As I’ve only just dipped my toe into school leadership, I was surprised at just how difficult it has been this year. Simply managing your class, or leading a subject, is a full time, stressful job all year round. Throw the demands of leading a core subject - or the day-to-day demands of managing a school - into the mix, and ‘stressful’ doesn’t describe it. Thankfully, there’s a great, highly-accessible resource to hand: music.
How exactly can music can inspire leaders? To find out, we first need to discuss how it can make a difficult job easier. I am a musician and play a number of instruments. Playing an instrument, even when you have lots of experience, requires your full and complete concentration. Playing the piano, as I do, requires you to engage so many different elements of your body, both physical and mental that any other thought goes quickly out of the window.
That sheer level of concentration is how I destress. The only place where thoughts of school go fully out of my mind is sat at a piano stool. Any school leader, or teacher for that matter, needs something that completely frees their mind of school - be it exercise, meditation, and so on. This is definitely a vocation rather than a job; you simply can’t walk away at 3.30. However - and this is vital - you MUST be able to compartmentalise in order to survive.
The other way that music helps me with wellbeing is singing. I sing in a community choir once a week. Whilst the levels of concentration are different, this is another oasis in a busy week, one which frees my mind from thoughts of school. Music, and singing in particular, has so many physical and mental benefits.
A review by Chanda and Levitin (2013) highlighted the positive impact of simply listening to music in a variety of ways. The review showed that listening to music releases dopamine and oxytocin in the brain, whilst also increasing the body’s immunity by supporting the production of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that works through the mucous system. One of the studies reviewed also found that listening to music resulted in a decrease in cortisol, the ‘stress’ hormone.
Singing has also been found to have major physical impacts upon the body, particularly the respiratory system (Vickhoff, 2013). Singing, especially in a group, produces a coupling of heart rate variability to respiration, a process called respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). Singing produces slow, regular and deep respiration, which in turn triggers RSA. RSA is a benefit of activities such as yoga and tai chi, so singing can be seen as an alternative to these, as well as having other physical and emotional benefits.
So music is good for you. Listening to music and singing along, whether in an organised way with a choir or simply in the shower, or in the car, on the way to work, can have a positive impact on your body - both mentally and physically. Music can provide a moment of calm in a busy, stressful day. It can help to clear your mind, allowing you to de-stress.
So where does the school leader inspiration come in? Well, if all the things above work, then you are better able to do your job. If your whole outlook has changed, if you are calmer and your body is tuned and able to function, then you will do your job better. I could write a whole article on how music inspires me and others, but first we need bodies and minds that are healthy and able to work. Listen to music, sing along (well or otherwise) and arrive at work with an opportunity to have a positive impact on the children in your care. This year, the doctor subscribes a burst of ABBA, Queen or Ed Sheeran on your journey into work (possibly not on public transport...).
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Did you know that horse riding offers tremendous benefits for pupils with severe learning difficulties? This article considers an innovative approach to widening education access to include more pupils, including those who struggle with a real-life horse, and those with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD).
To begin with, it is useful to consider the benefits of horse riding. “The therapeutic benefits of riding are numerous and as well as the physical benefits of improving posture, becoming stronger and helping riders to become more supple, exercising with a horse is great fun! You can improve your awareness, communication, confidence and decision making, as well as enjoy activities with a community of like-minded people.” (RDA, 2018).
There is such a wide range of benefits to horse riding that it is easiest to provide some bullet points!
Within an educational setting, it is always important to consider the impact of an intervention, and this is no different.
“In addition to providing cardiovascular benefits, decreased physiological stress is associated with animal interaction, contributing to better overall health.” - Pets Are Wonderful Support, 2007
With regards to the outcomes for pupils the photographs speak for themselves with reference to the therapeutic impact of horse riding “...offering stable work and riding to adolescents in an environment with a supportive adult and peers may benefit their psychological development.” - Hauge, H. Et al (2013).
A member of staff reflecting about one pupil commented that, “She benefitted by starting to overcome her fear of the horse. On the last visit she actually entered the sand school and was coaxed up to the horse to touch it. She has been desensitised”.
Riding also provides an additional opportunity for that all important increased physical activity to manage a pupils weight and therefore can be important part of a pupils PE package. There is also a more formal aspect to horse riding; the opportunity to gain some recognition for their achievements! Pupils have achieved a number of AQA Pre-Entry level awards that are available including:
The majority of these awards were achieved by pupils with severe learning difficulties. Very few pupils with PMLD were able to access the horse riding, and for some pupils the prospect of engaging with a live animal was a step too far (though there were some who conquered their fears over a few weeks, and this had been their target). Barriers for pupils with PMLD included the inability to hoist pupils, the limited physical support available from the saddles, and the less controlled environment that provided specific risks for some pupils.
“Many studies have indicated the beneficial effects in the rehabilitation of patients with diverse disabilities… The combination of a horse riding simulator and the concept of hippotherapy led to a new form of rehabilitation.” - Baillet, H. Et al, (2016).
The idea of buying a mechanical horse simulator was born. This would be indoors in a more controlled environment (and with hoisting available), would provide an introduction to horse riding to those who had a fear of the live animals, and would enable the school to find ways of providing access to pupils with more complex needs. There was a problem, though: horse simulators, used by professional horse riders, are rather expensive. A fundraising initiative - ’Tonto’ - was born, and the riding simulator along with a horse riding instructor were all set up to hit the floor galloping for the start of the 2017/18 academic year.
There are now in place a number of AQA Pre-Entry level awards for a horse simulator, including:
Here is an example of one of these awards:
To achieve the introduction to riding a horse simulator, the pupil will have demonstrated the ability to:
Improved access. The horse riding sessions continue, but in addition there are now at least 30 pupils accessing weekly riding lessons with a qualified riding instructor on the simulator. These pupils are now able to access many of the benefits considered at the start of this article. Some of them will progress to the real horse riding lessons.
Increased accreditation. In addition to the awards achieved through horse riding, at the time of writing pupils are working towards the awards relating to the horse simulator.
Therapeutic benefits. With regards to the outcomes for pupils the photographs speak for themselves with reference to the therapeutic impact of the simulator. Anecdotal evidence, however, includes comments from staff, parents and pupils, including:
“When he first got on Tonto he was very nervous, and did not want me to let go of his hands and back. By end of first session, he was riding independently. He had a further four sessions and wanted to try a faster walk. This lasted about 20 seconds, then he asked to go back to a slower walk. Then he went off-site horse riding, and actually rode the horse for the whole session, with only the horse leader for verbal support. These were great achievement in such a short space of time.”
This was especially impressive as during the home visit, his mum said that he was scared of horses. The family own a horse, and he had fallen off of the trap and refused to go near the horse or ride again!
For two pupils, “it helped them to be focussed and calm upon returning to class. Attention and focus has improved over the course of the term within the riding lessons. All of them now remain on for the whole lesson, developing their riding skills, and also their focus and ability to follow verbal instructions.”.
Effect of Therapeutic Horseback Riding on Posture in Children with Cerebral Palsy. Paper presented at the 6th International Therapeutic Riding Congress,Toronto, Canada, 23-27 August. Bowlby, J. (1969).
Energy expenditure of horse riding. European Journal of applied psychology, 82, 499-503. DCMS (2007)
Equine-assisted activities and the impact on perceived social support, self-esteem and self-efficacy among adolescents – an intervention study, Hilde Hauge, Ingela L. Kvalem, Bente Berget, Marie-José Enders-Slegers & Bjarne O. Braastad (2013)
The health benefits of companion animals. Pets Are Wonderful Support, 2007
The health benefits of horse riding in the UK. The British Horse Society, 2010
Human Energy Expenditure and Postural Coordination on the Mechanical Horse, Journal of Motor Behavior, Héloïse Baillet, Régis Thouvarecq, Eric Vérin, Claire Tourny, Nicolas Benguigui, John Komar, & David Leroy (2016)
Riding, http://www.rda.org.uk/taking-part/riding/ accessed from RDA website, February 2018.
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School children are constantly engaging with their peers on digital technology and social networking sites such as Instagram, Snapchat and Musical.ly. While it is sometimes harmful - reports of cyberbullying cases are increasingly commonplace - digital technology also comes with considerable benefits. Below are some of the top e-health tools that enable pupils, and those supporting them, to access mental health and wellbeing advice at the click of a button.
1. Chat Health
This school nurse text messaging service was developed by the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust. ChatHealth is a confidential text messaging service which enables school children aged 11-19 to connect with their school nurse for help and advice on health and wellbeing issues, such as depression and anxiety, bullying, self-harm, alcohol, sex, drugs and body issues. Students will generally receive an instant confirmation message followed by a full response within one working day.
This is an anxiety management app created by the University of the West of England, Bristol. SAM helps users understand the causes of anxiety, monitor their anxious thoughts and behaviour, and manage their anxiety through self-help exercises and reflection. The app also allows users to share their experiences with the SAM community, and fellow anxiety sufferers, through a ‘social cloud’ feature.
Find it at: www.sam-app.org.uk
Created for Primary school children dealing with anxiety and worry, this app allows children to send a written or recorded message to one of four Worrinot characters: Chomp, Shakey, Rip and Stomp. The pupil’s message is then forwarded to a designated person at the school. The app can also be used by teachers as a tool to monitor their pupils’ wellbeing and provide early intervention where necessary. Worrinots was developed with the help of child psychologists, school staff and counsellors, and is Ofsted compliant.
An app for London-based 12-25-year-olds, this guidance and information resource contains details for accessing more than 1,000 local support services for mental health, sexual health, drugs, alcohol and smoking. Through the app, young people can also blog about their own experiences, read FAQs, jargon busters and information about rights and advocacy.
This platform and app, which offers ‘a voice for your students’, is an alternative way for students to report incidents of bullying, cyberbullying, racism, radicalisation, sexism, mental health and self-harm straight to their school, when they are unable to do so face-to-face. The app can be used by students (to report concerns directly to teachers), by school staff (to record incidents and behavioural concerns) and by parents (to report any concerns to school staff) Tootoot provides students with 24-hour support.
Find it at: www.tootoot.co.uk
Developed with Childline by teenagers, this wellbeing app is aimed at children and young people, up to 19. Features include: access to self-help articles and videos on topics such as body issues, exam stress, emotions, bullying, abuse, mental health and self-harm issues. There is a message board where children can chat to others about what’s on their mind. Children can keep track of their daily mood through the app and tailor content that’s relevant to how they are feeling. If a child needs more support, the app will content them with a Childline counsellor for a phone or email conversation.
Find it at: www.childline.org.uk/toolbox/for-me
The year for progress
With teachers’ workloads persistently increasing, technology will continue to play an important role in enabling schools to screen for, and monitor, the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils. Apps and websites are essential in making effective use of teachers’ busy schedules and maximising their time with children: allowing face-to-face contact to be as targeted and beneficial as possible.
Access to digital mental health support also comes with an array of benefits for children, such as the ease, cost-effectiveness and swiftness in which these services can be tapped into. Additionally, digital technology provides an opportunity for pupils to share experiences with a group of like-minded people, fostering a sense of community and camaraderie.
While professional face-to-face services are still an essential part of supporting young people with mental health and wellbeing issues, digital support may be able to reach children who are unlikely to engage with mental health services. According to a 2016 Centre for Mental Health report, entitled Missed Opportunities, children are waiting on average 10 years for effective mental health treatment. Lastly, digital technology brings with it a level of privacy and anonymity - key for young people who are not comfortable to voice their concerns in person.
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The government has announced that ALL schools will, from September 2020, have to teach RSE (Secondary) and Relationships Education (Primary) and health education. This may seem quite a long way ahead, but now is the time to ensure that your school is ready to implement the key elements of the reforms. First of all, we’d like to encourage you to respond to the consultation on statutory SRE and Health Education, which is open now here.
The statutory areas include:
Here at The Alcohol Education Trust, we can help you with all elements needed to deliver comprehensive lessons covering consent, building resilience and resisting peer pressure, as well as fact files on the law, units, alcohol and its social and physical effects for Years 7 through 13. Nearly everything is free to access by both year group and topic, with plenty of online learning resources for children via www.talkaboutalcohol.com.
You can also access the free 100-page teacher workbook packed with games, activities and lesson plans, named national runner-up for The Education Resource Award for best Secondary school resource in 2017. If you’d like tailor-made powerpoints that are ready to deliver with accompanying guidance and notes, or specialist lessons for children with moderate learning difficulties, then you can access our store here.
Alcohol is often the first substance of experimentation among our pupils. Children who drink regularly before the age of 15 are then significantly more likely to engage in other negative risk-taking, such as taking cannabis, novel psychoactive substances (designer drugs), smoking and engaging in risky sex. Academic results suffer, with weekly drinking being linked to a drop in GCSE predictions of 20 points. Attendance falls too, and so life chances are significantly affected. With all of this in mind, ensuring staff in your school are confident in delivering alcohol education is key.
We know that specialist knowledge in school can be an issue in teaching PSHE topics, so we are here to help. Want face-to-face training, or a chat with schools coordinator Kate Hooper? Get in touch via 01300 320869 / [email protected]! Over 1,200 schools across the UK use Alcohol Education Trust resources. Read some of their testimonials here: alcoholeducationtrust.org/about-aet/testimonials.
Online and in print, there is a lot of idealising about nurturing niceness and educating ‘the whole child’. But at the sharp edge in schools, when teachers are busy and pressured to provide results (test scores that is), what can realistically happen? Values and ethics reduced to a snappy slogan on the walls of the hall? Positive characteristics and traits referred to in a school mission statement but never in lessons? Sanctions imposed for negative behaviours but little recognition for positive? Rewards reserved for classwork and achievement?
In the same way that children need to be taught how to hold a knife and fork, tie shoelaces or do long division, so too are empathy, kindness, benevolence and charity traits that need to be taught. Yet where do we reward students for being kind and not just clever? Where do we praise schools for educating hearts and not just minds?
When asked “What is education for?”, the answer “passing tests” is not always at the top of list. Instead, teachers often cite ‘holistic outcomes’, citizenship development and rich understanding of knowledge in context - not just a list of rote-learned facts - as key ambitions.
But there is little reward for schools or students who achieve these holistic aims. Although evidence of healthy SMSC and British Values provision contributes to an inspection outcome, Ofsted’s criteria largely hang on exam results. Progress 8 looks at points from qualifications. SATs tests define a child’s Primary school achievements. Teacher assessment and reporting to parents leans heavily on levels.
How can we turn this system on its head? By innovating our routines and protocols. Happy children achieve more, kindness breeds kindness. Although ‘behaviour’ can be a key concern in school development plans, there is a difference between students not being naughty and being actively kind.
One method I’ve implemented had me standing up to present an assembly in front of Years 7, 8 and 9, playing a YouTube video called ‘random acts of kindness’ and then challenging students to conduct their own over the six-week half term. Media Studies students also created a video to show in form time.
The next half term we went a step further. On the first Monday back after the holidays, the school council and I went into school two hours early in order to (in the words of executive principal Dave Whittaker) “batter the school with kindness”. ‘Thank you’ notes left for cleaners and caretakers. Flowers in the reception. Fifty pence pieces sellotaped to the vendors, sweeties left in the staffroom, compliments stuck to windows. Free umbrellas for the rain, new pencil cases for the new starters, ‘you’re the best’ badges for the dinner ladies. Balloons dropped off at the nursery, handing Murray Mints to the arriving bus drivers, and a car cleaning service offered in the car park. The list was extensive, and I’ve forgotten a few I’m sure, but the buzz was tangible.
With the school council driving the agenda, students let their imaginations run wild with the kindness drive. A school charity was formed - ‘The Helping Hand’ - and projects dreamed up. Age UK and Yorkshire Air Ambulance visited the school, collections and visits to local food banks were run... It was a beautiful blooming of positive deeds, and served to remind staff and students: ‘It’s nice to be nice’.
Other projects/ideas to promote kindness in schools:
The results were striking. There were 100s of recorded and rewarded acts of kindness. Students could see them, staff could see them, and we could all feel them.
Here are just some acts of kindness by students recorded by staff over two half terms [this is a fraction of the acts Paul sent in! - Editor]:
Where is the kindness in your curriculum? Make this year the year to be nice. World Kindness Day is November 13th 2018, and Random Acts of Kindness days can be run throughout the year, so get planning!
#EduFootyAid is a new charity football event with a twist: all the players are primary school teachers. It will raise money for Mind, the country’s leading mental health charity. #EduFootyAid is organised by the Striker Boy campaign, which was set up in memory of former primary school teacher Jonny Zucker who sadly took his own life in 2016. Mental health is a key concern for the education sector, particularly primary education, with rates of suicide amongst primary school teachers nearly double the national average.
The event is set to run twice a year, with the first match taking place at Lanchester Primary School in Durham on Saturday October 6th. Gates open at 12pm and kick-off is at 2pm. Every player is raising a minimum of £50 in sponsorship and overall the event hopes to raise £3,000.
Although it's for a serious cause, the event itself will be a joyful and inclusive community day, ideal for children and adults of all ages. As well as the football there will be stalls, raffles, face-painting, refreshments and all the merriment that you’d expect to find at a great British school fair. The event is free for spectators and you can register via the Striker Boy campaign Facebook page.
Jane Davis, headteacher at Lanchester Primary School said: “We’re delighted to be hosting the first ever #EduFootyAid event. This event is a fantastic opportunity for us to engage the local community and raise money and awareness for a really important cause.”
If you would like to show your support for the teachers playing in #EduFootyAid you can make a donation on JustGiving. Any teachers who would like to play in future #EduFootyAid events should head to www.strikerboy.com to register their interest.
This event has only been made possible thanks to generous sponsorship from a number of suppliers within the education sector, namely; The TES, Think-IT, Groupcall, Animate2Educate, The Literacy Shed, Primary PE Passport, and 2Simple.
An NUT survey in 2015 found that over half of teachers were thinking of leaving the profession in the next two years, citing ‘volume of workload’ (61%) and ‘seeking better work/life balance’ (57%) as the two top issues causing them to consider this. Research also shows that one in four teachers will quit the profession within the first five years of teaching. Yet, according to a Gallup survey in 2013, teaching was still voted number two out of the top 14 careers - beaten only by physicians.
Why did you go into teaching? Most of us came into it because we had a vision of how we thought education should be. We loved children, believed that we could affect change, had an enthusiasm for our subject, and we wanted to make a difference. Sadly, many of us have lost sight of that vision.
Consider this: On a scale of 1-10, how stressful is your job? Too often, we do not listen to our bodies, ending up with distress, which manifests physically as pain, muscle tension, injury or disease; emotionally with symptoms of jealousy, insecurity, feelings of inferiority, inability to concentrate, poor decision making, mental disorientation, depression, anxiety and so on.
In this article, I’m going to outline five steps to create delicious habits that will make you positively flourish at work!
1. Put your own oxygen mask on first
I am sure you will have heard it said, in the preflight demonstration, that if there’s an emergency, to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others. The idea is that you don’t become so preoccupied with trying to help secure everyone else’s oxygen mask that you forget to secure your own. You are not going to be much help to anyone, let alone yourself, if you’re in a pre-comatose state!
Teachers and school leaders often tell me they have depleted themselves for the sake of others - pupils, management, staff, family, friends. It’s important to take the time and care to secure your oxygen mask, then when the challenges of school life come hurtling towards you, you will have some foundations with which to deal with them.
2. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
Drink water throughout the day. By staying hydrated you'll be taking care of your most basic needs first. Water is also essential for cleansing the body, so try to drink at least four to six glasses a day.
Cut down on all refined and processed foods, sugar, fried fatty foods, additives and all stimulants like tea, coffee and alcohol. Instead, eat more whole grains, vegetables, fruit, whole wheat pasta, seafood, free range/organic poultry and dairy products. Make sure to eat enough to ensure your blood sugar isn't crashing. Have healthy snacks around, especially when you are ruled by your school breaks and busy schedules.
3. Start an exercise programme
Walking, running, swimming, aerobics, dancing or yoga. Exercise regularly at least twice a week. There’s a lot of research out there that indicates the better shape you are, the easier you will find it to handle stress.
4. Take time off from the digital screens
While screens may feel relaxing, and allow you to turn "off", try and find a sans-screen activity to truly take time for yourself. Skip the TV and enact even the smallest self-care rituals, like:
5. Say “NO!”
This is the hardest word for a teacher to say! Most of us are kind and caring individuals, high achievers and hugely diligent. We teach because we want to make a difference, and the word ‘no’ is so hard to say. But we MUST say it if we are to survive in this culture of an ever-increasing workload. Try saying: ‘Not now’, and then give a future time frame.
Take Nottingham’s Education Improvement Board as an example. They have come up with their own fair workload charter. In brief, the charter deﬁnes what ‘reasonable’ means in terms of the additional hours teachers are expected to work beyond directed time each day. They say that school policies should be deliverable within no more than an additional two hours a day beyond directed time for teachers (and three hours a day for those with leadership responsibilities).
Schools adopting the charter receive the Education Improvement Board fair workload logo to use on their adverts and publicity. This reassures potential applicants about the workload demands that will be placed on them in choosing a charter school over one that hasn't adopted it. Read more about the charter at: www.schoolsimprovement.net/what-exactly-is-a-reasonable-teacher-workload.
With the exponential rise of technology, the popularity of social media platforms and the ubiquity of smart devices, ‘online health and safety’ has never been more important. The benefits of edtech are enormous, from individualised learning and mixed realities, to the instant global connectivity that social media provides. But we need to balance these rewards by addressing the risks of being online - from cyberbullying and loss of privacy, to concerns around the mental health of social media users. So how should schools go about ensuring this?
I write this at the start of April, whilst enjoying a view some may call “paradise”: sat on Long Beach, in Pulau Perhentian Kecil, with the South China Sea lapping up against my toes. It’s been a well-needed ‘switch off’ after the last three-to-six months (the last three in particular). The added benefit of five days without working WiFi was not lost on me. Whilst naturally there were those who worried about my radio silence, being blissfully ignorant of literally everything going on outside of a 1km stretch of beach has been quite refreshing! So how has this benefited me as an international educator?