3 Mindfulness Tips for a Restful Nights’ Sleep

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


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

Luckily, help is at hand…

How to fall asleep

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

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

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

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

1. Focus on your breath

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

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

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

2. The body scan

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

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

3. Explore difficult sensations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what we’ll cover:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like I said, it’s an awesome day!


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

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

Top 5 Benefits of Yoga for Children, from a newly qualified Yogakidz teacher!

News Flash: I’ve just received my certificate through the post meaning that I can now officially say that I’m a fully-qualified Yogakidz teacher. Yay!

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Now the hard work of training is complete, the fun (and learning) can begin! I’ll be incorporating yoga into options that I already offer, such as the Mind Masters day, as well as offering yoga and mindfulness workshops lasting on average 1.5 hours, delivered to a single class at a time.

Wondering what a typical children’s yoga and mindfulness session looks like? 

Lessons typically begin with a basic breathing exercise and a gentle warm up, followed by a quick routine of Sun Salutations to warm up the muscles further. Then comes the main part of the activity, which might take the form of alphabet/partner yoga; yoga games; and/or my favourite, a yoga story, whereby they follow along to a story practising poses at key points. Classes finish with a little more breathing and a mediation/relaxation activity, guaranteed to calm the mind and body into a state of rest and ‘wakefulness.’

I’m so excited about yoga and the plethora of benefits it can bring into children’s’ lives. As much as it’s just a fascinating subject for children to learn and enjoy, the crowning glory as far as I’m concerned is the way that it supports children’s physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual health.

Whether you’re a parent, educator or just an interested party, let me explain some of the numerous benefits of practising yoga to children: 

  1. Yoga can be a highly engaging activity for children of any and all ages, including those with special educational needs. As a form of active, hands-on learning, it can be particularly engaging for children who don’t seem particularly well-suited to learning within the traditional classroom environment. To many children, yoga represents a breath of fresh air in an overwhelmingly academic, writing-based curriculum.Thanks to activities such as stories, the yoga itself becomes a vehicle through which you can teach cross-curricular skills and knowledge. Yoga stories with links to Science, Nature or History, for example, offer children a fun game-like way of learning that often proves more memorable to children than lessons learned in class.
  2. Perhaps the most obvious benefits are in that it gets children up and moving. As we’re told that the UK is facing unprecedented numbers of severely obese children, the importance of this can’t be understated. Yoga lessons encourage children to move, stretch and strengthen their bodies in a safe way. And while certain postures can be challenging, the lesson is structured in a way that it doesn’t feel like exercise but more like fun and games! Children can see and feel for themselves how exercise and stretching have the potential to make you feel better, stronger and happier.
  3. As much as it supports physical health, yoga can be incredibly useful in the way it promotes overall emotional and mental health. As children focus on their breath and the movements, there is little other space in the mind for negative thoughts and emotions. In this way, yoga acts as an ‘active meditation’, which children often find a little easier than straight-forward meditation, where you’re asked to focus on one thing only. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to mix in breathing, mindfulness, meditation and relaxation activities, which complement the yoga itself and only add to the good feelings and relaxation.
  4. The life lessons, messages and techniques, which naturally flow into yoga lessons with children, can be a key part of developing a ‘growth mindset’ and emotional resilience. Maybe it’s in the way they’re taught to notice how other children can stretch further than they can, and be completely okay with that.  Perhaps it’s the way they might listen to their body, learning to hear the difference between pain and discomfort (which we feel when we’re challenging ourselves.) One child may simply notice that when they exhale, they can move far deeper into a stretch than they believed they could initially, shifting their mindset from “I can’t” to “I can’t yet.” Students can’t help but soak up the ethos that oozes out of yoga classes; the self-acceptance and awareness, lack of judgement and open-mindedness, love and gratitude, willingness to try and make mistakes. Who knows… this might just make all the difference in the kind of adult a child becomes.little-girl-yoga.jpg
  5. As well as soaking up the yogic philosophy, children learn practical techniques that they can repeat independently when they need them, off the mats. I’ve heard countless anecdotes now from children who rely on different breathing and mindfulness techniques in order to sleep, calm negative thoughts, inspire confidence or just because they like the way they feel when they do them. Even a child that attends just one lesson, can take away the idea of tuning into their breath, sensations or emotions, increasing inner-awareness along with inner-strength.

If you’re a teacher or school leader looking to arrange some yoga/mindfulness workshops for your students, contact us to discuss options!

** Look out for more yoga-themed blogs and projects coming soon! **

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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!

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!

Teacher Wellbeing: Does your morning set you up for rock-star teaching?

What is your morning routine? Do you even have one? I suppose it’s quite an American concept – something that most of my rather sarcastic British friends would feel was quiet ridiculous and even self-indulgent.

What? You don’t just roll out of bed, throw on your clothes, chug down a coffee and race off to work?!

And this is exactly what I used to do, in the years BT (Before Teaching). The idea of course, was to maximise sleep and therefore feel more refreshed and rested for the next day. Only I’m not sure this ever really worked.

When I began to feel overwhelmed with work in my first teaching position, and every minute of the day seemed to be occupied with thoughts of the to do list, I decided it was time to experiment with my morning routine and take back a little time, just for me, before I went out there to face the world.

What I quickly realised was that I didn’t feel any more crappy if I missed 30 minutes extra sleep; in fact, I felt a lot more emotionally prepared to face school, and my workload, because I’d had that time for me.

Just like an actor prepares to go on set or a rock star performs a number of rituals before they go on stage, many teachers might just find that they benefit from cultivating a morning routine.

My own individual morning routine has changed again and again; with my job, my mood, my exercise routine or the latest book I read. At one point, I was staring at a focus board while incense burned, then I would read through positive quotes about life and set an intention for the day. Yes, seriously. It was nice and I found myself surrounded by unfamiliar silence (in my mind too) but I didn’t feel particularly energetic, and my hair smelt like burnt lavender.

So I changed my routine – I stayed later in school on an evening, setting up my lessons, and went swimming at the local baths in the morning. It was a bit of a race time-wise (I really worked ‘drowned-rat chic’) but I felt amazing. At the baths, I would mix up fast power-lengths with ‘meditative lengths’ (Yes, seriously!) in which I would focus on my breath, and use all of my senses of feel the soft blanket of water around me. Sometimes, I’d throw in some ‘gratitude lengths’ too and I’d force myself to think about everything I was so grateful for in my life. Even on the worst mornings, when the pool was jam-packed and there seemed to be a convoy of kamikaze granddads directed towards me at every turn, I would come away feeling energised, strong, calm and grateful. I’d arrive at school knowing that I’d already achieved something; something for me as a person, not as a teacher.

Sadly, when I moved jobs to a school further away, I couldn’t accommodate my morning swim. I switched to morning gym sessions and started hitting the treadmill at a gym on the way to school, getting ready in the changing rooms. It’s true that getting up at 5.40AM isn’t for everyone, but I can’t describe how energetic and empowering it is to arrive at school at 7.30AM, knowing that you’ve run 5KM. I felt unstoppable.

Last year, a broken leg abruptly ended my morning gym habit, so now it’s ten minutes of YouTube Yoga followed by Berocca and avocado-peanut butter toast (don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it.) Sometimes I review my gratitude diary too and have a sneaky peak at my monthly life goals (Yes, I really do this!) then off I go. Even in the car, I alternate between ‘mindfulness driving’, 80s power-ballads and podcasts/audio books. I regularly find myself wishing my drive home was longer because I want to hear more about the health benefits of Tumeric or because Harry Potter is about to go undercover in the Ministry of Magic (God love that Polyjuice potion!)

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Finding my zen… if only these leather trousers weren’t so itchy.

Being a teacher is a lot like being a rock star or an actor; sometimes you wake up feeling like a gloomy Monday morning, but you’ve still got a show to put on; people have bought tickets and they deserve a good performance. I was always told that the children should never see a difference between your worst day and your best. There’s nothing worse than a teacher who inflicts a bad mood on their students.

I really encourage you to think about what you could change or add into your morning routine.

You might find that not only do you teach better lessons, but that everything just feels a little easier; a little brighter; a little better. Surely, this is worth the loss of twenty minutes sleep?

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: 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.

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.