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Despicable Me mindfulness lesson plan

Despicable Me

Despicable Me Mindfulness Lesson Plan

I am not even going to pretend that these adorable, family films aren’t my favourite children’s films ever. They absolutely are! We have been at the cinema on opening night for the last two films. I am regularly found watching them over again at home. The minions have to be among the most loveable creatures ever imagined and don’t even get me started on Agnes and her fluffy unicorn.

My husband is not a fan of children’s films. Even he insists that these films are watched regularly and if they are being shown on the television you can pretty much guarantee that we will be watching them.

They make you laugh out loud, they make you cry and they make you gasp. What more could you ask for?

Well, how about a carefully crafted mindfulness and relaxation lesson plan? You can enjoy the spirit of the Despicable Me films in an imagined plot with all your favourite characters. Your class will be introduced to simple mindfulness techniques and yoga poses.  They will learn to control their emotions, anxiety and their bodies. It is a fun but ultimately calming lesson which I know your class will love.

Better still it is completely free! Simple click the link below to download your copy right now.

Despicable Me

Have you seen that you can now subscribe to my site? Get all my mindfulness and relaxation resources for one really low annual price. It is an ever-growing library of resources including meditation MP3s and a real asset to any classroom.

If you are interested in introducing mindfulness to your school why not get my Premium Membership. It includes my whole school mindfulness based programme, “Calmer Classrooms” as well as all my lesson plans, MP3s and much more.

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Reflections

Reflections

Reflections

Taking time to reflect on your achievements and progress is something very few of us take time to do. Yet it is such an important process. 

It is so easy to keep trudging forward. Always looking at the next task to be completed. The next chore to be done. Without ever stopping to congratulate ourselves on the amazing progress we have already made.

We convince ourselves that we haven’t learnt anything or made any real progress with a particular project or student. When the reality is, if we stop to take the time to really look and think the reality is very different.

At this time of year most teachers are wrapping things up, preparing for our next class, perhaps getting our heads round a change of year group or moving classroom. We go through our class’s books and congratulate them on the improvement in their writing, spelling, or how much more work they are managing to produce in a lesson. How many of us also take the time to think “I had a hand in that improvement”?

Many teachers aren’t just juggling work commitments they are also juggling partners, children, caring for parents, some are even having to run businesses alongside their teaching career to pay the bills. How often do you stop and congratulate yourself for doing an amazing job being there for your own family as well as supporting your class?

Do you take the time to thank the people who make it possible in a really meaningful way?

Perhaps your parents collect your kids from school when you have to work late or your partner uses his flexitime to be able to attend your child’s class assembly because you can’t make it. Have you really expressed your gratitude to them?

A lot happens in an academic year.

Children bloom.

Confidence grows.

New skills are learned.

Attitudes change.

Handwriting improves.

Times tables are learned.

Books are read.

Ball skills develop.

…the list is never-ending.

But what about you?

How have you grown?

What have you learned?

What skills have you developed?

Which children have you really made an impact on?

 

Often as teachers we don’t receive the thanks we deserve, but just because it isn’t spoken doesn’t mean it isn’t felt.

What would your progress report say this year?

Have you excelled at something?

What improvements could you make next year?

Take time to reflect and give yourself the credit you would give a child in your class for all your hard work and the amazing achievements this year.

Congratulations!

You survived: fidget spinners, bottle flipping, Jojo bows, fidget cubes… and you lived to tell the tale. I wonder what crazes next year will bring? Let’s hope whatever they are, that they don’t result in my son getting a black eye like the bottle flipping did!

Stress – A crisis of epic proportions

Stress - the modern plagueTwo days ago I had my first article published in the TES. For the last two days I have been inundated by messages from teachers telling me their stories and thanking me for letting them know that they are not alone.

There is a huge mental health crisis, not just our schools but our hospitals, our universities, among our children, bankers, lawyers… everyone is being affected.

Yesterday we were told that Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, was being replaced due to a period of ill health. We haven’t been told officially that it is stress related but whatever you think about her policies (and this isn’t a political post), there are two things that I find very upsetting about this news.

The first is that we have become a society who, for reasons unknown to me, seem to think that anyone who is in the public eye is fair sport and ceases to become a person. Diane Abbott has been trolled online for weeks. Some of the comments about her after her recent interview with Nick Ferrari were absolutely appalling. No one deserves to be treated in such an inhumane way.

Secondly, I fear that she is just the latest in a long list of people, passionate about their work, to be toppled by stress. When we are under stress one of the first things that happens is that our prefrontal cortex shuts down. This is the part of our brains which controls reasoning and rational thought. It helps us retain facts for exams and is pretty much the part that we rely on most to help us look like intelligent creatures. When this shuts down, due to stress and anxiety, we struggle to retain facts and cannot create a rational argument.

Whether Diane Abbott is indeed off with stress or whether she has other underlying health issues will no doubt come out over the next few weeks but one thing that is for sure, she was under a lot of pressure during the interviews she has given recently and by vilifying her for being unable to form a coherent argument the public have only added to her problems.

I don’t know Diane Abbott. I don’t know much about her at all. But I recognise symptoms when I see them. I do know many teachers, nurses and other valuable professionals, who are all in the same mental state that I believe Diane Abbott to be in. They can’t think straight. They can’t eat. Can’t sleep. They are snapping a their children and not able to function about the basic necessities.

Something has to change, and quickly

We are killing the beating heart of our country by not supporting each other when we’re in need. When we see someone struggling and it affects our life our reaction seems to be “how dare you make my life more difficult” not, “how can I help you?”. We need to stop aiming for imaginary ideas of what the perfect life is and start learning to enjoy the life we have.

We need to start caring again. Really caring about each other. But more than that, about our neighbours, random people in the street, the environment, people in other countries… We have to care deeply to reverse the crisis that is happening in the world. We have seen amazing kindness and compassion in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London recently. That is what we need to start offering to our nurses, our doctors and even our politicians. There is no point behaving so valiantly when we have devastating events but ignoring the ongoing pain in our society. That’s like a murderer convincing himself he’s a good person because he goes to church on Sunday. We have to unite and be consistent. Learn to see the signs of stress. When you see them, reach out your hand and offer help.

As Martin Luther King, Jr said:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Please, be the light.

Teachers’ Mental Health – My TES Article

TesWhen I was asked to write an article for the TES about my experiences with anxiety and depression as a teacher and the more general issue of teachers’ mental health, I was delighted. If you are a teacher reading this I hope that you won’t be able to identify with it but unfortunately it is a far too familiar tale.
Something has to change but unfortunately public perception still seems to be that teachers work 9am-3pm and have such long holidays that it must be a dream of a job. We have to start raising awareness and shouting about the conditions our teachers are working in, the impact our current education system is having on our children and the horror that is the upcoming budget cuts. Hopefully the more we share our experiences the more chance there is something will listen and make the changes so desperately needed in schools.

TES Article: 

“Statistics about female primary teachers being more likely to commit suicide come as no surprise to this former teacher

When I recently read that female primary school teachers are 42 per cent more likely to commit suicide than the average woman, it made me angry but did not come as a surprise.

I am a very sensitive person. This seems to be a negative in society these days, but I know that it is my biggest asset. I care when children are upset and I care when colleagues are stressed.

But being a sensitive person made it almost impossible for me to teach. I was a good teacher and I enjoyed my job, but I would also regularly lie awake at night worrying if my best was good enough.

At times, the anxiety was crippling. Senior management would often criticise the one thing out of a hundred that I hadn’t managed to do. Parents didn’t notice the 29 kids I had managed to hear read that week, but were angry because I hadn’t had a chance to hear their child.

And it wasn’t only me. I would look around at my colleagues and see them drowning in paperwork, with little or no energy left for forming meaningful relationships. I heard teachers ask for help because they were waking up every morning feeling unable to face another day.”

Read the full article.

Mindful Living in the Big City

Mindful Living in the Big CityMindfulness is everywhere at the moment. Nowhere more so than at the Mindful Living Show, at the Business Design Centre in Islington, this weekend.

This was the first Mindful Living Show and it was a triumph. There were wonderful speakers, inspiring workshops and tempting stalls. Having been to many Mind Body Spirit shows over the years I was a little apprehensive because all too often there is a tense and desperate energy which was uncomfortable. Here there was an interesting range of organisations and companies, promoting their services, workshops and products.

It was a long day, I was up just before 5am and we didn’t arrive home until almost midnight. It was worth it to spend time with friends and colleagues and to meet all the lovely people who were at the show.

My Fan Girl Moment

Of course the real highlight, was seeing Ruby Wax speaking. She was so popular that even though we were early to the session we had to stand. It was absolutely worth it. If you haven’t read her latest book Ruby Wax – A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled I highly recommend it. It is a wonderfully accessible and funny book. Ruby explains the science behind mindfulness. She even includes an 8 week course set out in the middle pages.

Signed BookI was thrilled to have chance to speak to Ruby after her talk and get my book signed too. I am a total bibliophile so getting signed copies of my favourite books is such a treat.

We decided to leave the venue for lunch.  We had a wonderful meal just round the corner before we returned for more wonderful talks. I particularly enjoyed Katie Sheen‘s talk on mindful eating. Mark Brown’s introduction to Street Wisdom, an intriguing new movement which I intend to try soon, was also a highlight. My only criticism was that there were so many wonderful things to do that I couldn’t get to all of them. The interactive workshops looked amazing but you can’t do everything. Too much wonderful content isn’t a bad criticism of an event though! I just wish I could have stayed for the Saturday. Family commitments meant I could only attend on Friday, maybe next year.

I’m sure next year there will be even more to see and experience.

All in all it was a wonderful day. I am delighted to hear on the grapevine that they are already planning next years’ event. Who knows maybe I’ll be speaking or exhibiting next year?

If you are interested in the increasing popularity of mindfulness going to events like this and speaking to the people who really know their subject is a great starting point.

 

 

 

*the links in this blog may be affiliate links.  I only endorse products which I have used myself and which I believe in wholeheartedly.

 

Beauty and the Beast – A mindfulness lesson plan

Beauty and the Beast Mindfulness Lesson PlanTale as old as time…

This magical fairy story has been delighting children and adults alike for centuries. The story of a young girl who loves books and learns to fall for a beast of a prince may not be the perfect story for our modern feminist daughters but it isn’t far off in my opinion.

Beauty and the Beast has been my favourite fairy tale for as long as I can remember. The symbolism of the beastly behaviour of the prince causing him to be tranformed physically into a beast is wonderful. Beauty (Belle in the Disney version) is brave, outspoken and self assured. She loves reading, long before women were allowed to attend school or better themselves in any way, is inspiring. Imagine how excited I was when I learned they were remaking it! Not just any remake but a remake with live action and Emma Watson – who I love!

My daughter was desperate to see it, my sister contacted me as soon as she heard to make me promise we wouldn’t watch it without her, and we started praying that they wouldn’t spoil the original magic.

I was 15 when the Disney cartoon was released and I’m not afraid to say that I LOVED it! I had posters, the soundtrack on my CD player and I even dressed like Belle for a while (no I’m not sharing any photos!).

Well, we were not disappointed. We all felt that the new film paid homage to the original animation, without being a replica, and added a little depth and maturity.

I was so relieved.

So, what is so special about the story of Beauty and the Beast?

I love that Belle sees through the Beast’s appearance to the person within. He has learned his lessons about not judging people by their outward appearance. He has learned to be patient, tolerant, kind.

There are worse role models for our children, that’s for sure.

My Beauty and the Beast lesson plan combines some mindfulness techniques and breathing strategies with simple yoga to create a magical lesson. It explores both our senses and our bodies in a calm and gentle way. Children love taking time to explore sounds, smells, sights and tastes as part of this magical story. It is a wonderful way to introduce mindfulness to even the youngest of children.

Get a copy of the lesson plan or it is available as part of my Key Stage 1 Literacy Mindfulness Pack.

To see my full range of mindfulness and relaxation resources visit my shop.

 

 

 

No one is Perfect!

AnxietyNo one is perfect. We hear it all the time but do we really believe it is ok to be less than perfect?

This is one of the hardest blogs I have ever written, but I know I have to write it. Partly because it is a therapeutic must, but mostly because I know that many of you reading it need to read what it will contain.

So what is this challenging subject?

Well, I have been struggling with anxiety recently.

I know what some of you will be thinking:

“Well, she should know better shouldn’t she?”

And, yes I do. I have been applying all the things I advocate for everyone else; breathing techniques, keeping up with my meditation and mindfulness, giving myself time to take stock, eating well, resting… you name it I have done it.

I promise.

So “what’s the problem?” I hear you cry.

Well, despite all this there have been times when I have been completely overwhelmed.

I have cried a lot. Hugged a lot. Slept a lot. For a little while I even ate chocolate (pure poison for someone who is not only dairy intolerant but also chocolate intolerant!).

Here’s the thing though. I am not perfect. No-one is.

Sometimes I want to be though and therein lies the problem. I want to be able to do everything, help everyone, be kind to everyone and be as successful as possible at everything I do.

Who doesn’t?

So when I have a difficult time personally, which I have the last few months, I feel overwhelmed like everyone else at times. I lost my beloved Grandma, family members have been struggling, and of course I have been caring for the world and forgetting me. But that I can manage. I have spent years doing it.

Until I hit a bump in the road.

This time that bump was a verbal attack which knocked me off my axis.

It’s not like it has never happened before, but I rarely upset people, I am generally accommodating and whilst not often a push over, I tend go out of my way to be kind and helpful and make life as pleasant as possible for everyone. Sometimes I guess you just have to be reminded that other people don’t have the same philosophy as you though.

So, I spent a few days getting myself in a tiz. Wondering if I should have handled things differently, then I had a lovely holiday with my children. When I returned I realised that being back was triggering the same emotional responses I had left.

So what can you do if you feel like this?

  • Well, I have spent a couple of days really tuning in to my inner wisdom. Is this my issue? Can I change anything?
  • I have made sure my diet is supporting my mental health; reduced my sugar intake to virtually zero and eaten lots of fresh fruit and veg and I don’t drink alcohol or coffee anyway, but I have reduced my tea intake.
  • I have been doing my mindful breathing exercises; belly breathing and 7/11 breathing I find to be the most helpful.
  • I have been getting outside; fresh air and connecting with nature, especially in this beautiful sunshine, are so healing.
  • I have been spending lots of time with loved ones. Cuddles, love and feeling supported are so important.
  • I have talked about it. Not to everyone but I rang my parents for a chat, spoke to my sister, my in laws and of course my amazing husband. One of the biggest messages of the “Heads Together” campaign which the young royals are so involved with, is the importance of talking to loved ones and not bottling things up. This has always been my approach, I believe whole heartedly that a problem shared is a problem halved.
  • I gave myself permission to be human.

Every so often I thought “I shouldn’t be going through this , I’m supposed to help others through this”. That perfection monkey crept in.

This is ridiculous. I am human. Not just that, I’m a human who struggled with anxiety all through my late teens and twenties. Anxiety was part of the reason that I got into mindfulness and natural healing in the first place.

How could I expect to just miraculously heal and never have this silent monster raise its head again?

The difference between this short attack and the anxiety of my twenties was that I acknowledged it. I didn’t try to paper over the cracks. I sat in the cracks, explored why I was feeling this way and helped myself heal. I asked for help from friends who are therapists and I allowed myself to be imperfect.

I could easily hide this time if I wanted to. I am more than capable of pretending that I’m ok. Of getting through days with loved ones and even visits to schools. It has been less than a month, I could easily conceal my true emotions on social media, and let’s be honest, very few of you are likely to bump into me doing the weekly food shop!

But one of the things that is most important to me is raising awareness of depression, anxiety and mental health issues.  Spreading the word that it can happen to anyone, at any time. So, how am I being true to my message if I hide away under my duvet while posting about sunshine and flowers online?

So, I am stepping into the light and shouting loud and proud about my recent blip in the hope that it will help someone to realise that it’s ok to be human. It’s ok to stand up and say “I need help”. Anxiety and depression are not about being weak, they are about being strong for too long.

At the moment I seem to have things back under control. I am using all the strategies I mentioned and I feel wonderful. But I am not naïve, I know that this may be a life long struggle. I am working hard to rewire my brain. To stop my need to be perfect. To release my instinct to worry about everyone all the time. But it’s a journey.

Anyone who says they never have a bad day is either so numb that they are unaware of their emotions or isn’t telling the truth.

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression. If you are one of the thousands of people who dreads Mondays, who is wondering whether you will have the strength to get through the week.

Please, please talk to someone.

Talk to me! 

Most of you reading this will have heard everything you have just read before. Most of you will have felt the way I have been feeling. The reason I wanted to write this and be so public about this blip is to let you know that will all the strategies in the world. All the knowledge in the world. Sometimes things still go wrong.

I can honestly say I haven’t had an anxiety attack since I was 24 years old. I’m now 40 and with so much more understanding of mental health issues and how to ease them. Please don’t be fooled into thinking that I have had an easy few years, because that really isn’t the case. It isn’t that life has been easy and this is the first time I have had to deal with anything negative. Believe me I have been the subject of trolls online, I nearly lost my daughter, I was diagnosed with a life altering illness, I have lost loved ones, I have been through all the usual stresses everyone goes through.

The reality is, I have been through much tougher times than I am going through at the moment. The scale of mental health struggles isn’t necessarily relative to the size of the issue. So if you are feeling like you shouldn’t be feeling the way you are because other people are going through much bigger/more challenging times, that’s just not how it works.

I can tell I’m starting to waffle now, but I would love to continue the conversation in my Calmer Classrooms Facebook Group. It is a private group so you can head over and share in a safe place.

If you feel you would benefit from some real support at the moment and you don’t know where to turn, my daily “and breathe…” emails and private Facebook Group are the perfect place to get that loving support as well as lots of tips and resources to help you get through this challenging time.

 

 

Can You Connect With Your Students More Using Mindfulness?

Teachers are busyMindful classroom

I’m fairly certain this isn’t news to anyone.

Especially teachers.

You may have stopped to think about the fact that you should be trying to take more time for yourself. You have undoubtedly made a conscious effort at some point to try to be more present with your family.

But have you ever stopped to think about the impact all your dashing about has on your classes?

I’m sure some of you have.

I wanted to take the time to give you some easy to implement ideas to help you connect with your classes on a deeper level and make them feel truly valued.

Let’s think about the start of the day.

When the children come in to the classroom what are you doing?

Are you welcoming them in with a smile and a friendly “Good morning!”?

Or are you busy getting resources ready for the day ahead and finishing your coffee?

How do you take the register?

Do you keep your head down as you put the right ticks in the right boxes and mindlessly call out names from a list?

Or do you look up to see the child, look them in the eye, smile and welcome them?

If you are checking a child’s work with them, how do you do it?

Do you put your nose in the book and tick and scribble in 14 colours of pen (this seems to be the current average number of colours needed to mark children’s work in the UK!)?

Or do you look up as you read sections, make eye contact and ask them questions about it?

 

I’m sure many of you are doing all the second questions and forging life changing relationships with your classes.

But if you aren’t why not give it a go for a few days and see the difference in your class’ response to you.

Don’t get me wrong, you can have a wonderful relationship with your class without doing any of these things, but by taking the time to connect with them first thing in the morning, or at the start of your lesson if you teach secondary school, you are signalling to them that they are important and you are making them a priority over paperwork.

 

 

Would you like to start your day with a sparkle and a calming note of inspiration?  Do you like receiving regular mindfulness tips, resources and access to an exclusive library of MP3s and videos? Why not join “and breathe…” and learn to live and teach more mindfully.

If you want to introduce mindfulness to your school why not sign up to my newsletter and get started using the free resources you receive.

I also have a bank of resources in my shop that you can dip into as and when you feel they are appropriate.

 

 

Can’t sleep?

Can't sleepIt is estimated that 86% of us suffer with disturbed sleep or insomnia to some degree.

Some people are able to get to sleep but then wake in the early hours and can’t get back to sleep (often writing lists or worrying about the day ahead). Other people can’t get to sleep in the first place. Either way a few simple tricks, which are a bit more powerful that the usual have a bath and a warm milky drink might be helpful. So before you resort to sleeping pills why not try some of these natural options.

So what are my top tips for getting to sleep, or back to sleep?

Show your muscles how to relax

When you are stressed or anxious, or if you have been snacking through the evening and your body hasn’t used all the energy the best method for relaxing and helping you sleep is to get physical.

The simple act of tensing and relaxing all the muscles in your body in sequence will help you to relax and sleep. This works by using up the cortisol and excess energy that your body has produced, either in fight or flight reaction to your stress, or due to the excess calories you have consumed. By using your muscles you expel some of that energy and allow your body to calm down and sleep.

Begin by tensing your feet, then your lower legs, upper legs, stomach and bottom, one arm, the other arm and finally your face and neck. You can then finish the process by tensing your whole body and releasing. You will instantly feel more relaxed and will find it easier to sleep.

Left nostril breathing

This is a yoga technique which involves lying on your left hand side and gently placing your finger on your right nostril so you are only breathing through your left nostril. Breathe deeply and slowly using only your left nostril and it will reduce your blood pressure and calm your body.

Belly Breathing

This mindful breathing technique involves simply lying on your back with your hands gently resting on your stomach. As you breathe deeply, feel your breath entering your body, feel your tummy and hands rising. As the breath leaves your body feel your hands and tummy fall and the breath leaving through your nostrils.  This is a very calming breathing technique. Often people will fall asleep during the process.

Meditate

Guided meditations are brilliant for helping you to sleep. They calm your body and your mind and give your busy head something to listen to. It is the adult version of a bedtime story. There are many guided meditations on YouTube simply find one that appeals and where the person’s speaking voice is pleasant and listen as you relax into a sleepy state.

White Chestnut Bach Flower Essence

This natural flower essence can be bought in health food stores and is for calming the mind. It removes unwanted thoughts and repetitive thought patterns which can cause sleep issues.

If you want more advice about this there are many practitioners and the health food store staff will be able to help.

Smiling Mind

This is a wonderful free app which you can download from the app store. It takes you through a programme of mindfulness which is suitable for you. You can use it whenever you need to feel calmer or to build your personal mindfulness practise. (I am recommending this as I have used it personally and with clients, I am in now way benefiting from this recommendation).

 

There are many, many more techniques. If you are struggling to sleep try these and see if they help. If not, let me know and I’ll share some more in a few weeks.

 

World Book Day Mindfulness

World Book DayI love World Book Day!

It’s one of my favourite days of the year. Seeing all the children dressed in their costumes and the teachers dressed up too. Knowing that they will be spending all day talking about and learning about and celebrating one of my favourite things in the world… books!

My children love it too.  My daughter in particular is a real book worm. At primary school she loved dressing up and trying to choose a character no one else would. (The image here is the year she went as Amy from Little Women, I think she was in Y6. Her head teacher challenged her as to whether she had read it, which of course she had!). My son is a more reluctant reader (unless it is the football pages of the newspaper!) but he still loves dressing up for World Book Day.

Magical memories!

Of course any day where the children are out of uniform and off timetable has the potential for chaos and much more noise than usual. It is days like this which are saved by your mindfulness practice. But don’t take my word for it. Fiona MacNab has been using mindfulness with her class for a little while and this is what she observed on Children in Need Day last year:

“Wow! My pupils (P3/4) were extremely excited as not only was it Children in Need but we had our school Christmas Fair on Saturday and we had a class stall at it. We did the mindfulness lesson, which went extremely well, then it was our allocated time to go to the Pudsey cupcake stall. I usually have to remind them to walk quietly in the corridor as other classes are working, but I decided not to as it was such an exciting day for them and I didn’t want to spoil that. We got almost the entire way to the dinner hall with the entire class walking calmly and chatting quietly before excitement took over – that was a very visible and immediate result of the mindfulness lesson.”

So, you see it really does work! If you haven’t tried using mindfulness with your class before, using it on a day where they are more excitable than usual might seem a strange thing to suggest. But believe it or not it just makes the results more obvious.

If you are thinking of having a literacy based mindfulness lesson on Thursday there are lots to choose from in my shop.  Alternatively, if you are wary about spending money when you have never tried it, why not use one of my free lesson plans: Harry Potter or Where the Wild Things Are.

However, if you really want to give your class a treat, my Roald Dahl lessons are so much fun! You can buy them in a discounted bundle or you can grab one of my Literacy Packs and calm the whole school!

Whatever you decide to do I hope you have a magical World Book Day. I can’t wait to see all the photos appear in my Facebook timeline!