Teacher Wellbeing: Are you hanging out with school Dementors? Are you one yourself?

There have days/weeks/terms in my career when I was overworked, stressed out and miserable, and as such sought solace in moaning, ranting and complaining to others. It wasn’t a conscious decision at the time. I just couldn’t seem to stop the words coming out of my mouth. And anyway – it’s good to let off steam right?

Frankly. No.

This wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t solving anything. All I did was bring myself and my colleagues down.

I had become a school Dementor. I was sucking the life out of anyone who came near me.

Now… I’ll be kind and let myself off. Looking back, my situation at that time was soul-crushingly bleak on so many levels, that I’m still amazed I survived at all. Still – I realise now that I made things significantly worse for myself through my own mental and spoken dialogue.

Teachers beware; beware of spending time with Dementors; beware of becoming one yourself.

A good rant is healthy and necessary every now and then, but if it becomes part of your daily routine to nip into your colleagues classroom every day at the end of school, and spend half an hour longing for another life, complaining bitterly about school mismanagement and unpleasant kids; about the pile of books you have to spend the night marking when you should be ironing instead, well… just stop. Half an hour a week is two and a half hours – that’s weekly PPA time for many. And you’re spending it complaining?

Instead, you could be rattling off some work and getting home a bit earlier to spend time with your family. You could race off to the gym and get some much-needed endorphins to help you cope all you have to moan about. You could go and sit outside on your own with a cuppa and enjoy a bit of quiet mindfulness. If you’re really unhappy, you could spend that time looking for another job.

You could do something that makes you feel better – not worse.

I know that this is easier said that done, especially considering that most of the time we really enjoy moaning and the company of those who moan along with us. They’re often not only colleagues, but trusted friends.

But this is your life. This is your well-being; your health. And it’s theirs too! 

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If you’re more left than right, maybe something needs to change!

Tell your friends how you feel – tell them that you’re trying desperately to curtail your complaining to help yourself feel happier. Any friend worth their salt would want that for you anyway. Ask them to help you; maybe they can shout, “Chucky Cheese!” at you whenever you unconsciously start blathering on; if they’re a ‘funny’ friend, maybe they will start Irish dancing with a finger up the nose (I’ve never tried that but I know I have friends who would oblige!). Maybe set a day after school when you get together and have a good old moan. Just make sure that this day doesn’t spiral into a week.

And if they’re not obliging? Maybe you need to change your working patterns for a while; perhaps your classroom door gets closed at the end of the day; maybe you head home at half 3 and work on the kitchen table. Do whatever it takes to help yourself feel happier. Give it a month – if you’re no happier, feel free to return to your complaining!

With so many teachers leaving the profession, the ones who are staying need to take steps to protect themselves in any way that they can, even from themselves.

 

 

Are you a resource-miser? Share instead!

If there is one thing that infuriates and befuddles me, it’s the numerous colleagues that I’ve met in different sectors of education, who refuse to share planning, resources and ideas. They keep them under lock and key in filing cabinets; they hoard them on their personal memory sticks; they remain silent when colleagues say they’re not sure how to teach Chromatography to year 6, knowing full well that they have a brilliant lesson under their belt. Even when these resource-misers do put things onto the shared drive, when they move year groups, subjects or jobs, everything miraculously disappears.

It begs the question: what is the purpose of our planning, prep, ideas and resources? Surely the answer is that it’s to teach, support and help children to learn.

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As far as I can see, sharing your hard work has the following benefits:

  1. Other staff will be really grateful and probably likely to return the favour when you’re in need, saving you time and effort.
  2. More children will be taught a lesson that you created. More children will learn and benefit from your hard work… so without doing anything more yourself, your ‘learning royalties’ just keep totting up. That’s a great feeling.
  3. Teaching can be very insular, with staff only really being aware or caring about what’s happening in their class, year group or subject. Sharing at least allows you to ‘give’ to the school as a whole, without doing any extra work.
  4. Every teacher has their own style and every class is different, so others may well adapt your lesson to suit them, and who knows… you might decide to use their alterations the next time you teach this. No matter how proud I am of a lesson, I always have to make some kind of change to suit the class/time of day/my mood/their mood.
  5. In term time, the majority of teachers work constantly. Keeping up with the ever-changing demands of the classroom can be incredibly stressful. If we can make things a little bit easier for others – if we can give them the odd lesson that saves them an hour’s planning on an evening – then surely that’s a good thing.
  6. It’s so easy to share – just save it on the shared drive.
  7. It’s a really nice thing to do. Doing nice things makes you feel good.
  8. Your colleagues will appreciate you even more and hopefully respect your professional and supportive attitude.

Just to play devil’s advocate, let’s look at the other side. Being a resource-miser has the following benefits:

  1. No other soul will ever benefit from your blood, sweat and tears. Everyone else will have to work and suffer just like you did – no easy rides for anyone.

Point made.

So please spread your resources around school like jam on toast. The more you spread, the sweeter it will taste. And the more mouths you’ll feed.

 

Teacher Wellbeing: Getting comfortable with stress

If you haven’t seen this amazing TED talk, then I definitely recommend!

Kelly McGonigal discusses the medical effects of stress versus the effects of what we believe about stress.

Evidence from the study of 30,000 people showed that those who experienced a lot of stress were 43% more likely to die early – but this was only true of those who believed their stress to be a bad thing. For those who believed that their stress response to be a good thing; who saw the physical symptoms of stress not as fear and anxiety, but as their bodies becoming stronger and more aware, preparing to rise to a challenge; they were happy and healthy despite coping with large amounts of stress in their daily lives.

This way of thinking really goes against the grain. In our modern world, we’re programmed to see stress as a bad thing. If you picture a ‘stressed-out’ teacher, you don’t see some fantastically healthy and happy individual, consistently stepping up to challenges. No. You think of some wide-eyed, sleep-deprived maniac rocking in the corner of the staff room, surrounded by target sheets, coated in red pen and drool.

So maybe if we re-wire our thinking as to what stress actually is, we might actually find that it can become like a slightly cheap, uncomfortable sofa – while it takes some getting used to when you first test it out, you soon find that after a little while of sitting down, the cushion has moulded to fit your backside and it feels okay.

As McGonigal tells us, the body responds to stress in some really incredible ways.

Alongside the release of adrenaline and the whole ‘fight or flight’ response, the body also releases the hormone Oxytocin. As far as hormones go, this one has a serious amount of street cred. Also known affectionately as the ‘cuddle hormone,’ Oxytocin is all about human connection. Its release in times of stress heals and strengthens the heart, protecting us from the effects of adrenaline, as well as motivating us to seek or give support, tell those around us how we feel and basically, to connect with others. It’s really incredible! McGonigal also reminds us that those who care for others appear to be the most immune to the negative effects of stress.

She calls the stress response the ‘biology of courage’ which I just think is terrific. Just imagine, if all of the ‘stressed’ teachers learnt to re-think their stress as a positive, empowering thing. Or even better, what if we taught this approach in schools to worried year 6s approaching SATs, or year 11s gearing up for final exams. How would this impact results if our students saw increased heart-rate, sweaty palms and slow-motion, ‘cotton wool’ thinking as their body making them hyper-aware and heightening their senses so that they could ace their exam?      

As Kelly McGonigal tells us, perhaps the most powerful part of this is that by accepting our stress and viewing it positively, we are saying that we can trust ourselves to handle what life throws at us, and that we can face these challenges with others. If nothing else, this is a message that needs sharing with our staff and our students.

Teacher Wellbeing: I kept a Gratitude Diary for a year and this is what happened…

Editor’s update (20.11.17): Since writing here, the big change is that I felt ready to leave the security of secondary employment and ‘go out on my own.’ Looking here at the benefits  I noticed over a year ago, I wonder if had I not developed and maintained this daily habit of gratitude – and through this happiness – if I’d have had the courage to leave my safety net and leap into the unknown. As it was, I felt a strong sense of trust in both myself and the world’s plan for me. I knew that this was something I needed to do, and that whatever the result was, I would be grateful and happy for the experience. I still keep a gratitude diary – in fact, I’ve migrated to the Six-Minute Diary – and have now branched out into gratitude washing-up! 


This last week, I came to the end of my ‘gratitude diary.’ I tend to use online calendars to keep track of events and tasks, so when I was given my school diary last year, I thought I may as well try out the latest ‘fad’ in positive thinking. Every day – usually on a night – I have written down as many things as I can think of that are good about the day: things that I’ve done and enjoyed, funny conversations or complements I’ve been given, lessons that have gone really well and just generally things that I’m grateful for.

After a year, I’ve noticed the following things:Gratitude Diary cover

  • I seem to feel a lot more positive and it seems more natural. When I started out, my instant reaction to problems would be negative – I’d have to think really hard to re-frame this in my words (and my head) to appear positive. I had to force it. After a year, I feel like my natural reaction is instinctively positively.
  • I’m often complemented on my cheery disposition. People tell me that they love to see me because I’m always happy and positive, and apparently inspire and motivate others with my sunny outlook. This is probably the nicest complement I could receive.
  • When things do go wrong, and I do allow myself to sink into the misery of a bad situation, it doesn’t last as long as it used to. I just keep telling myself that ‘the only way out is through’ with the certainty that the bad feeling will pass.
  • I am more forgiving of others. I don’t seem to get anywhere near as angry or annoyed at people any more – I certainly don’t carry around bad feelings towards others. I feel like I’ve developed a greater sense of empathy towards people: I actually try and think about the other person’s side of the story and consider why they have acted in a certain way, rather than immediately writing them off because they haven’t met my expectations.
  • I’ve become more accepting of both people and situations. Where I’ve realised that good friends and I have grown apart, I’m okay with that. I’m happy to accept this as part of life and wish them happy, fulfilling lives.
  • I moan less. I worry less too! My situation hasn’t changed – neither have the things that I used to complain about – but my attitude is much more ‘c’est la vie.’ While I still plan ahead and look to changes I can make to improve my situation, I can do this without taking anything away from my present situation; I consider myself lucky to have the problems that I do.
  • I protect myself from ‘Dementors’. If I always feel down/upset/angry after talking to a particular person, then I make a conscious decision to distance myself from them and instead gravitate towards happier people. When I come across people who behave in a consistently cruel, arrogant, selfish and bullyish manner, my initial reaction now is to feel sad for them. People that have to bring others down rarely feel good about themselves deep-down and often miss out on the genuine, rich friendships and connections that the rest of us enjoy.
  • I am much happier in my job. Even after a ‘bad’ lesson, I can pick out at least 5 things that went really well – a brilliant question or answer in discussion, a student who made me laugh, a support assistant who got the best out of a challenging child, a child who worked really hard on a piece of work… Even at times of the year when the deadlines are looming, I still feel genuinely grateful to be able to work amongst such wonderful adults and children.
  • I am much happier in general, day to day. I realised a few years ago that if I based my happiness on some future goal i.e. I’ll be happy when I lose a stone; move house; get a new job; have 2 weeks in the sun… then I’d never keep a hold of it. My gratitude diary reminds me be mindful in appreciating even the most mundane moments of my daily life. As a result, I’m much more content overall – just from noticing what was there all along.

Gratitude Diary 1We hear it time and time again: what you focus on is what you get more of. Taking a few minutes each day to think on all of the wonderful things/people/moments/challenges that have been part of my day is something that is now part of my daily routine. What I once thought to be a fad is now a good habit and one that yields countless results.

Next year’s diary has arrived today and with it the prospect of more love, joy and laughter ahead.

 

Olympic inspiration

The 2016 Rio Olympics will begin today: a time when the elite athletes of the world come together to compete, showcasing years of hard work and proudly representing their countries. The focus – certainly from the press – is all about who has a realistic chance of winning: who might just bring home the gold for Britain. And it’s so easy to get swept up in this.

But why? Is it just the entertainment of watching competitive sports? Is it patriotism?  

Although there is plenty that I enjoy about living in Britain, I don’t really consider myself to be patriotic…just fortunate. I’m not really a fan of watching sports either – at least not many shown in the Olympics. Yet, somehow I do find myself on the couch every four years, my breath held, waiting to either groan or cheer.

So what is it? Why do I care? Why do we care?

When we watch athletic superstars like Usain Bolt speed towards gold in the 100m race, it’s with an atmosphere of excited curiosity. Will Bolt do it again? Could he best his last time? Might something go wrong? Will he entertain us with his signature move at the finish? We watch with a sense of awe and wonderment because we know we’re often about to see the impossible achieved.

Alongside this, the press allow us to peek into the lives and stories of British hopefuls, which are so often a tale of effort and commitment, sacrifice and determination. Sometimes there’s a secondary storyline involving talent, good luck and opportunity, but the central narrative is centered around hard work and resilience: a battle against the odds. That’s what we enjoy.   

This morning, I happened across a classic clip from the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, when Olympic Gold Medallist Derek Redmond tore his hamstring in the 400 metres semi-final. Sobbing in pain, his dreams crushed, Derek limped towards the finish line alone at first then quickly joined by his father, who jogged at his side. It was a truly beautiful and moving moment that has become one of the most memorable events in Olympics history, more so than whoever won that race. Because as much as we love to see people achieve and win, we equally love to see someone who keeps going, who battles in front of our eyes, win or lose.

The Rio Olympics are sure to bring more incredible wins and gut-wrenching losses: we will continue to see the impossible made possible. Though the timing tends of fall over summer, there are still opportunities for Olympic-themed lessons and discussion, either to send students on their summer holiday or start the year afresh in September. I always discuss stories of the year’s hopefuls with my students. Regardless of whether they finish first, last, or limp along with their dad at their side, all are fantastic examples of what the human spirit can achieve.

QUICK READ: Top 5 reasons to own a Memory Box

Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s a bit ‘girly.’ And yes, I probably got the idea out of a magazine years back when… but owning a ‘memory box’ is still a fantastic idea for anyone, and especially teachers. Once every few years, I’ll spend an hour carefully going over the items in the box, leading to lots of warm, fuzzy feelings.

Here are the reasons why every teacher needs one:

  1. Admit it – you feel guilty as hell when you bin that drawing that little Jimmy did for you… but if you kept everything you received (I’m mainly talking to Primary staff here – there’s a serious ‘gift drought’ in Secondary) you’d need to rent out a storage facility. Having a memory box allows you 9 guilt-free throw-aways for every 1 save.
  2. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: teaching can be a ‘thank-less’ profession. When you do get a thank you… hold on to it for dear life! When you’ve had a bad day with lower-set year 9 or a lengthy staff meeting analysing ‘Raise Online,’ come home and sift through your happy memories to remind yourself of all the good you do and why you do it. Then you can shove your head into a tub of Ben & Jerrys.
  3. You can store all kinds of stuff: thank you cards, emails from grateful parents, photos from school trips, birthday badges, ‘so bad it’s hilarious’ kiddy artwork… along with lots of ‘normal people’ stuff like theatre tickets, postcards, stolen hotel pens and assorted holiday souvenirs. If you’re having a trip-less school holiday, remind yourself of all the adventures you’ve been on both inside and outside of the classroom.
  4. Bad memories can be good too! I have a Christmas card from a student I taught in year 5 that says, “I am sorry I misbehaved. I promise I will never do it again.” This boy wasn’t very good at admitting to his mistakes, and the fact that he wrote this makes me grin every time I open the card. Of course he broke his promise, and went on to cause me further frustration in the classroom, but we got through it and had some lovely moments together. It’s a good reminder that storms pass and make way for blue skies.
  5. Probably the most important reason of all, it allows you to buy or ‘craft’ a beautiful display box that your partner cannot possibly complain about – you can tell them it’s full of couple photos and past year’s valentines tokens, even if it’s not! Feeling really blue? Leave it in the living room (with the lid slightly ajar) and wait for your guests to enquire as to its contents. Then you can fake an embarrassed brag about all of the gifts/thanks/love you’ve received over the years due to the fact that you’re just an amazing teacher/person who changes lives…every single day.

 

Role model: Nick Vujicic

If you’re looking to inspire students with a positive role model – someone who showcases a can-do attitude and resilience through times of hardship; someone that makes other people’s lives better just by being there; someone who inspires others to be the best possible version of themselves – you’d be hard pressed to find better than Nick Vujicic.

I’ve come across Nick’s story a few times and it never loses its impact. Born with a rare condition called Phocomelia syndrome, he is a man without arms or legs, earning a living as a motivational speaker.

He is the human equivalent to Ghandi’s quote, “My life is my message.”

He travels the globe, selling his message of hope and faith in times of hopelessness, ‘changing obstacles into opportunities’ and using words to build rather than break others down. What I really like about Nick is that he often speaks in schools, reminding angst-ridden adolescents that they ought to be kinder to each other and themselves; that they’re not worthless and nor do they need completing or improving in some way; and that any negative situation, no matter how dire it seems, can be turned around with the right attitude.

I’ve shown the clip above to various classes across year groups. I follow this up with a few key questions: ‘Why do you think I’ve chosen to show you Nick’s story? Is there anything that you found interesting about this? If you were in that situation, do you think you would feel the same way? Would things work out differently for you…why? What can we learn from this man?’  

When I have students in detention – specifically those who make endless excuses for their poor work/effort/behaviour – I like to set them off on the ipad or PC, researching Nick’s story and answering questions, under the guise of completing a comprehension task.

Many kids who struggle to behave in school have home lives that are the opposite of what a supportive, steady and nurturing home life should be, and it’s easy to understand why they make excuses for themselves. They feel ‘hard done by’ – and many truly are.

But in order for their negative home environment not to become ‘their story’ for life, we need to expose them to inspirational people like Nick Vujicic, who remind us all that anything is possible.

From their perspective, they see someone who is ‘worse off’ than them, but somehow still perseveres, achieves, inspires and conquers.    

You can follow Nick on Twitter @nickvujicic or visit https://www.attitudeisaltitude.com/ for more information. I’ve included a link at the top of the page to a 4 minute highlight clip from YouTube – this is just the right length to throw into lessons and prompt discussion – but there are a range of lengthier clips to choose from if you feel like delving deeper.

 

 

Teacher Wellbeing: Multiply your time!

This morning, I watched a really interesting TED talk by Rory Vaden, entitled ‘How to Multiply Your Time.’ There’s a wealth of information on the internet relating to work-life balance and I’m keen to try any new ideas or strategies that may help me find more peace both inside and outside of the classroom. Click here to watch the video. I’ve broken this down and suggested how this might apply to teaching professionals below, though it could be applied to any professional or indeed any human being who has stuff to do. I’ve already used the questioning to eliminate a few summer housework jobs!

Vaden discusses prioritising in the modern age and what he calls it ‘3D thinking.’ Before you start any task, he suggests that you consider these three questions:

  1. How much does it matter?

  2. How soon does it matter?

  3. How long will it matter for?

This is so simple but very effective. Often teachers find themselves so busy with day to day teaching, planning, marking, emails and admin, that they forget to actually ask anything before they sit down to work. I know that this isn’t part of my own working routine.

The ethos of a ‘time multiplier’, according to Vaden, is ‘Give yourself the emotional permission to spend time on things TODAY that will give you more time TOMORROW’ – Prioritise tasks that will result in less tasks or at least more efficiency down the line; do what is most significant first rather than what’s most urgent.


In order to decide what needs to be done and when, he applies the following thought processes before beginning tasks. He asks:

  1. Why am I doing this? Is it worth doing? Vaden talks about giving yourself permission to say no to certain things if they are not worthy of your time; he says that by saying yes to things that are unworthy, you’re inadvertently saying no to other things that would have been more useful and fulfilling.

For teaching staff, whatever your role in school, you will obviously have tasks that come first, even if you don’t think it’s worthy of your time. If your class assessment is due on Friday, you have to get this done and maintain your professionalism. There will be plenty of other times though, when you’re plodding along through your ‘to do list’: this is when you need to consider the why and the worth of what you’re about to do. Have you had something on your list for months (something that once completed might result in less work) that you’ve ignored, because you’ve been too busy marking day-to-day? Maybe you need to give yourself permission to get a little behind on your marking and use the time instead to create some peer and self-assessment resources so that you can reduce your marking workload in future.

  1. Can I eliminate/automate this process altogether?

When I look at my ‘to do list,’ I have things on there that I’ve had there for over a year. A year! If I bought a top that I didn’t wear for a year, I’d put it down to a bad impulse buy and give it to charity. Clearly, if a task is on your list for a year and it’s not even touched, it needs to go. Otherwise it will only haunt you and reinforce the whole mental dialogue of “I’m so busy all of the time but I never get anything done!”

  1.  Can I delegate this task?

If you’re a school leader of any kind, can you select individuals or teams of staff who can take on roles and responsibilities? If you’re teaching within a year group team at primary level, or within a department at secondary, have you shared out workload so that it plays to people’s strengths and is fairly distributed. Like many others, I find delegating tough… but as Vaden points out, you need to allow time and training for people to complete jobs effectively (like you hopefully had when you started doing things for the first time). In fact, you’re really doing them a disservice in not trusting them enough to learn new things.

For teachers, it worth pointing out here that you can also delegate to your students! This might be asking them to self or peer-mark pieces of work, telling you what and how they want to learn, tidying up and looking after equipment or doing general class admin around school. Set your expectations high; model how to complete tasks properly; tell them that this is a test of trust and responsibility; and allow them a good amount of time to get things wrong until they get it right. They might eventually prove more helpful than the adults you delegate to!

  1. Does the task need to be done NOW? If it needs to be done now, then you need focus and concentration.

I’ve come a long way in the last year by adopting an attitude of ‘do the worst first.’ Turn the TV off and move away from distractions. Do not check your phone or your email. Tell yourself you’ll spend 15 minutes starting the task and see where you go from there. Momentum is everything.

With the really tedious jobs – big marking jobs for example, that require highlighted grids, stamps and stickers, and half a page of comments for the kids not to read – are often better broken down into smaller jobs. In the first few years of my career, I used to tackle sets of books with blinkered determination; I had to wipe the job off my list at all costs, even if it meant spending the whole weekend marking. Feeling burnt out after only a few years, I realised that it’s much more sensible to have a good weekend and recharge my batteries, and mark 6 books each day for a week. I’m certain that this not only improved my quality of life, but also the quality of my marking and assessment.

  1. If the task doesn’t need to be done now, allow yourself to procrastinate on purpose.While Vaden reminds us that procrastination is still ‘the killer or all success,’ he distinguishes this final step from the latter as a conscious choice to put something off until a more appropriate time, or until it fits into one of the other stages above. He talks about this as a means of ‘mitigating the unexpected change cost.’

I love this last idea! Education is plagued with change – change dictated from above (often by people who haven’t and couldn’t teach themselves); it’s rarely useful; it’s frequently harmful towards children, staff and the profession; and mostly it’s just unnecessary. From a personal point of view, this ‘change for change’s sake’ resulted in so much wasted time when my completed tasks/projects/resources/lesson plans /initiatives/ presentations/ displays/paperwork were binned after a term to make way for yet another new ‘drive for improvement’ or ‘success initiative.’

When I get behind an idea, I tend to go in full force with my heart and my soul. I believe in a job well done. I enjoy this: it’s who I am. But I’m also aware that if I don’t hold back a little with the way things are, I’m in danger of become extremely frustrated and cynical. In a three-round fight, if you throw all of your weight into every punch, you’re going to run out of steam in the first round. You need to throw a few jabs too. You need to be efficient with your energy and your power if you want to win, or even survive. Within the context of the classroom, this might mean doing only what is required when the latest initiative is introduced, and waiting to see if it’s still around in 6 months before you really hit the planning/displays/resources with some gusto.

Teaching is a truly exhausting job: use your energy efficiently.

If you want to read more from the Rory Vaden himself, please check out his blog here. Watching, reading and writing about this has definitely made me think about how and why I approach my workload in the way that I do, and inspired me make a few changes next time I sit down to work.

 

Encourage kids to get outside this summer!

I came across this project a couple of years ago as a primary teacher and set it as a fun homework project for my year 5 class to complete over the summer holidays. It’s basically a checklist of 50 things ‘to do before you’re 11¾’ – very simple but also brilliant.

From my experience, this current generation of students ‘don’t get out much.’ The majority of them have very little knowledge of the outside world or first-hand experience of nature.

And that’s not to say that they’re not interested. When I’ve taken both primary and secondary kids out on trips and we’ve experienced ‘the great outdoors,’ they’ve loved it!

I’ve seen children – particularly boys – who struggle to behave within the rigid structure of the classroom, completely transform into enthusiastic, attentive learners and often leaders too.

This generation just have so many sources engaging distraction inside that they’re not really in the habit of going outside.

Children can sign up for an account and check off items as they go, allowing them to incorporate the biggest source of indoor entertainment, the internet, with their activities outside. Perfect! If they’re old school like me, they can just print out the checklist; nothing quite as satisfying as ticking off completed jobs on a list!

The National Trust have aimed this project at younger children who will most likely tackle this with more gusto than their mopey teenage counterparts. However, I can think of many sixteen year olds, eighteen year olds and even thirty year olds, who have never ‘held a scary beast,’ explored a cave’ or ‘found their way on a map with a compass.’

It’s never too late to start!

Explore the website here with your class, your children or just by yourself. Then… just explore!

Creating a culture of kindness in your classroom

When you’ve been teaching for a few years, you’re bound to come across a class or three that threaten to drive you to madness; not necessarily because they don’t work hard or don’t behave well, but more often than not, because they just can’t get along with each other. Personally, I’ve experienced this in primary and secondary teaching; in small special needs groups of 6 students; in individual classes and in numerous classes over a year group. When your students display a distinct lack of patience, empathy or kindness; when they’re ‘all up in each other’s business’ and salivating at the thought of getting a classmate in trouble, what do you do? You have to explicitly encourage kindness.

Remember a while back I wrote about blaming students for skills they hadn’t even been taught or shown? Sad as it is, we can’t take it for granted that children have had kindness taught or modeled at home.

You do this for your students, because however high-flying a child may be academically, if they’re selfish and cruel then they’re going to struggle to find happiness in later life. You also do it for your own sanity. The daily wear and tear of dealing with constant squabbling and bickering can be soul-destroying for even the most positive teachers, and it has a massive impact on the pace of learning and attitudes in your classroom.

Really, I think the foundation blocks of this need to be – and usually are – laid in early education and then reiterated in secondary education. Although there are ways around it, teenagers are harder to get through to and you just can’t be anywhere near as ‘cheesy’ if you’re trying to encourage year 9 to be kind, as you can with year 3.   Kindness

In secondary teaching, I found that short, sharp chunks thrown into other subjects or tutor time served well as reminders to be good people.

Following a fantastic assembly about ‘Random Act of Kindness,’ I was inspired to buy Danny Wallace’s book of the same name, and used this to regularly inspire or at least remind my form of practical ways that they could be kind towards others.

It’s a great book to dip in and out of once a week, and make a suggestion like, ‘swap places behind you in a queue,’ ‘share your lunch with someone’ or ‘give someone a genuine complement.’ Even if the ideas aren’t acted upon, at least there’s a dialogue in the classroom which is focused on helping others. Let’s face it: teenagers can be a pretty miserable and self-absorbed lot so it won’t do them any harm to consider other people for a couple of minutes and take the focus away from themselves.

One of the rather brilliant secondary teacher at my last school took this a step further. She asked children in her tutor group to fill in slips with their name and the act of kindness that they completed, and then picked out a name like a raffle every week and awarded them a little prize. I think she’s really onto something here. In many of the primaries I’ve visited, raffle tickets are awarded for good behaviour, along with house points and individual awards. It would take no extra effort, just a little specific language, to really praise acts of kindness along with good effort and behaviour.

“Well done Daniel! Your name is going into the raffle now because I heard that when Jacob and Elkie were arguing, you tried really hard to resolve this.” 

“Amy – you’ve earned a point for your house because you chose to ignore Will tapping the ruler next to you and didn’t interrupt your learning by telling tales.”

“Everyone on the Red table gains a team point because although they did have a difference of opinion, they managed to listen to each other and sort this out without any adult help, so they didn’t waste any learning time!”

Furthermore, overt references to kindness and awareness of others should be part of a whole-school ethos and not simply the responsibility of the class teacher. I was in a junior school not long ago which held a termly ‘positive psychology’ week. Each class throughout school had their own activities to complete and half an hour at the end of each day to do this – year 5 for example, had booklets for each child in the class that were passed to all classmates who wrote specific, positive comments about that person. Activities from all classes were then shared in a positive psychology assembly in front of parents.

Another primary school I know has embedded ‘Building Learning Power’ in to the teaching and rewards system of their school. Every Friday, students would vote for two students in their class who had shown certain learning skills, including that of effective listening, empathy and collaboration, qualities linked to kindness. It was lovely to see children, especially the youngest, reading out such specific praise about their classmates. Additionally, because this was something that happened weekly, and because it came from the children rather than the adults, noticing and describing things your classmates had done well was just part of the school code.

When all is said and done, it’s remarkably easy to create a culture of warmth and kindness in your classroom and school. This will spare you stress, save you time and hopefully foster a sense of care, support and encouragement between your students.