We talk to Jane Revell, award-winning ELT author and teacher trainer and co-author of our course for adults, Jetstream and the teachers' resource book, Energising Your Classroom, about mindfulness and how both teachers and students can survive these difficult times.
Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): Hello Jane, what has your overall experience of the past year been?
Long! It’s been a very, very long year, hasn’t it? Full of uncertainty and unpredictability. Just when you think things are moving forwards, they begin to go backwards again! But while it’s been difficult not being able to do so many of the things I would normally do - and which I tend to take for granted - I think it’s made me value those things more. And I find myself really enjoying very simple things: even a trip to the supermarket has become such an exciting event!
HRB: What have been the greatest challenges of lockdown for you? How have you managed to cope with them?
The greatest challenge has been the physical separation from friends and family. In particular, rarely getting to see our grandchildren, Rafael, 7 years, and Leo, now just 3 months. Apart from on a screen of course. But now that we’ve had our first vaccinations, that is likely to get easier.
And all around me, I see people helping out in the community: organising vaccination centres, running food banks, delivering meals and so on, and I’ve found it frustrating not being able to join them - because I’m classified as an ‘older’ and ‘vulnerable’ person who should just stay at home! And then I discovered I could join a group of volunteers making phone calls to people who are on their own or can’t get out: checking in with them to see if they need anything and to chat for a while. And that I can do from home!
HRB: How are teachers and students responding to these unexpected changes?
Magnificently! Because it’s certainly not easy for them. First because of the real fear of catching or transmitting the virus, especially if they’re doing any face-to-face teaching, but also because of all the anxiety, not just about what’s happening right now, but also about the future, both for themselves and their students.
Then there’s all the extra work involved in rejigging methods and materials to deliver virtual classes on Zoom etc. And yes, it’s interesting and ‘good for us’(!) to have to find new ways of doing things - and sometimes ending up doing them even better than before! - but it’s still an added burden at a time when people’s physical, mental and emotional resources are really stretched.
HRB: Both your course Jetstream and resource book Energising Your Classroom focus on teacher and student well-being and mindfulness. Can you share any practical tips for coping with the stress caused by uncertainty in our virtual classrooms?
Here are just four simple practical things that can help with stress. Simple but effective!
1 Do some deep breathing. Why? Because controlling your breathing helps you control your state (and it gives your lungs a workout, too). There are loads of suggestions online, including some specifically for Covid 19. Here is a very simple one I use every morning - though you may want to use it several times a day:
Breathe in for a count of 5, hold for 6, breathe out for 7. Do this 5 times.
2 Keep physically active even/especially if you’re working at your computer for lengthy periods. Why? Because moving your body moves your spirits - and not moving it allows stiffness and tension to build up. ‘Punctuate’ your sitting periods every 30 minutes or so. Stand up from time to time, stretch, walk around, do a little dance, look at yourself in the mirror and laugh. Anything will do!
3 Talk to someone about what’s worrying you. Why? Because keeping issues bottled up allows them to take root and grow out of proportion. And besides - you might get some good advice! Encourage your students to talk, too. Ask questions like : Everybody OK? Anybody not OK? Want to share that? Can anyone else suggest what to do?
4 Help someone else. Why? Because it not only helps them, it will make you feel good, too. Just little things can make a big difference: making a phone call, helping with shopping, delivering prescriptions from the chemist. Ask students to come up with ideas for things they could safely do, too.
HRB: What do you do when you need to relax?
What do I do? Well, if I can, I go for a long walk and when I come home, I sit down with a nice glass of wine and read the paper! And on Monday evenings I join in a dance session on Zoom and let my hair down. That kind of sets me up for the week.
And here’s a chant to finish with!
Written just last week for the new edition of Jetstream Elementary, and called Bye Bye Blues, it fits in perfectly with our theme. You can either just read it through for yourself, or you can share it with your students. If you do the latter, chant it first with the whole class - with a strong rhythm and beat, emphasizing the elements in bold. Then divide the class in two: half asking the questions, half replying. Swap. Then have them practise in pairs or small groups, and finally encourage them to come up with their own strategies (OK not to keep to the rhyme or rhythm at this stage!). Enjoy!
Bye Bye Blues
What do you do when you’re worried?
What do you do when you’re sad?
What do you do when life is hard
And things seem really bad?
I put on my music and ‘move it’!
Or I go for a walk on my own.
Or I sing in the shower at the top of my voice.
Or I chat to a friend on my phone.
And I say to myself: ‘It’ll all be OK.
Just remember - you’re never alone’.