Gratitude in the classroom

Studies have identified that students who practice gratitude during their teen years are more content with performance in school and they exhibit more positive behaviours such as kindness and social connection (Froh, Bono, Emmons, 2010). Using gratitude activities in the classroom has been associated with benefits to student mood, wellbeing and even a decrease in materialism (Polak & McCullough, 2006).

So could you use gratitude in the context of your own teaching?

This Gratitude exercise could be used with students (or adults) from late Primary School age onward during Tutor time, as part of PSHE or Religious Studies. Gratitude exercises such as this can also used when students are approaching periods of high levels of stress such as the exam season.

It is helpful to ensure students are settled and quiet before beginning this exercise. Short stilling exercises such as those encouraging students to focus on their own breathing are useful for this purpose and Mindfulness colouring exercises can also be used to this end.

In the classroom context, if students are not used to this type of exercise, some of them may find it unsettling. Therefore, it can be helpful for students to fold their arms on the desk and then lie their head on top when taking part on activities such as this. This strategy avoids students feeling vulnerable with their eyes closed and worrying that other students are looking at them! It is also helpful to assure students that this is a stilling and mindfulness exercise that should help them to feel more relaxed and is not a religious practice.

When reading the Gratitude meditation aloud, take the time to pause at the end of each phrase for a second or two. It is helpful to lower the tone of your voice and model a sense of calm for the students.

At the end of the exercise, give students a few minutes to stretch and talk about their experience during the exercise. Then the students can be encouraged to reflect on what they are grateful for in a variety of ways. Some suggested gratitude related activities are:

  • Students make a list of 50 things they are grateful for.
  • Students may like to draw a diagram or mind map of what they are grateful for in a variety of categories: relationships, experiences, facilities, things, places etc.
  • Students may want to take the opportunity to write notes of gratitude to the people they are most grateful for.
  • Decorate a gratitude rock that can be kept in pockets as a reminder to try and focus on gratitude.

OPTION RS 2019

References

Froh, J. J., Bono, G., & Emmons, R. A. (2010). Being grateful is beyond good manners: Gratitude and motivation to contribute to society among early adolescents. Motivationand Emotion, 34(2), 144–157.

Polak, E. L., & McCullough, M. E. (2006). Is gratitude an alternative to materialism? Journal of Happiness Studies,7(3), 343–360.

 

 

10 ways to build relationships with your tutor group

The start of a new school year is a great time to set an intention for the months to come. The old saying – ‘start as you mean to go on’ certainly applies. Establishing positive relationships is key to the process of teaching and an attempt to build this relationship with academic classes in the early days will usually be rewarded.

Establishing a positive relationship with a tutor group that you don’t spend masses of time with is equally important but it can be challenging for teachers who are trying to navigate the demands of the academic curriculum and administration to have enough time and energy to devote to this additional pastoral responsibility.

To help you out, this year, here are a 10 activities that can be used to help build a positive relationship with a new tutor group.

  1. Vision board – A vision board is a great tool to be used when setting goals and an intention for the year to come. All that is needed is basic materials such as a pile of magazines, scissors and glue. Encourage students to select words and images that convey how they are hoping to feel at the end of the year and what they are hoping to accomplish both at school and beyond. The finished vision boards can be kept and given back to the students to reflect on at various points of the year. I wrote more about this here.
  2.  Mini time capsule – On day 1 take a photo of the tutor class together and print it. Put it together with student responses to a questionnaire such as the one outlined here in a sealed envelope, to be revisited at the end of your time together.
  3. Just Dance – get students moving by having an impromptu dance party. Select one of the classic Just Dance videos on Youtube to be your class anthem and get practicing! I particularly love this one.
  4. Team building activities – set a challenge for teacher allocated groups of students to complete. Inexpensive packs of playing cards can be used to try and build the tallest possible tower or students can see how many of them they can fit on a single piece of A4 paper.
  5. Mini tournament – have a paper scissors rock championship or a jenga tournament – winners play winners until there is an ‘ultimate’ class champion.
  6. School charades – classic charades with an academic twist. You can use this basic list of topics or devise one that is specific to your school.
  7. All about you – Take some time to tell the students things about you that they do not already know – such as where you were born, what your favourite food is, how old you are and basic information about your family as this helps to build those all important relationships.
  8. Talking stick -use to structure question and answer sessions around the new school year or any other topic you choose. Sit everyone in a circle and pass around a ‘talking stick’ which can be any size or shape. Only the person with the stick speaks. A good starting point for this exercise is what students are worried or excited about or they can be asked to share the best thing that happened to them over the summer. Anyone who does not want to share just passes on the stick when it is their turn.
  9. Digital quiz tools– If your students have access to devices in the classroom, use a tool like Kahoot to make an interactive quiz – cover a range of topics like school history, school rules, facts about you, facts about the school etc.
  10. Meditate – Set a timetable for tutor time that includes opportunities to rest and recharge when possible. I find the guided meditations on Headspace particularly helpful to structure quiet time.

Wishing all teaching colleagues a peaceful start to the new school year!image

 

Snapshot in time task!

Results are in and no doubt the start of the new school year is looming large in your mind. Many of us in addition to our academic teaching loads are also required to be tutor teachers and to build up a pastoral relationship with young people, trying to get to know them and engage with them enough to become mentors to them. In the next few days I am aiming to share some of the strategies I have used so far in my career to help develop these important relationships quickly.

Today I wanted to share this very simple Snapshot in time task that I have used with students from Year 7 through to the Senior year levels in the pastoral context. This is an easy way to start building up a picture of the students in your tutor group and if you store away the completed proformas, it makes for a fun tutor time later in the year too as the students can look back and see how their list of ‘favourites’ has changed. There is a space for students to put a picture of themselves which could also potentially help with learning names if you are going to working with a new group of students this year!

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Be a visionary – using vision boards in the classroom

Vision boards are a great tool to use at the start of the school year when students are setting their intentions for what is to come. Of course, teachers have goals for students in terms of target grades but it is important for students to take ownership of their own goals too and really reflect on what they are hoping to accomplish during the year. Think of these vision boards as a more reflective extension or development of that old favourite activity – the subject related inner front cover in the folder or exercise book.

All that is needed is a pile of magazines or newspaper, scissors, glue, paper and a dash of creativity.

Encourage your students to select words, images or slices of colour that convey their thoughts in response to a selection of the following questions and then put them together into a collage. *If they have access to a digital device, many students also enjoy using apps such as Pic Collage or Canva to develop a vision board. 

  1. What are you hoping to accomplish this year?
  2. How do you want to feel about your work in this subject at the end of the year?
  3. What are your feelings about this subject at the moment?
  4. What are you looking forward to the most?
  5. What are you looking forward to the least?

The most important thing with an activity like this is to give the students enough time and space to think and then work on their piece. Some students might find it helpful to jot down words and ideas before they begin but others would probably prefer to dive right in to explore their ideas through the collage.

This would be a great task to start in class and then have the students finish up at home. Finished pieces can either be placed into subject exercise books or folders or collected in by the teacher and then handed out at key points during the year to encourage students to reflect on their progress towards the goals they identified at the start of the year.

Incidentally I covered my teacher’s planner with the vision board below to help me remember my own goals so this might be something to try too. It definitely helps me to remember what I am striving for professionally!

 

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Wisdom begins with wonder – Socrates

Facebook – curse or blessing?

As I scroll through Facebook, my eyes are often drawn to stories that have a connection to the classroom. Whether it is a news story, a piece of social commentary, a provocative cartoon or a meme, I take inspiration from the sphere of social media and use this inspiration to feed into my teaching practice.

However, I also spend a lot of time mindlessly scrolling through content that does not enrich my teaching or my life on any level for that matter. I am frequently sucked into reading and watching pointless junk and while I wonder what effect this has on the connections in my adult brain, I worry what effect it has on the young people I spend time with every day.

 

Facebook image

‘Facebook depression’ is identified as emotional disturbance that develops when teens spend a lot of time on social media and unconsciously begin to compare themselves negatively to others (Steers, Wickham & Acitelli, 2014). I know that many young people have long since moved away from Facebook to embrace the array of other social media platforms that it has inspired but whatever platform we consider, the effects are the same.

Procrastination, distraction and the desire for approval all blighted my teenage experience but how much more challenging is the world inhabited by teens today. They are required to manage their studies and an ever increasing array of extra-curricular activities to ‘get ahead’ and to do so to a sound track of media noise and whirring social expectations. In many schools, students are required to complete their work on devices that are designed to distract and trigger pleasure centres in the brain. As teachers and parents we instruct students to spend hours plugged into their devices studying and then are surprised when they fall prey to procrastination and get distracted by devices that are essentially fulfilling their purpose.

Internet addiction is now included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by psychiatrists. A Facebook addiction scale has been developed ( Paddock, 2012) and worryingly, studies have shown that social media is more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol.

Of course, social media applications such as Facebook can have a positive effect in terms of eliminating loneliness and enabling connections to be formed. We can use them to become more informed about the world in which we live, gain a deeper understanding of complex issues and as a means of self-expression. It is not all bad and perhaps that is why in contrast with other addictive forces in the lives of young people it can be so dangerous. We can instill messages of abstention from alcohol and tobacco with confidence that all young people will be healthier and happier if they go without, but the same does not apply to social media. A mindful approach to the use of technology and social media has to be the way forward but how this can become manifest in places where social media is such an integral part of what it means to live, remains to be seen.

 

References

Steers, M-L, Wickham, R.E Acitelli, L.K. (2014). Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology: Vol 33

Paddock. C (2012) Facebook addiction: New psychological scale. Medical News Today.

Something to think about 

I love this image and it always makes me reflect on what I am doing as a teacher. Am I empowering all my students? Am I giving everyone the opportunity to reach their personal best? Most importantly, do I remember to see each of my students as individuals?

Teachers are restricted by the curriculum and by pressure to achieve results. We have limited resources available to us and are burdened by paperwork and initiatives that often only seem to take us further away from giving our students what they actually need – the opportunity to learn and the validation that how they learn is not better or worse than how anybody else learns.

Every student has their own mind, they are on their own journey and they have their own skills and interests, passions and frustrations and yet the education system tries to mould them into a homogenous monochromatic whole. After a special winter themed day at her school my youngest daughter came home with a piece of art work that was lovely, but which her teacher had shaped her to create, telling her where to put the various pieces of card to form a piece of work that was exactly the same as everyone else’s.

Reflecting on my own practice, I know that I am, of course, part of this system. In preparation for exam season, I have encouraged students to see topics from the perspective of the examiner and what they are looking for rather than from their own perspective because am judged by my results and the worthiness of my subject’s place in the curriculum is determined by the results. I have tried to subdue more extroverted vocal students because when inspectors come calling they look for a purposeful working atmosphere and this is easier to demonstrate if everyone is writing or busy.

The pressure is so great that it is easy to forget that most of us in this profession became teachers because we are passionate about young people, we are passionate about our subject and we want to make a difference to them and to the wider world. So my personal goal in teaching is to do more every day to make a change where I can- to strive to validate each of my students for being the amazing, unique individual  that they are and help them to grow into a place where they see themselves this way too!

Your best is always good enough

Try and remember that every single person faces obstacles in their life. For some people, their obstacles lie in physical challenges, others struggle when they are required to be creative. Some people fall apart when they are asked to speak in public and some people find academic work more challenging than others. Embrace your obstacles and you will feel the satisfaction that only comes when we stretch ourselves and face challenges. It is time to push yourself out of your comfort zone to be the best version of your student self that you can be.

Sometimes the easy way out is to give up and you need to actively fight against this urge. I know it is strong because I’ve been there. I have been so worried that I wouldn’t achieve the very highest grades that I have decided not to really try and so embarassed that I was finding something too difficult, that I just ignored it and hoped it would disappear.

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The worst thing you can do as a student (and in life) is to compare yourself to someone else. It doesn’t matter what anybody else achieves. Over the years, I have seen hundreds of students measure their value against that of their peers, never taking into account each other’s strengths and the obstacles faced along the way. Your goal should simply be to know that you have tried your best and if you have, then know that whatever the outcome – it is okay.