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...




Thursday, 2 February 2017

Top Ten Quotes about Anxiety

In my experience and understanding, anxiety forms a major driving part of much of mental health - often an impetus for and precursor to depressive episodes.

Anxiety is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as:

"An uncomfortable feeling of nervousness or worry about something that is happening or might happen in the future."

"Something that causes a feeling of fear and worry."

Clearly anxiety is a natural human condition, and one vital to our ability to survive and thrive as a species. 

However, we are not designed for prolonged bouts of anxiety, which can be hugely damaging in terms of both our mind and in terms of our physicality - as this article highlights.

There are many quotes out there about anxiety, but I think the following ten provide a good snapshot of both the experience of prolonged anxiety and our way through it:

>> “Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.” - Jodi Picoult

>> “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.” - Charles Spurgeon

>> “People tend to dwell more on negative things than on good things. So the mind then becomes obsessed with negative things, with judgments, guilt and anxiety produced by thoughts about the future and so on.” - Eckhart Tolle

>> “Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” - Arthur Somers Roche

>> "People become attached to their burdens sometimes more than the burdens are attached to them. " - George Bernard Shaw

>> “Don’t believe every worried thought you have. Worried thoughts are notoriously inaccurate.” - Renee Jain

>> "Worry gives a small thing a big shadow." - Swedish Proverb

>> “Fears are educated into us and can, if we wish, be educated out.” - Karl A. Menninger

>> "What we see depends mainly on what we look for." - John Lubbock

>> "The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” - William James​

Thursday, 26 January 2017

High Five

The Pendlebury Centre, my 'day job' away from this website, was visited earlier this month by Ofsted. Naturally it was a stressful period, more so the build-up during the afternoon of the day before the inspectors arrived rather than the inspection itself. I would argue it was 'good stress' because of the culture of the Pendlebury Centre - it was more about getting clarity about the particular things we wanted to focus on in the forthcoming 'dialogue' rather than trying to dress things up or paint over any cracks. Around 30 hours after the initial telephone call, we received feedback we were provisionally on for a fifth 'Outstanding' judgement. 

In turn, the inspection findings have been quality assured, published as a letter and can now be widely shared and celebrated: Pendlebury Centre - Ofsted Report, January 2017

I have read much about the toxic effect of Ofsted on school life, and of course it is easy me for say this on the back of my most recent inspection experience, but I have never experienced a 'bad Ofsted' in how it was carried out (this was the fourth of my career). Although fortunately for only very short periods, I have experienced bad school leadership and this proved to be far more damaging for me personally than any inspection - because these are the people you spend days, weeks and months of your lives with not 24 - 48 hours, people you need to trust for guidance and support.

So I do happen to agree that Ofsted, rather than always being an actual 'monster', is being made a monster because of the way some school leaders perceive it and present it to their staff - as this 'Secret Teacher' blog from the Guardian describes. Although I must add the caveat that such an observation, no matter how valid, doesn't necessarily offset the various criticism of Ofsted from credible figures.

Counting on my hands, I am on my fifteenth year of teaching (which suddenly makes me feel very old!). I feel fortunate to work where I do, with the leadership above me and the team around me - and the students, families and colleagues from partner organisations I come across daily. That's not always been the case but I have come to believe the 'lean times' are what help keep you grounded and rounded during the 'times of plenty'.

I know too many teachers who have been unhappy in their careers - largely due to school culture - and it grates on me when I read teachers are leaving the profession in increasingly high numbers. But rather than be consumed by doom and gloom, I always say it is the knack (or luck) of finding 'the right job in the right school' - I consider myself lucky that the various points of my own career can be described in this way.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Who and What to do,,,

Following my slightly esoteric previous post, I want to return to more practical matters. I have recently updated my TES account with a number of resources. These fall into two broad categories:

Assessment Tools - 'Life beyond levels - and beyond that still...'

Strategies - 'What can I do with the young person who...'

For a full list of all the resources I have shared to date, please visit the 'Resources Hub' page.

As you will probably know, TES now has an established 'teachers pay teachers' option. I have no great opposition to this, given this is where the 'market' in the United States has already headed - resulting in the first 'millionaire teacher' as far back as 2012 (according to the Daily Mail). However, I personally will not be selling my resources -  for a number of reasons but partly because many of the resources I share draw upon the influence of colleagues (if not their direct work, which I always try to credit). The resources I list above are an example of this, with some being authored by Jean Gross (to view her website, click here) and some being the work of my Pendlebury Centre colleagues.

What I will also say is whilst it is clearly a constructive act to share resources 'on paper', it is also important to share the 'real life' practice that goes with it - by explaining and demonstrating how such resources are used. In terms of the Pendlebury Centre, we have a thriving outreach programme which you can find out more about by clicking here.

I will be sharing more resources over the coming year - I tend to do this during the school holidays when I get a spare moment to organise and upload them. So please stay patient and stay tuned!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Hawks and Hares

We've now hit 2017 and this blog - and the accompanying TES account I use most frequently - quietly reaches its fifth year. I continue to update it from time to time, in between my day job.

In case readers were wondering, I continue to work at the Pendlebury Centre in a role that has some continuity (data, SEN coordination, day-to-day teaching and pastoral work) but also brings around new challenges - such as my growing outreach role, supporting our partner schools on specific aspects of their SEMH provision, and my recent role in contributing to the Pendlebury Centre's alternative curriculum at KS4 (drawing on the Duke of Edinburgh Award). And then there are our young people, who each come through the door with their own unique personalities and needs - and in turn form quite distinct cohorts, which change year on year...

Speaking to trainee teachers and NQTs, as I do from time to time - mainly via the University of Manchester, I always stress that a career in teaching is a constant journey (cheesy I know, but true). A journey that involves real peaks but also some real troughs - opportunities to grow as a person rather than just as a teacher. In my own career, I started off very much subject focused on being a teacher of history - perhaps narrowly so - before developing expertise in SEN and more recently developing expertise specifically in SEMH. It's been a journey of constant change and something I have recognised needs to be embraced rather than feared.

Mam Tor

Taking a brief moment out of 'the situation' last September on a windy, drizzly late-summer day under the shadow of Mam Tor - and looking around at how I was now taking part in an Outdoor First Aid course, roleplaying how we treat a disaster scene on the side of a desolate hill and working in a rescue team with a grizzled Afghanistan veteran from Durham and a fresh-faced, aristocratic 19 year old mountain climber - really summed this up for me!

I had a conversation a few years ago with a seasoned educational professional who asked how my new role was going - I started by saying, "It's proving to be a learning curve at the moment..." to which he interrupted (and rebuked me with), "I would question any professional who says they're not on a learning curve..." What I then tried to explain, as much as I agreed with this observation, was the period of starting a new role is a much steeper learning curve than usual - a bit like an aeroplane taking off (to borrow an analogy a relative uses when members of the family start a new role and find themselves feeling a little overwhelmed). On my fourth year in this current role, I am thankful things continue to change and provide new opportunities - but also appreciative of having some familiarity with the territory in which I operate.


One of my new year's resolutions - which I began at the start of the 2016/2017 academic year, rather than this calendar year - was to try to read more. I have not put any specific requirements on what I read except a desire to engage in some 'sustained reading' via the (apparently for some) old-fashioned method of books rather than relying on the scanning and skimming of online articles. 

A book that has really stood out is 'No Way But Gentlenesse - A Memoir of How Kes, My Kestrel, Changed My Life' by Richard Hines. Certain books come along and have an impact on you, lasting longer than that initial phase of reading them - sort of sitting there in the background, asking to be mulled over that little bit more. I would say this is one of them. 

Firstly, I have a natural connection to the book in that I hail from the same region as Richard Hines. Growing up in 1980s and early 1990s South Yorkshire, I was a generation or so removed from the time of 'Kes' but there is so much he talks about which resonates, especially in terms of the landscape which has not dramatically changed. I could relate in particular to the closeness of quite claustrophobic, hard-edged industrial town and city landscapes and the more picturesque, untouched countryside where you could escape and find a degree of freedom. This experience of getting out and 'away from it all' is something I have encouraged via my role as Duke of Edinburgh Award leader - and my students, living as they do in Stockport which sits next to the Peak District, gain greatly from it.

Secondly, Richard Hines was a teacher for a good part of his career but constantly took on new roles, through a sense of mission and curiosity rather than cold ambition, which eventually led him away from the school setting to new horizons. I am not ready for handing my notice in as a teacher but I appreciate his adventurous spirit and his sense of almost being a pilgrim (an unpretentious one at that).

Thirdly, although I certainly did not suffer from the harsh divide of the grammar / secondary modern system of the 1960s, there is something about the experience of Richard Hines and his time at school that I can relate to. Certainly the sense of drudgery and lack of aspiration or spark - the fact I also had to leave secondary school before I really found a love of education. That does not mean I have any real axe to grind against the school system, just as Richard Hines doesn't, but we have to face the reality that it is an experience many people have had and many young people continue to have - and it's something that should particularly motivate those of us who have had that experience yet have been brave (or daft!) enough to return to schools to work. 

Another interesting book I have read recently is 'Year of the Hare' by  Arto Paasilinna - a Finnish classic by all accounts - which was recommended to me having waxed lyrical about 'No Way But Gentlenesse'. It is a short tale of a somewhat cynical, 'weather-beaten' journalist who, having accidentally run over and injured a young hare on a routine journey home one day, takes a radically different turn. I enjoyed the book for what it is really - a relatively short, fanciful and funny tale. But, having said this, it was interesting to read reviews and analysis after finishing it (as I often do with books) - noting that the presence of the hare throughout the story is Arto Paasilinna drawing deliberately on the hare as an ancient symbol on the one hand of change and resurrection and on the other of been more 'in tune' with the flow of life. I don't intend to make any great proclamations of what this means personally, other than to go back to the earlier point that change is inevitable and can be embraced as a source of new life - be that in fits and starts as Richard Hines recollects from his own life just down the road in South Yorkshire, or in a sudden turning point as Paasilinna tells it via his fictional journalist and hare over in far-off Finland.

Coincidentally, it was during the mock rescue - with my fellow coursemates scattered across a field awaiting our help - that I saw my first Peak District hare, hopping along seemingly unaware of, or unconcerned with, the 'carnage' unfolding in the field next door.


Anyway, enough rambling - here's a slightly belated happy new year to all readers / regular visitors to this website - I hope 2017 brings all you hope for...