Teacher Wellbeing: Mindfulness over multi-tasking

I’ve often read that one of the keys to mindfulness, and indeed happiness, is to do one thing and one time. Pure focus and concentration on that one thing. 

Still…I find it so unbelievable hard to put this into practice.

It’s often joked about that women are used to multitasking; in some ways, ‘we’ almost hold it over men and laugh at them, because they can’t do three things at once like us. In the teaching community, many of us wear our multitasking abilities like a badge of pride, bragging and moaning at the same time about how much we’ve done by 9AM and how much more we have to do.

Yes, we get an unbelievable amount done… but is it good for us? I doubt it.

Teachers often complain that ‘kids these days’ have 3 minute attention spans; that they’re overstimulated by technology. Yet, I know so many teachers that tell me that they can’t get through a TV show without thinking about their ‘to do’ list; that they wake up at 3AM thinking about seating plans and checking emails on their phone; that are continuously accused of ‘being somewhere else’ even when they’re in the room.

There’s no wonder that many people say it takes them a couple of weeks into summer before they can even calm down and relax.

Summer holidays though are a great opportunity to embrace the art of doing just one thing; to sit and read a book outside, with the sun on your face and the breeze in your hair, and the noises of holidays all around you.  There are endless opportunities to practise mindfulness – to listen, touch, taste, smell, see and feel all the things that are normally there, but aren’t normally acknowledged because your mind is somewhere else – to exist in the present moment.

Throughout my holiday, I’m going to strive to pay attention as much as possible, and just do one thing at a time. This is going to mean breaking a few bad habits and I don’t expect it be to an entirely smooth ride, but I’ll do my best, safe in the knowledge that my brain really needs a holiday too. She’s had a really hard year. She really deserves to truly relax.

Editor’s update (20.11.17): Since writing this post, I’ve read a number of books about Mindfulness and watched some fascinating talks promoting it’s scientifically-proven benefits. As a result, I’m now signed up to a course with the British Institute of Mindfulness in January 2018, so that I can pass this information onto my students. The more I’ve learnt about this topic, the more I’ve become convinced of the need for it to be taught as a means of battling the anxiety and depression that has become prevalent in our schools. And I’m not just thinking of the students! Look out for more Mindfulness coming your way soon…

Backlash against body-shaming: a great message for our young people.

Let me say that I tend to avoid gossip mags and tabloids these days. In my teens and well into my twenties, I couldn’t get enough. My friends and I would scour the pages of ‘Heat’ and ‘OK’ and ‘Closer,’ fervently discussing cellulite marks on the legs of supermodels, potential marriage splits, affairs and heartbreak and of course, weight gain and weight loss.

Even in my thirties, my need to procrastinate on a weekend rather than mark school work led me to download the ‘Daily Mail’ app. The articles were garbage…smelly, rotten garbage. ‘Woman who was in a pop group ten years ago gets out of pool in a bikini’ seemed to be headline news, along with, ‘Actress looks too skinny’ right above ‘Pop Star lets herself go,’ complete of course with pictures of some gorgeous, slim celeb, taken from a bad angle, on a bad hair day as she tucks into a hefty chicken salad (and maybe even a milkshake – “A full-fat milkshake? She’s REALLY let herself go!”) Full disclosure: my love-hate relationship with these articles and the comment section below soon grew into a procrastination obsession and I was forced to delete. Dark times indeed.

So when I woke up this morning to see that Jennifer Aniston had penned a blog in response to all the body-shaming and constant speculation that she’s pregnant, I thought it was worthy of a blog post.See Jen’s original post here…

We need people in the public eye to speak out against the ridiculous body-shaming and unattainable, unrealistic expectations of appearance. Our young people need role models that are more than just a perfect pout, a plump arse or a skinny waist. They need people that show courage; people with tireless determination; dare I say, people with talent?!

With the rise of social media and ‘selfie culture’, combined with increasingly ‘naked’ music videos, magazine covers and tweets, it’s no wonder that our children are developing body issues from a young age. In my first year of Primary teaching – my year 4 class were 8 to 9 years old – I couldn’t believe that half of the girls talked about being on diets, while telling me that when they grew up, they wanted to be like the girls on ‘TOWIE.’

Of course, teenage girls and boys will always have plenty of days where they feel surrounded by Brad and Angelinas, while they’re working the ‘Worzel Gummidge chic’: its called puberty kids – get used to it! Nevertheless, I don’t think we can argue that the sheer amount of exposure to these stories, images and body-shaming, with many children tapping away on their Smartphone from morning through to night, is worsening the problem.

As educators, we can join the likes of Jennifer Aniston, simply by talking about these issues with our students.

As a form teacher, I frequently reminded my students that what they see isn’t always what it seems; that happiness isn’t a direct result of your waist measurements; that while it’s fine to put effort into your appearance, it doesn’t define you. At the same time, I expose them to positive role models: Nick Vujicic, an unstoppable force of positivity despite being born without arms or legs; Will Smith, who frequently describes how his immense work ethic rather than talent, led to incredible success; Olympic gold-medallist and Heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, who keenly promotes a healthy, fit and strong body image for women in direct contract to the non-sporting size zero women in the media.

We’re never going to be able to completely eradicate the episodes of low self-esteem and teenage angst that hormones bring, but a little damage control could go a long way…  


PSHE – The most undervalued subject in the curriculum

PSHE (Personal Social, Health and Economic Education) has a certain reputation in most secondary schools as being the subject that you read up on 5 minutes before the lesson, right before you ‘wing it’ in front of a room full of unenthusiastic students. Despite it being taught by form tutors, and often being the only lesson that staff have with their own tutor group, a good chunk of teachers – though not all by any means – fail to see the value of the subject, or perhaps don’t value it enough to put anything into it.

I think this is crazy.

Within both primary and secondary schools, teachers are never any one thing on one day – we wear many hats, to suit different subjects, students and occasions. Out of all of these roles, I consider ‘Form Tutor’ to be one of the most valuable and rewarding, and PSHE is a huge part of that.

As a primary teacher, I journeyed every day through the whole curriculum with my students. As such, there were countless opportunities to develop their talents as successful learners, but also remind them of the need to be honest, kind and thoughtful individuals. As a form tutor in secondary however, I saw my tutor group for only 20 minutes registration – 20 minutes that included a myriad of admin tasks, social work and pushing whatever subject was on the hit list that week. There wasn’t the time to breathe, let alone discuss anything important with any real depth.

PSHE was my one hour a week, when I was really able to teach my tutor group, and impart knowledge that really mattered –puberty and sex education, drugs and alcohol awareness, internet and social media safety, healthy lifestyles, using money wisely, resolving conflict and so much more. These topics are incredibly important.

For the most part they’re underpinned with powerful messages about persevering through tough times, being true to your own sense of right and wrong, standing up for yourself and others, feeling good about yourself without comparing yourself to others, and being safe by making good choices in a variety of situations.

For my own part, I never ‘winged it’ in PSHE and would often spend a good half an hour altering planned lessons each week, adding a few clips from ‘YouTube’ or writing ‘agony aunt’ columns based on real-life school situations, to make these messages as relevant and effective as they deserve to be. I’ve often being told that ‘you get out, what you put in’ and for the most part, my tutor group always seemed to enjoy our lessons together and were a really decent group of young people.

Whilst you can’t make their decisions for your students outside of school, if you teach PSHE well, at least you know that they’re informed about the important stuff –  what happens to your body if you happen to drink a lot of alcohol; the ways in which your life would change if you became pregnant in your teens; the benefits of eating good food and exercising; and why you shouldn’t worry if you feel like crap/spotty/moody, because secretly, everyone else at your age does and it’s just hormones.

Think about the impact that information like this could have on the choices that a young person makes as they grow.

If you’re doing it right, your tutor group is very much like a little family, within the extended family of school. Even when your birds have flown the nest, you want to feel that you’ve done all you could to allow them to make good choices and lead happy lives. Otherwise, what’s the point?