Julie Leoni

Julie Leoni

Julie Leoni is a psychology, counselling, yoga and meditation teacher whose PhD investigated the links between emotions, gender and deviance in schools. She has written three books on well-being and coaches pupils and staff. She regularly writes for Psychologies Magazine and offers free resources on stress, domestic abuse, meditation and well-being at www.julieleoni.com

Julie was recently interviewed on Radio Shropshire to discuss her latest article The psychology behind how schools need to re-open. The interview can be found here

I’m a mother, teacher, researcher and life-long learner and I’m hearing and seeing a lot of problems with home schooling:

1.The reality is that the majority of children are not engaging in work set by their schools.

2. Online work can be overwhelming, the materials hard to navigate and boring.  

3. Children are feeling anxious about being ‘left behind’ when they are already stressed enough about covid and lockdown.

4. Children are bored with online learning and this is switching them off from learning.

5. Children should not be on screens for hours each day. There is substantial research about how the use of technology interferes with sleep, raises anxiety and negatively impacts mental health.  

6. Home-schooling is threatening family attachments. Parents are so stressed about making sure their children ‘keep up’ that they are shouting at and falling out with them. Now, more than ever, our children need us to be parents, to nurture them, to reassure them, calm them, care for them.  

7. Parents are stressed enough already. Gabor Mate’s work on stress shows how parents pass their stress on to their children, which not only affects them emotionally, but biologically and cognitively too.  

8. Teachers are feeling stressed about making sure that their classes ‘keep up’ and teachers are parents too. What is this ‘keeping up’ or ‘getting behind’ anyway? Every teacher knows that we are going to have to ‘re-visit’ any online work set because every child will be at a different place.

9. Schools are wasting valuable human resources in producing materials which are not engaging children or leaving some children behind.

So what should we do?

1. Schools need to use established on-line sites such as Bitesize and Seneca which do the job much better than most teachers can.

2. Which would free up teachers to have conversations with students and families. These conversations would be a way of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults and families and supporting families in accessing the resources they need as well as building relationships and reducing stress. This would also relieve the feeling of children being ‘left behind’.

3. If we really want children who love learning, then we need to look to the Reggio Emilia Approach which is child led, or Steiner education which is holistic and thematic. These approaches build attachment as the adult and the child are discovering learning in relationship with each other and learning is the focus rather than getting to an end goal.

4. This approach would allow children to self-motivate and to go into depth in what they enjoy. When we want to learn something we do it for its own reward.

5. This would also allow children to move away from their screens to move, create or play all of which soothes the central nervous system, increases well-being and lowers stress. Movement is central to children’s optimal brain development.

6. Paulo Freire argued for dialogical education which is ‘is a co-operative activity involving respect’ and he said that education’s purpose was ‘was part of making a difference in the world.’. Vygotsky’s research showed we all learn relationally. Parents and teachers need to be talking with our young people, engaging with them on what interests them and us, to be exploratory and open in our curiosity.

7. Being busy is not a mark of intelligence or learning, it is a mark of being busy. We could allow our children to rest. It is no accident that Steve Jobs, (Apple) went on retreats to stop doing and just take time to be. What solutions, creations, ideas might our children generate if they had time to think and play?

8. Our world needs new systems, new ways of thinking, new ways of doing economics and medicine. We need thinkers who can collaborate and innovate not just fill in worksheets or regurgitate the curriculum.

9. This is not the time to replicate schools when education needs to change. Schools could use this time to re-invent what learning could be, possibly to move away from learning based on age based expectations, to consider if we could structure learning differently for example, by ability or interest. In families we can start this process of developing cross-age learning. A child of five and a child of fifteen can both learn Mandarin, or baking. Older family members can teach younger and younger can teach older. There is research to show how this not only increases learning, but also social and emotional skills.  

The world has already changed, is changing and will change as a result of covid-19. When a forest fire burns down, you can’t force the old trees to re-grow. Instead you have to plant new seeds and nurture them to see what will flourish in the new environment. What an amazing opportunity we have at the moment to see how education could be different for us all.

Schools can't go back. They need to go forward. Something new has to form.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016 09:20

Mindfulness in schools: The why and how

In 2000-2001 I was carrying out action research for my PhD, investigating why some pupils got excluded and others didn’t and what schools could do about it. I introduced meditation and sharing circles to Year 7 drama at a time when it seemed new and radical, and it had a positive impact on the pupils I was working with. I combined meditation with a ‘check in’ or listening circle which allowed pupils to:

Tuesday, 26 September 2017 10:00

8 ways to remove stress from your school

‘Too much to do and too little time’ is a cry I often hear in schools, and yet how is it that some people have enough time and other people don’t? An ex-colleague used to say: “If you want something doing, give it to a busy person”. So is it that busy people are better with time management, or could it be that they have less to do than they are letting on?

Friday, 03 June 2016 10:00

How to de-stress your school

Pupils are stressed. The Chief Medical Officer’s Report of 2012 found that:

  • Self-harm rates have increased sharply over the past decade.
  • Peak onset of mental ill health is 8 to 15 years.
  • 10% of children have a mental health issue.

What do you do when a mum tells you that her husband tried to hit her son that morning before school? Do you nod sympathetically and do nothing, or just tell her it’s “just dads and sons”? What do you do when a tearful child tells you that dad shouted at mum again and made her cry? Do you just say “that’s not nice is it?” and get on with your lesson?

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