Top 5 Resources to Support Children, Teens and Adults with Social Anxiety

Sadly, ‘Social Anxiety’ is a term that many of us are increasingly familiar with, whether this relates to our children, our workmates, celebrities or ourselves.

It’s a problematic issue, partly due to the fact that a good many people doubt its existence. It’s just another label; an excuse to ‘wimp out’ of life’s challenges. “I was shy at school!” they said, “They should just get on with it!”

As a sufferer myself, let me tell you that there’s a big difference between feeling anxious as you speak in front of others (the kind of anxiety that we’re meant to feel when we do something new/exciting/challenging/frightening) and feeling such a range of panic-like anxiety symptoms, that it eats away at your heart, soul and self-esteem every day. Telling someone like this to “get on with it” is like telling someone with clinical depression to “cheer up.”

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What can work, however, is a structured, CBT-style approach, that allows you to unpick the thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that you’ve consciously or unconsciously been participating in. I’ve battled this condition for a good part of the last 20 plus years, but for the last 8 years or so, I’ve been the manager rather than the employee.

If you’re struggling with Social Anxiety, or wish to support a child, teen or adult who is, take a look at some of the free or affordable resources that have helped me along the way:

  1. NHS Northumberland’s website has some incredible resources relating to all aspects of mental health. This free Social Anxiety workbook goes through the steps that a CBT practitioner would also approach. This is really invaluable for children, teens and adults.
  2. Another fantastic freebie from the NHS, this time from NHS Scotland, this Moodjuice Self-help guide for Shyness and Social Anxiety will offer CBT-style structured support for those in need. I’ve shared this with anxious high-schoolers in the past, who reported good results after working through this independently at home.
  3. Janet Espositos’, ‘In the Spotlight’ will teach you that you’re not alone, whilst also giving you strategies to support you in making positive change. Though this is more suited to adults, the activities and strategies in here would work for a parent and child working through this together. I read this book a day after my 26th birthday, 8 years ago, and while I know it’s a huge clique, it really did change my life.
  4. When you’re coping with Social Anxiety, the world can often feel like a very lonely place. Make it a little less lonely by connecting with others going through the similar things. Social Anxiety UK have a great forum that allows you to listen to others sharing their experiences and advice, as well as sharing yours if you wish. The site is restricted to children aged 13+ with certain areas within being limited to 16+. Parents – It is moderated and there are rules to follow, though you may wish to monitor this yourself too if you’re concerned about your child using this site.
  5. There are so many awesome TED talks linked to building confidence and self-belief, as well as talks related to general and specific anxieties and mental health conditions. But that’s a list for another day… For now, I’ll leave you with my absolute favourite, Amy Cuddy’s talk on body language. It’s inspiring, moving and will give you to practical strategies for the next time you’re feeling those nervous butterflies.

These talks and resources are no substitute for actual medical help and if you’re suffering, you should contact your local GP.

Unfortunately, a lot of adults and children, find that when they do seek help, they’re place on a rather long waiting list, becoming increasingly desperate and feeling hopeless. If this is the case, these resources might just offer you (or your child) support, guidance and comfort as you wait.

 

Head full of worries? Try this for instant calm!

A super quick read today, combined with a super quick, easy and effective trick to help you, or your child, feel immediately better when you’re stuck in a ‘worry loop.’

Take a look at this awesome freebie, the ‘Circle of Control’or even better, just grab a pen and a note pad and create your own! No need for it to be fancy!

Feeling overwhelmed and anxious can be incredibly exhausting emotionally. And it’s often completely pointless, because so much of what we worry about isn’t even in the realms of our control. We just need reminding of this sometimes.

Complete the sheet – again by yourself of with your child if you’re trying to support them – and decide what things you can control, and what you can’t. Take a look at this example of what a child might fill in here:

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See? Super quick but very powerful.

If the worries you’re having have elements that you can control, then take whatever small or big action you can to make that inner-worrier quieten down a little.

More often that not though, we give ourselves anxiety headaches about things that we are completely powerless to change; mostly always things that never even happen! When this happens and your mind is repeatedly drawn back to this useless worry, look at this sheet again, remembering that you cannot control this. And maybe switch your attention to something that you can control, like the breath.

The more you practise this, the less you’ll worry! 🙂


Are you a teacher, school leader or parent in Yorkshire, looking to get ‘healthy mind’ strategies like the one above in your school? See skillswithfrills.com to learn more about the Mindfulness/Wellbeing workshops/days that we offer. Alternatively, contact Jo on 07719330358, skillswithfrills@gmail.com or through our Facebook page to find out more!  

Freebie Meditation Script, for children and adults: Cloud-Thoughts

As I adventure further and further into Mindfulness for children, teens and young adults, I only become increasingly convinced as to how effective it can be for everyone. In my work with parents, school children and individuals through Mindful coaching, the following meditation has proven itself to be one of the most difficult, but also the most rewarding.

This meditation is aimed at children from 5+, but it has the potential to give comfort to absolutely anyone. If you’re trying this with a young child, try this for just a minute each day. Depending on age and concentration span, you can attempt this for longer. For an adult who is new to mindfulness, I’d recommend 4 or 5 minutes to begin with. If you wish, you might like to record your thoughts in this handy log.

You can learn a lot about the recurring weather patterns in your mind, after only a week of recording thoughts in logs like this…

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You might also start to notice just how these recurring weather patterns effect your daily habits, behaviours, social interactions and core beliefs. You may realise, as you take a step back from the inner-chatter, that things that you never even questioned to be untrue, suddenly seem like fake news.

Once you’ve put in a little time here, you’ll hopefully find yourself pulling back from your thoughts automatically. This detachment from your thoughts and the realisation that you are you, not whatever is passing through your head at any moment, is just invaluable. It feeds into everything that you are and everything that you do.

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Enjoy this child-friendly ‘Thought-Cloud’ Meditation: 

  1. Sit down comfortably and allow your eyes to close gently. Your brain should know what your body is awake.
  2. Take a few moments to notice your breath and any sensations happening in your body. Notice how your body feels where it touches the chair or floor.
  3. Just continue to breathe and notice with curiosity – no need to control or fix anything. We’re just looking in at what’s happening today, and noticing.
  4. Have you ever laid on the grass and watched clouds go by? This is what we’re going to try now, but we’re going to watch thoughts go by today, instead of clouds. Take some time here to let thoughts come into your mind. Is there anything that you’re excited about? Worried about? Happy about? Unsure about? Let a thought float around in your head like a cloud, just letting it be there.
  5. As you watch these thoughts, as if they’re clouds, you might like to imagine that you are lying outside on grass, on a sunny day, watching these clouds. It might help you to notice the different shapes and colours of these clouds.
  6. As you watch these thoughts, realise that they’re just thoughts. Just like clouds in the sky, they come in different shapes, sizes and colours, but they all pass by. As you watch, notice how they pass by.
  7. If you notice that your mind has wandered, and feel that you’re inside of the cloud rather than watching it, congratulate yourself for realising this. This is brilliant for strengthening your attention muscles! Now go back to watching your thoughts from a distance, remembering that you are not your thoughts. They are just thoughts and float through your sky.
  8. After a few moments, return your attention to your breathe and notice the sensations in your body. Now gently open your eyes and bring your attention back to the room, stretching if you wish.

Enjoy the clouds! xx

 

Mindfulness Hack – Follow these steps for Instant Calm. Anywhere. Any time!

As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d share some quick steps to clear the brain-fog and find some instant calm.

Just a refresher in what we mean when we talk about developing ‘Mindfulness Practice’: it’s about consciously paying attention to something; or as John Kabat-Zinn (the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) puts it, Mindfulness is:
“The awareness that comes from paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

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As simple as it sounds, it’s easy to be put off by over-complicated explanations or misconceptions that you have to do yoga, eat vegan and have an hour spare each day in order to get anything out of Mindfulness.

Of course, none of this is true! Like anything, peace of mind is a simple or hard as you choose to make it. And you certainly don’t need an hour. It’s perfectly possible to fit Mindfulness into your daily, busy routine.


Follow these basic steps, and you can start practising Mindfulness right now:

  • Set an intention (decide what you’ll bring your attention to). For example, this could be your breath, surrounding, sensations in your body, thoughts, an unpleasant feeling in your belly, the food you’re eating etc.
  • Notice everything you can about the thing you’re looking at/listening to/watching in your mind with ‘the beginners’ mind,’ as if you’ve never seen, heard, smelt anything like it before.
  • Congratulate yourself if you notice that you’re becoming distracted and ‘drifting off’
  • Acknowledge this without judgement and let it go.
  • Return to your intention, exploring it with a curious mind.

Your concentration muscles grow stronger by noticing when you’ve ‘drifted off’ and by repeatedly pulling attention back to your intention. So don’t beat yourself up when you inevitably lose focus. When I teach this to children, we talk about how this action is like a weight lifting rep for your brain; this is the stuff that really counts. Knowing this helps us to be a little kinder to ourselves than we might be, had we tried to control this.


You can use these steps anywhere – any time!

Facing a moment of overwhelming stress at work or home? Set an intention to focus on your breath for a few minutes. Currently being shouted at by a horrible boss? Why not really pay attention to the tone of their voice, the expression, the volume? Take the focus away from how this is making you feel and instead really pay attention to them. Out for a morning run and listening to your brain scream at you to quit? Send your attention to the physical sensation of your feet on the floor.

running-573762_1920.jpgJust play around and experiment with your attention. See what works and what doesn’t; how you feel before and after. Then do more of things that make you feel good! 

These steps are also incredibly effective for children, who need shorter spans of concentration (especially younger children and/or children who are completely new to this.) Just by asking them to pay attention to their food when they eat; encouraging them to use their senses and describe tastes and smells and textures afterwards, you can develop some really beneficial habits at the dinner table. And this is just for starters! 

In an increasingly busy and ‘stressful’ world, it’s good to know that we each carry with us the ability to be mindful.

At any point in time, we can choose. 

Choose to breathe. Choose to watch. Choose to listen.

Choose to be. 

 

 

 

Become a Zen Master with these Mega Mindfulness Resources!

Mindfulness can be defined as the act of consciously focusing on the present moment, while accepting one’s  feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations; with compassion, without judgement.

As stress levels rise, the number of mindfulness-related books, sites, magazines, apps, games, retreats increase daily. And whilst some of these items have a definite stink of ‘fad’ among them, there are also some really valuable resources available that will support you and your family/colleagues/staff/students on your quest for more zen.

Here’s 5 of the good ones:

  • ‘A Mindfulness Guide for the FRAZZLED,’ by Ruby Wax, available for under £7 on Amazon right now. Comedian Ruby Wax has been pretty open about her struggles with mental health, and now with an MCBT (Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) degree from Oxford under her belt, she’s written some pretty inspiring stuff. Ruby offers an honest and comedic perspective, along with a ton of practical tips and information. Included are a 6-week Mindfulness course, along with specific chapters aimed at parents. This book is a must when it comes to mindfulness. I’ve already got her one, ‘How to be Human: The Manual,’ lined up and ready to go!
  • ‘8 Minute Meditation: Quiet your mind. Change your life,’ by Victor Davich (Currently under £14 on Amazon.) This 8-week programme is full of practical information and guidance to help you make your practice consistent and effective. I first read this a few years ago when I was just venturing into mindfulness, and a big part of me believed that in order to really find my headspace, I’d probably need to devote an hour a day to sitting in lotus position, or perhaps spend three-months at an Ashram in India. Eat, Pray, Love your heart out. This book offered me an alternative and much more realistic schedule of 8-minutes daily practice (a lot harder than it sounds!) that I could comfortably slot into my busy life. If you prefer a less anecdotal approach, this book offers a well-structured, text-book style course, sure to bring that little more peace into your day.8 minute mindfulness.jpg
  • ‘Mindfulness On the Go’ card-set by Anna Black, currently under £13. These activity cards come in a beautiful box and won’t look out of place on any kitchen worktop or office desk. There are 54 beautifully designed cards, split into Practice and Activity cards. The Practice cards are mini-meditations that you can do when you’re out and about (you could easily fit the pack into your bag, or select one to keep in your purse/wallet.) The Activity cards, on the other hand, tend to focus on setting intentions for the day and increasing awareness of your daily habits. I love these cards because not only do they look pretty, but they encourage me to actually practise mindfulness and not just forget about it as soon as my ‘to do list’ starts to ramp up.
  • Mindful Kids’ 50 Activity-card set’ by Whitney Stewart and Mina Brau. I’ve mentioned this one before, and it’s just an absolute bargain at under £8. If you’re a parent of young children, struggling to fit in mindfulness around the kids, then why not include them in your practice? You’ll increase your own chances of success dramatically, while at the same time setting them up for a calmer, happier day. The cards are divided into 5 categories, summarised as confidence building; handling challenging emotions; sharpening awareness muscles; acceptance of yourself/the world; rest and relaxation. The activities are great fun for adults and children, most relying on imagination alone. If nothing else, you’re bound to create some precious family memories. Remember when mum tried to ‘be a tree’ and fell over?!

  • ‘In the Moment’ magazine isn’t cheap at £5.99 per monthly issue, but it’s a worthwhile luxury if you’re feeling inclined to spend. The act of sitting down in silence and reading any magazine or book is brilliant me time/mindfulness, but this magazine takes it to a whole other level. It’s crammed full of zen-inspiring articles and interviews, along with practical tips, activities and pull-out resources. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also produced on beautiful paper – I find myself repeatedly going into the present moment, feeling the touch of this beneath my palms. Reading this magazine in all together a lovely experience. You can save money by subscribing online, or pick it up monthly on most supermarket magazine stands.in the moment mag.jpg

Bonus Freebies:

Wanting to ‘up your attention,’ without the expense? Get yourself on YouTube! Just searching for mindfulness or meditation will bring up a ton of results, and though you will have to wade through lots of cheesy/annoying/awful clips, you might just find something that works for you. Here’s a link to some brilliant audio meditations from Professor Mark Williams. I’ve had a lot of success with these!

The same attitude can be applied to the app store. Read reviews before you download, and expect free apps to throw ‘in app purchases’ your way. I’m a big fan of the Head-space app, described as a ‘mindfulness coach in your pocket.’ This app gets bigger and better every year – unfortunately, so does the price! At present, the first course of 10 beginners sessions are still free and definitely worth a download. These babies lasted me over a year and some of the animation clips have really stuck with me.

Enjoy! xx

Would your students benefit from a Masterclass in Mindfulness? ‘Mind Masters’ is ready!

Having completing my Mindfulness teacher training with the British Mindfulness Institute, I’ve been increasingly impatient to get a mindfulness workshop under my belt.

Yesterday, I taught a full day of ‘Mind Masters’ for the second time and I’m thrilled with how it went.

This masterclass in mindfulness works fantastically, either as a follow-up to ‘Wellbeing Warriors’ or as a standalone day’s learning experience. ‘Mind Masters’ lasts the full teaching day, though a compressed version can be taught as a morning only, or as hour-long workshops to different groups/classes. It’s well suited to key stage 2 pupils of any age, and easily adapted below or beyond this age range.

The aim of the day is to introduce children to the different aspects of Mindfulness and the art of really paying attention. If you weren’t already aware, the countless benefits of consistent mindfulness practice in children include improvement of self-awareness, self-regulation skills, mental health and social connectedness.

According to the BMI, the advantages of regular practice for children can include:

  • Increased ability to orient attention
  • Increased working memory and planning and organization
  • Increased self esteem
  • Increased sense of calmness, relaxation, and self-acceptance
  • Increased quality of sleep
  • Decreased test anxiety
  • Decreased ADHD behaviours- hyperactivity and impulsivity
  • Decreased negative affect/emotions
  • Fewer conduct and anger management problems

There’s something for everyone! 

Here’s what we’ll cover throughout the day:

We begin with an introduction to Mindfulness and discuss the benefits, as well as covering rules and expectations for the day.

Throughout the morning, we take part in a range of activities which allow us to switch off our auto-pilot and really ‘step into the moment.’ Included are observational tests and sketching; a ‘What’s that Sound’ quiz and Sound Mapping; activities based on listening to our emotions and meditations; touching, smelling and tasting games, with the odd grape and blindfold thrown in. It’s endless fun! At the end of the day, we bring everything together with some Mindful artwork, before wrapping up to recap what we’ve covered and how we might use this.

The skills and content covered offer students a refreshing ‘day out’ from their regular curriculum, and they’ll enjoy the mindful games, activities, quizzes and artwork, whilst gaining valuable tools to support them mentally and emotionally both at school and at home. As we focus on strengthening those all-important concentration muscles, we’ll also boost our writing, speaking, listening, collaborative and artistic skills.


Interested? Call 07719330358 or email jo@skillswithfrills.com to find out more!

5 Awesome Resources to support Children’s Mental Health

Recently, a few people have asked me about different resources that might help their students or children with anxiety and mental health. In past blogs, I’ve shared links to some brilliant free NHS resource packs for children, relating to a whole host of mental health problems. Click here if you want to go back to this.

If you’re willing to splash a little cash however, there are some really creative, beautifully-made and effective resources to use with your students or children.

This post contains no affiliate links – just good old fashioned sharing of what I’ve had success with; so that others might enjoy the same with their classes/groups/children.

These resources aren’t a substitute for medical help where it’s needed – where there are genuine concerns about your child’s mental health then please consult a health care professional. Sadly, I know that there are a lot of deeply concerned and frustrated parents (and children), whose child has been on a waiting list  for the last year and a half to speak to such a professional. When you’re forced to wait, but desperate to support your child in the meantime, these resources will provide much-needed guidance and support. Similarly, educators who build resources like these into their teaching, will certainly support students’ already suffering with mental health problems, and hopefully arm all students with a little more emotional resilience, needed for a healthy response when they inevitably hit one of life’s ‘bumps in the road.’

Here are 5 Awesome resources that won’t break the bank:

  1. Andrea’s Harms’ The Mood CardsPresently, these are under £12.00 on Amazon.co.uk and they’re worth every penny. As well as being appealing to the eye, these cards offer a mix of CBT, Mindfulness and Positive Psychology. The idea is children are invited to choose a card which relates to how they feel at the time (or they can choose at random but I’ve not found this nearly as effective.) They then turn the card over and answer questions relating to their mood overleaf, or read out a positive affirmation, or both. This stays on just the right level of cheesy and it allows for child-led emotional intervention. Effectively, they’re coaching themselves. Side-note: The cards work for adults too! I’ve successfully coached myself out of frustration or anxiety a few times, using these fabulous cards.
  2. Lily Murray and Katie Abey’s, No Worries! activity book: Labelled as an interactive self-care work-book for children aged 7+, this lovely resource allows children to colour and doodle their way to happiness. There’s a real mix of activities, encouraging children to focus on feelings like gratitude and awareness of the moment, whilst also reflecting on their own emotions and feelings. Plus, there’s actually some factual information and practical activities thrown in. The best bit? Though directed at supporting children with anxiety, it’s still just a fun activity book, which should reduce resistance from children where there is any. Did I mention that it’s currently under £7 on Amazon? I loved this book so much, I couldn’t resist the sequel, Hello Happy! no worries hello happy.jpg
  3. Enchanted Meditations for kids CD by Christiane Kerr: This audio CD is a big hit, particularly with younger children. Yoga teacher and owner of a soft, soothing voice, Christiane Kerr, takes children on a guided mediation journey. Travel with your class on an underwater dolphin ride; chase butterflies around a secret garden; fly away on a hot air balloon ride. Yes – this one is significantly more cheesy; hence why it’s more effective with children 11 and under. It’s a brilliant tool for parents wanting to support their children in relaxing/falling asleep or teachers wanting to introduce formal relaxation. Currently, this audio CD in under £9 and seriously, it’s worth it’s weight in gold. When I’ve used this consistently with classes, I’ve found children to be calmer and more relaxed (even after lunch!), and quicker to concentrate. It doesn’t hurt too, that they soon look forward to this as ‘down time’ for their minds.enchanted meditations.jpg
  4. Mindful Kids’ 50 Activity-card set by Whitney Stewart and Mina Braun: There are some incredible Mindfulness-related products currently on the market, and this card-set is one of the best. It’s beautifully designed, currently available for less than £8, and is a super effective tool for teaching mindfulness and emotional resilience to children. The cards are divided into 5 categories, which I’ll summarise here to be confidence building; handling challenging emotions; sharpening awareness muscles; acceptance of yourself/the world; rest and relaxation. Activities are accessible and enjoyable for all, most solely relying on imagination. A few activities require two or more people and a few resources, but they’ll still fairly easy to put into action. For any parent or primary teacher wanting to establish a regular mindfulness routine with their students (with a few yoga poses thrown in) these card sets provide creative and varied opportunities to do so.
  5. Starving the Anxiety Gremlin by Kate Collins-Donnelly: When I look through these books, I can’t help but wonder how different my life might be today, had I worked through these as a child or angst-ridden teen. There’s a book for children aged 5-9, currently under £12, or for a similar price, one for children aged 10+ which would probably would with children up to 13/14. Effectively, this book takes children through the stepping stones of a cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) course. The book is packed full of really useful linformation about anxiety and its effects on the body and mind, along with really useful and structured activities aimed at ‘starving the anxiety gremlin.’ For parents or adults in school, working with anxious children, this book is a must!anxiety gremlin.jpg

If you do have any success with the resources above, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have I missed something unbelievably good? Tell me in the comments below!

Help your students to find their inner ‘Wellbeing Warrior’

I am delighted to announce the creation of ‘Skills with Frills’ original and signature workshop day, ‘Wellbeing Warriors.’

Delivery of this Learning Experience typically lasts the full school day. It’s aimed at upper key stage 2, but is easily adapted for children lower down school or further up. The workshop focus is mental health and wellbeing, something that children (and staff) are frankly crying out for across the country. The workshop has been carefully designed to take children through a journey aimed at creating a positive, ‘Growth Mindset’, better relationships and a happier life.

We begin the day with rules and expectations, followed by a simple question: What does a warrior look like? After considering what it truly means to have the qualities of a warrior, we begin working through the warrior code as follows:

Work hard: understanding and training yourself to have a Growth Mindset.

Appreciate: being thankful for all you have, including yourself.

Risk-hunting: understanding the biology of Fight, Flight and Freeze, and using this knowledge to support you as you step out of your comfort zone.

Resilience: considering the ‘Iceberg Illusion’ of success and how failure only makes us stronger.

Invest in Kindness: practising kindness and reaping the benefits in how you feel.

Observe (B.E.S.T): Mindfully observing breath, emotions, surroundings and thoughts.

Responsibility: Owning your responsibilities and the choices that you make, no matter what life throws at you.

Activities are chunked and varied to keep students engaged; including a mix of discussion, practical activities, video clips, stories from real-life people and written/drawing activities completed in workbooks provided at the start of the session. Students are invited to take these workbooks home in the hope that they will use them as a self-made, self-help guide in times of need.

This workshop incorporates elements of Mindfulness teaching, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Growth Mindset, Neuroscience, Biology and theory/practice relating to Happiness teaching. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we’re also building up writing, comprehension, speaking and listening skills along the way.


Want to see this taught in your school? Still have questions? Call Jo on 07719330358 or email jo@skillswithfrills.com and we’ll be happy to discuss this workshop further.

Just to whet your appetite, here’s some feedback from year 6 students at Walton Academy, following a day-long workshop. As part of their plenary, they were asked to write down one thing they’d learnt; one thing they’d do as a result of the day’s learning; and one thing they would say differently. The answers speak for themselves!

Top 10 Tips for Supply Teachers, Trainee Teachers and NQTs

Supply/substitute teaching can be really a tough job.

Managing the learning, relationships and behaviour of children that you’ve just met; deciphering another teachers’ plans and resources; learning routines, timings and procedures of the school (not to mention – where is the toilet?); and occasionally, dealing with with school staff, parents and students, who speak down to you because you’re not a permanent member of staff. Side-note: I was once in a secondary school, whereby the minute I’d finished my cup of tea, a teacher stormed over to ask if I’d finished and snatched her cup out of my hand. Apparently, I’d unknowingly drank from her cup. GASP!

With that said, supply teaching can also be rewarding, fulfilling, exciting and freeing, for you and the children you teach! It’s just about approaching it in the right way.

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Here are my Top 10 tips to help you and your students get the most out of your day:

  1. Introduce yourself, and set out expectations at the beginning of the day. 

    Wherever I teach, I provide a little introduction for my students about who I am, what we’re going to cover that day (especially important if you have autistic children in class) and what my expectations are. I tell them that I’ll do my best to learn names and keep things as close to normality as possible, but remind them that I’m only human and may make mistakes or require support from them. I find that showing a little vulnerability – in primary supply at least – results in a lot of students wanting to guide you through the day. It makes them step-up.

  2. Learn names quickly.

    This was isn’t easy, but it’s so important.  Remember, to many students, you’re just a stranger, brought in to do a job. As far as they’re concerned, you have no real reason to get to know them, care about them, listen to them or understand them. Learning and using a child’s name, instantly creates more of a connection between you – and it’s a pretty handy tool for behaviour management too!

    Learn names in lightning speed by: 
    a) Trying to remember distinguishing facts/features – e.g. Josh has the wild hair. Ella has the mischievous grin. Clayton and Braydon and twins, and their names sound alike. Emily read out that incredible simile! Tom A has brown hair. Tom C loves Harry Potter.
    b) Using the information above, build up your memory bank through the day. Each time you hold class discussion, challenge yourself to use three more names. If you’re teaching multiple classes, then you’ll have to be realistic: unless you’re Derren Brown, you won’t remember 150+ names in a day. Just try and remember 6 names in each class, and make a conscious effort to remember names of some quiet, hardworking students, ensuring you’re not always just praising the super-confident or nagging the poorly behaved.
    c) Find some time early into the day, to jot down names on a seating plan. If it’s a tricky class, kindly ask support staff to do this, or a sensible child. When I say sensible, I mean someone who will write down accurate names in correct places, avoiding you dolling out a detention to a year 9 ‘Donald Trump.’ Clear handwriting is equally important, to avoid you giving a detention to a year 6 ‘Dynald Troompt.’ I have a pack full of these hideously scruffy plans so that when I go into a school and a class that I haven’t seen in months, I can go in armed with names. Using a child’s name, who you’ve met once two months ago when you were in on supply, will honestly light up their entire face. It’s priceless!

  3. If you have support staff, appreciate them for the god-send they are.

    If I wasn’t already convinced as to the value of TAs, I am now! Through the course of my adventures on supply, I’ve received different levels of support from TAs in class (when you have one); but the particularly amazing ones have helped me to understand work set, timings of the school, policies and procedures, and yes – where the toilet is! More importantly, where you have a member of staff attached to a specific child or class, they will give you vital information about the students which will help you pre-empt what may go wrong and take steps accordingly. Be kind of them – their support may make all the difference in how you feel at the end of the day.

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  4. Show genuine interest in your students.

    On supply, there are plenty of points in the day when you have opportunities to find out more about the class you’re teaching, and build up a rapport. In primary, most students perform quiet reading first-thing. I love to go around and listen to them read, while asking questions about books that they’re reading. Again – you’re showing them that you care and you’re interested. And it feels really good to get to know them. The major upside of this too, is that children are much more willing to work hard for people that they like. Just be sure that you really listen to the answer. If you’re just asking for the sake of it, while tallying up dinner orders in your head, they’ll know it’s fake interest.

  5. Win over tricky students as early as possible.

    Every class has its own, unique mix of personalities, often sprinkled with a few trouble-makers, lovable rouges and occasionally, straight-up psychopaths. It’s really important to get these children on-side as quickly as possible. Use their names, show an interest, give them jobs to do, ask them questions about school routines. I know that at times, you might feel like you shouldn’t have to go the extra-mile for students who choose to behave poorly, but in reality you’re just trying to get the best out of a child and class that you’ve just met. Failing to at least attempt to build up a relationship with these characters could lead to a very frustrating day for you, the student in question and the rest of the class.

  6. Act like you’re SUPER-CHILL, even if you’re not.

    Naturally, my tendency towards panic means that I’m probably one of the people you’d least like to have with you in an emergency  – but after years of practice, I’ve developed a teaching persona of a calm, relaxed and laid-back teacher. Basically, I’ve learnt over time – after many mistakes – that nothing is ever gained from shouting at students and escalating problems. A lot of students who behave poorly crave attention, so by reacting loudly or emotionally, you’re just adding fuel to the fire. Certain things can be tactically ignored, and in instances where action is required; a look, a firm tone of voice, a hand placed on someone’s desk, a name written on the board mid-class discussion (without explanation) can work wonders. If a break-time argument threatens to spill into your literacy lesson, assure students that you’ll absolutely deal with this right before lunch, but you’d be so impressed if they could put their argument on hold for the lesson, so you can fully investigate at lunch. This way, your students feel like they’ve been listened to, you haven’t fallen into the trap of reacting too quickly, based on limited information or assumptions, and you can get on your lesson!

  7. Uphold rules and routines fairly, as a professional.

    As a supply teacher, behaviour is usually your biggest challenge. Most children relish the challenge of seeing what they can get away with saying, doing or not doing, when a stranger is in charge. To maintain the class’s trust, you uphold rules and apply them fairly. In this respect, I’ve found that being a new face also has its perks! For one – you’re without any emotional baggage that some children might use against you i.e. You always blame me for talking, or you never tell her! And for another, when a child reacts badly to something like a warning on the board, you can really push the point that you’re just an outsider, who has a job to do, and you have to follow the school rules. It’s nothing personal – it’s just that this student has chosen to demonstrate behaviour that doesn’t fit with the school rules, so you’ve had to follow procedure (it’s even better if you can link this in to what the students themselves told you at the beginning of the day.) This should de-escalate their reaction, along with the fact that your tone of voice and attitude remains nonchalant, telling them that with any luck, it’s just a blip and you’ll look forward to seeing their behaviour return to the excellent standard that you’re sure they’re normally capable of.

    Recognise that some children will be stuck in a pattern of poor behaviour, spending most days ‘in bother’ and having a set image of themselves as a ‘naughty’ child. As a new face, the actions you take and the words that you use, could provide a clean slate for this pupil; a chance to be earn rewards, complete work you’re proud of and show what you’re capable of, if even just for one day.

    child maths.jpeg

  8. Provide feedback for the teacher and the class.

    As part of my introduction, I always tell the class that of course, I’ll be leaving notes for their class teacher to say who had behaved exceptionally well and of course, anyone who really lets themselves down. I always make sure I do this, sometimes adding suggestions for class or school-specific rewards. I do this because I want children to receive praise for behaviour or effort the following day, or consequences for poor behaviour so that they learn from their mistakes, and because I said I would. I also mark their books. Ok – so I know that some schools now have Oftead-ready marking expectations that would make even the robust supply teachers shudder in horror, but this aside, it isn’t a big ask that you mark the work that you’ve taught. Do what you can within a reasonable time-frame, focusing less on the highlighting and whatever hieroglyphic-like codes you’ve been asked to write, and more on giving quick, effective, specific feedback for the students. Knowing that you noticed that amazing word they used in literacy, or that they actually managed to solve that Maths challenge they’d struggled over, will only continue the good feelings even after you’ve gone.

    happy balloon face.jpeg

  9. Learn to think on your feet.

    Just as I’ve had to work on the act of appearing laid-back, I’ve also had to work on thinking on my feet. Working as a short-term supply teacher forces even the most rigid of people to become more spontaneous, because often you don’t know what’s going to happen until minutes before it actually happens!

    It’s always a good idea to have a few lessons up your sleeve
    – preferably ones that can be adapted to suit different age groups – for the times when the planning has gone walkabout. In this sense, you can prepare to be quick-thinking. Honestly though, I think that when it comes to supply work, preparing to just take things as they come, preferably with a sense of humour, is the best you can do. After all, that’s all part of your super-chill persona.

  10. Enjoy yourself. 

    If you act like you enjoy your job and the company of your students, they’ll notice. Remember, you’re an unknown entity, so they will watch you closely. If you model positive behaviour, enthusiasm and cheerfulness, your class will respond well. Of course, sometimes you’ll feel that you’d rather be at home, bingeing on ‘Stranger Things’ as you devour your weight in ice-cream, but on these days I set myself a challenge. I tell myself, “Today, I’m going to be the best supply teacher these kids have ever seen.” It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth trying.

    Are you currently working as a supply/substitute teacher? Do you agree/disagree with my points here? Have you anything to add that other supply teachers might benefit from? Comments welcome:

What if we set goal systems instead of goals?

At this time of year, when talk always turns to New Year’s Resolutions and goals, I am reminded of a clip I watched on the YouTube channel ‘Big Think.’ Here, Adam Alter tells us that it’s much more useful to set goal systems than goals.

Think about it. On a personal level, this could mean that instead of telling yourself that your goal is to lose 2 stones in weight – and then spending 3 months in a state of perpetual failure – you might instead set a target of working out for 40 minutes a day. One day into this and you’re already a success!

There’s nothing to stop you having a goal in mind, but if you’re more invested in the goal system, then it’s your daily action that defines you.

Consider too – the implications for children in school. In this target-driven culture, how many children live in this state of perpetual failure, always feeling that they are behind target?

What about children with special educational needs in mainstream education – children for whom the system isn’t designed; children who aren’t even going to sit the exams that their peers will be judged by; children that are often fully aware of how completely unreachable their end goals are?

It’s no coincidence that as our teachers express distaste for the data-focused exam culture in UK schools, the media report on an ever-increasing myriad of mental health issues faced by our young people.

So what’s the answer? Even if we are powerless to change the focus on testing, we can ensure that the language we use around students is based on goal structures. We can praise use of full stops in a piece of work, rather than the reaching of a certain level. We can reinforce the notion that tests provide only a result of how you achieved in that hour, rather than how you perform in class each and every day. We can create our own targets, based on the individual needs to students; targets that are actually realistic and achievable.

Furthermore, what if we stopped the emotional battery of our teaching and support staff when our students ‘don’t make the grade?’ I doubt we’d be having the recruitment crisis that we’re currently facing.

Agree/disagree? Are you a teacher who has faced this issue themselves? Are you writing your New Years Resolutions and looking to try something new? Have you had success with goal structures in the past? All comments welcome: