#teacher5aday29dayswriting Part 4

So, for the last month I have been engaging in the #teacher5day29dayswriting challenge of creating a blog post for every day of February.

It has not been easy but I have posted on staffrm and in the end managed every day: http://staffrm.io/@lenabellina

I thought it would be useful to put all the posts together on here, too. Below are the fourth week’s worth:

Timing, therapy and teams.



In a twist of fortuitous timing, I happened to receive a copy of Dr Tim O’ Brien’s ‘Inner Story’ just before Christmas. Suffice to say that it was all down to a reference to Elton John.

This is a life-changing book. Over the years I have read several self-help books but none of them have really made much difference because I have not genuinely believed in them. This book is different.

Psychologist Dr Tim O’ Brien is clearly a highly intelligent and experienced practitioner who knows a vast amount about his field. He makes oblique references to Freud, psychoanalytical approaches, CBT, solution-focused strategies and many other therapeutic models. But he does so in a way that re-assures the reader that he has done his research and pulled out the best in all of these approaches before synthesising them in his own hybrid; the Inner Story journey towards understanding your mind and changing your world.

The writing style makes the book very easy to read and there is a mix of humour, modesty and evidence-informed advice-giving.

The book challenges some of the long-held mythology around the ideas of self-confidence, behaviour, happiness and success and urges the reader to take control and fully understand the factors that motivate and drive us.

It promotes examination of the Inner Story of both the individual and the team; it is relevant to those embarking on a journey of individual self-discovery and those looking to become more effective leaders and team players (although the book intimates that the former journey is necessary in order for the latter to occur).

The book is also an excellent manual for educators who want to help vulnerable children and young people to find a stable and focused path to follow. Dr O’ Brien clearly knows the child mind extremely well and has worked extensively with children, schools and educators.

The writing is peppered with personal anecdotes which help the reader to feel the human quality behind the writing; Dr O’ Brien writes about his practical experience with a range of clients but also mentions aspects of his own personal back story. I adored the description of his mother being a ‘one-woman riot’ and his father loving to ‘make people laugh’.

Another highlight of the book for me is the way that Dr O’ Brien provides bullet-pointed chapter summaries which makes revisiting key areas easy.

One question that the book has led me to consider is whether it is a manual that will sit on the ‘popular psychology’ shelves of a bookshop or whether it has implications for use within the realms of more acute mental illness. Can mood be lifted in full blown depression in the way that Dr O’ Brien mentions in Chapter Seven or are there elements of depression and other conditions that would be beyond this approach?

I look forward to hearing more about that from Dr O’ Brien.

Uniformity, the unexpected and a ukulele.



Today I was involved in 2 bits of training.

This morning I delivered a session on understanding behaviour and this afternoon I was trained in awareness of self-harm.

The theme of uniformity came up in both. I spoke about the fact that children thrive when they have security and consistency and that a uniform approach can be very beneficial in terms of rules, routines and approaches across a school. But I also talked about the idea that schools must be willing to make reasonable adjustments to uniform systems to allow for the needs of individual pupils. Thus, the school rule which says ‘you do not swear’ can be uniformly applied, except to the pupil with Tourette’s. A simplistic example, but one that seemed to make sense to people.

In terms of the self-harm awareness, one of the key points raised was that there can be no one size fits all, uniform approach to dealing with self-harm because each individual case needs to be considered and understood for what it is. If we make assumptions about what is behind self-harm, rather than looking at the needs of the person enacting it, we risk failing to offer the appropriate support required by that person.

It was quite a hard day; the training I delivered challenged those involved to face some truths that were perhaps a little uncomfortable. Of course life (and teaching) is easier if we choose to ignore the idea that children do not behave in a uniform manner.

And talking about self-harm is hard because it forces us to consider the pain that others are going through and the uncomfortable idea that they are inflicting pain on themselves.

Unexpectedly this evening I came home to find that my son had learnt to play ‘Rip Tide’ on the ukulele, having never really shown any interest in playing the instrument since we bought it some 5 years ago.

That cheered me.

Voices, violence and victory



In my current role I spend a lot of time in the car and consequently listening to the radio.

About a year ago I made the transition from Radio 2 to Radio 4 listener.

So yesterday morning I heard two pieces on the ‘Today’ programme that caught my attention. The first linked in a way to this post staffrm.io/@lenabellina/GyYKc2… in which I described my love of singing. I was aware when I wrote it that there are many (including my lovely mum) who consider themselves as being ‘unable’ to sing. I thought about this when I was writing that post but ran out of words to discuss it. I wanted to say that for me, there are no non-singers and that when I have run choirs or directed musicals, I have never turned anyone away because of tuning issues; I have always found that the benefits of them being involved and included have always outweighed the potential dis-harmonies. So imagine my delight to hear about an entire choir that has been formed by ‘non-singers’ who simply want to enjoy the experience of being in a choir and able to sing with others. They were interviewed and then sang their version of ‘Thank You For the Music’; it was utterly brilliant. Passionate, moving and joyful. It was not ‘performance’ singing but real, communal singing. In the same way that we don’t judge those who run in fun-runs, nor label them as ‘non-runners’, neither should we judge those who sing for fun and the experience of singing.

Following on from that piece, there was a report about neuroscientist Dr Doug Fields who, after responding unexpectedly violently to a mugging in Barcelona, has gone on to study violence. He spoke of how we are all essentially ‘wired for violence’, due to unconscious impulses that originate in the hypothalamus and are linked to threat detection. He explained that we have the same brain as humans had 100 000 yrs ago, when violence was essential to survival and associated with quick-thinking and heroism. The problem today is that, when taken unawares and threatened, we (and especially men) may resort instinctively to violence and end up in trouble. I would like to hear more about Dr Fields’ research and see whether he has suggestions about how to manage this latent violence, particularly if it manifests during childhood.

Not all of my listening in the last couple of days has inspired me, though. Victory was the theme of today’s story. I can’t even bear to mention the name of the man who has just won his third caucus. Really, America?

Waking, worrying and what to do.



I usually sleep well but today I have woken at 5.15 and can’t sleep.

There is fierce raging activity in my head that consists of a series of worries.

1. Something happened at work last week and I am worried that, although I know that I did the right thing, others may not see it like that.

2. I have to run a working party today with a range of colleagues and I fear that they won’t like me and that they will realise I don’t know what I am talking about.

3. When the meeting is over I will have to write it up and produce notes and actions but I have not put any time in my diary to do this.

4. I have training to deliver on Monday and Thursday next week and feel as per 2 but also haven’t planned the training yet.

5. I have entered a singing competition in 3 weeks and do not know any of the songs yet.

6. My daughter is still unwell after flu and has stopped eating properly.

7. My husband may have to stop working which may leave me with sole financial responsibility. And my cleaner has left.

8. I have woken up too early and will be exhausted today but have arranged to take my kids to see a live stream Shakespeare for three hours tonight but am now worried that I will go beyond exhaustion because of it.

I could actually continue with more but 8 is probably enough.

What to do? Give up? Ring the doctor? On paper, these things may seem trivial, over dramatic, irrational. But they feel very real.

But I can manage them. Because I have before. A useful exercise that I discovered before Christmas is to write them down, name them as feelings/ worries and then force myself to counteract them with what I KNOW.


1. I have lots of evidence of what really happened and I need to hold to that.

2. It is not about them liking me. I have done huge research, I have a plan, agenda and a clear vision which is to work with the team to improve outcomes for children.

3. I will write detailed notes in the meeting.

4. I have PowerPoints I can adapt and experience and ideas. It is not about me but about what my audience needs.

5. I can record the songs and listen to them as I drive.

6. I can’t control her or her eating.

7. We only a have to get through 2 years and things will improve. I do need a new cleaner, though.

8.  University days. Frequent nights of 4 hours sleep. Baby days- ditto. Did I die? Nope.

Our minds can be devious and feeling and worries play tricks. But by getting them out, ordering them and challenging them, we can get through them.

Solution focus; we have within us the skills and experience to solve problems and face challenges.

Happy Thursday.

X-rays, xylophones and xylem.



So this one was always going to be a challenge, wasn’t it?

3 Xs. Well.

I have noticed that some people like @kevincarson have written lovely pieces reflecting on their school days and childhood learning and as I ruminated on the letter X, I started to find a way in.

I was generally a fit child; no broken bones, no operations on tonsils or appendix. I had the usual mumps and chicken pox and also a dose of herpes which, according to the specialist who visited the house, was the worst he’d ever seen. I had coldsores that practically sealed my lips together and saw me literally ‘down in the mouth’ for several days. But those ailments were all relatively short lived. The only condition for which I needed ongoing treatment, X-rays and even surgery, was my awful teeth. Finger-sucking had seemingly forced me to have very buck teeth and I needed a horrible brace, extractions and even a bizarre head-set contraption with metal extensions and elastic bands that I wore at night. I also had every tooth filled at some point, wisdom teeth removed and root canal treatment. The Pam Ayres poem ‘I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth’ is the reality of my dental experience.


At secondary school I adored being part of the music department. Much as I loathed the humiliating ritual of carrying my violin across the playground to shouts and jeers, it was worth it to be part of the music crowd and to be able to spend lunch times in the music rooms, full of xylophones and other percussion instruments and smelling evocatively of must and violin rosin. There was one music teacher who inspired me more than any other. His name was Mr Porter and he was what can only be described as a music passionist. (@sisyphus !) He was always on the musical go, running some sort of rehearsal every lunchtime and packing as much into every day as possible. I have an abiding memory of him not even stopping for lunch but instead eating sandwiches two together out of the packet while he waved a baton.)

Maybe, on reflection, not a good model of teacher wellbeing but he was great.

I wonder what happened to him?

I was always going to be a doctor. I loved biology and when I see my daughter’s exercise book with carefully labelled diagrams it takes me back to Mr Hall’s lab, the dissections and bell-jars and the mysterious terminology of xylem, phloem and lumen. I never made it as a doctor because my maths and physics let me down. In fact my physics teacher advised me to give up on physics after O’ level as although “a grade B was good, for a girl, I’d struggle with A level”. Sexist? Yes, but probably right.

Gosh, that has taken me back. I now start Friday in a different mindset to usual.

Have a great one and happy weekend when it comes.

Yet, yes and yesterday



I love the Carol Dweck Mindset concept of ‘not yet’. The idea that children have the potential to develop in the future as long as they believe in that potential and put in the necessary effort is inspiring and motivating. I think that there is a naivety in thinking that we all have the potential to become anything. If you read yesterday’s post, you will know that I pretty much agreed with my physics teacher’s judgement that I would never become a great physicist. But I have become something. And I can become more. I think that the power in Dweck’s model is that it encourages to believe that we are not yet the person we could become; life is about constant evolution and learning.

I do not hold with the words spoken by Jaques in Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’: “And so, from hour to hour we ripe and ripe and then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot”. We do not spend our latter years rotting, I hope. Dame Carol Black said on a recent Desert Island Discs that she felt that she had only really got into her stride at the age of 50 and I have said before how inspiring I found this. Youth is one part of life but not necessarily the best part.

I used to work for a boss whose favourite word was no. It was stifling, stultifying and hugely limiting.

‘Yes’ is the word that we should be using with learners and colleagues when they want to try out new ideas. We should encourage them, where something is not working, to try something different and we should help them to take risks in a supported way. Too much life is wasted when we stick to old patterns of behaving and working simply because ‘that is the way we do it here’. As a leader and manager within education, my job is to help everyone in my team, both children and adults, to learn, develop and experiment within a culture of ‘yes’ and ‘not yet’. Yesterday is the learning that informs today and tomorrow.

Zen, zero and the zone



In my twenties, I flirted with the idea of becoming a Buddhist. I had dabbled with and rejected Christianity (I simply didn’t believe in God) but wanted something to provide deeper meaning in my life. I bought and borrowed several books linked to the religion, both factual and popular, the latter including ‘Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance’.

In the end I decided that full-blown Buddhism was not for me…but several elements of Buddhist and Zen practice had and continue to have great appeal.

Meditation and mindfulness play a key part in my daily life and in my ongoing attempt to master my thoughts, feelings and anxieties. I struggle with static meditation but have practised yoga (four rounds of a sun salute) every morning without fail for almost thirty years. Some environments have been more conducive to this than others; a two-man tent in February in Norway was one of the most challenging.

Mindfulness practice has been a more recent development and one that I have found hugely helpful in providing focus during times when things have threatened to overwhelm me.

But I still have work to do. If I am honest, I rarely manage to clear my head during my sun salutes; they are more about me grounding myself physically and providing a ritual that takes me from night-time to day-time state.

The ability to empty my mind completely and to get into that zone where I can focus on zero is a skill that I still crave.

I am getting better at focusing but I have a way to go. I am not sure that the frantic business of Twitter and social media are a help or a hindrance. They provide constant distraction but for me, they also provide a life-line of connectedness with other like minds.

On my Facebook page, my background is the Anne Lamott quote ‘Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you’ and on here, I have the quote ‘Stop The Glorification of Busy’.

I think maybe a bit of meditation on those two phrases might be needed…..

Happy Sunday.

Teaching heroes



Thanks to @mrlockyer for the inspiration.

Who is your all-time teaching hero?Lydia Grant from ‘Fame’. ‘You’ve got big dreams. You want fame. Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying: in sweat.’ (Cue music…)

(And on that day, the 29th day of February 2016, the last day of #29daysofwriting, all the respect that the twittersphere and staffrm communities had felt for that bright new blogger lenabellina did instantly dissipate.)

Which teacher do you remember best from your own education?

Mr Phippard. He was firm but kind and fair, produced tailor-made resources that made learning German fun and logical and even introduced us to Russian. He had a slightly wild passion for languages and he loved to share culture and traditions. I remember his classroom, lit by candles and with small bowls of figs, chocolates and tangerines, on Nikolausabend. Such a surprise. Nurturing and magical.

Which teacher do you know online and would love to see in the classroom?


Inspirational, hugely knowledgable, passionate. And someone who I used to know, lost touch with and am delighted to have re-met in this forum.

Who is your current school teaching hero?

My friend Kirsten Herbst-Gray for everything she does for German.

Who is your non-teaching hero?

Dr Tim O’ Brien. I hope that I meet him one day. He is a life-changer.

What makes a teaching hero?

Passion, the ability to be non-judgmental and a commitment to nurture and foster the potential in every child.

What’s your teaching superpower?

That I am genuinely driven by a desire for children to be happy, healthy and doing the best they can.

What’s your teaching kryptonite?

Worry that they won’t be.

#teacher5aday29dayswriting Part 3

So, for the last month I have been engaging in the #teacher5day29dayswriting challenge of creating a blog post for every day of February.

It has not been easy but I have been posting on staffrm and so far have managed every day: http://staffrm.io/@lenabellina

I thought it would be useful to put all the posts together on here, too. Below are the third week’s worth:

Musicals, magic and maybe



Directing school musicals has brought me more pleasure during my career than perhaps anything else.

It has also taught me a huge amount about how best to lead and manage teams.

Taking a group of pupils and staff on a journey from the initial concept to the final production requires a wide range of skills and qualities:

Sharing the vision of producing the best possible performance and re-visiting that vision constantly;

Creating and sharing a schedule of rehearsals, production team meetings and publicity events and reviewing and revising that schedule as necessary;

Communicating effectively in a range of ways with a range of people;

Inspiring those who think they can’t to realise that they can;

Taking the lows with the highs and remaining confident that it will all work out;






There is always a bit of magic involved too and a need to believe in that magic. The magic that stops anyone being ill on the night, that makes the performance better than any rehearsal ever was, that gives everyone involved a sense of joy, love and amazement at what they can do.

There is a song in ‘Annie’ called ‘Maybe’ that is one of my favourites from any musical. It is a song about possibilities and hope….. A song about the ‘maybe’ of a better life. I recently did some training in solution focused therapy which involves encouraging the person with a difficulty to imagine an ideal tomorrow; it is an ideal future that Annie sings of.

But being involved in a school musical is no imagined ideal. It is a real-life, practical experience of working in a team to create something wonderful.

That’s why I love it.

Needs, now and nukes.



As austerity really bites and we tighten our collective educational belt by one notch more, the issue of need inevitably comes up for discussion.

There is a danger, as we are forced to allocated limited resources, that the needs of yesterday have become the wants or luxuries of today. Years of promoting early intervention because it prevents escalation of need seems to have become irrelevant because we have to make savings now and only the highest need can be prioritised. The fact that early intervention also saves money by avoiding higher cost interventions further down the line has been forgotten in the panic of reducing spending today.

One day on the news we are hearing about the cuts to CAMHS and the paucity of mental health services for children and young people and the next we are throwing money at instantly providing more services for adults. Whilst I fully support ANY awareness raising around mental health and ANY spending to improve services, there just doesn’t seem to be sense in cutting proactive interventions for children and young people whilst spending reactively to support a crisis amongst adults.

Where is our future planning? Where is the 15 year plan advocated because it is the length of time that the average child spends in education? When put like that, doesn’t it seem mad that priorities and agendas can change so drastically within a couple of years because they are politically driven? And that we can’t be more sustained and committed to values and evidence-based planning?

Need is clearly a complex issue. My needs are not those of a mother living in poverty in Africa and my children’s needs are not those of children in inner city poverty in the UK.

But can we not agree that within the education system of a developed, first world nation, need should be easy to define and that definitions should not be changed at the whim of budgets?

Is it now a luxury for an autistic child not to have to travel for hours to get specialist provision? Is it now a luxury for a child with significant physical disabilities to have swimming as part of the curriculum? Is it now a luxury for a child who has experienced significant neglect to have drama therapy?

Let’s say not; not now, not next year, not next decade, not ever?

We can try and justify cuts by saying that inclusion is about mainstreaming, not stigmatising and treating pupils with additional needs just like we treat their peers.  It’s all about equality, right?

But those of us who really know see that as the excuse it is, don’t we? We need equity, not  just equality. The chance for all children to thrive and achieve their potential equally, where necessary giving those with greater need extra help to do so.

Sadly I have run out of words to discuss the final ‘N’ in depth, so I’ll just drop the bombshell and let the reader decide…..

Are nukes a need..?

Optimism, options and opportunities



So yesterday my story was perhaps a little pessimistic. On Twitter, a lovely voice said ‘need to keep in mind that we continue to do the best with the resources we have’. And that is so true. Because everything is relative and actually we do have a lot, in many ways. There are almost always alternative options to be explored and more efficient ways of doing things.

I am generally prone to pessimism and negative thinking. I know that would surprise a lot of people and in fact a recent 360 degree review of my emotional intelligence by my colleagues showed that they view me as positive, energetic and inspiring. The results and comments made me think of a swan….graceful above the surface but paddling like hell underneath to keep things going.

The people who know me closely would probably acknowledge that I tend to be a glass half empty person and prone to self-doubt. But I have to say that of late, I have been trying to turn things around with positive self talk and mindful thinking. I think it comes above all from not wanting to pass on a negative mind-set to my own children. I have on occasions recently heard things come my daughter’s mouth that are the kinds of self-critical comments that run through my own mind and sometimes escape my lips. So I am really trying to model positivity and a more optimistic attitude. One thing that has helped me is the opportunity to train in solution-focused approaches recently. The idea that we focus on solutions based on what has worked in the past and do not dwell on past difficulties is very empowering. The approach is equally relevant to life and work situations and makes difficult conversations and meetings much more focused and productive.

Can we learn optimism? Or is there a sense in which being an Eeyore type personality is inevitable? I used to believe that it was but recently I have felt differently and that optimism can be cultured. I was interested last week to hear the wonderful Dame Carol Black say on Desert Island Discs that it took her until her fifties to really get into her stride. I felt incredibly inspired by that and I hope that for me, my forties is the decade where things really come together. But I also hope that I can use solution-focused thinking and optimism to help the girls and young women in my life and work to cut out the middle man of self-doubt and negativity and jump to the bit where the opportunities are there for the taking and enjoying. Because really, life’s too short……

Perceptions, politics and politeness.


A while back I had a conversation on Twitter (I think involving @suecowley and @jillberry ) about how the real world does not always live up to one’s virtual world. When Facebook and Twitter pals are humane, socialist and values-driven, it can take something like a general election to make you realise that you might be in a minority.

Sometimes things happen in my day to day life which re-enforce the idea that my perception of things is not always shared by others. Yesterday I mentioned the fact that I did a 360 degree emotional intelligence review recently. One of the results of it was an indication that I don’t always pick up on the politics behind situations and I think I get this; I find it very hard to understand why anyone in education would be driven by anything other than wanting to create an environment where the learning needs of pupils can be met in the best possible way.

I do get upset by things and often disagree with others as part of my professional life. But when that happens, I try above all to challenge with politeness and evidence-based arguments. And above all with arguments that have the needs of children and young people at their heart.

I recently read that having an over-developed sense of morality and justice is a characteristic of girls and women on the autistic spectrum. So am I neuro-atypical?

Possibly. But I’d rather be that than work in a values-based profession without the values needed to make a real difference.

Then again, if anyone wants to challenge my perceptions, I’m more than happy to listen and learn….


Quality, questions and Quatsch



When I was younger, my dad would frequently say to me “stop asking so many daft questions!”

I was quite probably an exasperating child to parent. Years later I remember hearing the claim “there’s no such thing as a stupid question….and feeling slightly vindicated. There are, of course, many stupid questions such as “shall we keep all Muslims from entering the US?” but in my late teens I liked the idea that I was perhaps not as daft as all that.

Years later again and there was a big focus in teaching around asking Quality Questions which would elicit the right kind of answers from pupils.

The opposite of a quality question would be what the Germans refer to as ‘Quatsch’. When I teach German, I like to highlight to pupils those German words which give utter pleasure just through the speaking of them. For me, the greatest of those is ‘Meerschweinchen’ which means guinea pig. But close behind is ‘Quatsch’, and specifically when it is in the phrase “Das ist ja Quatsch!” (‘that is just nonsense!’) which would sound: ‘dass ist ya kvatsh’, with a heavy emphasis on the final syllable. Try it out….

See? Don’t you feel great?

I just can’t not question. It is something which sometimes lands me in trouble because I have a habit of asking the awkward questions that create challenge to the status quo. In meetings, there will often be a moment, at the end of a discussion where a deal has almost been sealed, where I’ll tentatively pipe up “…but can I just ask…?” It is generally not what people want to hear. But if there is just a chance that we are going to make the wrong decision in relation to the life or future of a child or young question, isn’t it a question we need to ask?

It is not always an easy thing to live with. The early morning wake-ups, worrying about whether I have done the right thing and whether there has been a question left unanswered in a situation, or one that could have been answered differently; they lead to fatigue, self-doubt and irritability in the morning.

But nowadays I live more comfortably with my questioning mind. I am more able to accept that there are some questions to which there are straightforward answers and others to which there are not and which need constant revisiting.

Writing blogs has helped. The enforced ritual of reflecting each day has given me a huge sense of satisfaction and allowed my brain a structured time to question. The fact that people have been interested in some of my ‘Quatsch’ has been a huge bonus and I am very grateful. I sometimes wonder if it is a self indulgent task but then remember that people are perfectly free not to read what I write if they so choose.

I am not sure that I will be able to carry on every day once February ends. But then again, who knows?…

Reality, reflection and relativity.



We have not had half term, so I am just on a Friday/Monday long weekend.

There is a funny thing in our household that holidays are never quite what they are built up to be. Something always seems to happen to complicate issues and stop them from being the much needed break they should be.

But I guess that’s really just about the reality of life, as opposed to the shiny happy images created by the Thomas Cook or Center Parcs adverts (other holiday experiences are available….)

So this weekend is no exception. A combination of factors have transpired to mean that I feel short-changed and need to take some time to reflect, review all the incredibly positive things in my life and rise to the challenges ahead.

I read this yesterday and need to keep reading it as it certainly gives perspective:


There was a piece on Woman’s Hour this week where the guests including Flic Everett from the Guardian were discussing the Facebook motherhood challenge. They were challenging its premise and asking that we don’t promote the concept of the ‘awesome mum’ because it creates such a sense of inadequacy in those who struggle to feel awesome.

So, reality is a bit rubbish sometimes. But it is also relative…and stopping and realising that is important.

You don’t need to comment or ask if I’m ok because I will be.

Cue theme song:


Songs, singing and salvation.


Songs are amazing. Without wanting to sound like a character from the Fast Show, I could extol the virtues of songs for hours. The power of music to change our feelings is well documented and it is known that those suffering depression can be shifted out of low mood states by listening to well-chosen songs.

One of my favourite TV shows ever was Ali McBeal and one of its main sources of appeal was that the characters had ‘theme songs’ to inspire them through challenging times.

In our generally repressed and stiff-upper lipped British society it is through songs that we have historically been able to connect with others and share universal emotions. Before blogging, the way we knew that others felt like us during difficult times was through songs like ‘I Will Survive’ and ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. We were not alone. Sure, books also connect us with the universal but it is the combination of words, melody and rhythm in songs that allow a connection that is physical as well as cerebral.

Songs can be used with amazing effect in teaching. In Drama I use songs as stimulus for devised pieces, in MFL I often use YouTube songs to re-enforce vocab and I understand that there is a song about the periodic table that livens up  chemistry labs throughout the land.

Singing is also a vital way of connecting with the universe. I love singing and I have been blessed with what others consider to be a half-decent voice. I know that, whilst almost everyone can connect with songs and enjoy listening to them, not everyone enjoys singing.

I adore it, though. There is not much in life that thrills me as much as singing in 4 part harmony. That connection with others is spine-tinglingly something else.

Singing promotes health and once again there is plenty of evidence of the power of singing to enhance wellbeing.

Having led school choirs, I have been overwhelmed by the transformational power of choral singing to promote team work, self-confidence and creativity. Gareth Malone is an absolute living legend.

I was very unwell in the late eighties and can say that I literally sang myself back to health, on a journey that started with Brecht’s ‘Threepenny Opera’ and ended with Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd’.

Singing as salvation. Whilst it may sound over-dramatic, it wasn’t.

My current theme song is ‘Fight Song’ by Rachel Platten. What’s yours?

Asking daft questions?

I wrote this post as part of #teacher5ady29dayswriting but had to edit it to 500 words. The end result perhaps did a disservice to my lovely dad…..so here is the full version!

When I was younger, my dad would frequently say to me “stop asking so many daft questions!” He will probably deny that but I would simply question the validity of his memory…

Anyway, he did. I was quite probably an exasperating child to parent. Years later I remember hearing the claim “there’s no such thing as a stupid question” along with “a questioning mind is an intelligent mind”….and feeling slightly vindicated. There are, of course, many stupid questions such as “shall we keep all Muslims from entering the US?” but in my late teens I liked the idea that I was perhaps not as daft as all that.

Years later again and there was a big focus in teaching around asking Quality Questions which would elicit the right kind of answers from pupils. The idea there was that, if you don’t ask the questions in the right way you will exclude some pupils from being able to answer them. Makes sense to me.

The opposite of a quality question would be what the Germans like to refer to as ‘Quatsch’. When I teach German, I like to highlight to pupils those German words which give utter pleasure just through the speaking of them. For me, the greatest of those is ‘Meerschweinchen’ which means guinea pig. But close behind is ‘Quatsch’, and specifically when it is in the phrase “Das ist ja Quatsch!” (‘that is just nonsense!’) which would sound: ‘dass ist ya kvatsh’, with a heavy emphasis on the final syllable. Try it out…….

See? Don’t you feel great?

Had my dad learnt German from my mum instead of her learning English from him, he would almost certainly have responded to my daft questions with that phrase.

I just can’t not question. If I look back through my blog posts, they are peppered with question marks. It is something which sometimes lands me in trouble because I have a habit of asking the awkward questions that create challenge to the status quo. In meetings, there will often be a moment, at the end of a discussion where a deal has almost been sealed, where I’ll tentatively pipe up “…but can I just ask…?”. It is generally not what people want to hear. But if there is just a chance that we are going to make the wrong decision in relation to the life or future of a child or young question, isn’t it a question we need to ask?

It is not always an easy thing to live with. The early morning wake-ups, worrying about whether I have done the right thing and whether there has been a question left unanswered in a situation, or one that could have been answered differently; they lead to fatigue, self-doubt, irritability and often low mood in the morning.

Back to my dad and his memorable comments. Another of his favourites (as someone who actually thought and questioned a lot himself) was “there are no answers, only questions.” I think he had probably nicked it from Isaac Bashevis Singer and ‘Shosha’, or maybe paraphrased a quote from that book which was a favourite of his back in the eighties. At the time I found the concept hard as I wanted answers; a life of certainty, control and predictability.

But now I live more comfortably with my questioning mind. And I am more able to accept that there are some questions to which there are straightforward answers and others to which there are not and which need constant revisiting.

Writing blogs has helped. The enforced ritual of thinking and reflecting each day has given me a huge sense of satisfaction and allowed my brain a structured time to question. The fact that people have been interested in some of my ‘Quatsch’ has been a huge bonus and I am hugely grateful. I sometimes wonder if it is a hugely self indulgent task but then remember that people are perfectly free not to read what I write if they so choose.

I am not sure that I will be able to carry on every day once February ends. But then again, who knows?……



#teacher5aday29dayswriting Part 2

So, for the last month I have been engaging in the #teacher5day29dayswriting challenge of creating a blog post for every day of February.

It has not been easy but I have been posting on staffrm and so far have managed every day: http://staffrm.io/@lenabellina

I thought it would be useful to put all the posts together on here, too. Below are the second week’s worth:

Because I clearly do not know my alphabet, this is the second ‘F’ post:

Fat, feelings and fear



An eleven year old girl feels fat. She is not fat, statistically, empirically; in fact she is slender, lovely.

But she talks of feeling disgusting, ugly, hating herself.

What on earth is this about?

How can 51% of 12 and 13 year old girls want to lose weight?:


The article above quotes statistics that instill real fear in me. It places some responsibility in the domain of social media but this, I believe, oversimplifies things.

I remember reading ‘Tonio Kröger’ by Thomas Mann for German A Level, from 1903, which tells the story of an artist who battles with being a creative, thoughtful outsider in a world of successful, superficial beautiful people. There was certainly no social media or photo-journalism around to fire his self-doubt.

Sarah Jayne Blakemore is a neuroscientist who talks and writes brilliantly about current pressures on teens to conform. She cites a teenage diary dat back to the 60’s from a teenage diary, where wearing “yellow cords and a blouse” took precedence over “man landed on moon”.


And back in the 70s and 80s the rise of eating disorders was correlated with the international preference for stick thin models and the tendency of magazines to present images of shiny, happy people and flawless perfection.

Let’s not even start on Barbie.

Susie Orbach talked of fat being a feminist issue over 20 years ago… So why haven’t we moved on?

Is it this self-hatred just normal teenage angst?

Should we just re-assure our daughters (and sons) by telling them this? That somehow doesn’t sit easily with me. Neither does the ‘snap out of it and think of others worse off than you’ approach.

My fear is that the bright, otherwise rational girls and boys who hate their (non existent) ‘fat’ will KNOW that they should not be so self-obsessed but FEEL the self-disgust so strongly that they can’t out-think it and so consequently feel more guilt.

Do you have to hate yourself to eventually love yourself? Is it a rite of passage? Maybe…. But can we find ways to ease that passage just a little and tackle the increasing numbers of young people who develop serious and self-harming disorders and mental health problems?

There are no easy answers; if there were, it would be easy to solve.

Some suggestions, then:

No matter how challenging, always keep lines of communication open.

Talk about the issues above with children and young people.

Promote wellbeing, health and balance.

Use the internet to its best potential by sharing articles, quotes and apps that support the cause.

Listen to and learn from those who have experience of these issues.

Dr Tim O’ Brien offers the following about the need for “intensified understanding”:

“I do not believe that any child needs fixing. Change happens when children who experience emotional needs receive intensified understanding within an environment that is responsive…There are also times when it is not about intervention. Just being there matters: listening, understanding, offering support.”

Page 34, Inner Story:



German, Goethe and Gottingen.



Those of you who have read my other ramblings may know that my mum was born in Germany and is multi-lingual. As a child growing up in Dorset I never spoke German to her and she decided not to bring my brother and me up bilingually. When I started learning in school we did not speak a word as I was over-defensive about wanting to do it by myself. The only time that really changed was when we went to stay with my great aunt in West Berlin in 1985. There was no other option but to speak German, as Ida had no English.

That trip was incredibly memorable as we also went to East Berlin for a day to visit cousins and another aunt; the contrast between the 2 sides of the city in terms of shops, clothing, cars and food really struck me and as I watch the current series of ‘Deutschland 83’ on a Sunday night I am taken back….

I went on to do A level German and to specialise in it at university. My favourite papers were about firstly Goethe and secondly the German Historical Imagination.

I adored Goethe’s writing; poetry, drama and novels. But I also adored the idea of him; artist, statesman, philosopher, theatre director, scientist…

The Historical Imagination was all about studying the factors that led to the rise of German nationalism and National Socialism. It was complex, challenging and absolutely fascinating. I never got Hitler but I did have the most ridiculous crush on my tutor.

For my year abroad I went to Göttingen in central northern Germany. To be there at the time of re-unification was a huge privilege. I travelled widely both in the former east and west and experienced the exciting dynamic of the early days of two hugely different nations becoming one.

By the end of my time there I was fluent; dreaming in German and able to convince people that I was  native. I loved that.

Ironically I did not teach German for the first few years of my career but eventually, five years ago, I had become a full time head of languages faculty in a Scottish secondary school, teaching exclusively German. It is a brilliant subject to teach and the pupils loved learning it.

Anyone who ever tries to tell me that ‘pupils who struggle with English should not waste time on German’ will get a lengthy tirade. In fact, learning a second language like German at age 11 can be hugely inclusive as all pupils start at the same level. Reflecting on the structure of a new language can certainly help gain understanding of your first. Though the number of 11 year olds who don’t know what a verb is often disturbs me!

So a Germanist I am, through and through.

And thus today my heart is aching as I hear the terrible reports of two trains in Bavaria. My thoughts are with the nation, the victims and their loved ones.


Headship, Heroes and Hitler


Day 10 and I have nearly failed to put thumb to screen after a long day…. But here’s an attempt!

This year I am doing a preparation for headship course; the Scottish ‘Into Headship’.As part of this, I have been reflecting on the qualities of leaders and thinking about the qualities of those who I would consider to be my leadership heroes….and otherwise.

Up there as heroes: Mandela; Gandhi; Obamas (both Barack and Michelle); Bertolt Brecht.

And the anti-heroes? Hitler, for sure. I have studied his popularity (see yesterday’s post) and seen how his tactical rise to power through re-building a politically and financially desperate nation masked a sinister, immoral and murderous intention.

And is his modern equivalent perhaps Trump, with his blatant intolerance and bigotry? Heaven help the Americans if so…

Inclusion, individuality and idiosyncrasy



Inclusion is a concept that I think about endlessly and have written about in various posts such as this one:


But sometimes I know that I use too many words and that they get in the way of what I really what to say.

So tonight, just this:

Individuality embraced

Never assuming

Culture change


Understanding difference

Seeing beyond

Idiosyncrasy celebrated


Nurturing others

Justification, juggling and joy.



Today has been an end of tether kind of day.

This post is therefore not as it could/should be.

Up a 6 auditing child protection files.

Text at 7 from eldest stating that she is feeling ill. We tend to text these days, when she is not up to talking, even though she is in her room and I am in the kitchen.

I know what I said about never becoming ‘that’ sort of parent.

I text back , encouraging her to get up, drink tea and out-think it.

She texts again, telling me that she feels dizzy when she walks.

Which would all be fine, if I were in the kitchen and she were in her room.

Only I am in the Express by Holiday Inn in Glasgow. Training in solution focused brief therapy with children who have experienced loss and bereavement. And she is in her room.

I text dad who reports that she has a temperature of 104. He will take the day off.

The course is challenging. There are tears and hard questions. But none is harder than the one I ask myself; why am I miles away from home learning about children experiencing loss when my child needs me?

Being a working mum is tough.

Three hours of driving, exhausted and I am home.


But so much guilt as I mop her brow.

Justification of inadequate post?


Knowledge, ‘kinaesthetic learning’ and knitting.



So this one is a real challenge. I chose the first 2 k’s myself. But the third was chosen by youngest as we travelled to Glasgow for the X factor live show (don’t judge). “Give me a word beginning with k” I said.

“Knitting” he said.

Here we go.

There is often debate about the balance of knowledge and skills in a school curriculum.

I can see why you need both and have explained it to pupils as follows:

I am a German teacher. That means I need knowledge of the German language and its workings (so that I can pass it on) and the skills to teach it in an engaging way.

Similarly, my surgeon friend needs knowledge of the workings of the human body (so that he operates on the right organs) and the skills to conduct surgery effectively and efficiently.

I like to think that the knowledge bit is the static ‘stuff’ and the skills is more the ‘action.

Simple, yes?

Well actually no! Because look what happens when you find a dictionary definition of ‘knowledge’?

“Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”

How can this be? Skills AS knowledge?

Ok. But at least knowledge is something we can trust, right?

Well actually again, no. Because knowledge and so called facts can seemingly change. I have written in another post (lenabellina.wordpress.com/2016…)  about the recent debunking of previously celebrated educational ‘knowledge’. I will simply state here that Brain Gym and Kinaesthetic Learning Style are no longer what we thought they were in the nineties!

But maybe this is no bad thing.

Maybe it is just part of the eternal process of change that is life. And maybe it is linked to our ongoing need to check our points of reference to ensure that they are still relevant. After all, these shifts in our knowledge and consequent adaptations don’t just happen in education. Only this week we heard about a shift in the world of physics that has resulted in a huge change in thinking around gravity.

So perhaps what we need is the skill to constantly re-visit and re-evaluate knowledge within our experiential context. And to knit together our knowledge and skills (see what I did there?) so that we are neither slaves to knowledge nor lacking in a robust knowledge-based frame of reference. Ta-dah!


Love, learning and life.



I honestly didn’t plan it. I mean, today should have ‘M’ but then the staffrmers threw in the idea of the back story.

So it turns out that today, February 14th, is L.

And so to love.

The older I get and the more I learn, the more I think that acting with love towards others is the key to life and probably to education too.

I am sure that some of you have stopped reading, rolled your eyes and possibly even puked….

But for those still with me, I don’t think I am being over sentimental.

There is plenty of evidence around the need for babies and children to be loved and develop attachments if they are to thrive. In fact, Steve Hickman wrote a fabulous summary of attachment theory here just last week:


It is hard to love some children.

Some children have had such difficulty with attachments at an early age and been so hurt by it that they do anything to stop the heartbreak happening again. So they make themselves unlovable.

But we have to remember that they are children and that they are vulnerable. They deserve our love. They need a turnaround adult who will see them as lovable and not judge them.

(If you want a good example of a turnaround adult in the world of drama, look at Dwayne played by Danny John Jules in ‘Death in Paradise’. Thanks to Robert Thorogood for that one).

They also need a turnaround adult who equally won’t judge their parent/carer/background but see the potential that exists within them to achieve and thrive. I find it difficult to hear colleagues criticise parents and carers who are clearly struggling with their own issues. Rather than apportioning blame and judgment, we need to build bridges that will ensure a timeous and solution focused approach.

Whilst parents clearly hold the responsibility for parenting their own offspring, I believe firmly that the children in our communities are ‘our’ children and that the ‘takes a village’ approach is key.

If it feels hard to love a particular child, it can help to think of the child as your own and to offer love.

And this is unconditional love; a gift that is given without judgement or expectation.

Ideas about starting from a premise of love are clearly not new; I’m not religious but I know that St Paul wrote about it and that it plays a key part in Buddhism.

But we need to remember its place in the world of education.

At a very difficult time, my Dad once made me listen to a song that I will leave you with as a Valentine’s recommendation. Enjoy.


#teacher5aday29dayswriting Part 1

So, for the last month I have been engaging in the #teacher5day29dayswriting challenge of creating a blog post for every day of February.

It has not been easy but I have been posting on staffrm and so far have managed every day: http://staffrm.io/@lenabellina

I thought it would be useful to put all the posts together on here, too. Below are the first week’s worth:

And it starts with an A….


So here I go. I have set the timer and off! To give my thoughts and writing some structure I have decided to write alphabetically and will pick 3 words each day starting with the same letter that in some way connect.

Today those words are anger, anxiety and acceptance.

I tend to angry and anxious quite easily. I have always had a strong sense of moral justice and as a younger person the injustices of the world got me vexed . I was a protester; CND marches; anti-poverty campaigns; letters to politicians and generally my fair share of ranting…. And worrying.

Those that know me these days would agree that I still like a rant and that I get very frustrated by situations where I feel that there is injustice or unfairness at play.

But just recently I have come to realise that there will always be those things in the world and that, actually, I can’t singlehandedly change them all. A wise colleague reminded me last week of the words of the serenity prayer and, whilst I am not religious, the spiritual side of me knows that I need to focus my energies better.

More acceptance of what I can’t change (without becoming complacent), less anger and anxiety…. and more energy for the work where I CAN make a difference.

I am pretty sure that I’ll be happier if I manage that and I am sure that those around me will be too.

Here’s to it!!

Behaviour, blame and belief… Day 2



Behaviour,  blame and belief.

I have written about behaviour previously and it is a subject that endlessly fascinates me. I read as as much as I can on the subject and have learnt from a range of experts; key figures in my education have been John Bayley, Michael Marland, Sue Cowley and Tom Bennett.

The messages that have stuck with me?

All behaviour is a form of communication. My own behaviour in the classroom is often a key determinant in influencing the behaviour of the children within it.

Shouting is never really justified and if you do it (because you are human and they have wound you up) you should always apologise. Blaming a child for his it her problematic behaviour is not helpful; attempting to find the factors or triggers behind it is.

Behaviour that may appear problematic or unacceptable on the surface may be necessary to a child with additional needs; the fidgety pupil with ADHD or the hand-flapping pupil with autism.

My ‘standards’ and expectations may sometime have to be re-visited.

Belief is central to managing behaviour; a belief that a child can learn and develop and will not always be ‘badly behaved’.

If we believe in the potential for children to grow and change, to be happy, healthy and doing the best they can, then our behaviour towards them will make it possible.


Creativity, cuts and common sense…



Why, when budget cuts loom, do creative subjects and the arts always come under threat?

As a drama teacher I am absolutely and utterly committed to the creative arts.

I trained to teach modern languages with drama as a subsidiary. At school, I had been advised against taking drama because I wanted to go to university and it was ‘only’ a CSE. I made up for that by doing all

the extra curricular drama I could both at school (as Miss Mortlock will remember) and at university. I did my first year of teaching as a French teacher, put on a production of ‘Grease’ that earned me a reference that would have been worthy of a job at the National and moved to London and into a drama teaching post.

I have never looked back and would fight tooth and nail to defend the arts in schools.

Arts subjects are what help our children to develop the three C’s – creativity, confidence and communication skills. Taught well, they are inclusive, build empathy and allow those pupils who perhaps struggle with academic subjects a chance to succeed. Whilst learning numeracy and literacy are crucial life skills, who exactly was it that decided, way back when, that academic subjects are superior to arts subjects and that drama was only ‘worthy’ of a CSE?

I remember attending a conference, Drama 2000, when we felt that we were on the edge of a sea change and that the arts were finally gaining parity of esteem. Where the three C’s were seen as core skills and curriculum design took this into account.

But then the budget took a turn for the worse and the tide turned back; the language of ‘core skills’ seems to have reverted to being that of ‘soft skills’ again.

But here is a hard fact, firmly rooted in common sense; creative use of budgeting can only be achieved by those who are creative, can engage in blue sky thinking and challenge the ways that things have always been done. Cutting funding for arts education shows a lack of strategic, long-term, creative, visionary thinking.

Maybe I could offer some drama classes for some of our politicians?

Detentions, deterrents and dialogue



I have always had slightly mixed feelings about detentions.

A couple of experiences stick in my mind. The worst was in my third or fourth year of teaching when, as a deputy year head in a city comprehensive, I had the unenviable task of supervising the ‘late detention’ on a fortnightly basis. This involved sitting in a room for the first half hour of lunch break with a group of up to thirty 11 to 16 year olds who had arrived late to school that morning. It was the old ‘you’ve wasted our time so we’ll waste yours’ approach and it was torture. Not for them, but for me.

There was no expectation that the students completed any work, merely a rule of ‘silence’. Inevitably it descended into a game of trying to whistle, clap or break wind without getting ‘caught’. It certainly did not act as a deterrent, as the same faces appeared day after day, probably just glad to be in the warm with their pals and not out in a drizzly playground.

The best was with 2 girls who had truanted PSE and left the school site to buy huge cans of energy drinks. They owed fifty minutes for doing this and I arranged that they should make up the time at lunch. I wrote home and explained that they should bring a packed lunch that day. They saw me the day before and re-assured me that they would NOT be attending….. But then they did. They were somewhat surprised when I proceeded to show them a documentary on the dangers to teenagers of energy drinks… They watched in silence and left in a sombre mood at the end.

To me, that seemed an effective use of the time…..

I have written elsewhere about how I don’t feel that punishment is always effective for all pupils and how I favour restorative justice over punitive systems where possible:




Having learnt from John Bayley way back when, I favour a behaviour management system based on clear expectations, praise where it is due and assertively applied consequences. Four simple rules; if they are broken, warning, followed by name on board, followed by a tick next to name, followed by a detention. The number of ‘chances’ to turn things round before detention means that I only ever end up with a handful of pupils in detention each year. And when they DO end up there? We have a chat and I try to get them to see why it is not acceptable for them to stop the learning in class. It probably takes a maximum of five minutes of dialogue and they leave with an apology…..and usually don’t do it again.


Education, excellence and evaluation



Last month I was intrigued to learn that in the Commons, a select committee had been established review of the purpose of education.

As a challenge to those reading and before you read on, I invite you to complete the following sentence in your head: the purpose of education is……


Ok here’s mine…..to enable people to develop the skills and qualities and acquire the knowledge that will  them to lead happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

I have about 3 million posters with motivational education-related quotes that I have produced over the years (…Tom Bennett would sigh and roll his eyes); Einstein, Tom Hanks and WB Yeats have all allegedly made pronouncements on the subject, to name but a few. But I wonder how many of us in the business REALLY stop and think very often about what the point of it all is.

In Scotland we have a new-ish curriculum that was intended to lead to excellence in education. I think that in lots of ways it made a good start as it had skills for living, learning and work at its heart, plus the four capacities of being a confident individual, a successful learner, a effective contributor and responsible citizen.

But latterly things to have gone a bit awry as we have begun to flirt with standardising assessment and introducing league tables. These had previously been fairly alien north of the border but seem now to be pushing Scotland towards the ‘exam factory’ mentality which appears to be driving colleagues in the South away from teaching.

I spoke on day C about my concerns relating to the current squeeze on creative subjects. I have said plenty elsewhere about my feelings on inclusion and the need to value children for who they are and not what they produce or can do.

Here a some questions that I think we need to consider if we really want to evaluate education and its purpose:

Is being able to sit in a room and spew facts onto paper for three hours a skill to be valued above all others?

Is the education that we offer children and young people during up to 15 of their earliest years really the be all and end all?

Is putting up to 30 hormonal adolescents in a room together for hours on end with one adult really the optimum way of getting the best out of them?

Maybe the answer to all or some of these is ‘yes’. In which case we can carry on and feel a warm glow inside at the fact that we’ve been right all along.

But what if….what if the answers turn out to be ‘no’?

Anyone want to join the revolution?


Friends, fallings-out and finding yourself



F is for friends. Yesterday I wrote about the purpose of education and talked about it being (in my opinion) about enabling people to develop skills and qualities and acquire the knowledge that will allow them to lead happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. Within that, I believe that developing the skills (and possibly acquiring the knowledge) needed to make and keep friends is key.

There are vast numbers of quotes, platitudes and theories about friendship and we should probably all be expert friends by now. “They are the family you choose”…., …”in need/indeed”…., “I’ll be there for you (when the rain starts to fall)”…..etc, etc, etc. And with the advent of Facebook (other brands/services are available) we can suddenly have so many more ‘friends’.

But friendships can be terribly tricky and no more so than in the first years of secondary school. I remember working with a colleague who was head of year. We had a system where we pastoral staff moved up with our year group and she used to love dealing with the meaty year 11 issues such as pregnancy scares and school disco drinking but hated dropping down to the year 7s with their ‘trivial’ friendship problems and bickering. Maybe it is now that I am a mother to a tween that I see how important these ‘trivialities’ feel to those involved at the time and how crucial a role they play in helping children learn about friendships.By helping children to develop a solution focused approach to the ‘trivia’, we are establishing strategies in a relatively safe context that may well come in useful when the more risky friendship and relational situations arise in later years.

I read an article at some point in the last year that stated that secondary schools are not doing enough to help teenagers learn about friendships. I wish I could track it down as I cannot remember whether it suggested any solutions to this. In primary schools, strategies such as circle time and circle of friends are seen as acceptable ways to bring discussions around friendships into the open. It is much harder to achieve this openness with adolescents, who find such discussions embarrassing or ‘cringeworthy’ and would often rather have teeth extracted than talk about such things at school. That does not mean to say, however, that they are not struggling on the inside to find themselves as individuals, know what life and friendships are all about and make friends. Statistics around suicide rates and self-harm amongst adolescents must only emphasise the fact that loneliness, despair and isolation are still too prevalent.

Is being a good friend a skill worth teaching? I think so. Is it easy? No. But to quote a poem attributed to Shakespeare but more likely to be by Richard Barnfield, neither is friendship itself:

“Words are easy, like the wind; Faithful friends are hard to find.”


How to look after your voice.



I have worked previously with staff and students to help them look after their voices; as teachers our voice is a crucial tool yet one that is easy to abuse.

My sessions in the past have been practical so I will endeavour to make my ideas work on paper.

What I will write is preventative; if you have ongoing voice problems or a persistent sore or hoarse voice, please consult a doctor as you may need treatment.

My husband is a biologist and may be horrified by the non-scientific way that I describe things below but the images work for me.

Imagine a catherdral. In the cathedral hangs a wind chime. When a breeze enters the cathedral 2 parts of the chime brush together and a sound is made. The sound then echoes and resonates in the chambers and spaces of the cathedral.

The breeze or energy needed to make the chimes sound is your breath. The chimes are your vocal chords. The spaces where the sound echoes are the cavities inside your head where your voice gains resonance and volume.

It is crucial that you support your voice with breath. To breathe deeply, place both feet flat on the floor and centre your weight. Imagine that your chest and rib cage is a glass bell jar with a rubber diaphragm at the bottom (- ooh, bit of real science!). As you breathe in, keep your shoulders down and attempt to push the muscles in your stomach and round your back out. Breathe right down into your back and bottom. When you first do this, your head may feel light so take it easy! As you breathe out, pull your stomach and bottom muscles back in.

This may feel counter-intuitive but keep at it!

Before you speak, remember to breathe.

Relax the muscles in your face, mouth and neck. Blow raspberries. Chew as if you are chewing a huge toffee. Yawn. Get a neck massage.

Play with your voice and try to find a way of speaking that allows you to project and find resonance without straining or shouting. This may result in you changing the way you speak (eg raising or lowering the pitch) but it may be needed if you are to keep it healthy!

The cavities in your nose and the front of your skull are crucial resonators. Find them by humming. Push the hum into your nose and feel it buzz in your nose and lips. When you speak with resonance, the sound needs to come from that area so try speaking and focusing the sound there.

Sounds like hard vowels can hurt your voice if you force them; play with the word ‘apple’ and try and attack it more gently.

Don’t smoke. Ever.

Drink lots of water.

Avoid too much caffeine or alcohol.

Try to take time off talking for a short time each day, longer on weekends.

Be very aware of when you are tired and take extra care with your voice.

Don’t shout above classroom noise. If you need attention in a busy class, use a slow, calm and well-projected countdown from 5 to 1 where 1 is silent and still. Teach and practice it from day one.