Saturday, 4 November 2017

Chris Kirkland on Anxiety

Goalkeeper Chris Kirkland recently 'came out' and admitted to struggling with mental health - a brave move, working as he does in the macho culture of football, and one we should applaud. 

There are a number of themes, not necessarily understood about anxiety, which he touches upon in this video:

- The loss of a familiar setting (his hometown club) triggered anxiety

- Rumination at nighttime, magnifying potential problems of the day ahead

- Negative comparisons with other people's situations - 'I will end up like them'

- An inability to express / verbalise your inner turmoil

- Exhaustion and subsequent depression because of 'over-thinking'

What is also important to note is how anxious thinking crept up gradually with Chris Kirkland, creating deep-seated habits that couldn't simply be simply 'snapped out of'.

We could liken the mind to a garden and which experiences as invasive weed which spreads through rhizomes (underground stems) - which, for the gardener, means they can cut back one patch only to find it several metres away. It takes work and persistence, as Chris Kirkland describes, to manage the situation - not 'cured' but under control.

This is commonly what we see with our young people, particularly so those who were reportedly settled at primary and begin to hit the 'SEMH radar' around Year 8 and Year 9 of secondary school. Also, it is also worth noting that it is frequently the case that if such young people go relatively unnoticed until Year 10 - and only start to ring alarm bells when their attendance falls below 75% - it becomes much harder to enact a turnaround before GCSE exams arrive.

As a way of raising awareness, it might be useful to show this video to students and colleagues, alongside the 'other side' of Chris Kirkland:

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Education Sunday

We have now started the new year and I'm sure the lazy, relatively carefree days seem little more than a distant dream for teachers. 

For many churches across the UK, they mark the start of the academic year with a service dedicated to schools, colleges and universities - recognising the important work they can do for society. 

Over the years I have been asked to speak at various schools for INSET days and it has been a privilege and a pleasure to do so - allowing me in turn to see different settings and meet colleagues in different (as well as similar) situations. I also have a fairly regular slot with the University of Manchester, providing opportunity to meet new recruits to the profession - I always appreciate the enthusiasm and open-mindedness new teachers seem to have. 

Neither are 'easy' assignments for me in terms of the prep and the nerves that go with them - but they're worthwhile and something I enjoy. So, it was with a level of trepidation that I said 'yes' to an invite from a local church to co-lead their 'Education Sunday' service alongside a trained worship leader (of around 50 years service!). 

The request was simple but challenging - to talk about my life as a teacher, explaining the work I do now in the field of social, emotional and mental health needs but also to reflect on my journey as a teacher. 

On drafting it, the worship leader Maureen then put together the prayers, readings and songs around the key themes. I also very much appreciated her advice in terms of putting the address together, in particular her advice that if you 'get in the flow' and pen something down, be careful not to come back to it later and 'pick it to pieces' with a view to perfectionism.

Anyway, I gave it my best shot and it went down well, if that's the right way of putting it!

You can read what I had to say here

Friday, 1 September 2017

Sleepless in Stockport

For those teachers (and pupils & parents) preparing for a few sleepless nights ahead of the return to school, here's a bedside poem that might help:

heaven laughs
and the earth dances
the Sun, Moon and stars
wrap themselves
in a curtain of silver.

nothing is done
and nothing can be
so fall asleep or stay awake
- it won't change a thing

By Yu Jinghai, taken from 'A Scatter of Light in he Summer Sky: Poems of the Tao'

Monday, 31 July 2017

Top Ten Quotes on Perfectionism

Today I read a sobering article about perfectionism - linking it with suicide. 

Perfectionism is described by Psychology Today as the following mindset:

"For perfectionists, life is an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. It's a fast and enduring track to unhappiness, and perfectionism is often accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. And love isn't a refuge; in fact, it feels way too conditional on performance. Perfection, of course, is an abstraction, an impossibility in reality, and often it leads to procrastination. There is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection."

Perfectionism is something I come across in my daily life, working with students with social, emotional and mental health needs - not just the students, but in myself also. It can be simply a mildly annoying and hampering tendency but when you travel down the perfectionist road too far, it can lead to exhaustion and other longer-term conditions that cause substantial physical harm. And as the article I mention above highlights, at its most extreme perfectionism can lead to suicidality.

There is an argument as this article highlights that both the recently-reformed education system, with its renewed focus on numerical grades and 'gold standards', alongside the rise of social media culture, are pushing young people towards perfectionism - particularly it would seem girls.

Here are ten quotes on the dangers which may help us see it more clearly for what it is:

>> "Perfectionism is internalized oppression." - Gloria Steinem

>> “Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.” - Anne Wilson Schaef

>> “Good enough is good enough. Perfect will make you a big fat mess every time.” - Rebecca Wells

>> “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.” - Ecclesiastes 11:4

>> “On Tolkien: "His fussiness threatened to overwhelm his creativity.” - C. S. Lewis

>> "Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing." ~Harriet Braiker

>> "A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault." - John Henry Newman

>> "To escape criticism — do nothing, say nothing, be nothing." ~Elbert Hubbard

>> “The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.” - George Orwell

>>  "And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." - John Steinbeck

Certainly with my own students, I regularly discuss 'good enough' and 'perfect' in terms of work expectations - emphasising the limitations of time to complete a project (time framed as a 'budget', that can only be spent on so much product in terms of quality and quantity). This is a good starting point, alongside being more open and authentic with students about your own mistakes.

If you are worried about your own perfectionist tendencies, it might be worth trying out this questionnaire to gain self-awareness about just how far you go with it - and from there, maybe engaging in something like a CBT or mindfulness course. There is no shame in this - pursuing 'mental fitness' should be regarded as worthwhile, and as everyday, as going on a diet or going to the gym as we do when pursuing 'physical fitness'.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Onwards to Summer

Another academic year has finished and we teachers, and our students, now look to an extended summer break. This can be a time of mixed feelings - the buzz of a holiday and pleasure gained from lots of 'free time' but maybe also some apprehension, particularly for our young people who find stability, structure and stimulus in school (I have also heard colleagues admit to this).

Within my own setting it has been a year of joy at seeing young people make big changes to their lives, which will hopefully continue to bring fruit as they move on from us. It has also been a year in which there have been some very challenging moments, moments of real darkness that have needed to be weathered and somehow overcome - individually and together.

I'm not really one for church-going but these well-known words from the Book of Ecclesiastes, seem fitting:

“For everything there is a season, 
and a time for every matter 
under heaven:

a time to be born, 
and a time to die;

     a time to plant, 
and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, 
and a time to heal;

a time to break down, 
and a time to build up;

a time to weep, 
and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, 
and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones, 
and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, 
and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, 
and a time to lose;
a time to keep, 
and a time to throw away;

a time to tear, 
and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, 
and a time to speak;

a time to love, 
and a time to hate;

a time for war,
and a time for peace."

Here's wishing you all a good summer...

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Teachers as Champions

I know some people love them, but I cannot say I spend much time watching 'Ted Talks'. However, a colleague shared this with me and I found it to be affirming about what it means to be a teacher.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Please Support...


My website gets 500 visitors a day and my resources have been downloaded over 1.2million times. I don't get paid for this and I am not (that!) interested in getting paid for it.

However, I do want your support - your 'payback' - on this occasion. I want a minute or so of your time. I want you to spend it signing this petition and passing it on.

Please can you support my friend's campaign (by clicking here or on the embedded image above) around raising awareness of stillbirth and the impact it has on families - made all the worse by our inability, as individuals and as a state / society, to support those going through it...