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

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

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

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

Here’s what we’ll cover:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like I said, it’s an awesome day!


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

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

QUICK READ: Top 5 confidence hacks for students

Confidence isn’t something that has ever come naturally to me. It’s something that I’ve had to, and continue, to work on daily and as such, I’ve absorbed a scary amount of self-help material. Because of this, I’ve gained a really useful tool-set when working with students who struggle with the same issues. The methods below have really worked for me personally, and they’ve always been well-received with my students too!

Here are 5 top tips to gain instant confidence:

  1. Tony Robbins tells you to imagine that you’re wearing an invisible cape – like a superhero. Seriously. If I’m ever feeling low, I put my cape on and turn around to see it flapping in the wind. Your body language changes entirely. What can I say? I’ve always fancied myself in a bat-suit.
  2. Tell yourself – it’s not nerves, it’s excitement. In nerve-wracking situations that used to terrify me (job interviews, public speaking etc.) I would practise deep breathing and tell myself I was calm. My brain just didn’t buy it – what my body was feeling was the opposite of calm. As the symptoms of excitement and anxiety are the same, it’s much easier to just repeat in your head, ‘I’m so excited!’
  3. Step into the moment. If you’re having a wobble, distract yourself by noticing your surroundings – really noticing… like you’re a new born baby or an alien. Stare at the sofa/carpet/sandwhich as if you’ve never seen anything like it. Examine the way it looks, smells, feels, sounds, tastes – just be warned that if you taste the sofa, people may start to worry about your sanity.
  4. When you’re full of self-doubt/paranoia/fear and anxiety, think about what you would say to a friend in this situation, and say it to yourself. A lot of us find it easy to motivate and inspire our friends when they’re down, but don’t extend the same kindness, patience or sympathy to ourselves. Treat yourself like you’re a good pal, apply reason and show yourself some self-love.
  5. Recite a mantra in your head. For years, I was super skeptical about mantras. I likened them to incantations and pictured myself talking to the mirror like Bruce Willis in Friends: “I am a neat guy!” Then, a couple of years ago, I listened to the audio-book of Susan Jeffers, ‘Feel the Fear and Do it anyway.’ When I heard her happy, confident mantra, “I’ll handle it,” on my way to school, I realised that if I really believed that I could handle any situation – any presentation, difference of opinion with colleagues, argumentative colleague, last-minute deadline – then although the actual tasks would still be there, their negative emotional pull on me wouldn’t be. Whenever I start to feel like it’s too much and I can’t cope, I force a smile and tell myself, “I’ll handle it.”

Here’s what has worked for me, but everyone is different. If you’ve found success with any of the methods above, or have an alternative tip to share, comment below!

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.

 

 

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.

 

Teacher Wellbeing: Current events are crazy…but summer is still beautiful.

Yesterday was some day. Even by recent standards, waking up to news of tragic events in Nice would be shocking enough, but throw in a military coup in Turkey too and it’s beginning to feel apocalyptic.

Things are beginning to feel very unstable and unfamiliar, and a little frightening. I can feel something in the air; a group tension growing increasingly thicker…waiting for the next upset. Will this next one be worse? Will it be close? Will it hurt them or their loved ones?

But… we are still here. There is still some normality; there is still a great deal of goodness and hope all around us.

For many children and teachers, it’s the first day of summer holidays – a day when we wake up and we really hear the breeze outside, and birds chirping, and the soft hum of cars on the road, and the sense that summer is finally here with all wonder that it brings.

I can feel that in the air too.

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A treasured gift from a wonderful trainee teacher years ago.

Of course, it’s okay to be upset by current events; it’s okay to feel a little scared; it’s okay to nod along when your cantankerous elderly relatives moan that ‘the world is going to hell in a hand basket.’

But don’t be consumed by it.

When you’re learning to drive, your instructor always tell you – look at where you want the car to go. Because wherever you look, that’s where you’ll drive. If you stare intently at the hazard ahead, gripped with panic, you’re going to drive into it and crash. If you look at the road ahead but keep the hazards in sight, you might worry a little as you drive, but you’ll get to where you’re going in one piece.    

The only solution is to look at the road ahead; to keep driving.

The only way to fight hate is with love and hope.

I’ve no doubt that the road ahead is going to be bumpy – at points it might be bloody dangerous – but that doesn’t mean we can’t wind down the car window and listen to the birds singing, and feel the warmth of the sun as we drive on.