Teaching Gratitude

As a teacher of Wellbeing strategies, there’s not many topics I don’t enjoy teaching… but admittedly, I do have my favourites… and Gratitude has to be one of them.

Gratitude? Seriously? I know.

My inner Year 6 teacher, for whom ‘real’ learning and real results are the only concern, inwardly cringes even when I say it now.

But it’s okay. And I know it’s okay. Because according to the Science, the benefits of Gratitude practice are just as, if not more valuable than good grades in Maths, English and Science. A growing body of research and studies show that people who practice gratitude live happier lives in general, as well as being more emotionally and mentally resilient to lifes’ ups and downs.

So what does this look like in school? 

When teaching the skill of Gratitude, I approach this in the same way that I would introduce a new concept in Maths or a text/theme in English. In fact, this is a really important step if you want the kids to take it seriously; something that may be a problem particularly in upper school.

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We’ll look firstly at the the science behind the brains’ natural negativity bias and the Hedonic treadmill that we so often find ourselves on, resulting in an endless chase for happiness.

Then, we might consider how spending more time in the present moment (i.e. Mindfulness), with a focus on what we have rather than what we don’t have (Gratitude) might result in us becoming happier people overall.

Bearing in mind that some children find it incredibly difficult on first attempt to think of what they have to be thankful for, I like to pre-empt our thanks-giving by looking at stories of inspiration people who have powered through adversity with courage and determination. For children who can’t really understand the concept of being fortunate to have even the basics of food, warmth and shelter, this is a good reminder that not everyone in the world has these things. And it doesn’t hurt that these people are great role models to look up to, despite their less-than fortunate circumstances.

Then, at last, it’s time to talk about write about what we’re grateful for; those things that we’d really miss if we didn’t have; the people, places, things and experiences that make our lives better and easier. I seem to teach this differently each time I approach it, but here’s a weekly review sheet that I’ve used recently with KS2 students and young adults, to great success.

And that’s that. At least for that one session.

Like anything, if you want it to actually stick, it needs repeating and reinforcing, until students reach a point whereby spotting things to be grateful for comes more naturally than the opposite.

Tidy up your Mind with some Thoughts Decluttering

In my latest TES article, I shared child-friendly strategies that could be just as effective for adults as for children.

Below is an excerpt from the article – with extras! – which breaks down one of my favourite CBT-based strategies for dealing with unhelpful thoughts. I’ve included screenshots so that you can see how easy it is to put this into practice as a teacher, parent or individual.


Ask yourself: “Am I hoarding thoughts?”

From What to Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck: A Kids’ Guide to Overcoming OCD by Dawn Huebner (2007).

Huebner’s book offers up an analogy that I’ve used countless times when teaching mindfulness to children: she invites children to think of all the dustbins that are positioned throughout their homes and to imagine what would happen if nothing was ever thrown out –  if empty crisp packets, yogurt cartons and toilet roll tubes were all valued and saved.

Of course, this paints an unpleasant image of a house in a state of chaos, in which every simple journey is hindered by the sheer amount of “stuff” we are clinging on to.

Huebner suggests that our brains are like our homes: when thoughts come in, we have to decide which ones are worth saving and which ones are fit for the bin.

When I introduce this in class, I ask children to write down six thoughts that have popped into their head that day and we often spend a couple of minutes in silence, allowing the thoughts to come in to our minds. Then, we go through them, deciding what we need and what we don’t, practising with my example as a class beforehand.

The picture above demonstrates just how simple yet effective an activity like this can be. We look over the thoughts in pairs and decide if they’re useful, reliable, helpful or necessary, moving them into the save or bin pile appropriately. Please note that in other examples, we might also use a third bucket, for thoughts we wish to ‘shelve’ for later i.e. I need to remember that I’m going to Grandma’s tonight and we’re having Fish ‘n’ Chips… but not in the middle of my literacy lesson.

I really don’t think that I can emphasize enough how powerful, meaningful and potentially life-changing having a conversation about thoughts can be.

Negative thoughts feed and grow in secrecy and isolation. Therefore, simply in having a conversation about the way we think – including those occasional negative, useless and really unpleasant thoughts – immediately takes some of the power away. Revealing too that thoughts are not all true or useful, and so needn’t always be acted upon or kept hold of, is an incredibly empowering piece of knowledge.

This is a great exercise for adults too. Don’t believe me? Try it! Take a few minutes now to write down your thoughts as a list, then go through and decide what’s worth keeping and what just isn’t.

If you have problems with negative brain-chatter, developing a habit like this could really change your outlook on life and the roles you play within it.

We can’t control the thoughts that come into our heads, but we can control what we keep hold of. Learn to notice your thoughts and discriminate between what’s useful and useless. Do this and you’ll become the master of your thoughts, rather than their servant.

2 CBT Techniques for getting out of a Stress-Cycle

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a powerful form of therapy, in which patients learn to analyse their thoughts and behaviours, considering where they may be adding to their own negativity and unhappiness, rather than diffusing it.

CBT is often used to treat people with Anxiety, Depression and a range of other mental health problems; problems that are sadly rife amongst educators. To note one study from this year alone, researchers at Leeds Becket University found that 54% of teachers surveyed described themselves as having poor mental health, and 52% of those people had been referred to a GP because of it.

Let me just say here that the onus should always be on schools and employers overall, to look after the mental health and wellbeing of their staff.

The problem is… this just isn’t happening quickly enough. And in some cases, it isn’t happening at all. When this is the case, people begin to feel powerless, and hopeless; feeling that there is nothing that they can do in the face of all this stress and misery.

CBT Techniques such as the ones below aren’t a ‘cure-all’ for the countless problems faced by the modern teacher… but they can really help, if only because they allow you to regain some control over a bad situation.

**If you are struggling with stress or anxiety, the Samaritans offer help 24 hours a day, seven days a week**


The following tips are from my latest TES article:

1. Getting out of the negative cycle

In certain pressurised situations, when our buttons have been pushed one too many times, even the most calm and measured of professionals can feel that they have little control over their own thoughts, feelings or even actions.

Let’s say, for example, that you are the unwilling victim of an irate parent first thing this morning – and it’s completely OK to be bothered by that. But if you’re still “carrying” this misery, along with gut-churning stomach cramps into the late evening, then it’s likely you’re unconsciously adding fuel to the fire.

  • Are you continuously replaying the scene in vivid Technicolor? Try to change up the image by adding a pink wig and banana suit into the mix. Flip the negative emotion into something silly and laughable.

  • Do you loop around negative thoughts, based on how you should have handled things differently, even resorting to insults and name-calling? Consider what you’d say to a friend in this situation and instead, kindly tell it to your inner self.

  • Have you checked-in on your own verbal and body language? If you’re walking around with slumped shoulders and your eyes down, only looking up to tell anyone who’ll hear about this outrageous encounter, you’re actively turning a small albeit unpleasant moment into a day-long mood.

2. Check your facts

For me, one of the most powerful messages a patient gains through cognitive behaviour therapy is that your thoughts are not facts. Just because something pops into your head, doesn’t mean it’s reliable or true or even helpful. So we need to interrogate our thoughts.

Perhaps your mind is repeatedly telling you that you can’t cope with a looming situation – maybe a second encounter with the irate parent – and as such you’re a “pathetic waste of space”.

Not only is this a long way off from being constructive criticism, is it even accurate? Is there any hard evidence that you can’t cope, other than your thoughts and resulting sensations?

Maybe there’s even more evidence to the contrary, to show that you have coped with this and much worse.

With this in mind, it might be wise to come up with a more realistic, less emotive statement, such as: “It’s okay not to look forward to this – no one would. Whatever happens though, I’ll handle it as best as I can.”

3 ‘Quick-Wins’ to try with your Anxious Child (or Self) Today!

If there can be any positive side effects to the current mental health epidemic, it’s that the topic of wellbeing has finally moved up the agenda. With this, we’ve seen an explosion in campaigns, resources, books and guidance, all aimed at helping you to help yourself, or your child to become happier.

Brilliant? Yes. But overwhelming? Also yes. Especially when mental health problems like  anxiety add an element of desperation to your solution-seeking.

If you’re looking for quick, simple and effective ‘quick wins’, here’s three child and adult-friendly activities that you can put in place today: 

  1. Write down three things you’re grateful for each day: Developing a ‘Gratitude Attitude’ is a key step in overcoming the minds’ natural bias towards negativity. When you’re genuinely feeling thankful for all you have, it’s very difficult to feel negative emotions like bitterness, sadness, hatred, anxiety and so on.

    Writing down what you’re grateful for reinforces this positive focus. If you’re super keen, you can extend this, writing down three things you’re thankful for in the morning and three great things/moments you experienced before bed.

    If you’re trying this out with a child, be aware that they might find this tough at first and may need lots of prompts to consider things that they’re perhaps taking for granted. Like anything else, the more you practice, the easier it gets.

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  2. Develop a routine of Mindful Eating: Mindful eating is always a favourite, with both adults and kids. If you haven’t tried it before, here’s a Mindful Eating Script to start you off.

    Develop a routine of slow-motion eating at one meal or snack-time, working to your family routine. It doesn’t need to be something that lasts for a whole meal. In fact, it may only be something you try for the first bite or two of your evening meal. But the key is to explore your senses with curiosity. Get out of your head, or the TV, and smell, taste, touch, look and feel your food, in the present moment.

    That’s some delicious headspace right there!

  3. Create an Anchor: 

    An anchor is something that you or your child can use as a reminder to come back into the present moment and be mindful. It might be a chair you sit in daily, a picture hanging on the wall or even a sound that rings from your phone. Essentially, it doesn’t matter what it is, only that it’s something that you’ll encounter often enough for it to be meaningful.If you use a chair, for example, then whenever you sit on the chair… you should take a moment to explore how your body is feeling, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head; to notice your breathing patterns and where you feel them in your body; to consider any sensations and tension that lie in the body.

    There’s a lot of freedom here in terms of what you choose to be your anchor and how you use it. Just be aware that as with the other two activities, it’s about building up those neural connections through consistent practice.

Make mindfulness and gratitude part of your daily routine and you might just find that you automatically go into the present moment more often; fostering feelings of calm, comfortable, awareness and acceptance.

Five Ways to Stop Procrastinating

In the past, I thought of my procrastination habit as a rather annoying but slightly amusing personality quirk. But it’s really not. As much fun as it is to switch report-writing for rearranging furniture, the truth is that when you waste time consistently, you’re effectively lowering both the amount and quality of the free time that you have.

This week’s TES article gives you the tools needed to stop procrastinating once and for all. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of guilt-free relaxation after a day of mega productivity.


My name is Jo and I am a procrastinator (in recovery).

It is as an age-old problem, described as “hateful” by Roman statesman Cicero in 44BC.

For the modern-day procrastinator, with the myriad of distractions available to us at all times, it can be much harder to avoid procrastination, and much harder to beat it.

But speaking from the viewpoint of a casualty in recovery, it is doable. Here’s how:

1. Get real about the cost

While it may seem like a rather amusing personality quirk, procrastination is no laughing matter. Not only are you missing out on guilt-free leisure, which only comes after you’ve done the thing you’re dreading, you also risk shelving other important “life stuff” as you’re forced to sit typing long into the evening hours. When you feel the urge to pause the report-writing in favour of scrolling through Facebook, ask yourself if it’s worth missing that bubble bath, phone call or family dinner later.

2. Apply a policy of ‘Worst First’

When you’re hell-bent on avoiding a particular task or project, it’s easy to trick yourself into doing something else; often a “something” that’s less important, non-urgent and a whole lot more fun. Arrange your tasks into the Eisenhower Matrix of urgent-important tasks to ensure that you don’t find yourself haunted by pressing matters at the end of a seemingly productive day.

3. Break large tasks into small steps

Many of us struggle to even start tasks simply because they appear overwhelming, but they don’t have to be. By setting smaller, achievable goals, tasks appear much more approachable. Let’s say you’re stuck with a huge set of assessments to mark – why not mark three per night? Or maybe you’ve got a unit of work to write – just focus on getting the first lesson done, or even the first starter task, perhaps with a lovely cup of coffee as your reward. Negotiate with your inner dilly-dallier until it’s at least willing to start. With any luck, momentum will do the rest!

4. Set clear, short time limits

As Cyril Northcote Parkinson wrote in 1955, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Give yourself an hour or three to plan a lesson and either way, you’ll fill your time and get the same results. No deadline at all? Then it’s very likely you’ll fall into the abyss of teacher resources online, endlessly searching for the perfect one. Use whatever technology is nearby to set yourself regular time limits and brain-breaks to keep you recharged and efficient.

5. Set yourself up for success

Observe your habits over the next week, taking note of what your triggers are before beginning to make small adjustments. Maybe you always end up chatting to a colleague in the workroom – could you work elsewhere? Perhaps your attention is constantly being pulled away by the pinging of emails. Why not put your phone away, allowing yourself to read these emails at a later point in the day? As with any addict trying to quit a bad habit, determination and willpower will only get you so far. Get a solid plan in place to ensure you don’t slide back into your old ways.

Seven quick-win lifestyle hacks for daily happiness

Apparently, I just can’t shut up when it comes to wellbeing advice for teachers. Here’s the latest TES article, with some super easy and effective hacks for anyone forced into this ‘adulting’ lark.


That education has acknowledged a problem with mental health and wellbeing among teachers is undoubtedly a good thing, but not everything that has come out of it has been positive, or easy to interpret. For many teachers, the advice offered to keep yourself healthy is overwhelming, off-putting and conflicting.

This is a shame, as the truth is: there’s no need for a dramatic lifestyle overhaul. Small, subtle changes often yield big results and ones that you’re much more likely to maintain.

Here are some of the small lifestyle ‘hacks’ that have been making me happier over the last few years.

  1. If you’re working, keep your phone on but out of sight
    I keep it on vibrate so that I’ll hear work calls, but my brain is no longer being pulled in different directions by social media or untimely personal messages.

  2. Take some time to prepare food the night before
    Even with the best of intentions, chances are that if you leave food prep to the morning rush, you’ll end up with a packed lunch of hot-dog salad. Making extra portions of dinner, roasting a batch of veg or freezing batches of healthy soup are all simple ways to make this a super-quick evening job. (check out these healthy packed lunch ideas, too)

  3. Look for opportunities to be active in your day
    If you’re struggling to fit gym time into your busy schedule, don’t sweat it! Instead, set yourself a secret fitness mission to move as much as possible through your day. Take the stairs, walk the long way around, make the journey to the staff room at break. Download one of the many free pedometer apps if you’re keen to occasionally measure your progress or check out these exercise ideas you can do in the classroom.

  4. Have a water bottle nearby
    I’ve lost count of the number of days I intended to drink my 2.5 litres of water, only to finish a lesson-packed day crawling towards the nearest water cooler. I simply forget. Having a full bottle nearby has reminded me to hydrate more often, resulting in fewer headaches and more energy.

  5. Working at home? Stick to the same room
    Restrict work (and work-related items and reminders) to just one area of the house – preferably not the lounge or bedroom. Having a clearly defined workspace can help you to ‘switch off’ along with your laptop.

  6. Notice noticing your thoughts
    Before you listen to your thoughts, add a little distance between you and them by inserting the words “I notice” into your head. For example, “I notice that I’m thinking that I have X to do when I get into school; I notice that I’m feeling a little anxious about Y this afternoon.” The more I’ve practised this, the more I’ve found that I’m much less phased and more accepting of work-life stress.

  7. Explore what relaxation is to you
    Just because it’s called downtime, doesn’t mean you have to spend it lying down aided only by a family-sized bag of Doritos and a show about Hoarders. Get curious about what makes you tick. You might just find that playing sports, writing a blog or practising an instrument offers you exactly the headspace and relaxation that you were looking for.

3 Mindfulness Exercises to fit into the School or Work day

If, for whatever reason, you find that you’re interested in trying out this mindfulness lark… you may well enjoy this past article that I wrote for TES.

Included are three simple activities that are easily incorporated into your working day, whether you’re a teacher, a non-teacher or barely human (I spend at least two days a month in this latter state).


As teachers, we strive to go above and beyond to make our lessons enthralling and engaging for those we teach. We know that for pupils to develop skills and retain knowledge, they need to be “present” for more than answering their name on the register.

Yet, how present and engaged are we throughout the school day? When was the last night you heard and felt your fingers typing an email, or tuned into the sensations of your feet on the ground, as you stood in front of your class?

Research into the benefits of practising mindfulness is still in its infancy, but already looks promising. A 2007 study, conducted by Hölzel, Lazar et al, took FMRI brain scans of patients, before and after an eight-week programme of mindfulness training; the results displayed clear changes in the grey matter of brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, information processing and perspective.

Still think it’s just a fad? You may be right, but why not try incorporating the following mindfulness activities into your daily routine before you make up your mind…

1. Mindful listening

This is something you can do anywhere, simply by exploring the sounds around you. While it’s natural to label the sounds at first – “that’s someone typing”, “that’s a passing car” – try to go further by considering the features of these sounds. Ask yourself: where is the sound coming from? Is it near or far? Is it smooth or sharp? Is it deep or shallow? Noticing everyday sounds with an attitude of curiosity can add an element of wonder and tranquillity to even the dullest of days.

2. Mindful eating

We all eat food, but how many of us pay attention to the taste of it? Awaken your senses by examining what you’re eating closely, noting the textures, colours and fine details, before drinking in the scents and bringing the food to your lips. Chew slowly, noting the tastes and textures of your food, and the ways in which this changes as you chew. Notice any sensations as you swallow, including any aftertaste that might be present.

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Whether it’s a bite of your breakfast or lunch, a breaktime snack or a single Malteser, learning to savour your food can add some much-needed pleasure to your day.

3. Mindful thoughts

We all have those days (or terms) when our minds jump chaotically from one thought to another – days when we’re endlessly busy, but achieve very little.

Clear out the mental fog by learning to notice thoughts from a distance, rather than being inside of them. You might like to imagine the thoughts are clouds passing through the sky, or different channels on a radio.

When your inner-monologue says “I’ve got X, Y and Z to do before 8am and I’m already stressed”, try changing this to “I notice that I’m thinking about what I have to do. I notice that I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.” It doesn’t sound like much, but separating yourself from these negative thoughts can really weaken their grip on your emotional and mental state.

3 Mindfulness Tips for a Restful Nights’ Sleep

Struggling to sleep? Waking up feeling anything but refreshed? Take a look at a recent article I wrote for TES, including mindfulness-based strategies for getting some shut eye. These techniques work for adults and children alike!


Thanks to a growing wealth of sleep-related research, we now know that good-quality sleep is essential to healthy brain and body function. And yet achieving a solid eight hours of sleep can seem near impossible when you have assessment objectives and mark schemes buzzing around your brain. Even when the miraculous happens and we make it to bed at a reasonable hour, how frustrating can it be to lie there, wrestling your own thoughts in the early hours.

Luckily, help is at hand…

How to fall asleep

Firstly, you can create a daily routine and lifestyle that promotes good quality sleep, long before your head hits the pillow. Leading sleep expert, Professor Matthew Walker, tells us that regularity is key – create a night-time routine and stick to it.

At the same time, when you do go to bed, ensure that your room is cool and dark. This includes having a “no-screen” policy for the last one to two hours before bed, no matter what emails may or may not be coming in.

Lastly, watch your caffeine intake over the day and swap the boozy night-cap for a camomile tea – while alcohol might appear to help you drift off, its sedative effects are extremely detrimental to both the patterns and quality of your sleep.

Now, let’s say for argument’s sake that you’ve already done all of this, but here you are at 3am, wide awake, fretting over the upcoming book scrutiny. If counting sheep just isn’t working for you, here are three mindfulness strategies that just might help instead:

1. Focus on your breath

Just begin to notice what your breathing is like; the feel of it going into your nostrils; the length; the temperature.

You can experiment with changing your breath, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Maybe try inhaling to the count of four, holding for one and exhaling for six. Can you feel the breath as it reaches your chest…your sides…your stomach? Can you feel your stomach rise as you inhale and lower as you exhale?

If thoughts come back in, which they most certainly will, acknowledge this without any judgement and return to exploring your breath.

2. The body scan

This one is great to do both when trying to fall asleep and then again if insomnia strikes. Simply bring your attention up from your toes to your head, exploring all the different places and parts in your body, noticing any sensations of tightness/discomfort and allowing them to relax. You might find that tensing the muscles one by one, or imagining that your body is very heavy and slowly sinking will help you relax.

I’ve had great feedback from adults, parents and children themselves who have used a mix of mindful breathing and body scans to get to sleep. Click the link below for a child-friendly 6 minute body scan from ‘GoZen’ to get you started with your children.

3. Explore difficult sensations

When you’re kept awake because of fears, anxieties and other difficult emotions, become curious about the sensations in your body. Ask yourself questions like: is the feeling smooth or sharp? Is it pulsing or aching? Is it flowing or throbbing? What colour/shape would I give this feeling?

As counter-intuitive as this may feel, exploring how negative emotions feel within the body can be an empowering alternative to listening to your inner-monologue of thoughts and worries.

‘Emotional Athletes’: Emotional Intelligence & Resilience in the Classroom

‘Emotional Athletes’ is the latest wellbeing-based Learning Experience, geared towards developing emotional intelligence and practical strategies for resilience in students.

Of course, I’m completely biased, because these days are like babies to me – but it’s an awesome day.

Information and activities throughout the day are routed in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Mindfulness, child-friendly Neuroscience, Growth Mindset and Positive Psychology. There’s even a bit of Yoga thrown in!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

We begin the day by considering what it means to be ’emotionally athletic’, considering how and why it might be useful to understand where our thoughts and feelings come from. Using Dr. Dan Seigel’s child-friendly ‘Hand Model’ of the brain, we learn about how different parts of the brain work together, as well as what happens scientifically when we ‘flip our lid’ and become overwhelmed with emotion.

Morning activities involve engaging clips, quizzes, speaking and listening tasks and role play. There’s a small amount of writing as children are asked to think back to their own positive and negative feelings, considering how these emotions presented themselves in their bodies and thoughts.

As a class, we look at the 5 Part Model (CBT) of thoughts, feelings, behaviour and reactions, in any given situation, as well as considering the things in life that we can and cannot control.

Children are taught to take control of what they can in emotional situations; their breath, relationship with their thoughts and their attention overall. Mindfulness-based activities and meditations, sprinkled through the day, give them a chance to put this into practice.

In the afternoon, we focus on building our emotional resilience. Children move from table to table, trying out a variety of tasks in groups, aimed at either maintaining daily happiness or bouncing back from negative thoughts or emotions.

At the end of this action-packed day, children create their own origami fortune tellers, labelled with their favourite techniques from the day. This becomes a self-supporting tool that they can use independently the next time negative thoughts and emotions creep in.

Like I said, it’s an awesome day!


Jo Steer is an experienced teacher in primary, secondary, SEND and life skills-based education. She is also trained in Mindfulness and Yoga for children, and CBT (APT level 2).

If you’d like her to deliver this particular package or something similar in your school, call 07719330358 or email jo@skillswithfrills.com to discuss ways forward.

Swap your Supply Cover for a Team-tastic day instead!

Having always been a firm advocate of structured teamwork and social skills in the classroom, I’ve been eager for a while now to throw some teamwork into the Skills with Frills mix.

So here it is… a ‘Team-Tastic’ day!

This super-engaging day is suitable for KS2 students, though as always, it’s easily adapted for children lower down school or further up. Throughout the day, students take on a series of team-based games and challenges, geared towards refining the collaborative social skills they already have. We look at examples of effective and ineffective teamwork, with the aid of video clips and music, picking apart the basics of what good collaboration actually looks like. We also explore specific team problem scenarios, discussing and developing strategies based on conflict resolution.

Self and team-reflection is woven into the fabric of the lesson to ensure that students really consider their own strengths and areas for improvement, whilst having a great time.

Activities in this day incorporate a range of cross-curricular skills like persuasive writing, speaking and listening, art and design. There’s a great mix of speaking, listening, writing, drawing and practical tasks – and of course, some friendly competition between teams.

Alongside this, students have plenty of opportunities to gain confidence when speaking in pairs, groups and as teams, in front of the whole class. We take a ‘mindful approach’ to teamwork, structuring and scaffolding activities in a way which allows for all students to safely contribute and participate in group tasks.

Whilst this may just look like fun and games, by digging further into what teamwork really is (and why we need it), it’s my hope that students come to reflect on their own team attitude and social interactions in the future.


To read more about Jo’s inclusive approach to teamwork, see this 2018 article from Optimus ‘Special Children’ magazine.

Looking to book? Still have questions? Call 07719330358 or email jo@skillswithfrills.com