Plants in the classroom

Plants affect your mood. They lower anxiety and blood pressure, decrease stress levels and increase concentration. Perfect in a classroom, then. All of us have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature. Biophillia has been big news for many years. Some GPs have started to prescribed time in nature as a cure for stress; gardening is a well-recognized therapy for PTSD and depression; just putting your hands in the soil stirs up microbes in the soil and inhaling these microbes can produce serotonin which makes you feel relaxed and happier.

I am so lucky that my current classroom overlooks a city park. In my last school, it overlooked the science technician’s greenhouse and the approach to the playing fields. The seasons change in front of my eyes through the window from one term to the next. But I do love filling my classroom with plenty of indoor plants too.

At this time of year, when daylight hours are limited, it’s good to remind yourself that Spring is on the way. A few pots of bulbs are an effective aide memoire. If you’re uber-organised, you’ll have ordered bulbs in the summer, had them delivered in the Autumn, potted them up at weekly intervals and stored them in a cool, dark until the shoots appeared, brought them out into a bright spot and watched them grow. Less efficient individuals can pick them up for a few pounds ready – planted at a supermarket or garden centre.

Whichever option you choose, once they’ve bloomed, leave them in a corner somewhere to die back and you can pop them in the ground to enjoy again for many years to come. I like the idea that pupils at all the schools I have ever taught at have been able to enjoy bulbs I’ve planted, long after I’ve moved on.

Brighten the January days with some hyacinths, daffs or crocuses, perk up your mood and, if you’re a teacher, you’ll be helping your students to concentrate too.

Christmas 2021:Wintering

@stilllifegallery

The end of term and an afternoon spent stirring a pot of vegetable chilli, reading a book by the fire and making up natural decorations for the Christmas presents. After the noise and excitement of the school term, a quiet time for reflection, repetitive tasks and making is just what I need. Midwinter may be cold and dark but if you choose the right activity it’s so good for the soul. ⁹

I’ve been thinking deeply about the act of wintering – the power of slowing down, resting, retreating as an antidote to difficult times. I suspect there is more to come about this. Half-formed plans are starting to haunt the quiet corners of my mind. The betwixt and between times of late December may give them shape and substance.

Advent – a time for reflection

It’s telling that I haven’t had time to post anything since October Half Term. Such is the world of teaching. I love this picture from The Country Crib. It says so much about my state of mind in advent. One week till the end of term and a straight path has revealed itself from amidst the mists of late November.

Advent is traditionally a time for quiet reflection and preparation. After a frantic twelve months a gentle but firm resolve to do things differently is gradually taking shape. I hope to be posting more over the coming weeks. I hope you find time for reflection amidst all the business of the run up to Christmas. I am sustained by the thought that in a few days time I will have time to plant the last of my tulip bulbs, sweep up the leaves and make a batch of chilli jam for Christmas hampers.

It’s the small things which give the most pleasure.

Half Term: Slow Living

So much has happened since my last post – mostly COVID – related and with work that a Half Term without gadding about is in order. I’ve prioritised sleep, family time, tidying up the garden, reading and cooking.

The bulbs I ordered back in August have arrived; the Christmas cake fruit is soaking up a generous glug of brandy; there is a wood store to stack with the latest load of logs and there are quince and apples to preserve in time for Christmas hampers. There are also friends to catch up with, a stack of books to enjoy and time to spend baking the odd treat and stirring the soup pot.

Just like last October. There’s a comfort in tradition and ritual after the madness of the last few weeks.

Summer 2021: Walking

En route to Edgehill escarpment.

I’ve been walking five miles a day during the Summer holidays. Before you conjure up an image of my delightful family rising before dawn and heading off with me on one of the many ancient byways that criss-cross Wiltshire to witness the sunrise, let me disabuse you of that idyll. Most of the time I have been alone and on all but a few occasions I have tramped round one of a number of familiar routes- sometimes with members of my family but mostly alone – in an attempt to regain some lost fitness and become grounded – an antidote to weeks of online teaching. I get a bit twitchy if I don’t get out in the fresh air every day – whatever the weather. Sometimes I have to fight the instinct to keep working at my pc in an attempt to ‘get stuff done’ but, without exception, going outside is the best way to recalibrate and still my troubled mind. That much I have learned this summer.

The benefits of walking are well-documented. For me the obvious positives have been a much-needed two stone weight loss, time to myself away from a busy household, time connecting with those I love most, an opportunity to live in the moment and connect with the flora and fauna of my neighbourhood thereby deepening the sense of place that is so important to me and some space for creative thinking. The walk pictured above was undertaken when we were on a short break in Warwickshire. We did it twice – once with one son on a gloriously sunny day where the views from the top of the escarpment overlooking the site of the battle of Edgehill were breathtakingly beautiful and once with the rest of the family on what started as a sunny day, clouded over and left us sheltering from the storm under some ancient oaks and me wringing muddy brown water out of the hem of my dress. I loved both.

Finding the time to continue daily walking into the busy term ahead and the dark days of Winter will be more of a challenge but I’m up for it and what’s more I need to do it.

Thunder Moon

It’s been a full-on school year, exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure, culminating in a mini-heatwave and a thunder moon. It’s called the thunder moon because of the thunder storms brought on through the hot and humid air. And right on cue, they appeared

Change or be changed is the message of this Full Moon. Those who know me well are aware of how much store I set by the moon and its cycles. Since the Summer Solstice in June I have felt a sense of something shifting both within myself and with the outside world. The first half of the year is over. It’s a good time to look back over the last six months and consider what I have learned, what’s been lost and gained, to take stock and move forward to the second half of the year and do things better. In professional terms it’s a good time to plan for next academic year, revamp lessons, develop new ones and ditch the ones that didn’t quite work. I’m trusting my inner teacher voice and doing a fair bit of educational reading and research. It’s a time of year when after the initial exhaustion (How tired can an end of COVID-year tired be?) my enthusiasm, idealism and creativity is at a high. It’s a bit like a thunderstorm in my teacher head.

It can feel strange ditching perfectly good lesson plans but if they are no longer fit for purpose and you’ve found better ways to teach a topic, why hold on to them? It’s time-consuming to rewrite a scheme of work in the short-term but it will bring long-term gains – for my pupils and for me. it’s time to let go of the past and welcome in the future. Harvest is just around the corner – a time to start reaping what is sown, when your hard work starts to pay off. For anyone waiting for GCSE and A level results then the hard work put in last year will bear fruit. And for amateur gardeners like me there are trees full of fruit to pick and preserve. No cut flowers or veg for the first time in years. Something had to give in all the COVID school madness. I’m not getting too hung about it. There’s always next year.

New Year lockdown

Pic Anne Williams

Back to school has been a bit different this term. As a family we were lucky to enjoy some time together, walking, playing board games and sitting by the fire at Christmas but we all agreed it didn’t feel very Christmassy this year. I think- more than ever – I associate Christmas with cold weather and so when it arrived in January I wanted to savour that slow holiday feeling that comes with a break from school.

Amidst the frantic scramble to move to online teaching and learning, keep everyone safe when I am in school on the teaching rota and allay the fears of my colleagues, students and parents about what is going to happen to GCSE and A Level assessment this year, I have carved out some time to go for walks, spend time tidying the garden and cook. I’ve ordered the second load of logs of the winter (our log store is more bijou than I would like) and have a stack of books ready to read when I switch off the work computer half an hour earlier in the evening. (Let’s hope I manage that!)

The weather in Wiltshire is crisp but not snowy and our ramble along the canal towpath was a bit boggy this afternoon but it was an hour of fresh air, living in the moment with my husband, nevertheless. Now I have a lot of preparation and marking to do before tomorrow. I also have a box of seville oranges to turn into marmalade sometime soon. I think I might add the last of the Christmas spiced rum to the pot.

Balance is everything.

How are you maintaining the balance in your life whilst working from home?

Packets of positivity

Now that the days are getting lighter, I’m going to sow a few sweet peas in pots in a sheltered spot to plant out in Spring.

I used to sow sweet peas in individual root trainers but now I sow a few in a deep pot, the kind in which I start the dahlias off. The don’t mind the cold but I protect them from the worst of the rain until they are ready for transplanting.

Something to look forward to next Summer.

In the bleak midwinter

Pic by Benjamin Ranyard

My heart goes out to anyone struggling through dark times. I am especially mindful of teaching colleagues who have worked through fourteen weeks, standing in front of hundreds of unmasked children indoors for five or six hours a day and now find they cannot visit or be visited by their own children and grandchildren. At the Winter solstice we need hope that lighter and warmer days will return.

How timely then that Saturn and Jupiter will appear brighter and closer than they have for several hundred years in the sky tonight. A serendipitous reminder that if you fix your eyes on the light the darkness is that little bit easier to negotiate.

Blessings of the Winter Solstice to you all. Xx

Winter walks

I have been trying to get outside for a few minutes every day. At weekends I am spoilt for choice in Wiltshire but sometimes on a school day that involves a wander around the school site – which stands on a hill overlooking the Bath skyline – at 7.30am when its not yet fully light. It sets me up for the day before the craziness of managing hundreds of teenage boys in the middle of a pandemic.
I’ve noticed since I moved schools that many boys prefer to spend their free time outdoors during the school day and that, coupled with the school’s exposed position has kept most of us COVID free since September.
Outdoors really is a good place to be whatever the season.

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