This magical phrase has begun children’s stories for centuries. When children hear these words they instantly prick their ears up. They know on a deep level that something amazing is about to happen.
Or do they?
Certainly thinking back to my school days if the teacher uttered those magic words you could feel the buzz in the classroom. If an adult said those words while you were talking to them, your expectations of what was to follow suddenly grew enormously. But do children still know the magic of traditional tales?
From my experience, many children when asked about Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin will quote Disney songs and story lines. These versions are often far from the traditional roots of the story. Unfortunately, they also include changes which alter the meaning and the lesson in the story. Yes, the lesson. These stories have been told to children for generations not just because they are enchanting and keep children busy. These amazing stories are designed to teach children important life lessons. Gentle, fun stories, but very important lessons.
Don’t believe me?
Goldilocks – don’t trespass or steal
Red Riding Hood – don’t talk to strangers…
If you want to go deeper still, many of them, if you believe many imminent psychologists, are also preparing children for puberty and are warnings about the opposite sex. (if you are interested in this idea take a look at Bruno Bettelheim’s “The Uses of Enchantment”, it is fascinating).
In Disney’s The Little Mermaid Ariel marries Prince Eric and everyone lives happily ever after. A lovely ending which I’m sure many parents approve of. In the original fairy tale he marries someone else. She watches from the side of the ship and is turned to sea foam. She made a deal with the sea witch that that would be her fate should she be unsuccessful. In Disney’s version everyone is happy at the end and it makes for a lovely carefree story. But if you look at the moral of the story it is totally inverted. She changes for a man and is rewarded for becoming someone else and not being true to herself. Is that really the message we want to be sending to our young girls?
You may have noticed that this is a subject I’m quite passionate about. I am. In fact 20 years ago when I wrote my dissertation I wrote it on the moral value of children’s stories. I love children’s books and am fascinated by how they have changed over time. But also how they gently educate our children.
You can also download my Fairy Tales Relaxation Pack. It is more economical than buying them all separately. So, if you think they will all be useful, please do download that one instead. You can also save 5% on all my lesson plans simple by sharing them on social media, which is always appreciated.
All my lesson plans and relaxation resources are available in my shop to instantly download and use with your children. Whether you work as a teacher, childminder, or just want something calming and fun to do with your own children, you will love them.
When we think about stress and depression we tend to think of external factors which can contribute to our mental health. By making a few changes to our own thought processes and adjusting our approach to life we can have a huge impact though. I came across these Ten Commandments of Stress many years ago on a course. At the time I was a fairly typical twenty-something:
wanting everyone to like me
worried about having my hair and make up done perfectly all the time
agreeing to do things for people because I thought it would make them like me more and that they would help me in return (NB not everyone does!!)
doing lots of things because I thought that was what I was supposed to be doing not because it made my life better or made me happier….
The list goes on and I’m sure I’m not alone.
I also know that, unfortunately, I was not alone in being diagnosed with depression. After only a term in a very challenging inner city school it took hold. I was lucky because I had amazing support and I managed to pull myself out of it within months. Not everyone is so lucky.
What can you do to help yourself and others who may be struggling with stress or depression?
It is so important to spot the early signs of stress and depression before it takes hold of you. If you don’t know how to spot them please read my earlier post: Stress: Do you know the signs?
In my experience teachers are the most compassionate, dedicated, hard working and community minded of people. This can unfortunately lead to them being take advantage of, by the Government, by SLT’s, by parents and even by colleagues. Set clear boundaries and know that it is ok not to be perfect all the time (despite what OFSTED might make you believe!).
Make your mental health a priority.
Set good examples for your peers, children and your class.
Be a better teacher and a happier person.
You owe it to yourself and everyone who loves you.
If you are looking for resources to help yourself and your school with relaxation and mindfulness check out my relaxation resources.
Maybe you just want to dip your toes in the water and see how it can impact on your class. Why not try one of my free lesson plans which are available on my blog?
The BFG has been one of my favourite stories since I was a child. I have loved reading it to classes and my own children over the years. So, naturally I was excited and apprehensive when I learned that Steven Spielberg was adapting this modern classic.
It’s the Summer holidays here in the UK and I always make a real effort not to work too much during the holidays. My children are growing up so quickly! So we decided to go see The BFG for a treat, we have all been desperate to see it.
Well, I am relieved to report that I was thrilled with it! The cinematography was incredible and the BFG has the friendliest face. He made me smile throughout the whole film.
My son was equally thrilled with it, I think my 12 year old is just a little too old to admit that she liked it, but I’m sure she did. Have you seen it? What did you think?
I’m sure many teachers will be making the most of this interest in the BFG. Combining this enthusiasm with the fact that it is the anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth in September makes this the perfect focus for lessons during the Autumn term.
I love Roald Dahl. His whimsical stories and amusing but moral tales have made them popular for generations now. Imagine how thrilled I was granted me permission to use some of his books to create mindfulness lesson plans!
My brilliant BFG Mindfulness Lesson is ready to download and enchant your class…
So if you are looking for fun lesson plans to calm your class this year grab my Roald Dahl bundle. All three of my Roald Dahl lesson plans in one place. So whether it is The BFG, Matilda or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that inspires you and makes your class light up you can use their favourite stories to introduce relaxation techniques to your routine.
Mindfulness has been proven to improve concentration and improve results in schools. In addition to academic improvement, it helps keep everyone calm and confident, and reduces stress levels.
We hear a lot about stress in the media. Stress levels in the teaching profession are rising, we are told. Stress in children, even very young children is on the rise. As a nation, even as a world, we are more stressed than we have ever been.
But what is stress?
I was talking to a Head the other day who wanted me to come in and work in her school in September and she was saying that she had been on a course and had realised that she had some early symptoms and wanted to make sure she caught it early and that was why she had contacted me. She didn’t realise though until she was away from her routine and someone pointed out the signs to her.
When I was an NQT I was teaching in a very difficult school in inner city Bradford and my first class were a handful. I won’t go into the details but the short version is that I woke up one morning just before Christmas and I literally couldn’t get out of bed. I just lay in bed sobbing like a baby. Nothing and no one could have got me into school that day. I hadn’t spotted the signs.
For weeks, maybe months, I had had the warning signs but I was determined that I could cope, I had wanted to do this job all my life, I was not going to be beaten by it in less than a term.
So what are the warning signs?
Are you having difficulty sleeping – Do you fall asleep quickly through sheer exhaustion but wake in the early hours making lists or planning what you need to do the next day? If you are doing it regularly it could be a sign of stress.
Do you feel like hiding or running away? – This is the bodies most basic defense mechanism kicking in. When we feel threatened our initial response is fight or flight. If you are avoiding people (especially colleagues) and keeping yourself to yourself there may be a bigger reason.
Is your temper unusually short? – When we are stressed we snap at people, particularly our loved ones (we know that they will still love us). If you are struggling to stay calm with your kids or loved ones it could be an early warning.
Do you always look for the worst case scenario? – If you are convinced something bad is going to happen with no rational reason to believe it to be so, it could be stress.
Are you over eating or drinking too much alcohol? – Both these can be symptoms of stress. Comfort eating and self medicating to numb the pain are both very common, particularly in teachers unfortunately. If you can’t imagine a Friday night without a bottle of wine stop and think.
There are many more symptoms but these are the most common.
So what can you do if you are looking down that list nodding your head and mentally ticking them off?
Well the first thing is to congratulate yourself because you are in the fortunate position of discovering that you are stressed before it was too late. Now that you have acknowledged the problem you can do something about it.
Next, take a moment to stop and analyse what it is that is making you feel this way. Is it the workload, pressure from SMT, juggling work and family, is it an issue in your private life which is compounding your already difficult job?
Once you have discovered the root of the stress then you can make a plan to reduce it.
Note I don’t say eliminate it.
One step at a time.
This isn’t a throw away “oh just calm down and stop being so dramatic” type comment. It is real science and the most important thing you can do. Make a conscious effort to breathe properly. When our body is stressed one of the first physical changes we experience is shallow breathing. Our body sends cortisol round our bodies to give strength to our heart and muscles. This allows us to be our strongest for our evolutionary fight or flight response. That is of no use whatsoever if what you are scared of is the pile of marking in the corner or the observation you have tomorrow. Learning to breathe deeply and efficiently reverses the chemical reactions in your body and instantly calms you down. It is instant and the single most important thing you can learn in life (in my opinion!).
Below is a video I made a few years ago for an online parenting class I was running. It goes through some very simple breathing techniques which might just make all the difference.
Ask for help?
Spread your work load. You are finding it stressful getting work finished in time to collect the children. Ask a family member or friend to grab the kids for you. You don’t have to do everything yourself.
If you have reports to write and books to mark and you still haven’t cooked tea and Susie needs to be at ballet in 10 mins. Stop. What is most important? Can you ask your other half to make beans on toast/grab a take away for the kids and take Susie to ballet this week so you can get your reports written?
Don’t be afraid to put yourself first
When we board an aeroplane we are given strict instructions that in the event of an emergency we must fit our own oxygen mask first and then tend to anyone in our care. The reason is simple: if you pass out while fitting your child’s mask who is going to look after them for the rest of the emergency and possibly the rest of their life.
The same is true now. If you are suffering from stress you must prioritise your own wellbeing. As a teacher this is a totally alien concept. We are all instilled with an instinct to protect everyone else and take on as much work and hassle as is humanly possible.
What is worse though, asking your Head for a little understanding and asking permission to be a little slack marking your books for a few week or having to take those few weeks off due to stress? I know what your Head would prefer. So your displays don’t get changed this half term? No one will mind if you are managing to do the important things.
Ultimately though if what you need is time to get your head together, get yourself to your GP. Get signed off and give yourself time to recover. You are too important to put at risk of long term health issue (physical or mental). I know from experience that doctors are incredibly sympathetic towards stressed teachers. I even know of people who have been pressured by their GP to take time off.
It is not failure.
It is not defeat.
It is self preservation.
Ok, I know this may not be the sort of post I usually write but at this time of year it seems appropriate. We are about to have a few weeks holiday. I know none of you actually get the 6 weeks that the general public seem to think you do, but all being well you will get a couple of work free weeks. Make sure you enjoy every second. Make plans with friends and family. Take time for yourself.
Remember if you need someone to talk to or you would like some advice on mental health issues for your staff, I am here. I am also available for INSET and staff training sessions in relaxation and mindfulness practices both for your staff and your children and I can tailor the sessions to your schools needs.
If you are looking for resources to help your school stay mentally healthy check out my lesson plans and children’s meditations in my new shop.
When you were little were you told by your family that you could be whatever you wanted to be?
If you are fortunate enough to have love and support as you grow you are told to “follow your passion” and “you can be anything you want to be”. When my son was 5 years old he was going to be a footballer during the day and a Jedi Rockstar at night, and of course we told him that if that is what he wants to do be then that is what he will be.
As we reach high school though something changes. The world all becomes a bit more real. Suddenly our parents and teachers stop telling us that we can be a “fairy mermaid unicorn”. They start telling us that we have to be more realistic and that that will never pay the bills.
Did you follow your passion?
I can’t help but wonder how many professional footballers, singers, ballerinas, tennis champions, actors, astronauts… were told that they weren’t good enough or that it was ok as a hobby but they would never make a living doing it. Were you ever told something similar?
So, what is it that makes some people succeed and others give up on their dreams?
Well, I’m not even going to pretend that I know the answer to that but what I do know is that it is about passion. Yesterday I was talking to a Mum. Her son is at high school and he desperately wants to be a primary school teacher when he’s older. I was immediately fascinated and continued to ask her about his ambition. She told me that he had always wanted to be a teacher and now he had it all worked out; he wanted to teach Y4 and be curriculum leader for PE and then in 10 years become a Head. She was worried that he wasn’t as academic as his brother and may not get the results he needs to go to University. She said, “it’s ok though because if that’s the case he is going to be a teaching assistant for a few years and access teaching through that route”.
How can this young man fail?
He knows more about what he wants from life than most adults. He has a plan. He has a back up plan, and although I’ve never met him, I know that he will one day be an amazing primary school teacher because he is passionate about it.
Did you follow your passion?
What did I want to be when I was younger?
Well, when I was very young I wanted to be a teacher, mainly because I wanted to give out sticky stars and make star charts. Then I realised there was more to it than that and I wanted to be a physiotherapist, but then I found out I needed to be really good at biology for that. So I decided to work in theatre. I did lots of AmDram, local productions, even sang at the Palladium but all the time I knew that I wanted to work in schools. I did my degree and I loved teaching.
The funny thing about teaching is no one ever questions why you want to go into it (unless they are a teacher!). There is an assumption that you will always be able to pay the bills and you will never be out of work. Not always the case these days, unfortunately, on either front. But it was the passion for the children that drew me in. As I’m sure it did most people reading this. Their faces when they learned something they had believed impossible. Watching as they learn to read or tie their shoe laces. It is the most magical job in the world.
Then I had my daughter and ill health and life choices meant I decided not to return to full time teaching. By this time I had found a new passion; Wellbeing, mindfulness, relaxation, holistic health.
Call it what you will, I love helping people feel happy and at ease in the world.
What could be more perfect then, than the work I am doing now. A career that combines working in schools, watching children learn AND wellbeing.
Yesterday I launched my new mindfulness resources and lesson plans. I have had the biggest smile on my face all day because you have made my dreams come true. By buying them and by letting me know how much you love them. I live for going into schools and teaching. But there are so many schools. Some are so far away, that I cannot possibly get to all the children, and teachers, who need help. By creating my lesson plans and releasing them into the world it doesn’t matter where you are I can still help.
The last 24hrs have been a dream come true. I woke up to more lesson plan sales. I have sold lessons to teachers literally all over the world. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to be able to do work that I am passionate about. It makes my heart sing in ways I never dreamed possible.
Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for the love and support you give me in my work. For helping me spread this important message about good mental health. For appreciating how important it is for learning and living a successful life.
If you would like to take a look at my new lesson plans and resources they can be found in the shop. Thank you so much x
When 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.
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.
As 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
Something 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).”
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.
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.
Since I wrote my last blog; Seven Reasons It Is Important To Switch Off During the School Holidays, I 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!
Try 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 here. If 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.
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.
To 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? 😉
Being 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.
If 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?
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.
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!