Classroom Top Tips or How To Keep The Little Darlings Enthused

Of course my subtitle is slightly tongue in cheek but I think will resonate with many Secondary school teachers. I’m actually part of a rare breed in the UK, a middle school teacher. Whilst middle schools have not really taken on in the UK, as opposed to our neighbours across the pond, I really do think they do the world of good for pupils. A halfway house between leaving primary and starting a huge secondary school. Sadly, however, those of us who think that are in a minority and those in charge definitely do not like middle schools so they are being shut down one by one.

But let us not dwell, whilst there are pupils to teach, engage and enthuse my job goes on! These are my top 5 classroom tips for a happy, successful classroom. I will be writing these from a Secondary perspective as once pupils hit puberty keeping them engaged is all the harder!

1. Grab your pupils by the throat the moment they enter the room. No not literally, please don’t do that or there will be trouble ahead and not in the moonlight, dancing, romance sort of way (admit it you started to sing it too). What I mean is first impressions DO count. The moment your pupils step over that threshold into your domain they must want to be there. Drab classroom displays, formal layouts, Arial black on a white screen are not going to excite anyone let alone 30 14 year olds straight after lunch.

Think carefully about your subject, no matter what it is there will be something there to spark interest. Does it link into popular culture? Are there famous practitioners you can display? My subject is RE so I go for a full sensory attack:

Sight– My classroom is bright, colourful and has a number of permanent displays alongside pupils’ work. This means that there is always something to look at and read when you enter my room. RE lends itself to bright colours so I have used saris, artefacts, posters alongside pupil work.

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Sound- I’m a big believer in using music to inspire a lesson.

A favourite of my pupils on a breezy day.

A favourite of my pupils on a breezy day.

I will often have music related to the lesson playing as pupils enter the room and have a policy of working music during the lesson. Music = work in my room! There also items in my classroom that make sound such as rainmakers, Diwali sticks and my trusted wind chime, a favourite with my pupils on a breezy day.

Smell– smell is important to our learning. By using smell you can fully immerse yourself into the subject you are studying. Now admittedly this is more tricky in some subjects but in RE incense adds a wonderful quality to lessons. I have a variety of incense sticks and cones dotted around my room, such as Nag Champa and Frankincense. Pupils are allowed to handle and smell these under supervision during lessons and are very popular.

Incense holders

Incense holders

Taste- special festivals have special foods! I have often been seen carting in various delicacies to my classroom around the academic & religious calendar. We have sampled Diwali sweets, Matzo crackers, Seder plate items, Eid celebration food, vegetarian food as served in a langar to name but a few. These extra experiences has added a new depth of understanding to pupils’ work.

Touch- my room is full of artifacts from the 6 major world religions and I encourage their use in lessons. My favourites are my story telling dolls which tell the story of Rama & Sita and also the Temptation of the Buddha. The pupils’ favourites are usually the 5Ks, mainly the kirpan (small sword), they are always disappointed to discover it glued within its sheath!

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2. Create a safe environment. I’m not just talking about from a Health & Safety tumblr_mamdrvs5Wu1ry76roo1_500perspective, although this is important too, rather do your pupils feel emotionally safe in your room? Are the encouraged to experiment? Most importantly are they allowed to safely fail? Failure is a part of life and we cannot shield children from it no matter how hard we try. You can encourage good failure by creating a working environment that allows critical analysis of why things failed and how to work to improve. Children who cannot fail safely will learn to fear it and in a secondary environment that can often present itself as “I can’t fail if I don’t try” and a block to education occurs.

3. A thinking classroom is a successful classroom. Critical thinking skills are..well…critical! Enabling pupils to think for themselves, to analyse the information and to critique it is the best achievement as a teacher. Critical thinking is not the preserve of the more able either, every single pupil can become a critical thinker and once the skill is mastered it will open doors to learning. Blooms Taxonomy is key to tailoring lessons to pupils’ needs. blooms_taxonomy

My classroom is very much pupil-led. Due to the nature of my subject there is a lot pupils don’t know but are fascinated to find out. So we go with that, they tell me the areas they want to find out more and I facilitate that. It works very well. So well in fact that I was graded Outstanding by Ofsted in July 2013 (yes in 30° heat and whilst 7 months pregnant!). This approach sounds like hard work and yes it does take a little bit of getting used to but once you are in the swing of it you will find it creates LESS work not more. The pupils are engaged, much more likely to work independently, do research at home to bring in and a lot more interested in their final piece of work. You are there to guide, to assist and mainly to answer any inquiries that arise. I find it a very interesting and rewarding way to work.

4. rulesBoundaries. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Have I made my point? I have a more relaxed teaching style to some of my colleagues, I find it suits me, my classes and my subject better. However there are some things that are set in stone. Hard-fast rules that are not to be broken under any circumstances. RE brings with it a lot of debate and is very heavily influenced by the home life of the pupils. Misconceptions are common place and it is my job to gently guide the pupils through the facts so they come to their own conclusions not those portrayed in the media for example.

wpid-IMG_20131006_1055265. You have to enjoy it yourself. There is no point turning up each day if you don’t have an enthusiasm for your subject. Yes there will be bad days, and awful days and days you wonder just why you bother at all but deep down you must share your love of your subject. There are always elements of each subject we like least but it is our job as professionals to overcome those so we are doing the very best for our pupils.

This blog post is an entry to the Bloggers Lounge competition: World Class Teachers’ Top Tips sponsored by World Class Teachers, a supply teaching agency who specialise in placing teachers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America and the UK into day-to-day and long-term teaching positions throughout London.

I Don’t Breastfeed…

www.pinterest.comI don’t breastfeed to make you feel uncomfortable. I’m sorry if my feeding my child makes you feel uncomfortable/disgusted/even nauseous but I respectfully suggest that has more to do with how society has reclassified breasts as solely sexual. Breasts are for breastfeeding, who knew!

I don’t breastfeed to make a political point. I am merely feeding my child, yes I may be in public but I’m sure you’d complain more about the crying than the feeding. As it is the law protects my right to feed in public. No I will not pump, have you ever been attached to one of those things? Odds are you have seen me feed in public hundreds of times and not realised, occasionally, very occasionally you may see a tiny flash of breast but you see more on the beach in the summer and a whole lot more each time you open The Sun, Nuts, Loaded and other “lads” mags.

I don’t breastfeed to make formula feeders feel inferior. I think it is amazing that we live in a country that has a safe, nutritionally sound alternative available and as such babies are not going hungry. I do not look down on formula feeders, why would I?! Yes I am a breastfeeding advocate but advocate does not mean I judge those who chose a different feeding method to me. It’s none of my business how you wish to feed your child just as it’s none of yours about how I feed mine.

I don’t breastfeed to support a certain lifestyle. I am not a “breastfeeding Nazi” nor am I part of the “Breastapo”. I find those terms extremely offensive. Nor am I a lentil-weaving, yogurt-knitting hippy (although I do love my Birkies). I am a mother who is just trying to get from day to day without a major disaster.

I DO breastfeed because:

  • It works for us as a family
  • I have been lucky enough to have had support in order to overcome my hurdles in breastfeeding
  • I make enough milk, not all women can
  • I am ultimately lazy. Hats off to those who do night feeds with bottles, it’s far from the ‘easy option’
  • It is free. Have you seen the cost of infant milk these days? That stuff is expensive!
  • My babies like it. You cannot force a child to breastfeed, if they didn’t like it I wouldn’t be doing it.
  • It’s the best diet I’ve ever been on! Shallow? yes maybe but true.

Review: Baby Massage sponsored by Infacol

There is no polite way to put this.

Rosie has gas.

She is a little burping and farting machine. Bella was never gassy at all, she was many things but gassy was not one of them! Gas, wind, whatever you prefer to call it is actually quite rare in EBF (exclusively breastfed) babies and it was this that prompted me to look into the cause behind Rosie’s gas problem. She has a complete lip tie which means she has a shallow latch enabling air to be taken in when feeding.

Mostly this means unladylike belches, many farts and quite a bit of posseting. Apart from the change of clothes pretty massage

But then there are the other times when it does become a problem. Trapped wind; uncomfortable as an adult, excruciatingly painful for a baby. All those who have had dealings with windy babies know all too well the red faced screams as they arch their backs, pull up their legs as the bubbles of air inside them cause a whole lot of pain.

So it was with interest when I was contacted by Infacol to try out some baby massage in order to see if it helped with Rosie’s wind problem. I tried baby massage with Bella but that girl hated it, hated being naked, didn’t like being massaged so I had sort of dismissed it for Rosie. I fell into that trap that many parents do of assuming our children will be the same in likes, temperament etc.

So out came the towel, downloaded the info, dug out the massage oil from my maternity kit and off we go!

Now at this point  I must stress that the items I use are what works for us and may not be suitable for everyone, if using oil for massage always do a small test patch on yourself and your baby 24 hours before the intended massage in case of reaction.

We are using Sweet Almond base oil for our massage and only a tiny amount. This is an oil I have used on myself during pregnancy and on Rosie’s dry skin after she was born. We both had eczema, mine the more severe, so it was key to use an oil that would not react.

I started with the anti-colic exercises as Rosie was displaying signs of trapped wind when we tried these techniques. They seemed strange at first but Rosie loved them, out of all the other massage types (apart from the shoulder one, that was her absolute favourite!) the anti-colic trio were the biggest hits!

The information sheet is simple and easy to follow, giving clear instruction on each technique and how long to perform the massage for. I can see these massages becoming part of our nightly routine before bed in order to help Rosie remain pain free. I plan to show my husband these techniques tonight so we can both enjoy the time massaging Rosie.

Infacol are the market leaders in colic relief and have set up a virtual colic surgery with and expert midwife on hand to advise on the treatment of colic in babies. Why not check it out today?

Have Some More Selfie Respect

Warning: this will be ranty.

Ok you have probably seen the latest Facebook “craze” about women posting selfies with no makeup to “raise awareness for cancer” right? How many of you have been tagged or had your timeline bombarded with these posed, primped, lighting just right no makeup pictures? I have had too many. Just too many. keep-calm-and-no-more-selfies

The thing is if you are reading this and are now thinking I am a heartless bitch, it’s only a bit of fun, it’s raising awareness what harm is there? etc etc then read on before you confirm that in your mind.

I am not anti-cancer awareness. Far, far from it. I know only too well that feeling when you hear someone you love more than life itself has been diagnosed with cancer. That utter shock feeling that washes over you as your stomach sinks through your knees and the sobs start to well up at the back of your throat. Images flash through your mind, the past, the present and the future, is there a future? Oh god what if there is no future…

In my case the above feelings were when I heard the news about my Dad’s diagnosis of cancer of the kidney. For those of you that don’t know kidney cancer is one of those bastard cancers, the ones that give out hardly any symptoms until it’s too late and cannot be treated with chemotherapy as the drugs don’t work on the renal cells. Dad was lucky. He had an MRI scan for a completely unrelated reason and the growths were discovered, it turned out that he was eligible for surgery to try and stop the spread. Thankfully the surgery was successful and although he is now down to 1 working kidney he is still with us. If he had not had the scan he would not be, it’s as simple as that. I have always donated to cancer charities throughout my life and fundraised for Macmillan, Cancer Research etc and now I include the James Whale Fund into that fundraising. James Whale is the leading kidney cancer charity working tirelessly to improve early diagnosis of a cancer that is fatal in the majority of patients by the time of diagnosis.

So back to the FB selfies. Why, if my family have been affected by cancer (and My Dad is not the only one, my Aunt and Father-in-Law have all had cancer treatment within the past 2 years) am I against this campaign?

The simple fact is I find this campaign cynical and manipulative, not to mention vacuous and misogynistic. Strong words indeed. Let’s unpick why I feel like this stage by stage:

  • A selfie to raise awareness. Well how is this raising awareness exactly? The majority of posts I have seen across the internet are saying to raise awareness for ‘cancer’. The origins of this campaign were for breast cancer awareness and the early selfies were accompanied by checklists for breast examination (I think that is great and useful) but as time has gone on this message has been lost and the breast cancer label has been dropped along with the most useful part in the checklist. What appears to have happened is that people are jumping on the newest craze on FB, tagging all their female friends (and some males too) with no mention of the initial aim. the message is getting more and more diluted as it carries on in this vein.
  • A selfie with NO MAKEUP. Seriously? Seriously?! Are we so entrenched in misogynistic culture that the very act of a woman posting a picture of themselves on social media without makeup is seen as shocking and (dare I say it) daring? Give me strength. Now I am fully aware that I am in the minority when I say that my FB profile includes pictures of me sans makeup. There are two reasons for this, #1 I can’t wear makeup due to my eczema, & #2 I CAN’T BE ARSED even if I could wear it. People are friends with me for me not because I have a certain way with a bit o’blusher. I find it distressing that the act of posting a makeup free selfie is seen as a sacrifice for so many, that some illusion will be shattered by doing it that they are really taking a bullet for cancer awareness. If the campaign had been to highlight that beautiful does not have to = makeup then it would make sense and actually have some meaning, as it is it feels wrong and very manipulative.
  • The campaign has no direction. If you delve deeper into the UK branch of this campaign (and I use that term in its loosest possible sense) you will see that awareness does not = donation or fundraising. To me personally the two should go hand in hand. There has been a big scrabbling round to set up a Just Giving page after hundreds of UK FB users pointed out the flaws in this campaign. Now a lot of those doing the whole selfie thing will have been donating as they do it etc but there has been no implicit co-ordination, no substantial pulling together in order to raise funds alongside the awareness. Hastags now work on FB, all it would take is to add a tag alongside the selfie pics to get it trending and actually make a difference.
    In fact as I type this has just been posted to my status and I wholeheartedly agree with the friend who posted it:

[…]great to raise awareness but where are the links for signs to check for, places you can donate/volunteer. Having lost many family and friends to cancer, I actually find it a bit insulting that someone can take a selfie, post it to FB and then feel like they’ve made a difference to the fight against cancer.

In fact of those close friends and family on my FB that I know have had direct experience with cancer, none of them have followed this craze in the way thousands have. One very brave friend did post a selfie but it was of her during chemo to highlight that a picture of you with no makeup is nothing in comparison to the endurance of round after round of chemotherapy.

Raising awareness has to be good but it also has to be appropriate or you run the risk of mocking the very thing you are trying to raise awareness for. It would be like me starting a craze for posting a picture of your elbow to raise awareness for mental health issues. In fact…

elbowMight take off 😉

Review: Bloom & Wild

I was first introduced to Bloom & Wild via Twitter. Someone I follow posted a stunning picture of her bouquet and when I asked her about it she put me onto the company. Well, what can I say except this is an amazing idea!

My husband is many things, a wonderful husband, brilliant father, amazing cook and all round good egg. What he is not, however, is good with flowers. He is, as I like to term it, “florally challenged”. I love flowers, I really love flowers but what I do not love is how quickly they wilt and die if cut and I have an amazing ability to kill off any houseplant that finds itself within 50 yards of me.

So when I heard about a company that supplies long lasting blooms I thought “brilliant!”. More flower for your money. Then came the bestest best bit of all. They deliver them to your door and the fit through the letter box! 

Flower heaven.

© Bloom&


Now the flowers are not your usual cut bouquet you might find in your local supermarket, of course they are not because they are long lasting flowers. They are wild, different, striking and really make a statement in the room. I currently have a monthly subscription and am really looking forward to seeing what flowers arrive next month because they change each month to reflect seasonality.

Overall I give this company 5/5. Their communication is superb, they are a very welcoming and easy company to deal with and their product is wonderful.

Bella’s Bunting

Sorry for the absence but life with a new baby is seldom conducive to being able to write!

So bunting. I do love a bit of bunting and my all time favourite magazine Simply Crochet spoils me with gorgeous bunting in each issue. One of these beautiful patterns caught Bella’s eye and she asked me to make it for her bedroom. Who am I to refuse my little Squig (short for Squiglet, her nickname since birth). 20140223-083548.jpg

The pattern is worked in rounds starting with a magic circle/ring. Now I class myself as an advanced beginner in crochet terms and the magic circle/ring has always been difficult for me, I have watched countless tutorials on Y0utube, read how to do it in magazines but it never quite works out right so I sort of bodge it so it does the job! The one thing I found about this pattern (found in Issue 13) is that it works up very quickly due to the weight of the yarn and the hook size. The yarn is DROPS Paris and so soft, I had a few issues to start with as it’s the first time I’ve crocheted with a cotton blend and the tiny strands did get caught but I soon got used to it!

The design is simply gorgeous and would work for Christmas decorations with white, red or sparkly yarn. It works just as well with DK yarn and a 4mm hook; I’m thinking of getting some Wendy Supreme Sparkle DK in time for Christmas.

The main thing I adore about this bunting is the ombré effect of the colours, so pleasing and striking. Bella loves red and pink so this bunting was perfect for her room which is decorated in cream and red.


For finishing I made two slight adjustments. One was to block and starch the bunting, for it to hang right around Bella’s mirror this was a must. The second was to join each star to the chain with a dc, this holds the stars in the right place so they don’t slip when hung.

I am hoping that as Rosie gets older I can finish projects quicker.


Yeah that’s not going to happen is it?

My Beauty

Bella has many different meanings across the Internet. Most agree that it means beautiful and when I see pictures like this of my Bella who am I to disagree?P1010374