Tag Archive | stress

Learning to say “No”

saying no

Teachers, on the whole, are a pretty compliant bunch. Ask them to do anything and they will often find a way to add it to their list. There comes a time though when enough is enough and for your own health and well being you have to say “No“, but how?

‘Enough is enough’ when work life is not in balance, in fact, your work is your life to the detriment of both.  We reach the end of our capacity to take on anything new or different and often retreat to known practices and routine. This is a not a solution only a coping strategy.

You may recognise in others and even yourself the symptoms of ‘enough is enough’ but how do you regain balance, take control once again?

You have to say ‘NO’ but you may feel you are letting down your students or colleagues if you do.

Let me ask you this question: “Do those around you, those you lead or those who lead you know what you have on at the moment?” It is my experience that we think they do but often they have no idea. This leads us on to how to say no.

There are many ways of saying no!

The word “No” is so final we rarely use it, possibly because it promotes conflict or we do not want to appear unreasonable.  So what are the alternatives? Here are my suggestions, those that I use with the teachers I coach:

  • How important is it? Is it more important than (list your current tasks)?
  • What do you want me to stop doing in order to do that?
  • Have I your permission to stop doing (whatever you decide) and do that instead?
  • If I do this for you what will you do for me?
  • How long will it take and when do you want it? (discuss)
  • Am I the best person to be taking this on (don’t fall for the flattery either)
  • What will you do to help me succeed?

There are more but I think you get the idea.

Whatever you do do not say the word “Sorry” when you are saying “No”, be firm but polite.

Finally, you need to work out what are your priorities, what destructive routines you have and what support network you have in place. All these things help you address the work/life balance in a positive way and will release capacity to be even more objective.

If you like this article then you can find more ideas on how to look after yourself and still build effective learning relationships in my book ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them’ (link below)



Get Motivated

Concept image of a signpost with motivational directions.

Get motivated – 6 things to do to make sure you get and remain motivated

So you have an essay to write, a research paper to prepare or whatever.  The trouble is you have the time and the resources but not the will to do it. You are putting it off, procrastinating.

Why and what can you do about it?

The first problem is there is tomorrow, or the next day to do it. Well that is what you tell yourself. Nothing feels urgent, there is plenty of time left to get it done so its gets left undone. It will get done later.


The second problem is that you forget about it. Well your conscious mind does but not the subconscious.  Since you set no specific timetable to start and finish by there is no urgency and your mind gets busy with the day to day stuff. It is only when you relax you remembered and then you feel tired so a) you panic or b) you decide to put off starting until later (there is that “later” again).


Young beautiful business woman panic


Pain and worry are both draining, they sap our energy and we feel drained and mentally tired and thinking becomes harder. Why am I telling you this? Well a task sitting in the subconscious is like pain and like worry, it drains us of energy.  Once you have a task to do it is taking up mental resources, its sitting there draining your energy. The longer you leave it the less energy you have to do it. The only way you get started in these situations is when the adrenalin kicks in and gives you that energy boost. So as soon as you panic you get the energy to make a start.  The problem we have here is that an adrenaline hit does nothing for our perceptive thinking. You are in “fight or flight” mode and not think and reflect mode.

Next to come are the excuses.

You need to balance the lack of progress in order to feel okay about not starting so you make excuses. Excuses include promises to yourself too. Excuses and promises mean nothing in terms of getting started or completing a task. They achieve nothing in themselves and often are not fulfilled. Enough said about excuses and promises, you are fooling no one, and that includes yourself!  Stop making excuses.

There is too much to do, you are too busy already. Sorry but this is an excuse in disguise and you are fooling no one but yourself.  You have enough time but you are using it unwisely. You are allowing small tasks and the tasks you enjoy doing to eat up your time. You need to get strict with yourself and plan better.

Leaving things to the last minute, or beyond if you consider the quality of your work, is not good for you. It is self-inflicted pain and anguish. A set of emotions that never result in a positive feeling once you have finished. Instead there is a combination of relief for getting it done and anger with yourself for not starting sooner and doing a better job. This is probably the main reason why you leave things until the last minute too. Let me explain.

Feeling good about something is a reward to yourself. Remember doing something well and how proud you felt. Remember the praise you got when you achieved something significant.  We like rewards and rewards spurs us on to try harder or to do well.  By leaving things to the last minute, by delaying starting, you are robbing yourself of the reward. Without a reward all you are left with are the negative emotions and an experience that does little to inspire you next time.

So that is why and how we put things off.

What can you do about it?


For a start, set your own deadline and do not go with the “hand in” or “hand over” date.  Take control of the situation and do not dance to somebody else’s tune. They have no idea what else you have to do, want to do or wish to do. They do not offer to organise your time and only to expect you to use your time to complete the task they set.

Next, and it’s the most important part, set out your rewards for when you complete the task for the date you have set yourself. If you can meditate on them, visualise them happening. Make them real in your mind, feel the emotions that go with getting things done not only in time but in plenty of time. The reward is a powerful motivator but it must be a realistic reward. No setting unrealistic rewards, they do not motivate you.

Get realistic about your use of time. If something is a two hour task then spend little more than the two hours on it. If you spend more than 2 hours you are taking time away from something else.  You risk running out of time and we know where that leads.

Then, and only then, when you have achieved the task take the time and make the effort to reward yourself.  When you are doing so take a moment to reflect on how you would feel and what position you would be in if you were still rushing to get things finished. Contrast those emotions with how you feel having achieved your task as you set out to do.  Embedding the positive emotions in your memory will help you become motivated next time.

So to sum up then:

  1. Allocate a realistic and appropriate amount of time to a task and stick to it.
  2. Set your own “complete by” date ahead of the hand in or hand over dates.
  3. Plan realistically and stick to it. Make no excuses.
  4. Establish you rewards for completing on time.
  5. Take a moment to visualise and feel the positive emotions associated with your rewards before you start.
  6. When you have completed on time reward yourself and take the time to embed the good feelings into memory. Rewards must be meaningful and achievable.


By the way if you are struggling with time management then here is a link to a series of articles that solve that problem too.

man holding back time

Part 2: The one and only learning theory that counts is …



As a result of our desire in education to find the magic bullet, the one way to teach and ideal way to learn that will make our education systems the best I would argue we are neglecting the learner. We are requiring compliance rather than seeking engagement. I would go as far as saying we are disabling the learner. For part 1 of this article the link is: http://wp.me/p2LphS-qA

Surely every new idea, theory, or approach is aimed at making it easier or better for the learner. So how can this be?  The answer lies in the impact on the learner and their involvement in the learning.

Building our self-perception as a learner

Experience should suggest to anyone in teaching or wanting to learn that we each have learning preferences, those things that we believe help us to learn. Some feel more alert in the morning or like to discuss ideas with others rather than read about them.  It may be the environment we are in, who we are with or any number of other factors that influence our moods and energy levels.  Our learning preferences often change too, they are after all preferences. Like all preferences they are  influenced by context, our own emotional, mental and physical development as well as our environment.  We present our learning preferences as learning needs (tangibly  some  times as motivators represented by desired rewards) to be fulfilled in order to learn. Understanding about the impact of and of the changes in our learning needs is part of LQ.

In situations where we do not have our learning needs met we feel uncomfortable, see ourselves as “unable” or struggle to engage and require significantly more encouragement or motivation to participate in the learning. We are after all fighting off a driving need, trying to put it to the back of our mind. This subduing of need, of not having a preference met, requires energy and concentration. Both of these would normally be allocated to the learning task at hand.  We are therefore left without a focus on learning with our efforts being divided between two tasks. We are in effect being distracted from learning.    Just ask yourself what your concentration is like when you are hungry or cold or the chair you are sitting in is uncomfortable and I think you will understand my point.

The split in our efforts to learn and in our efforts to meet our learning needs does not have to be an equal one. In truth very little effort may be available for learning depending on how significant our needs are, to what degree they are not being met and how much effort is needed to achieve or repress them.  This may go some way to explain why some learners learn easier and are more relaxed in some learning environments than in others.

Repressing a need can also lead to a build-up of stress. How we respond when stressed depends on a number of factors, the range, and type of behaviours that we have learnt as well as our environment and our perceived options (self-efficacy). Chronic stress often occurs when we feel we have no choices and no voice. An excessive stress level also limits learning as it robs us of our objective thinking and disturbs our emotional balance. We often make irrational choices when chronically stressed too.

I find that “inexperienced learners” often perceive this struggle between meeting learning needs and learning as an indication that they are unable to learn.  It influences our perception of ourselves as a learners.  This perception can be, and often is, wrong. It is the result of this conflict in application of energy and effort to have our learning needs met and to engage in the learning process. The long term damage occurs when this turns from a perception into a belief. The power of LQ is that it gives the learner both the tools and insight to challenge these false beliefs.  It allows them to redefine their perception of themselves as learners. LQ broadens the strategies a learner can use to overcome learning barriers caused by not having their learning needs met.

Our self-beliefs as learners is critical to our success as learners.  What we cannot rely on as learners is there being one way to learn and that this way will always be created for us. It is a false hope that I suggest can have a catastrophic impact on teaching and learning. It is up to the learner to develop the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours that will allow them to master any learning environment. Learners need to focus on developing their Learning Intelligence in order to manage their learning environment.

diagram of LQ and SAAB

In following parts I will explain why I believe that as there is no single ideal learner profile there is no one learning environment and no one environment that meets all learning needs.

Part 3

How Can a Specialist Teaching Coach Help You?

www.ace-d.co.ukMotivational Signpost

A key part of being a teacher is being a learner yourself but what happens when you stop being a learner? As a teacher one use of coaching is to regain your view on the world as a learner. Another is to become a better teacher. This article looks at the “awkward” side of coaching, that of not being at your best, and shows how you can regain control and be the teacher you know you can be.

Let us explore some of the symptoms of what happens when, as a teacher, you stop being a learner.

Teaching is a “full on” job and can leave you tired, if not exhausted at times, meaning you can find yourself on the treadmill that is preparation, teaching, assessment, and reporting all too easily if you do not take time for yourself. You may feel that there is no option but to work harder and longer in order to get it all done. Instead of going out with friends and family do you find yourself staying in to mark work or plan lessons? Things get sacrificed as more and more of your time is taken up with the job of teaching and before you know it there is little room for anything else. Holidays and weekends become “catch up days” rather than a chance to recharge the batteries. At some point the pressure begins to invade your sleep and you may even lay awake planning lessons or reviewing the day you had and how to do it better next time.

You may come to realise that you are no longer a learner and just a teacher! There is no doubt that your teaching will suffer as a result of this.

Once you get into this position it is difficult to get out. The quality of your teaching and relationships with students suffers, as does the learning of the students. You may begin to experience behaviour problems from students in your lessons perhaps because you have lost your sense of fun. More and more things trigger your escalating need to be in control as you struggle to cope. Your capacity to deal with change becomes limited and you can find yourself doing more of what you are comfortable and familiar with rather than what needs to be done or try anything new. You rely more and more on routine and have less and less capacity for innovation. Simple questions can become challenges and interpreted as criticism as your confidence fades.

You may recognise yourself exhibiting these symptoms (or even colleagues) occasionally but what if it gets to be too much?

Once in this state lesson observation may not go as well as they used to adding to your growing frustration. Pressure can grow from the leadership of the school to maintain standards that were once easily within you reach as a teacher but which now form an almost impossible target. Achieving the standards required is increasingly difficult as you struggle to find the time and the energy you need. As your performance falls the number of lesson observations and the number of occasions your work is scrutinised increases causing further pressure. Offers of help are seen as threats and an effort to undermine your position even further. Ultimately there will be a price to be paid and this normally means your health and relationships suffer as you struggle more and more to do what once was well within your reach.

Where do you look for help?

There is a balance to be achieved if you are to be an effective teacher and continue to learn yourself. Achieving this balance is much easier when you work with somebody, somebody who can help you regain your perspective and help you to start being a learner and therefore an effective teacher once again. Finding a way out of the cycle is easier than you think, you just have to make the first step, that of realising the position you are in.

Arranging for help is not a sign of weakness, it is actually a sign of strength, of wanting to fight back and regain your perspective, life, and health and once again enjoy your teaching. The alternative is to accept that you cannot do anything about your position and let the consequences lead where they may.

Working with a specialist teaching coach can be the best way for you to regain the balance you need.

Here is a genuine review written by a teacher when they looked back having received coaching from ace-d. It demonstrates the challenges they faced and how they successfully found a way to regain their perspective and once again enjoy their teaching.

“When my Deputy Head announced that I was to work with Kevin, I was sceptical to say the least. What he had to say was great, in theory, but I never imagined that it would work in practice. I guess, that not believing that my current situation could be resolved by anything, other than me resigning from my post, made it more difficult for me to try out the strategies. Initially, they didn’t work. And they won’t, unless you change attitude. ‘It is not what you do, but how you do it that makes the difference.’

 Thanks to Kevin’s coaching, ten months down the line, I have a different approach to teaching. I work smarter, and when I started to believe in the strategies, and wanted them to work, they did, to my surprise. It felt good. All of a sudden, I got respect. I learnt that it was ok to say no; that I had a right to be heard and that not everything requires 100% effort. Most importantly, I started to respect myself, and my own time. It is about balance. It is about ‘What’s best for me?’ I have begun to change my work/life ratio, and am still working on it.  More to the point, I have discovered that I like it when I am not working; as in itself, it isn’t the only thing that defines who I am.

I am thrilled that I gave the coaching a chance, and am grateful for the new perspective that I now have of teaching.”

As you can see there is an alternative, you do not have to put up with decreasing amounts of “me” time or time with family and friends. Nor do you have to face mounting pressure alone. You can once more become the learner and the teacher you once were by taking control.

Is the time right for you to explore being coached?

However you go about making this transformation it is much better to work with somebody who has the strategies and experience to guide you successfully through the challenges you will undoubtedly face. As you saw in the example from a teacher who went through this process there comes a time when you want to take back control, when you change your attitude to your situation. A time when you want to be with family and friends without feeling guilty about the work waiting for you when you get back.  A time when you don’t want to get that sinking feeling on Sunday evening because of the week ahead anymore.

Are you there yet or do things have to get worse before you do something about it?

You may think that only you know the answer to this question but my advice is to ask those around you, your friends, and your family what they think.

How do you find the right coach and how do you arrange the sessions?

Successful coaching does not have to involve a direct meeting with the coach nor does it mean an added burden to cope with or fit in. Arranged correctly coaching is a supportive process. Coaching can be arranged across the internet at a time to suit you and in an environment you prefer. Of course the key aspects are finding a coach who understands you and your situation and who you feel comfortable working with and can develop confidence in.  Reputable coaching services will always provide an initial discussion for free during which you and your coach can make a decision about the partnership. It is important it is the right partnership for both parties if it is to be a successful experience.

Whatever you decide ace-d will be there for you when the time is right for you. For more details of the ace-d coaching arrangements please get in touch or explore coaching on the website http://www.ace-d.co.uk

The first LQ Topic Review – LQ and the School Environment.

school environment

How we manage the school day, the environment that creates and the impact on the learner.

Schools are a solution to a problem but no solution is without compromise. So let us start by exploring the design specification for schools before we seek to explore the compromises and the impact they may have in making the school environment so debilitating for some learners.

  • Schools must cater for large numbers of pupils of various ages and find a way of managing them that makes teacher/learner interaction possible in a meaningful way.
  • A variety of learning content needs to be broken down into manageable elements and presented for learning in a manner which provides for progression in terms of skill and understanding.
  • It is necessary to monitor the progress made by learners in order to inform further teacher/learner interaction and keep records for reference and reporting.
  • The environment should provide for the wellbeing of the learner including such aspects as shelter, lighting, sanitation, and safety.
  • Resources to support learning need to be available and accessible.

From this specification we can imagine all sorts of schools from a gathering under a bridge [i] to the most sophisticated hi-tech modern buildings[ii]. Each is a solution to the problem based on the specification and each creates its own learning environment (not just the space but everything that provides for an element of the specification). These environments suit some more than others and some do better in such environments than others. The solutions become more complex the more learning variables we try to accommodate within the environment. There are a number of common solutions to this specification familiar to almost every person who has been to school. These include:

  • a timetable of some form, at least a start and end to the school day and perhaps breaks between learning sessions
  • learning topics broken down and presented as discrete subjects such as maths, the native language, science etc.
  • groups of learners of approximately the same age (within a chronological year for most schools, smaller schools may have broader age groups) and given the term “class”
  • a director of learning who manages the class, normally referred to as “the teacher”, who also monitors progress and keeps records of achievement.

There are exceptions to this model but they are not the majority. For most this model represents the best way of doing things and has been constantly refined and added to over the years. Is it the best model to provide a learning environment suitable for every learner though and is it possible to do such a thing? This question is at the very heart of the concept of LQ.

Let me give you an example of how this model can result in a learning environment that is at least debilitating for some learners and possibly toxic for others.

Born out of compromise perhaps here is the result.

What was once the “working week” will be replicated by the “school week” and consist of five days. The length of the school day will be based on the working day and be of such length as to occupy children from early morning to late afternoon. What is to be learnt will be broken down into subjects and each subject will be allocated a percentage of the school week (a number of lessons) depending on some form of hierarchy of importance. A timetable will be devised to match teachers with learners and provide suitable accommodation in line with the subject requirements. Learners will be expected to follow the timetable and arrive at each lesson with the necessary personal resources to engage in the learning. At key points assessments will take place to determine who has learnt what. Departments will be formed and consist of teachers of the same or allied subjects and areas of the school will be nominated as bases for these departments.

Now I want to stop and consider the impact on the learner of this compromise learning environment. To do this I am going to describe a small scale piece of action research I carried out in a school not too long ago. My aim was to determine what impact this type of environment had on the learner and to see what could be done to improve the learning outcomes.

Firstly I chose a learner based on conversations with teachers and something called CAT’s, a form of cognitive test which eliminated prior performance in providing an indication of potential. I was looking for a learner who was  underachieving but who was not demonstrating any challenging behaviour either. They could be described as a “compliant under achiever” perhaps. (see the article “Is Compliance a Learning Disability?”)

Having found such a person I arranged to follow their class for the entire school day. I arranged the day so that no individual (student or teacher) felt as though they were being observed directly or individually and no notes were made during the periods of observation. The day started with registration with the first teacher of the day, the Form Tutor. After registration the class were sent off to make their way to the first of four lessons which made up the morning period. Logistics played an important part in the day, getting from classroom to classroom on time and with the appropriate resources. The problem was there was no time allowed within the timetable for “travelling time.” Not everyone arrived at the same time making a prompt start for the teacher difficult. The class were settled down and the rigor of the lesson started. There were learning objectives to be explained, tasks to do and notes to make. The teachers had carefully planned their lessons and almost every minute was accounted for. Things happen though, they always do in lessons, and on occasions the carefully planned activities ran a little late. On occasion homework was hastily written down as the class were leaving. It was important not to be late to the next lesson. A morning break and short lunch period provided the only time the class were not with a teacher.

A typical day for a learner so what happened to my compliant under achiever. Well they managed to get through most of the day without too much trouble. They lost their pen after the first lesson and so had nothing to write with and when they asked to borrow one they were admonished in each lesson thereafter. No lesson ended in a way which prepared them for the next one and so stress levels built as the day progressed. The overall impression of the day was one of rushing and segmentation. In the space of 10 minutes the learner could go from thinking about maths to drama. They received little interaction with the teachers, as there was no obvious need; they did as they were told. However not all the work was complete or even scrutinised in any meaningful way (from the learner’s perspective). The teachers were not “poor” teachers; they prepared well, had suitable resources, and managed the class effectively. The day focused on learning subject materials, as we would expect in such a model. At some point no doubt there would be work handed in, scrutinised and marked giving feedback and comment to aid further learning.

Why then did the student I was following end the day by having a fight with a classmate over a pen? Even more importantly why were they underachievers?  Essentially I would conclude that they did not have the skills or understanding to manage their learning environment to meet their learning needs. The result was a student stressed enough to hit another student and who made little progress throughout the day. In many senses of the word they were just “coping” with school.

What would I do differently and how can LQ help? Two good questions to which I would like to give you the answers but I am not! Ask yourself what were the environmental conditions that could be alleviated and how would you go about it. Secondly put yourself in the shoes of that learner and think what strategies you could use to overcome the environmental learning limitations. Sometimes the answers are rather simple, like carry two pens not one! Sometimes they are a little more complicated and require the application of attributes and attitudes associated which are part of LQ.

What this means for the Teacher

Whilst lessons must have objectives think about the learning day and not just the lesson. Plan to include a welcoming start and an end that prepares the learner for what comes next. This requires a view of the learning day as a whole rather than a subject based view and consideration of the impact on the learner of the learning environment. Two of the “Teaching Ideas” series cover these points[iii].

Breaks of sufficient length are required between learning activities. Such breaks are effective in setting the pace of the day and no one learns if they are stressed. If you do not recognise this then I suggest you arrange to follow a student for a school day.

Have a discussion with colleagues about how effective the timetable is in managing the learning environment. Perhaps there are other ways or at the very least things that can be done within the present constraints to help in improving the learning environment.

Be flexible, if there is not enough time to deliver a lesson according to your plan – improvise.

Plan lessons not only according to content but also to accommodate the periods in between learning. The time needed for reflection and internalisation of learning is as important as the act of being engaged in directed learning. Standing back and observing is as important in teaching as lesson planning. This can be summed up as the “BME” (Beginning, Middle, and End) approach. The teacher is responsible for and directs these key times in a lesson, at all other times it is the learner’s responsibility and the teacher adopts the role of observer, guide, or coach. It is not the quality of the planning that counts, it is the quality of learning that takes place as a result of the planning!

Be prepared to get involved in the development of the timetable if you have one. It should not be a top down but a bottom up model. The timetable should serve the needs of the learner and not the other way around.

What this means for the Learner

When getting ready for school think about the whole day rather just about the lessons. Think about how you will get from place to place and how to arrive on time to each lesson. Try to arrive ready to learn.

Use breaks to unwind and forget about the lessons. Time away from learning is as important as the act of learning itself.

Be prepared to:

  • be late to lessons – stay calm
  • lose something – have a backup if you can
  • forget something – it happens so stay calm and think of a solution
  • explain yourself clearly when things go wrong. Take your time don’t rush what you say
  • spot the signs of getting stressed by things that happen during the school day and plan for ways of dealing with it. For example use your break period to chill out or chat about other things.

Use the two second rule. It takes only a second or two to break the effects of emotions on your behaviour. If you are feeling “up tight” then say to yourself “Only a fool breaks the two second rule because… .” Fill in the last bit with whatever is winding you up.  The delay between how you are feeling and any reaction will now involve your thinking part of the brain and not just a reflex response.

Finally a comment about timetables and the learning day.

The formal learning environment is something every learner needs to manage and, in some cases, overcome in order to meet their learning needs. As teachers we should be mindful of this fact and plan not only lessons but the learning day. We need to remember that the timetable has a major impact on the quality of the learning day both for the teacher and for the learner. The stresses that can build from a poorly designed timetable are significant. Sometimes what is best for the timetable is not the best in terms of providing a suitable and effective learning environment. The pace of the school day can be slowed or hastened by the timetable arrangements. Breaks are an important part of learning and there are a few myths that need to be dispelled regarding the length of breaks. I have heard arguments about shortening the mid-day or lunch break because students are bored or get into trouble towards the end. In an attempt to eliminate student incidents I have seen 10 minutes or 15 minutes shaved off the length of this break. Only to see the incidents occur again in the latter part of the break and a further reduction of time applied to solve the problem. It does not. Suddenly there is no time to have a proper break and both teachers and students are caught up in a rush to eat and get to the next lesson. In my opinion, and where I have experienced a much better learning day, we need to adopt the opposite strategy. Consider lengthening the mid-day break and planning for it, not just letting it happen.

Interested in a discussion about how LQ can help you manage the learning environment in a more productive way or perhaps in exploring a different approach to timetabling?

I am available for conferences, workshops, plenaries, online training, course design, webinars, and consulting. Your organization can reach me at kevin@ace-d.co.uk to discuss arrangements.

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