallow? Are the sheets warm? Where can you feel them touching your skin? How does your body feel against the mattress? It may sound silly but by tuning your internal monologue away from the worries and towards your body you will find it easier to relax and sleep. You can also try the 7/11 breathing from the video or even find a simple guided meditation online. There are thousands on YouTube

you've got this!So these are my top tips but I’m sure you will have some of your own too. Get up early, have a shower to wake you up, eat a healthy, filling breakfast and take healthy food you can eat easily if you end up working through lunch (and we both know you will so I will allow you this one day to break the golden rules!).

  • You are doing an amazing job.
  • You know your children better than anyone.
  • Don’t be afraid to blow your own trumpet and point out things you are proud of that you feel they should notice (don’t count on them spotting it otherwise)
  • Smile and hold your head up high. You are awesome!

Romans Mindfulness Lesson Plan

Romans Lesson PlanThis Romans Mindfulness lesson plan has taken more creating than previous plans. It was a request from a lovely teacher who is doing Romans with her class this term and wanted to include some mindfulness and relaxation. It isn’t a topic which naturally lends itself to relaxation but I hope you will agree that is has turned out surprisingly well considering!

The lesson is probably best done in a large space such as a school hall and is suitable for everyone, including staff.

It is based around a totally fictitious morning in the life of Julius Caesar and even drops a little mythology in for good measure. The relaxation and mindfulness techniques are incorporated into the story in the form of typically Roman images such as viaducts and soldiers but it is in no way a history lesson.

My class loved, loved, LOVED this! – Gayle Margaret – Class Teacher

If you would like to download your free copy to use with your children simply click the link below:

Romans – Relaxation Lesson Plan

If you would like to be kept up to date with all my resources, tips and tricks why not subscribe to my newsletter and if you have found this useful please spread the word. I am just one person trying to make a difference to the lives of teachers and their students by helping them create calmer classroom environments to improve mental health in schools and positively impact on learning and results as a result.

 

Star Wars Mindfulness Lesson Plan

Star Wars Mindfulness LessonI love creating resources for teachers to use with their classes but every so often one really makes me smile. My son is Star Wars mad and I just know that I will be doing this one when he gets home from school tonight. A Star Wars Mindfulness Lesson Plan might not be your first thought when you think of these epic films but believe me, Star Wars is very spiritual if you look at it in the right way, more importantly kids, particularly boys, love it!

If ever a lesson plan is going to engage your Y4/5 boys this is the one (obviously it will engage lots of other children of different ages too, but that age group are particularly challenging when it comes to relaxation and taking self care seriously I find).

I have made sure I have included lots of characters which I hope will appeal to boys and girls alike.

Star Wars – relaxation lesson

 

 

Inside Out Mindfulness Lesson Plan

Inside Out Lesson PlanInside Out, Disney Pixar’s award winning animated film and one of the most popular films of 2015, is a fabulous film for introducing the idea of emotions and “the little voices in your head” to children.  In addition to that it does a wonderful job of simplifying the changes that everyone experiences when growing up. More importantly than all that, children LOVE it! What could be more fun than treating your class to an Inside Out Mindfulness Lesson?

It is also a wonderful place to begin introducing mindfulness to children. By creating a simple script and teaching the children a few simple breathing techniques, yoga poses and tai chi moves, children can enjoy this wonderful story in a much more calm and relaxed way.

Whether you are new to mindfulness, relaxation and yoga or you are a seasoned yogi and meditator you can access these easy relaxation techniques for yourself and your children and add an element of calm to your working day.

If you teach children of primary age or you work with young children in any capacity, you can download my free Inside Out Mindfulness Lesson Plan by clicking the link below:

Inside Out – Relaxation Lesson Plan

 

 

 

 

Harry Potter relaxation lesson plan

Harry Potter Relaxation Lesson PlanThe Harry Potter books are some of the most magical books ever written so what could be more magical than using them as a springboard to create some real life magic? By creating a relaxation and mindfulness lesson around these well known characters and settings you can engage pupils in a beautifully calming lesson which not only calms their body and mind but also engages their imaginations.

As our young students work their way through our modern education system their time at school can be far from magical. The pressures of SATs and continuous assessments and tests can cause anxiety and stress among our children. Why not introduce some truly magical life skills to help calm our little wizards and allow them to stay sparkly and in control of their emotional health.

J.K. Rowling’s magical characters lend themselves perfectly to being used for a range of lesson ideas. Once you have introduced this lesson to your class why not get them to continue the story and write their own Harry Potter relaxation lesson?

If you are looking for a fun and imaginative way to introduce your class to relaxation and mindfulness why not download my Harry Potter relaxation lesson plan and give it a go:

Harry Potter Relaxation Lesson

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE – a relaxation lesson

Where the wild things are relaxation lessonIf you are familiar with the wonderful children’s book “WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE” by Maurice Sendak, and most primary teachers are, you will know that it is often a high energy and fun read.

It was for this very reason that I thought it would be interesting to see if I could turn it into a relaxation lesson.

It has been one of my favourite children’s books for a very long time and as I recalled the story I realised there was a lot of potential to introduce breathing techniques and yoga poses along side the narrative which could, if you so chose, transform the whole feel of the story.

Having spent many hours reading stories to my children at bedtime, coaxing them to sleep, reading in a quieter and slower voice as the story goes on, in the vague hope that they will finally nod off, I know that the voice we use to read a story alone can have a huge impact so imagine the impact that adding other mindfulness techniques could have on young children.

What could be lovelier that introducing our little ones to relaxation tools in such a familiar and fun way too?

So I have created a lesson plan which can be used to teach this lesson I dreamed up to your class, of course if you don’t have a class or your class are too old, you can use it with your own children, or even yourself.

I hope you will enjoy my flight of fancy as much as I enjoyed creating it.

You can download the lesson by clicking the image below:

Where the Wild things are - lesson plan