Julia Sharman

Julia Sharman

Julia has over 20 years’ experience working in the education sector as a specialist and advisory teacher for SEN and mental health, as well as a Local Authority Coordinator leading on educational projects and community learning in the public, private and voluntary sectors and freelance writer. She is a specialist teacher for children with dyslexia, and was previously an advisory teacher for children with mental health problems. Julia currently work with children with medical and health needs, including those with mental health issues.

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“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” - William Shakespeare

At some point in our lives most of us, for one reason or another, will suffer from anxiety, which affects our ability to function as we usually would. For some young people, anxiety-based problems can be long term, debilitating and leaving them in need of outside intervention. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (2012) estimates that as many as one in 33 children and one in eight adolescents are suffering from depression at any one time. Young people often find it helpful to talk through problems with a friend or family member, but sometimes talking to a trained professional may be a more appropriate course of action.

The rise in numbers of children and young people suffering from mental health conditions has risen sharply in the last few years. One of the reasons for this is that mental health is more widely and openly talked about, but also that there is also greater recognition and diagnosis.

“Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. It includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking.” Lau and Chan (philosophy.hku, 2015)

Over the years I’ve taught and supported quite a number of pupils with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). I found frequently that a very easy tool to use to aid the development of social skills is social stories. They are a strength-based teaching strategy that helps to develop greater social understanding by providing a visualised plan of a chain of events or situation. The plan or time-frame can be in the form of pictures, sketches, stick figures, comic strips, simple text or photographs. Social stories were created by Carol Gray in 1991 “to help teach social skills to people with autism. They are short pictorial descriptions of a particular situation, event or activity, which include specific information about what to expect in that situation and why.” (The National Autism Society)

Resiliency is the ability to bounce back and to overcome difficult and challenging life circumstances, and develop hopefulness. Young people and children face continuing pressure to succeed in all aspects of life. Imagine that pressure if you have huge emotional hurdles to overcome as well. It has become more widely recognised that, for some, they are at risk of negative outcomes. As educators not only do we have a responsibility to enhance and foster academic achievement, we also have a duty to support a child’s emotional development and well-being. This includes helping to strengthen resilience to all manner of hazards in their environment.

Technology plays a huge part in our everyday lives, whether at school, at work or at home. Many of us rely greatly on being able to use our mobile phones and devices for a multitude of reasons. But the bottom line is we’re generally communicating with someone. Even young children attending nursery or just starting school are familiar with iPads, tablets and interactive whiteboards. So what of the simple pencil? Is it redundant, or is there still a place in the modern classroom? What does it mean to be able to write and what are the benefits?

Many years ago a headteacher, of long standing, said to me that ‘children do not suffer from depression’. This of course is not true, and was a rather naïve statement to make. Although to be fair, mental health conditions weren’t as widely recognised then as they are now. It is now accepted that children and young people can suffer from all manner of stress, depression, loss and anxiety disorders which may affect how they cope on a day-to-day basis, and can result in negative behaviour and thoughts which in turn can impact on their ability to learn and relationships with their peers.

How should perfectionism be viewed, and is it a healthy virtue for the classroom? SEN teacher and mental health professional Julia Sharman puts forth her argument.

Nearly everything about the modern world is about striving for excellence, and for some it is about striving for perfection. Is there such a thing as perfect? All around them, students are being lead to believe that anything less than perfect is unacceptable; body image, educational or sporting achievements, what they possess, relationships. The media has played a huge part in steering these concepts, and also some parents, but what of the education world? Pressure for schools to be excellent, teaching to be excellent and pupils’ achievements to be excellent has increased ten-fold. There are of course excellent schools, teachers and pupil achievements, all of which are highly commendable, but where does the next ‘push’ push them towards? Is it realistic to expect perfection, and what is the impact of perfectionism on individuals?

Laughter can be a powerful agent of education. Here, teacher and SEN guru Julia Sharman examines why giggles in the classroom are not to be dismissed, and that a child’s fun-loving nature ought to be embraced.

There’s nothing like the sound of children’s laughter. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are up to no good; it means they are happy and having fun. If you hear the sound of laughter coming from a classroom when walking down the corridor, you’re almost compelled to find out what they are enjoying so much. So, are ‘giggles in the classroom’ a positive thing?

Teachers love acronyms, and one that seems to be of interest is BYON. Education veteran Julia Sharman discusses the details of Bring Your Own Network, as well as the potential positive and negative aspects that it could bring to schools.

By now the phrases ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) and latterly ‘Bring Your Own App’ (BYOA) are familiar with the majority of us, and integral part of our technological knowledge. Using our own mobile devices and applications are commonplace on a daily basis. Being able to use wireless devices such as mobile phones and tablets to access social media sites and applications, beyond the reach of the main network and allowing access from remote locations, has opened the door to a wealth of information adding greater dimensions to support teaching and learning, in conjunction with and, alongside more traditional methods.

Anti-bullying week is upon us and schools will be taking action to highlight the effects of bullying and, more importantly, offer some solutions as to what pupils and staff can do about it. Helping individuals to understand that bullying is a serious form of abuse encourages them to speak out sooner, to seek help and to protect themselves and others from the devastating effects of bullying.

The more traditional forms of bullying are still prevalent but in recent years there has been a huge rise in cyber bullying. Cyber-bullying can come from individuals or groups, via the internet through social networking sites, and targeting the victim direct through texting and e-mailing. The initial findings of a study conducted by the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), worryingly highlight the extent of bullying, cyber-stalking and unwanted sexual attention online. In these instances, bullying can also include aggressive language, threats, blackmail, racism, sexism and homophobia - often causing victims to self-harm and, in the worst cases, to take their own lives.

Developing an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for ICT should include usage of school-based equipment, both wired and wireless networks and infrastructures, for both BYOD and BYOA.

Establishing an overall policy framework for electronic communications should recognise the convergence of communications functions and services.

It should also clarify the applicability of law and other school policies such as data-protection, safe-guarding, health and safety and computer misuse.

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