Ben Connor is a Primary school teacher in Lancashire. Teaching since 2010, Ben has taught from Year 2 to Year 5. Since September 2018 he has been English subject leader and SLT at a school in Bolton. In his spare time he writes articles, and leads workshops mainly focussing on Music and English, sometimes a combination of the two.
If you had said in February that we would spend the whole of Summer Term teaching from home, I would have been gobsmacked. The last term has been the strangest of my decade-long teaching career. Not all of the events that unfolded post-lockdown were unpleasant. If you believe some online ‘commentators’, teachers spent that time sitting on the couch, which I did at some points. I spent more time with my own children, even becoming their teacher for a couple of months (more difficult than teaching my pupils). I provided online learning for my class whilst also spending one day a week supporting key worker children.
We are in completely uncharted waters. Thousands of children at home with parents, unable to go to school. Schools are attempting to provide resources for parents to use at home, to varying degrees of success. But what is the intention? To replicate school? To ensure children don’t miss out on learning?
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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E-safety is vital for pupils from the age of four. From this age the vast majority of children in our country are having regular access to the internet via tablets or smartphones. Everything and everyone has an ‘app’, and creating apps and games for children is big business. How do we protect our children in a developing, potentially unsafe, world? How do we future-proof our children in a digital world?
'Wellbeing' is a word that has been bandied around for a while with regard to teaching as a profession. It generally stems from the issues that come from teaching being a stressful job. I imagine it has always been so: taking 30 young minds and guiding them (sometimes unwillingly) towards educational enlightenment is stressful. However, when you add the current climate in teaching in our country, “stressful” isn't a strong enough word.
It’s been a hard few weeks. Every day when I wake up and turn on the TV, there seems to be more and more terrible things happening in the world. Sometimes this makes it hard to get out of bed, get to work and put on your ‘teacher’ face. Difficult questions from pupils and answers that seem hollow.
The most dreaded date in the diary: the Class Assembly. When I see a note in my diary (underlined three times) reminding me ‘Two weeks until Class Assembly’, something inside me dies. 30 children stood in rows, performing songs or poetry or skits. Parents sat on rickety chairs, transfixed as their darlings (each one a future Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling) perform their two painstakingly memorised lines. Each assembly on a different topic: with a different year group, different group of children. Each assembly however feels very similar. 30 children stood in rows, benches, songs, poetry, skits, etc etc.
Editor’s note: Were you at this amazing event? If so, share your experiences of the day in the comments below. Be sure to get in touch, as we’re keen to collaborate with as many Primary Rockers as possible!
When I tell my colleagues about Twitter, I often get the eye-roll. ‘Here he goes again, banging on about Social Media.’ ‘I don’t understand a word of what he’s saying.’ Use the words ‘edu-chat’ and I’ve lost them completely.
One of the best things about being a teacher is the ability to make children cry.
Before you get out the flaming torches and pitchforks, I don’t mean that in the way you might assume. That sort of attitude has no place in modern teaching. Rather, the thing that I enjoy is when something you do as a teacher, a lesson, an activity, or an experience, causes your pupils to have an emotional experience.
Think tension. Think Music. Think a knife and a shower curtain. Think a rocking boat and glinting teeth...
When teaching my pupils about tension in narrative, I turn to film scores. We’ve all been there: a darkened cinema, the heavy breathing of a potential victim, the slow building music, an increase in heart rate. The scene reaches its climax and the victim is caught by the ghost/vampire/serial killer/rabbit. Now play the scene without the music. Does it have the same impact? Does your heart beat in quite the same way? Why does a building “duh duh…duh duh” have us sprinting for the shore?