MH: This Time Last Year – Going Back in Time

TW: Rape

This is part 3 of a set of series, part 1 and part 2 are here.

The truth is, writing these blogs have been just as much about therapy for me as they have been about sharing my experiences to help others. In doing so, I have re-opened the most painful and darkest moments in my life. I felt a physical, searing pain in my body and cried when I wrote them. 

This blog, in particular, has been one of the most difficult ones I have written. You will see that my experiences from my childhood, what most would say were adverse childhood experiences, shaped me as a person. It was not all bad. I consider myself a kind person which for me is something I choose to be and something I would never change. Kindness is what makes our world go round, and in light of the awful events we see again, (rest in peace George Floyd) ‘kindness’ is needed now more than ever. 

My second therapy session with Becky was not what I expected in the least. Have you ever burst into tears when someone has asked how you are? Well, this is precisely what I did. I cried uncontrollably. I cried, and Becky didn’t say a word. She let me cry, and cry, and cry until I stopped. ‘Why are you crying?’ I didn’t know. How was I to know? I was all over the place, a mess. We sat in silence for a while, and before I knew it, I started talking about something I had not discussed in detail for 27 years.

Growing up in an ethnic minority household in the UK was difficult. My parents were strict, and I spent a lot of my teenage years rebelling against them. I hated that I didn’t have the freedom my ‘English’ friends did so I would find any opportunity I could to get out of the house and ‘have some fun’. On a Wednesday night, I was allowed to attend a drama youth theatre. This would be the highlight of my week. Not only did I get to mix with older people, but I didn’t have to be home until 9.15 pm. A group of older boys arrived one week and began to attend every week. They seemed funny and keen on taking part. I recognised one of the boys as I had seen him at the gate of my school on a few occasions waiting for some of my peers after school. He was put into the same group as me, and we seemed to hit it off straight away. I found myself thinking about him a lot, and I’m sure it was obvious that I fancied him.

After a few weeks, he asked me to be his girlfriend. He was just 18, and I was 15 and had never had a boyfriend before. I was scared and couldn’t believe that he wanted to be with me! It was a strange situation because I never saw him other than on a Wednesday, apart from a few times he came to my school but pretended he didn’t know me. I remember always being hurt by this, but always accepting his excuses. I wanted to be his girlfriend, and so I guessed that was just how boys behaved.

One night after Drama, he offered to walk me home, but for some reason, he wanted to go through the local park. This was a detour to my house, but I agreed anyway. As soon as we were out of sight of our friends, he turned and kissed me. I was on cloud 9. I couldn’t wait to tell my best friend in the morning that I had actually had my first kiss! We talked and he asked me if I was a virgin. I told him I was, albeit uncomfortable with the question. He smiled. ‘Good, I like that’. I was proud to be a virgin. I knew that when I decided to ‘lose it’ it would be to the man, I would spend the rest of my life with. Oh, the thoughts of an innocent 15-year-old. As we strolled through the park hand in hand, we crossed into a secluded car park. I had no idea what his intentions were, but I remember feeling worried that I would be late home. Little did I know at the time that he had plans to ‘pop my cherry’. I remember telling him I didn’t want to and that I was going to get into trouble for being late, but he didn’t seem to care. He kept pulling me towards him and telling me I had nothing to be afraid of. When he came to the realisation that I was not going to give in, he got nasty. ‘Why you so frigid?’ ‘Playing hard to get won’t get you anywhere’ ‘Look, touch me, you can see how much I want you, but it won’t last long if you carry on being a frigid bitch’. At this point, I got quite upset, and with tears in my eyes, I tried to walk away. I didn’t get very far before he tripped me up, and before long, I was forced to the ground.

It all happened so quickly. I was in such shock, I couldn’t even scream, or cry, or move. By the time it was all over, I had taken my mind to a far distant place. He got up, helped to my feet and before walking away rebuked me one last time. ‘Well, that was shit’. I couldn’t tell you what was going on in my mind at that moment. I just kept thinking about the excuses I was going to come up with for being late home.

The walk home was arduous. I was sure that the people walking past me knew what had just happened, and I felt so ashamed. I had to stop myself from crying because I couldn’t let me, my parents know what had happened. Not only would my dad go ape shit, but I would never be allowed out of the house again.

When my dad answered the door, he gave his usual suspicious look. ‘Where have you been?’ I told him that Drama had finished late as we had a performance the following week. ‘Why are you lying? I walked up the road to meet you, and the building was closed’. I had to think on my feet. What the hell do I say now? ‘Oh erm, I walked a friend of mine home first’. And here it started again ‘why do you always put others before you? One of these days something will happen to you because you always have to make sure other people are safe before yourself’.

While he continued to shout at me, I walked upstairs and into the bathroom where I ran myself the hottest bath. I sat there for what seemed like hours. Flashbacks to what had just happened were continually running through my mind. I didn’t cry; I didn’t feel anything. I was numb. Needless to say, that night, I didn’t sleep very well. Tomorrow was going to be a new day, and I had to keep going and make sure that no one found out. And then, of course, my own self-berating mulled through my mind and stayed there… ‘Stupid girl, you really thought he liked you!’ ‘who in their right mind would want to be with you!’ ‘I’m not a virgin anymore’ ‘I’M NOT A VIRGIN ANYMORE – No one will ever want to be with me now’. My heart that night broke in two, along with my dignity. I was ashamed. Ashamed that this had happened and ashamed that I had let it happen.

I would like to say that after that night, I started to pick up the pieces and move on, but unbeknownst to me, things were about to get a lot worse.

In the morning, I left the house early to avoid conversations with my family. I still felt quite sore, and my stomach was in agony. I got to the local sweetshop and noticed my best friend crying. My instinct to make sure she was ok kicked in, but before I could say anything, she ran towards me and slapped me around the face. ‘Why the fuck didn’t you call me last night? Why didn’t you call me?’ I just stood there staring at her. I didn’t know what to say. She continued to cry, ‘I know you… I know you would never do something like that… I know what happened, I know you would never do that in the car park. I’m your best friend. Why did you not call me to tell me you had been raped?” At that moment, I wanted the ground to swallow me up. How did she know? Who else knows? What am I going to do? My mind went into overdrive. I cried for the first time since it had happened. She hugged me and told me that we would get through it together. She knew exactly how I felt. She had been raped only a few months before it happened to me.

For months I endured the most horrendous torture from my peers. Sniggering in the playground, people openly shouting out that I had been ‘fucked in the car park’. There was no place for me to hide. I had to be strong. My younger sister was in the year below me, and I was petrified of her finding out in case she told my parents. If she had known about it, she certainly never told me, and I didn’t tell her for a long time afterwards.

I would like to have said that this was the only adverse experience I had. My first was when I was nine years old and although I was not raped, being touched by a man, my father’s age was wrong, and I knew it. Thankfully I was able to get away, but the grimace on his face was the last thing I would see before I went to sleep every night for a long time.

Back in the room with Becky, I was shocked that I had told her something I had locked away in the deepest part of my brain. I thought I had thrown the key away and yet here I was, transported back in time. My body language changed, and my heart was racing. I was 15 again. What seemed strange to me was that in that session, (and in many others), I had not just spoken about work. But I was signed off with work-related stress! How could this be? I felt guilty; I felt like a fraud. This, of course, only made my mental health worse over time.

My feelings of self-worth were creased from the age of 9 but they were crushed on the night I was raped. I fell into some damaging relationships after that that only perpetuated how I felt about myself. I look back now, and at what I have achieved and honestly, I could not tell you where the strength came from. But it was obviously there. I didn’t become a statistic. When I went into teaching, I made the choice to work with children who needed the most help, the most support, the most love. I have spent my entire teaching career trying to save children… and now I realise I need to help them to help themselves, support themselves and above all, love themselves. I didn’t love myself at 15. I didn’t love myself for many, many years, and when I had my breakdown, I hated myself even more. 

Learning to love yourself is one of the hardest things I have had to relearn. My aunty used to tell me ‘if you don’t love yourself, how can you expect someone else to love you?’ So every day I tell myself these affirmations and one day I know that these will resonate deep within my soul. 

I’m not telling you this story because I want your pity, I am telling you this story because I am a senior leader who has suffered trauma and needed support when I was vulnerable. I know that most Academy Trusts pay for some form of wellbeing counselling, however in my opinion this isn’t enough. In toxic schools where compassion is at the bottom of the list or where kindness is seen as weakness, school leaders and staff have no hope in staying in a career whilst battling with the horrendous life experiences they have tried to hold at bay. So although I was signed off for work related stress, this was the tip of the iceberg for me, the cherry on the cake, the avalanche on the mountain. The treatment I received in the last few months before I broke was not acceptable and the feeling I felt then were the same feelings I felt when ‘he’ walked away saying ‘well that was shit’.

Some people need to be told they are doing a good job, others get by without this validation. We need to do better at supporting our senior leaders, we need to do better at building schools around love, respect and kindness. 

Free Guidance and Resources for your Recovery Curriculum

There is a lot of talk about ‘recovery curriculums’ right now and there is a huge amount of guidance available.  Most of this revolves around social and emotional learning (SEL) and for it to be most effective as a tool to support emotional health and wellbeing it needs to be within a whole schools approach.  This ‘C19 recovery guidance for primary schools’ from MmeNdiayeUK is in PowerPoint form to enable it to be used as CPD; it aims to be accessible for those new to SEL as well as expert practitioners; enabling a secure base to be built.  It comes with some resources; further tips to effectively delivering SEL and a menu of activities allowing a flexible curriculum and ‘readjustment period’ so schools can meet the emotional needs of staff and pupils.  There is hope that this pandemic will force the education system to prioritise child welfare and wellbeing (for all) so that it is on a par with academic achievement; something that many of us have been demanding for a while!

Click here for your resources.


MH: This Time Last Year Part 2

This is guest blog from an anon contributor.

Therapy was a roller coaster. There were times when I left feeling worse than when I had walked in, and other times, I felt as though I could tackle the world to the ground. What I knew for sure was that I needed it. In the weeks I skipped sessions, the anxiety and deep sadness returned and did so with a vengeance. 

After a few months off work, I finally came to the decision that I couldn’t return. Partly due to the fact that I could not see the toxicity at my school getting any better, nor the idea that my mental health would improve had I chosen to go back. Not only did I decide to leave my school, but I had also decided to leave education for good. This decision was not made lightly. I had been teaching for over 15 years and loved working with children, but this was not the first school I had worked in with a hugely toxic environment. I came to the conclusion that I was simply not very good at judging schools before accepting jobs and now I was suffering the consequences, alongside my family, who I relocated to work at this school. 

I was a senior leader in a challenging school with a challenging role. None of this had ever frightened me before; however, after a year of working every hour in the day, the ‘fear’ and need for validation from my close colleagues started to plague me daily. Am I doing a good job? Am I making the right decisions? Do staff like me? Do they think I am doing a good job? I had been signed off work with ‘work-related stress’—a growing concern in the education sector, but one that is still not taken seriously. I loved my job, the kids, the school, but my capacity to do my work to a standard felt was acceptable, rapidly disappeared. With this came the sleepless nights, responding to emails at all hours, and being the first person in school and last to leave on most days. I barely saw my family, and when I did, I was always working. The more I felt I wasn’t doing a good job, the more I worked. The more I worked, the more anxious I became. This vicious cycle continued for a while before I broke. I say I broke because that is exactly what I feel happened. 

I pride myself on being an ethical leader; someone who is compassionate, open and honest. I believe that my success as a leader has always been in my ability to build strong relationships, even with people who at first struggle to trust me. You get this a lot when you work in toxic schools, and staff will put you through the mill before accepting you are a nice person and a leader they can have confidence in. I treat people the way I want to be treated… with fairness, kindness and respect. However, there have been many times in my life when this has not been how I have been treated, including professionally.

I’ve been told I care too much as a leader, that I need to be tougher, harder, put my game face on more often and not let people see my kindness. This feedback only made me feel more determined to show people that you can lead with compassion and still be as successful as the zero-tolerance towards your staff approach. Unfortunately for me, when I tried to fight back, I was met with open bullying and would often find myself isolated by some of my fellow senior leaders. 

I have stayed in schools where I have been desperately unhappy for years because I loved the kids and the community I served. With each change of school, I had to accept defeat and walk away, hoping that ethical changes would happen for the sake of staff and students.

For anyone who meets me and gets to know me, they will tell you I am confident, funny, caring, a bit loud (sometimes), charismatic, approachable and kind. My mum and dad would often tell me off as a teenager for being too nice for my own good. ‘Wherever you go, you pick up broken wings. You can’t save everyone’. I knew this, but would undoubtedly die trying! My capacity to love knows no end. I love hard and fall harder, but this has never stopped me from wanting to love again. 

My innate compassion comes from my grandfather, who passed away when I was nine years old. Such was his impact on my life that I still think about him often and sometimes talk to him in times of need. When I was 16, I truanted from college on a few occasions, always managing to get home on time in order for my parents not to suspect I hadn’t been. On this particular day, after spending the day with some friends, I walked towards the bus stop to get the first of two buses home. As I approached the stop, I noticed a woman on a bench. She was crying, holding her stomach. I sat next to her and glanced at her quickly. She was pregnant and homeless. I asked her if she was ok and if there was anything I could do for her. She continued to cry and explained that she thought she was in labour but could not go to the hospital as ‘they will take my baby away’. I didn’t understand why this would have happened, who takes children away from their mothers? Why would they? And then, of course, I realised that she had no home to go to and would therefore not be able to look after her baby when it was born. Trying to remain calm, I told her that I only had a pound to my name and that this would take us straight to the nearest hospital. It wasn’t a good idea to have the baby at a bus stop, and I had never helped to deliver one! It started to snow. After an hour of negotiating, I finally convinced Claire to let me take her. I refused to leave her on her own and persisted until she gave in. I remember people looking at us on the bus, some in utter contempt. Even the bus driver asked me if I knew ‘this woman’. What the hell was wrong with people? Could they not see she needed help?

When we finally got to the hospital, she was in excruciating pain. I asked if I could stay in the waiting room but was told to go home. Home, Oh god, I was so late. Everything had come to a standstill as the snow had come down like a cloud on the ground. Three hours late home, what excuse could I make up now? First things first, call my mum and explain what had happened. As I had no more money left to get the second bus home, I made a collect call and begged my mum to ask my dad to come and get me. ‘Why are you at that particular hospital, it’s the opposite way to your college?’ I made up a silly excuse, which my mum didn’t believe, and as punishment, my dad refused to come a get me. I walked for an hour before calling again. I couldn’t feel my feet, and I wasn’t dressed for the weather. ‘What can I say? You will never learn. Always needing to help someone. One of these days you will help the wrong person, and we will find you dead’. My mum always had a habit of exaggerating. After a further hour of walking and with 3 miles still to go, I called a third time, this time crying for my dad to come and get me. He did, and all the way home, I was given the usual lecture. ‘You’re too nice for your own good’ blah blah blah. 

This wasn’t the first, nor the last time I got into trouble for trying to help someone. I say trouble but realise now that I am a parent, that my mum and dad were just worried. I didn’t see this at the time. I find myself thinking about Claire sometimes and wonder whether she managed to get the help she desperately needed and whether she was able to keep her baby. These small encounters with strangers have a habit of coming back to me every so often. 

Back to my first therapy session; I cannot remember a lot, other than my meagre efforts to sound sane. Stringing a sentence together would take a lot of energy, and one that made any sense well that rarely happened during this time. 

I choose to work in challenging schools in hard to reach communities. I want to make a difference to people, children and the world. I want to change lives and build a more equal and fairer society. When I had my breakdown, this hadn’t changed, it never had and never will. What changed the darkness I found myself in and the idea that I could not get out of it. So what else could I do with my life now I decided to leave teaching? I had no idea I didn’t know if I could love something else as much as I loved my job. This thought circled my mind for months.

What will come in the next few blogs are some life experiences that I have never shared more widely than with some very close friends, and certainly hadn’t deal with since they happened. You will see that my feelings of self-worth and value had been crushed from the age of 9 and that in fact, the issues I was tackling at work were taking me back to a time where I felt helpless where I felt like a nobody. 

This is part of a series of blogs. Part one can be found here.





MH: This time last year

This series of guest posts come from an educator who wants to share their experiences to highlight and normalise issue around teacher mental health.


I have felt scared before, but finally writing this blog has erupted various feelings and emotions and I am not quite sure I can pinpoint just one. This has been a long time coming, and today, while I sit in isolation from the world (except my family), I have decided that now is the time. This blog will be in several parts. It has taken a lot of courage to write this and revisiting painful experiences can be just as hard as living through them at the time… but this time with some perspective and a clearer mind.


After suffering a massive mental breakdown last year, stepping back into social media was something that I never imagined I would ever do. Strange as it sounds, before making the decision to delete my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, I would obsess for hours, trawling through people’s profiles, searching for something, anything that would connect me to the ‘outside’ world. I struggled to accept I was having a breakdown, to accept that my brain was so powerful that it could stop me from doing the simplest of things; getting out of bed; getting dressed; getting into my car and into the school I loved working at. I went from being the life and soul of the party, the laughter in the corridors, the one that ‘fixes’ everything, to being a person I did not recognise. Just think for a minute, I did not recognise who I was! I knew my name, where I lived, the fact that I had a husband and children. But I was vacant, ‘out of order’, no longer working. My brain just said no.


The breakdown happened almost overnight. I had suffered a panic attack the day before and then, the following day, I woke up confused, anxious, afraid and utterly dismayed by the thoughts going through my head. I have suffered from anxiety in the past, but I have always been artful at managing it (or so I thought). When I faced the prospect of being at work, around colleagues and students, I simply could not muster the strength to get out of bed. Aside from the fact that I had symptoms of food poisoning, I felt utterly helpless. I was on a continuous pendulum. Crying, pacing the house, struggling to breathe, sleeping on the sofa, flicking channels on the TV, eating, not eating, and calling my parents in a state, and round in this cycle all day long. By the time my husband would come home from work, I would be exhausted from the days ‘madness’, and yet there was never any let up unless I was asleep (which never lasted more than a few hours).


My frustration and anger towards myself grew daily. Why was I so stupid? What the hell was wrong with me? Why can’t I just ‘get a grip’? JUST GET A GRIP! The more I berated myself, or had these negative thoughts, the more I struggled to do just that… get a grip. I hated myself for allowing this to happen and for being so weak. That is how I felt. Weak. And this weakness ate away at me every minute of every day. I felt like I had let everyone down and that no one would ever forgive me for the pathetic state I found myself in.


Struggling to understand what people were saying to me made day to day life challenging. I knew that the language people spoke was one I too, could talk, but I simply could not understand anything people said. This misunderstanding led to many evenings of me snapping at my husband, children, family and friends. And then the self-hate continued into the night. I’m a rubbish wife, a worthless mother, a terrible daughter and a crap friend. What was the point? And then it happened. What was the point? I clung onto this idea for weeks until one night, I sat alone, contemplating whether my family and friends would be better off without me. Never in all my life, had I ever got to the point where I would ever consider committing suicide— even writing that now, brings a pang to my heart. I knew people who had done so and have seen first-hand what the impact of this has been on the people left behind to pick up the pieces. Yet here I was, thinking about the best way to do it so that my children would be least effected and wouldn’t go on living with the fact that their mother decided enough was enough.


This was the turning point for me. The downturn spiral was fast and if I did not try to seek help, things would only get worse. I took to Facebook and asked my local community for therapists. I was inundated with contacts. A hurdle in itself as going through them all was quite a task. Eventually, I called one and spoke to a wonderful woman who referred me to the person who I now consider to have been one of my ‘life lines’. After a few sessions, Becky was able to sift through my thoughts and decipher my ramblings, getting me to consider why I felt the way I did. It was clear to her that I was self-destructive, always feeling the need to validate my worth and value and that I had suffered colossal trauma in my earlier life which was beginning to come back and haunt me. I had to accept that things had happened to me when I was younger and my reactions, feelings and thoughts when someone would treat me in a particular way only fuelled those same feelings and thoughts at a time when I felt most helpless.


So why have I decided to do this now? Recognising now that I was not alone in my feelings of despair and confusion, I look back and wish that I could have found someone that knew what I was going through. Someone who would tell me I was not alone and that I would get through this awful time. And so for me, I have decided to write this series of blogs for those people suffering in silence, suffering and not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn’t see it for a long time, but I did, and the tunnel is slowly disappearing.


This is so difficult. I know that this is not a completed ‘story’. I promise it does get better and isn’t all doom and gloom, but at this point, I need to take a breath.





Free Resource for Supporting Pupils’ Emotional Wellbeing Part 2

This amazing resource comes from Alice N’diaye.

This is part 2: Inclusive Anxiety and Emotional

Part 1 can be found here.

I have put together a selection of over 30 picture books that children and families might find helpful at the moment.  They support the key elements of social and emotional learning and, as learning happens best when children see themselves, I have tried to be as inclusive as possible.  I have also included additional resources; songs, sketches, shorts with similar themes and aims.

The bulk of the material came from CBeebies and Sesame Street (via YouTube) which are definitely worth exploring if you haven’t before.

Please note this was created, quickly,  for use with pupils and their families for digital story-times during school closures or to support PSHE delivery at this difficult time.  I have used YouTube links to enable equity of access; I hope authors and illustrators are okay with this.  I am sure that many readers will be inspired by what they read and will buy a book or two if they can.   Any suggestions of additional books (with digital version) or resources will be gratefully received. 😊

Download the full resource with links here

Three Tips for Self-Care: Educators and Teachers

This blog also featured here. Andrew Milne has put together a set of microblogs for April 2020 head over and enjoy.

Ironically, I am writing this blog on a Saturday night while drinking a glass of white wine, thinking I really should relax more. Andrew Milne has asked me to describe ways in which educators can benefit from self-care.

Before I start the journey, let’s start with the core purpose or the why around ‘self-care’.I often hear teachers state that they never take time off when they’re sick, that they will not let the children down, and the children come before everything.
Although commendable, this is highly problematic. If we start with the last statement that the children are the most critical aspect of our profession, then the previous two comments don’t make sense.
The children we serve deserve to have healthy, well and happy teachers. Self-care is not an act of the self; it is fundamentally an act of giving, it is neither selfish or indulgent, self-care is essentially part of your job and duty to the young people we serve.

Tip 1

If we look at ‘time for yourself’ as an act of work and part of your duty, then treat it as such. Many teachers will factor in time to grade or mark papers and set aside everything else in this time as it must be done. I would advocate doing the same thing but with an act with which you choose to recharge. Personally, I knit, now that may sound silly to many of you. However, this is part of my self-care routine. The act of setting aside five minutes, where I sit with my needles in perfect concentration every couple of hours during this isolation has been a godsend. I am 100 % sure it has also made me more productive in all of my daily tasks.

Tip 2

Value your mental health as much as you value your physical health. Actually, scratch that, you are all educators and lots of us put our physical health to the back of the queue. While working it’s challenging to escape from the high-pressure environment and assess where you fall on the spectrum of okay to not okay.
If you break your leg, a doctor will often rest the leg and keep your weight off it for a prolonged period. Resting your brain does not work in the same way as you cannot keep the burden or the strain of the weight off of it.
My way of evaluating my current state is to check in with people who I trust regularly. These are people I bear the content of my mind to regularly. I share my feelings, my thoughts and my reactions and they are much better placed to judge my mental well-being than I am when I am either ill or becoming more sick or pressured.

Tip 3

As many of you know, I suffer from appearances from the ‘Black dog’, excuse the colloquialism from the UK. The Black dog represents depression. This analogy means that the dog returns time and time and weighs us down and/or stays in the shadows, hindering our progress as the mental illness does.
One of the symptoms of depression is the loss of joy; I often curse myself for this ailment because not only does my brain tell me to be sad every day it also refuses to take comfort in the remedies I try.

For this final tip, I would say listen to your brain. Yes, it’s great to train for a marathon or to learn a new language or to play the violin at the highest level. However, it’s essential to listen to your brain instead of telling it what you think you should be doing. If your mind says have a duvet day, listen and dig under the duvet, stay in bed and make a fortress. If your brain says go and do some exercise, do that exercise. Educators are experts in telling our pupils what’s right for them. Sometimes we don’t need someone to say to us; sometimes we just need to listen.

How to Home School.

This blog also appears here. This piece is from Prof. Colin Diamond of the University of Birmingham.

As the schools close for all but the most vulnerable children or those with parents and carers in key jobs suddenly you are the teacher. And your new job could last for many months. My guess would be that in England, we won’t see schools re-opening before September.

So, this situation raises lots of anxieties for adults who are staying at home and teaching. What’s the best approach? How can I be mum or dad and switch to being teacher? How can I become the best teacher I can be? Will I be good enough for my kids at perhaps a crucial stage of their education with tests and exams in the year ahead?

At the same time, our children are confused, frightened, disappointed and angry by what’s happening and you are likely the people they will look to both vent their frustrations and be supported and loved at the same time. Teaching in one-to-one or small group situations is intense. When pupils and students are in a normal class there is space for them to self-regulate their learning just as we do as adults. So they will have lots of mini downtimes, go for a walk in-class, talk with friends etc. And the class teacher is constantly scanning to make sure that everyone is on task for most of the time – that’s key, ‘for most of the time’.

Classes aren’t (or shouldn’t be) production lines. The best learning comes when the children are relaxed and they don’t learn in a linear, mechanical fashion.

For those with teenagers, there are a whole extra set of issues as they ‘individuate’ from parents and become young people in their own right whilst still needing enormous dollops of unconditional love. Their mood swings are likely to be intensified by feelings of confinement at a stage in their lives when they want to stretch their wings and leave the nest.

And those teenagers will probably know a lot more about the subjects they are studying than you do. There will be specialist areas that you won’t be able to help them with – don’t try! They have subject teachers whose professional lives are all about that distillation of knowledge.

Plus, things may have changed since you were at school. It’s not just about Google being the default to answering any question. Teaching and learning have become more sophisticated with the kind of performance metrics that you might associate with athletes and football players. It is all much more scientific.

Your children’s school will most likely be offering on-line learning activities and be guided by them in the first instance. They know your children best and will offer a balanced range of things to do based on the syllabus they are accustomed to in class. There’s lots of ‘celebrity’ content out there with some real quality but best use it as a back-up or reward after the school’s work is done.

Be wary of commercial on-line activities that may claim to turbocharge learning. In most cases, they won’t. There are snake oil peddlers in education just like every other walk of life. The commercial companies are seeing this as a huge business opportunity and social media is already awash with the ‘best ever’ products.

Finally, teaching is bloody hard work and it’s most stressful when you are learning your craft as a newly qualified teacher. Expect to feel tired, with highs and lows every day. Give yourself ‘me time’ and reward yourself if possible as you have taken on a professional job with 3 days notice.

Good luck – we might be signing you up for training at the end of this if you get an appetite for teaching. And you will certainly appreciate what your children’s teachers do day-in-and-day-out in school.

Twelve Top Tips
Here are some tips that should help your job induction: congratulations – you are now the teacher!

1. Routines are really important and your children will need them as the structure of their lives has suddenly been altered in a way they won’t have experienced before. Work hard to establish and stick to routines. Without turning your home into a military-style regime, start times, breaks and end times will help everyone. And they will become important boundaries for the months at home together. This will be a long haul.

2. Be clear when you are in your job as teacher – this will help. You can play the role with young children in lots of fun ways and negotiate with the teenagers, just like you do on normal boundary setting.

3. Set up a weekly timetable to get going. If you have printing facilities get it up on the wall so everyone can see it and you can take your children through what’s planned. Give it a week and review what’s worked and what didn’t. Build in a balance of the core subjects of English and Maths with other subjects, if you are confident. The school should provide the basic guidance here but you can find lots of model lessons online for free – many teachers are busy right now recording activities you will find on the school’s website.

4. Make sure your children have some physical movement during your lessons and when you change activities. It’s so important to keep the kinaesthetic movement going, even in the smallest of spaces. This means some level of physical activity to complement table-based learning. Dancing along to YouTube videos will work for both of you.

5. If your children are doing GCSE courses or similar, for most of the time they will receive detailed guidance from schools. Your role in most subjects, unless you are a physicist or geologist, will be limited. But you may be able to help with the quality of written tasks, testing out ideas and opening up to learning from them. You are a captive audience!

6. Praise, rewards and sanctions – we know that the golden rule is lots of praise and little criticism to motivate children in most circumstances. You can incentivise your children by praising their efforts and perseverance as well as the work they produce. Invent rewards that will work according to your children’s ages – from simple things like star charts you can print or draw to whatever works best with your teenagers. They will need to feel a bit grown up and definitely part of the solution when it comes to deciding what constitutes a fair reward and isn’t perceived to be childish.

7. Space – give your children space to learn within your flat or house. This means literally if you are able to set up class in one part of a bedroom or the kitchen, and also psychologically. Teachers will be working their way around the class like a honey bee seeking pollen, with a stop here and a stop there. So your children will not be accustomed to high levels of individual attention.

8. Rites of passage – your children may feel cheated because they missed out on that Year 6 trip in June or the school prom. There will be lots of emotional pain because they didn’t expect to say goodbye to their teachers and classmates so quickly. This is not an area for the timetable you set up, but one to be aware of as it will surface, sometimes at unexpected times. You can plan for the future with your children when there will be opportunities to pick up some of these incomplete threads in their lives.

9. Learn together – you will do this instinctively with your children as they grow and it’s one of the best things about being a parent. Now you have the opportunity to build it into your teacher routines when you have set a project that will last a few days or weeks. Choose a topic that interests both of you and go for it!

10. Screen time – keep it under control exactly as they do in school. The internet is a tool for knowledge and learning, but not the end product. It’s technology that we teach children to navigate at school to learn what is safe and what is dangerous, also what information can be trusted and how to use it. Your children may be more sophisticated users of PowerPoint than you but they won’t necessarily have the skills to filter out the information they need.

11. Homework? This might sound like a bad joke in the circumstances but it’s a serious point! Your older children will be accustomed to long spells of working alone, particularly in the run up to exams. For those who have examinations in 2021, maintaining this habit will be important to build up more knowledge and deep analysis that modern GCSEs and A levels require.

12. And don’t forget fun. I always found that cooking easy dishes like pizzas and fairy cakes worked a treat with small groups. They enjoy the physical contact with the raw materials, can see it cook and there’s instant gratification when they eat the end product. Definitely something to have on your timetable, Miss or Sir.

Honestly, Honesty or being Honest with Yourself

Let me be honest; leadership is hard, I’m not referring the work, the hours or even the pressure. It’s the emotional burden it takes, rarely do school leaders talk openly about this element of the game.

Leadership is about direction, change and a relentless drive for something bigger than ourselves and more significant than the sum of the team. Change is hard, even if the environment is in disarray organisation will resist change because change brings uncertainty – and who knows it may get worse. No one said any of this is rational. 

Organisations will follow the path of least resistance (Fullan 2004) when any change process causes resistance; this risks leading to a stagnant static collective mindset. However, inaction is an action in itself, creating capacity and the act of change management are covered elsewhere on this site. 

I want to focus on the unease caused by leaders on their followers. Yes, this is sometimes necessary; however, leaders use the experience to foster a feeling of safety through an environment of trust. After numerous conversations with peers (including Kathryn Morgan who has a wealth of knowledge on this subject) about professional discourse (I’ll write about this later), I’ve come to the salient conclusion that trust is built solely through dialogue and communication.

As a leader, you steer and point the organisation toward its destination, the decisions you make are based on the information and experiences we have. This week has been hard for every level of school life, including our pupils. Uncertainty breeds anxiety, and when you don’t know, you create your own reasons in your head. To ameliorate this, leaders keep people in the loop, and you tell them the direction persistently, you let them know where you are on the journey, you build a common language, you create a familiar sense of safety.

Here is the question I want to really ask though:

Are leaders ever honest with themselves?

In the US and indeed, the UK, the idea of transformative leadership is a dominant feature; a leader presents a vision and manipulates the culture and builds sustainable change in schools (Grint 2008). Grint goes on to describe systemic level issues with this apparent model leader are often entirely out of the remit of the leaders’ control (more here).

How many times have you recognised that unease and pressure, that buzzing behind your eyes is not the coffee, it is not just the high powered job, but that it is anxiety? This week I have seen some incredibly brave decision in the absence of vision from above. Arrangements have been made through a necessity for followers; this is bravery; this is leadership. This is leadership at its best; making decisions based on your purpose, your experience and the information you have is all done to put your followers and vision right.

Back to another version of the question.

What do leaders do to put themselves right?

I will come back to this at some point. 

Have an awesome weekend everyone. I think we all need it.

Free Resource for Supporting Pupils’ Emotional Wellbeing Part 1

This amazing resource comes from Alice N’diaye.

I have put together a selection of over 30 picture books that children and families might find helpful at the moment.  They support the key elements of social and emotional learning and, as learning happens best when children see themselves, I have tried to be as inclusive as possible.  I have also included additional resources; songs, sketches, shorts with similar themes and aims.

The bulk of the material came from CBeebies and Sesame Street (via YouTube) which are definitely worth exploring if you haven’t before.

Please note this was created, quickly,  for use with pupils and their families for digital story-times during school closures or to support PSHE delivery at this difficult time.  I have used YouTube links to enable equity of access; I hope authors and illustrators are okay with this.  I am sure that many readers will be inspired by what they read and will buy a book or two if they can.   Any suggestions of additional books (with digital version) or resources will be gratefully received. 😊



Download the full resource with links here.

Leadership – Raising Aspirations

This guest piece is from Executive Headteacher Stever Baker

Kilgarth and Gilbrook Schools are a hard federation of under-funded, maintained SEMH schools for children who are often coping with complex learning difficulties and distressing personal circumstances, in an area among the most deprived in the country.

In order to break the cycle of aspirational deprivation we often have to contend with, we set out on an ambitious project; we wrote to inspirational figureheads from around the globe, asking them to send us a signed photograph and some words of wisdom. We hoped to show our pupils that they do not need to face the challenges of the future alone and that they should aspire to achieve great things.  With the support of some local companies we collated the remarkable responses that we received and created a book; a copy was given to each student, with the hope that it would raise their personal aspirations.  Staff and governors were also given copies, recognising the important role that they play in developing better outcomes for our school family and wider community.  Our award-winning ‘Aspire’ project became the inspiration behind the naming of our new federation of schools.

Taking the learning from our project, my top five tips to raise aspirations, and promote well-being, amongst young people would be:

  1. Have high aspirations at the heart of your vision

We spent over 12 months developing a mission statement, vision, and values for our schools and engaged all stakeholders, including students, teachers, families, governors, psychologists, and members of the local community.  The result of our efforts can be seen in our mission statements.

1. Have high aspirations at the heart of your vision We spent over 12 months developing a mission statement, vision, and values for our schools and engaged all stakeholders, including students, teachers, families,… Click To Tweet

  1. Develop students’ resilience

Research has shown that the skills involved in resilience are almost as important as cognitive skills for achieving educational qualifications by adulthood.  To raise awareness of the importance of resilience we have a number of positive quotes adorning the walls in our school, one of which is: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  The design of the displays was produced with the help of the students so they ‘bought into’ these values.

2. Research has shown that the skills involved in resilience are almost as important as cognitive skills for achieving educational qualifications by adulthood. To raise awareness of the importance of resilience we… Click To Tweet

  1. Create a culture where young people are offered a second chance

Who are we to judge? When our students make mistakes we always allow them the opportunity to have a second chance.  When challenging behaviour is displayed we should be very careful not to label children; we should not be asking ‘what is wrong with you?’ rather we should be asking ‘what happened to you?’ and ‘how can we help you overcome these challenges?’

Create a culture where young people are offered a second chance Who are we to judge? When our students make mistakes we always allow them the opportunity to have a second chance. When challenging behaviour is… Click To Tweet

  1. Promote solution focused conversations

A recent study from the Manchester Institute of Education explored the links between academic attainment and children’s mental health.  They reviewed gender differences and their findings suggested that increased testing and academic pressure in schools are likely to have a negative impact on mental health (particularly in girls).  Their report also indicated that children’s experience of school may be critical to the onset of mental health problems.  To promote a positive outlook, staff at both schools have embraced a coaching culture. This was originally introduced to support the emotional resilience of staff working in challenging environments, but we have also researched the positive impact that coaching has had on pedagogy.  Professor Walter Mischel, creator of the famous marshmallow test, suggested that using goal oriented thoughts helps us to develop levels of self-control which also further develops our resilience.

4. Promote solution focused conversations A recent study from the Manchester Institute of Education explored the links between academic attainment and children’s mental health. They reviewed gender differences and… Click To Tweet

  1. Celebrate success and promote well-being for all

Professor Roy Baumeister researched negativity bias, i.e. the fact that we tend to remember and focus more on negative experiences.  During these times of high stakes accountability, I believe that we should focus on delivering as many positive experiences for young people as possible. The latest research into neuroplasticity shows that the brain remains plastic throughout our entire lives and that by explicitly rewarding specific, positive behaviours we want to encourage, we are able to ‘hard-wire’ them into the young people we work with. Psychologists call this ‘The Matthew effect’ and it is based on accumulated advantage, namely the happier you are, the happier you will become and that by sharing happiness, you will be able to boost others’ well-being.

5. Celebrate success and promote well-being for all Professor Roy Baumeister researched negativity bias, i.e. the fact that we tend to remember and focus more on negative experiences. During these times of high stakes… Click To Tweet

We absolutely must commit ourselves to raising children’s aspirations but should also be mindful that with a reported ‘child mental health crisis’, emotional well-being should also be at the front of our minds; it should not be an optional extra.  I will leave you with the quote from the inspirational Liverpool boxer, Natasha Jonas, who personally handed out the books to our boys, following a series of boxing masterclasses she led for them:

“You have three names in life.  One you are given, one you inherit…and the other you make for yourself.”