Friday, 28 August 2015

Top Ten Quotes on Rumination

The new academic year is almost upon us. The coming weekend is likely to be one of nervousness for some teachers (and pupils alike) as we turn over in our minds the possibilities of the next ten months. If you are generally struggling to sleep, this 'Teacher's guide to sleep' from the Guardian website might help.

Over the years I have learned to actively recognise that this particular point of the year is naturally a period of heightened worry and, in turn, I allow it to pass by far more easily by not tuning in too much to worrying thoughts that occur. This includes (particularly so) those moments of feeling wide awake in the night - instead of worrying about the year ahead and adding to that worrying how I am not sleeping, I actively label thoughts 'just a passing worry' and focus my attention 'outwards' on the sounds of the night, sometimes even spending a bit of time looking out of the window at the strange landscape of the midnight street.

When we worry repetitively and in an out-of-control way, we are in fact ruminating - a condition of the mind known to cause anxiety and depression. As this article notes, 

"The word "ruminate" derives from the Latin for chewing cud, a less than gentile process in which cattle grind up, swallow, then regurgitate and rechew their feed. Similarly, human ruminators mull an issue at length."

The fact is we cannot really change the course of the coming year no matter how much we 'chew' - particularly the unpredictable events (which naturally occur in human communities). And if we allow our minds to run wild we are likely to cause ourselves more problems rather reduce them, as these ten quotes highlight:

>> "The combination of rumination and negative mood is toxic. Research shows that people who ruminate while sad or distraught are likely to feel besieged, powerless, self-critical, pessimistic, and generally negatively biased." - Sonja Lyubomirsky

>> "I have neither the scholar's melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician's, which is fantastical; nor the courtier's, which is proud; not the soldier's which is ambitious; nor the lawyer's, which is politic; nor the lady's, which is nice; nor the lover's, which is all these: but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, which, by often rumination, wraps me in a most humorous sadness." - William Shakespeare

>> “Too much thinking leads to paralysis by analysis.” - Robert Herjavec

>> “To think too much is a disease.” -  Fyodor Dostoyevsky

>> “We are dying from overthinking. We are slowly killing ourselves by thinking about everything. Think. Think. Think. You can never trust the human mind anyway. It's a death trap.” - Anthony Hopkins

>> "Rumination tends to be eased if we learn to be mindful; if we are able to be aware of, and understand how our own thoughts work." - Peter Kinderman

>> "If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever."- His Holiness The Dalai Lama XIV

And, to finish, some wise excerpts, from the unexpectedly sage-like Winnie-the-Pooh:

>> “Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brain."
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."
There was a long silence.
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything.” 
- A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

>> "What I like doing best is Nothing."
How do you do Nothing," asked Pooh after he had wondered for a long time.
"Well, it's when people call out at you just as you're going off to do it, 'What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?' and you say, 'Oh, Nothing,' and then you go and do it.
It means just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering."
"Oh!" said Pooh.” 
- A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

So here's to a good year to colleagues and pupils - stay steady!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Revision Time...

I've not given this website any TLC for a while but plan to have a blitz on uploading resources in the summer term, after my students have made it through their GCSE exams.

In the meantime, I recommend the website - 'Get Revising' - to anyone else trying to get Year 11s through this intense period of study. I hasten to add that although the website has a pay-for section, this is not an advert - I simply like the website and the free section seems to be enough.

These revision and coursework planners, a more paper-based resource, might also come in handy over the coming weeks.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Education for Social Justice

This week I had the pleasure of delivering a one hour talk at the University of Manchester as part of the 'Education for Social Justice' Conference. I promised those colleagues attending that I would put the presentation online as soon as I had chance. So here it is:


The presentation can also be freely downloaded here - and viewed with animation here.

One of the questions I was asked by a colleague - which I loved for its simplicity and ability to cut to the heart of the matter - was,

"Do you like working in a Pupil Referral Unit?"

Since leaving my last post as SEN Coordinator in a large Catholic comprehensive, I've been working back in a Pupil Referral Unit setting for nearly 18 months now and so far it has proved to be both an enjoyable and enriching experience. So the answer, in short, is 'yes'.

Life in a PRU has its particular pressure points. A big one, in my role as English teacher, is the task of guiding each student through their GCSEs in a much shorter time.  Another is the constantly changing social dynamics as we take in new referrals whilst at the same time having to let 'fledge' those students we have come to know so well, as they reintegrate back into a mainstream setting.

As the presentation hopefully shows, the common areas of 'social, emotional and mental health needs' I come across, and am challenged by, on a day-to-day basis are:

- Antecedents - The events, developments and situations that have taken place before a young person arrives at our door. This tends to involve family upheaval and/or a bad experience of school (due to a variety of factors). It also involves the emergence of 'in born strengths and weaknesses' - frequently autism, ADHD and/or processing difficulties.

- Attachment - The extent and manner in which a young person can build and maintain relationships with peers and adults - patterns of interaction generally rooted in their early childhood experiences.

- Anxiety - The levels of nervousness, open-mindedness and resilience a young person presents with - having roots in their personality, day-to-day family life and their history, not least their previous school experiences.

Having said this, there are also many plus points of working in a Pupil Referral Unit. In my experience, there is greater opportunity of getting to know your students better in a PRU due to the much smaller cohort compared to mainstream settings. This also goes for the staff you work alongside with, as part of a smaller, more close-knit team - every colleague is known by name and face (and football club affiliation!), rather than having a whole bunch of colleagues who you only connect with via email.

And obviously, there is the lasting sense of fulfilment that comes with seeing students go on to find success in their studies and more generally in life, when so often at first the picture looks bleak. When things go well, we often declare (with tongues firmly in our cheeks) to one another in the staff room, "Welcome to the Miracle Factory!" - but as cheesy as this may sound, often you do find yourself marvelling at the transformation happening before your eyes.

PRUs can sometimes get a bad press but what is heartening, as I found talking with trainee teachers and newly qualified teachers this week, is that there are many young teachers out there gunning to give it a go, wanting to know how they might get a chance to work in this kind of setting with our most vulnerable young people - teachers with a genuine thirst for pursuing social justice through education, not just a career, not just the pursuit of their chosen subject.

I think it has been a tough few years in schools as a whole - largely due to Michael Gove's tenure as Secretary of State for Education - yet it is heartening to see a passion for the fundamentals of the job alive and kicking amongst so many.