As teachers we know the power of language and questioning - we use it to empower our students every day. But are we using our knowledge and skills to also empower ourselves?
When I was a teacher, I know for a fact that I was not speaking to myself in the way that I would have spoken to my students. At times, the way I spoke to myself was disempowering, de-motivating and highly critical.
Just as we know the way we talk to others is powerful, it’s important to consider the impact of the way we speak to ourselves.
In this blog I share three simple ways to change your self-talk to create huge results.
1. Think positively
This doesn't mean constantly being cheerful, or being incessantly bright about everything. It literally means seeing if you are talking to yourself about negatives or positives. Are you telling yourself what you DON’T want or what you DO want?
The classic example from my time in primary school was saying to children in the corridor, ‘Don't run!’ and then watching in disbelief as they continued to run around the corner! ‘Walk’ had a much more desired impact. Changing my language to focus on the positive led to the outcome much more effectively.
Applying that logic to myself as teacher might look something like all the times I told myself to be ‘less stressed’ or to 'just stop stressing’. As a result, I was telling my mind to focus on stress. And just like the child zooming past me in the corridor, I didn’t even register what I truly wanted, which would have been ‘more purpose’, ‘time to relax’ or ‘a feeling of calm’. How much more powerful would it have been to be saying to myself, ‘I choose to be more purposeful’, ‘I want to be more organised’ or ‘I will relax to feel calmer’?
What you tell your mind, it will focus on. Your mind will look for it, find it and create it. So choose to focus positively rather than negatively.
My second simple tip is to talk to yourself like you would one of your students. If your student made a mistake would you say, ‘You're such a failure’ or ‘You should probably just give up now because you're never going to succeed’? I'm sure I know the answer already. My blood runs cold thinking about saying this to another person! The negative words there are demotivating, humiliating and disempowering.
And yet, that's how as a teacher I sometimes spoke to myself.
If you aren't giving yourself encouraging supportive and motivating messages, why are you surprised that you feel unable to achieve?
Think about the impact of your language. What effect would it have on a student of yours? How can applying that understanding to your own self-talk change things for you?
3. Ask empowering questions
As teachers we know the extraordinary power of asking the right questions. So if you are asking yourself disempowering questions such as, ‘why is this so hard?’ your mind is looking for all the answers to that question. It will find all the reasons why this is so hard! Do you really want to know all the reasons why you are succeeding?
If instead you ask yourself empowering questions like, ‘How could this be easier?’ your mind will find the answers for you. Instead of focusing on the problem, you are focused on the solution.
When thinking about the questions you ask, think about the answers you actually want to find.
So there are three simple tips that you can use to change your own self talk. I'd love to know how these are useful for you, and the results that you see from the changes you make.
This is a simple blog. I am sharing three mantras have emerged for me recently. Reflecting on them, I reckon they’ll get me through pretty much anything.
Here they are:
Everything is learning.
If the intention in life and everything I do is to learn something, I will always succeed. If something goes well, I learn. If something goes terribly, I learn. I succeed? I learn. I fail? I learn. So then I succeed? If everything is learning, and failure means learning, can I even fail? When I doubt myself, or worry about what I am doing, I remind myself that the goal is to learn and therefore I can’t go wrong.
Whatever happens, I’ll handle it.
If I only took action when I knew the exact outcome, I wouldn’t get a lot done! Often though, ‘what if’s run through my mind… What if this happens? What if I don’t know the answer? What if it doesn’t go to plan? What if no-one agrees with me? What if I say the wrong thing? I answer any of these what ifs with ‘I’ll handle it.’ Thinking about it, I’ve handled everything life has thrown at me so far, why would whatever comes next be any different? I’ll ask someone for help, change my plan, or learn something new. Whatever happens, I’ll handle it.
How it is, is how it’s meant to be.
I’ve stopped trying to predict the future. And I’ve stopped trying to project my idea of what X* should be. *X = a blog, a workshop, a painting, my relationships, my career, my life, anything! That doesn’t mean I don’t work hard to create something, or that I don’t try to change things in my life. It just means that I take the pressure of myself by not trying to get something to look exactly like you have it in my mind. I just get to see what happens – I’ll learn something, I’ll handle it and I’ll be exactly where I’m meant to be as a result.
How do these mantras feel to you? How could they help?
I’d love to know what mantras you have that you find yourself coming back to time and time again and how they help.
‘Can you help me?’
How does that question make you feel? Embarrassed or empowered? Nervous or bold? Weak or strong?
I believe that asking for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. However, recently I have found myself holding back on asking for help and I have had to dig deep to work out why. I discovered I was telling myself some unhelpful stories about being a burden by asking for help and that asking for help was removing people’s choice and making them feel obliged to help me. I have reflected on this a lot over the past week or so.
If you don’t feel perfectly comfortable asking that question, ‘Can you help me?’ my insights may be useful for you too...
1. Think about how I feel when being asked for help. Remember that people like helping because they like to be part of others’ success. They may be flattered that I've asked them, they may get something out of helping me for themselves or they may just genuinely WANT to help me. I LOVE helping others – why wouldn’t someone love helping me?
2. Be genuine and authentic at all times - I think it's ok to say I don't want to be a burden on someone, and I also think it's ok to say I want their help because I really think they could help me. I also think explaining genuinely why I want their help from a place of authenticity is always appreciated. Linking back to my big ‘why’ and my values is important here – for example, I am often wanting help with my work so I can help more people. Not asking for help is literally helping no one!
3. Be specific and clear about what I am asking for – explain what I need and why I am asking them for that help. Sometimes saying 'I need help' is perfectly fine, but I think asking people for something specific with clear boundaries of what that help might look like allows people to know if they can or want to say yes or not.
4. At the same time, don’t minimise my request or apologise for asking (e.g. 'I only want a minute', 'I am sorry to have to ask', or 'I am ever so sorry for bothering you with my needs'). I can still be polite and genuine without doing this as this could make my request seem less important and less valuable. Why would someone want to help me if it doesn’t seem to be something of value to me? This feels a bit counterintuitive – because I don’t want to be a burden and ask too much – but sharing how valuable their help would be could be more beneficial. I know I like to help people when I know my help is valuable.
5. Put out the energy I want into the world. I can help others in the same way I would like to be helped. Why should I expect help if I don't help other people? Offer help, say yes to requests for help, look for ways I can help, pay it forward and be open to receiving help. I want to create a world where people ask for help freely and easily so holding back on asking and not giving help isn’t creating that world. Also, when someone helps me, say thank you. Be grateful. Tell them how impactful their help was. This will help them feel good and it will probably increase the likelihood that they will help in the future (not just helping me, but helping in general). Wouldn’t the world be a better place if that were the case?
6. Be detached. It’s important to remember that it’s not personal. If someone doesn’t help me, it's probably not about me - it could be timing, their capacity at that moment, their own self-belief (do they think they can help?), their feelings or all manner of things. Of course, I can respect people in what I ask for. Something I heard and liked the other day was, 'No-one has a monopoly on wisdom'. I think of that like having all my eggs in one basket - if I ask for help once and don't get it I may feel dejected – why don't I ask more people and probably get more back?
7. Finally, know what is in my control. I don’t have the power to make anyone feel obliged, or used, or anything else for that matter. Of course, I can minimise the chance of doing that, and I can maximise the chance they feel appreciated, valued and happy, but ultimately I cannot control anyone else’s feelings – nor would I want to. I can’t let the chance that someone might feel a certain way stop me doing what I need – especially in an authentic, respectful and grateful way.
Do not be afraid to ask for help.
Without choice, we are disempowered. We are less creative. We are not encouraged to think for ourselves. We are not able to choose how to focus our time and energy to have the impact we want to have. We are not taking responsibility for our lives.
As Zig Ziglar succinctly puts it:
Your life is a result of the choices you have made. If you want better results, make better choices.
When I was feeling most lost, stuck and disempowered I actually felt I didn’t have a choice. I had accepted that this was how things had to be. I saw choice as a luxury. Something other people had. Something that didn’t exist for me. Looking back, that wasn't actually true and that was a major part of the problem.
I now value choice and I want to share three key reasons why:
1. Knowing that there is always choice is empowering in itself.
A belief I now choose to hold is, 'there is always choice'. And as I’ve alluded to there – that might be in choosing what I believe. A quote by Heraclitus sums this up beautifully:
The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become.
The more I thought there was no choice, the less choices I made. The more I think there is always choice, the stronger that belief becomes. With a strong belief that choice is always available, I no longer feel lost, stuck or disempowered.
If you choose to belief ‘there is always choice’, see what choices then become available to you.
2. Replace the ‘have to’s with ‘choose to’s.
Choosing to do something because you know the impact it's going to have feels different to doing it because you feel like you have to.
An example from when I was teaching: ‘I have to mark these books. Why? Because I have to. I have no choice!’
Often, I would sit there thinking, ‘I don't want to do this.’ I’d probably mark the books begrudgingly, with it taking me much longer than it probably could have done. Or I’d put it off and feel guilty all the time I wasn’t doing it. Or I wouldn’t do it at all and then I’d feel a failure for not doing what I had to do.
I couldn’t win with the 'have to…’s. Changing the ‘have to’s to ‘choose to’s creates an important mindset shift...
‘I choose to mark these books because I want to give my pupils feedback that’s going to help them improve their work tomorrow, which I know will help them feel more positive about their abilities.’ This reframe feels much more inviting. I can see the impact of what I'm ‘having to’ do, and I am ‘choosing to’ do it.
Of course, I could also choose not to mark the books. There's always a choice. Remembering there is a choice is empowering in itself.
3. You get to choose what you want for the reasons you want.
You get to choose where you put your time and energy. You can pick from all the options available to you what works best for you, for whatever reason works best for you.
You can choose to think, say or do something because:
That’s obviously not an exhaustive list. There are infinite reasons why you may choose to do something. You can choose what and you can choose why. It doesn't really matter what you choose or why you choose, the important and empowering thing is THAT you choose.
Choice is such an important aspect of my coaching. I always encourage others to believe they have a choice, to look for options and choose where to focus their time and energy to have the impact they want to have.
I will be exploring choice more deeply in an interactive workshop on Saturday 31st Oct. If you want to believe there is more choice, learn strategies to reframe situations to create and find choice and make the choices that align to who you are and who you want to be, I’d love to see you there.
Find out more or sign up here:
I’ve been reflecting on my achievements and successes lately, and I've recognised that one of the common denominators that has been so helpful for me is the people that I have surrounded myself with to encourage, support, motivate, inspire and teach me. This has been such a powerful part of my success and growth throughout my life, but in particular in the last couple of years.
There is always space for me to be inspired by people who are world famous – I read their books, watch their TV shows and am in awe of their success. But sometimes, these people feel too ‘special’. How can *I* be like them? The gap between where I am and where they are is just too big to fathom.
People have said to me before that if I want to get better at running, I should go with a partner or a group. But I reckon choosing that partner or group is pretty important! If I go running with an elite group of athletes and feel demoralised as soon as they lap me, that probably isn't going to help me improve! What I need is people that are encouraging and supportive and always just few steps ahead, so I can follow in their footsteps and be motivated to keep up. I don’t want people pulling me backwards either. I want them to be a few steps ahead of me moving at a pace that’s helpful and motivating.
I remember saying three years ago, ‘I can’t have a balanced life and be a teacher – it’s not possible.’
Two and a half years ago, I was thinking, ‘I can’t leave teaching - what else would I do with my life?‘
Two years ago, ‘How can I rebuild my confidence when I feel as low as this?!’
Eighteen months ago, I vividly remember saying, ‘I'm not the kind of person that could start my own business – it’s a different kind of person who could do that.’
Even a few months ago, I was thinking, ‘I can’t record videos or write blogs. What do I have to share with the world?!’
Of course, I KNEW that people could have balance teaching. I knew people changed career. I knew people recovered from depression. I knew people started businesses. I knew videos and blogs existed.
But I didn’t believe *I* could do those things.
Until, I found people that were like me in some way that were doing those things already. These were people who would say, ‘I used to think the same as you six months ago but look at me now!’
They were really inspiring AND MOTIVATING because they were those few steps ahead.
I’ve now also realised that I’m a few steps ahead of others.
I might be a few steps ahead of those teachers who are really struggling to find a healthy balance - I have developed strategies that I wish I knew a few years ago. I might be a few steps ahead of teachers that are wanting to leave the profession but feel completely stuck.
I might be a few steps ahead of people who want to start a business but they don't know how to go about it.
I'm might not be the most ‘experty expert’ in this stuff but I am a few steps ahead.
So a personal question from me to you: How might I be a few steps ahead and how could I help you?
When I left teaching at the end of 2018, I was completely and utterly burnt out.
I had lost so much confidence in myself. I blamed myself. I doubted myself.
It's actually hard to remember exactly how I felt, because I feel so far away from that now. I think it’s important to point out that now I am speaking from a place of good health, strength and confidence: a very different place to where I was two years ago.
Whilst I've just said I can't remember exactly what burnout felt like, I do remember my last day in the classroom.
A few weeks earlier, I'd already decided to leave and handed in my notice. I just knew that there was something else for me. I didn't know what it was, but I knew I had to take the opportunity to explore it. So I wouldn't regret and forever think about ‘what if’s. When I handed in my notice, I felt like I was choosing the right thing for me. It was a big leap, but it felt exciting and empowering. I had made a choice that was going to make my life better.
But looking back, I was already on the way to burnout. I was stressed, I was overloaded and I was unbalanced. Apart from that choice to leave, I was pretty disempowered in my role.
I was striving to have my greatest impact. But I was trying to do everything in order to have that greatest impact. And so I was feeling guilty when I wasn’t doing everything.
I was always trying to help others, and I wasn’t helping myself. It's inevitable that I was going to burn out. I just didn't see at the time.
My penultimate day in the classroom was the first day after the October half term.
I went back to work after a week’s break so I should have been feeling energised, relaxed and reset ready for my final term teaching. I had planned to go out a high! Instead, all I remember is battling through my afternoon PPA wading through treacle in my mind.
I was looking at the screen desperately wanting to make sense of what I was looking at. But my brain going slow. I felt really hot, and everyone else in the room felt really cold. I had a headache. I couldn't focus. Something wasn't right.
I knew the rest of the week was going to be stressful because I hadn't got on top of everything as I wanted to in that session, but I couldn’t focus or do anymore.
I went home just before the children that day. I knew something wasn't right. I was home by 4pm and I went straight to bed. I got up the next morning and I went to work.
It turned out to be my last day in the classroom.
I remember it like an out of body experience. I remember being there but I don't really remember much else. The overwhelming feeling that I can remember was I could not make decisions at the pace I need to make decisions. I hadn't realised how many decisions I made as a teacher every minute of every day. But there's so many.
What's the focus of this lesson? What instruction am I going to give next? What word needs to come out of my mouth next? Where's the resource I need to hand out? What's that group doing? When they’ve finished that task, what’s next? How will I know if they have understood? Should I check in with that child? Which child has got a dentist appointment this afternoon? What do I need to say to this child? Does my TA need help? Should I have given them a different resource? Does that child needs a sticker on their chart?
It was like the computer programming in my brain was having to be done manually.
All these decisions were coming in fast but the processing felt clunky. I couldn't make the decisions like I normally do.
And I didn't realise, but I must have normally made these decisions on such a split second basis that to actually recognise everything that was coming in and not be able to deal with it all was exhausting.
I somehow got through the day. But I felt like I was in treacle again.
Everything was slow. Everything was hard. I was struggling.
And I planned to go home early. But, as ever, there was stuff I needed to do and I finally left the building at nearly six o'clock.
I went home and I slept and when I woke up the next day, I just knew I couldn't do it again.
Not forever. But, I couldn't do it that day.
I couldn't do it the next day.
And I couldn't do it the day after that.
I remember going on the 111 NHS website (I didn’t want to bother the doctor by phoning for an appointment). I put in my symptoms of feeling so tired, not being able to make decisions and my head hurting and all the things that I felt and it came back and said, ‘We need to phone you in the next two hours.’ That’s when I knew how I was feeling was ‘real’.
I had that phone call with a wonderful, warm responder. She listened, she got it and she said to me, ‘You cannot go to work tomorrow. You need to look after yourself.’ I remember her saying that I was not to wake up tomorrow, decide I was ok and go to work. ‘You need to call the doctor. I don't want you to ignore this.’
That's when it really hit home that something wasn't right. So, the next morning I did as she said and I phoned the doctor. I can't remember how long it took until I had an appointment with the doctor or when I spoke to them, but I never went back to school.
It wasn't the high that I'd planned. But it was what it was.
As I said, I am in a much better place now – and I will share how I’ve got here too. But the fact I can even contemplate sharing how I was feeling in a very dark, uncertain time of my life shows me just how far I’ve come.
Around two years ago, I made the decision to hand in my notice to leave my teaching career and take the leap into the unknown.
The decision to leave wasn’t easy. I loved teaching. I had been in the world of education all of my life. I left school to train as a teacher at university, and then spent 9 years as a primary school teacher. I truly believed that it was the best job in the world!
But I also felt there was something else for me, and I didn’t have the support I needed to continue in my role having the impact I wanted to have. The balance was completely off and I wasn’t prepared to settle for a life I wasn’t happy with.
When I officially finished my teaching career a couple of months later, I was completely burnt out, disempowered and unsure of my next steps. Striving to have my greatest impact had taken it’s toll and I really was at a low point. It definitely wasn’t the high I had planned to go out on!
But still, there was a glimmer of hope and excitement about my future.
Within a few months, I had found coaching and knew that this was going to be an important part of my future. The more I experienced coaching to support me on my journey, the clearer it became that I wanted to be on both sides of the coaching relationship. I trained as a coach and have continued to be coached since that initial spark that drew me to it. Learning about the importance of mindset has been so powerful and something I wish I had had support with earlier. I have developed resilience, confidence and an understanding of myself that would most definitely have had a positive influence on my teaching.
As I started my coach training, I clearly remember having a conversation where I said, 'I'm not the sort of person to create their own business - that's a different breed of person that could do that.' But as I’ve grown and as I’ve seen the impact of my coaching on others, I have been able to challenge that belief.
I now choose to believe, ‘I can - and I will – make a huge difference to teachers and the young people they teach.’
I am proud and excited to provide support for teachers who are feeling disempowered, unbalanced and overloaded - just like I was a few years ago. I know that confident, calm and empowered teachers will have a much greater impact on the young people they teach.
I am so happy to be back in education, supporting and empowering teachers and creating better outcomes for young people whilst doing something that I love and am passionate about.
When a pupil in your class makes a mistake, what do you do?
I know as a teacher I would have said something along the lines of, ‘That's great! The fact you’ve made a mistake shows your taking risks. What can you learn from it?’
What I definitely would not have said is, ‘You're stupid for making a mistake. You should have known better. Everybody else has done this without making any mistakes. You've made a mistake so you're a failure.’
I would never have said that to a child - and hopefully you agree - but if you read the statements back, I wonder if you’ve said any of those things to yourself when you've made mistakes before?
I've definitely called myself stupid for making mistakes. I've definitely felt I should've been better. I've definitely judged myself against everybody else who isn't making mistakes. I've definitely taken one mistake and multiplied it out to prove to myself I must be a failure.
I would never say that to a child – or anyone else for that matter.
In fact, as a teacher, I would actively encourage mistakes.
Some examples that spring to mind…
I’d punch the air if my year four class used words such as ‘colossal’, ‘monumental’ or ‘herculean’ spelt incorrectly.
Of course, they could spell and use the word ‘big’ without making a mistake.
But were they challenging themselves?
Were they being creative?
Were they trying something new and learning from it?
Or was using the word ‘big’ a way of picking the easiest thing that sprang to mind? Were they scared that they would make a mistake if they try to pick a more challenging word to spell? Did they doubt their understanding, and therefore shy away from potential failure?
Sometimes pupils would ask me if they could have a rubber to erase all their mistakes and workings so they could just put the right answer.
And I’d say, ‘But what about all the hard work you did to get to the right answer?’
We’d have interesting discussions about whether mathematicians are people who get things right all the time, or if they are people who plays with numbers and problems. People who don’t have all the answers. In fact, they actively look for answers to problems that they don't have.
Often pupils would ask me, ‘What will happen if…?’
And I’d say, ‘I don't know. How are you going to find out?’
I'd encourage them to try something. And it wouldn't always work the way that they wanted it to. But whatever happened was an opportunity to learn.
So, when I think then to how I was as a teacher, I question why I didn’t afford myself the same reactions.
Why I said to myself: ‘You've made a mistake you must be stupid.’ ‘You've made a mistake people won't think you're good enough.’ ‘You've made a mistake, you're not a good teacher.’
In the classroom, I'd show that mistakes lead to learning. But when it came to paperwork, meetings, performance management, and anything to do with my teaching that wasn’t directly in front of the children, I didn't always do the same.
One of the first steps that teachers could do to help themselves is be kind and think about how they would respond to a child in the same situation.
Because I promise you it will make you a better teacher.
Whether or not it changes your approach in the classroom, which may already be fantastic, it will change the way that you talk to yourself and the way that you feel about yourself.
And if you feel empowered, your pupils will feel empowered.
So when you make your next mistake, will it be an opportunity to learn? Or a reason to berate yourself?
I'd love to know how this resonates with you and what other examples you can think of that highlight this issue of the gap between what we say to children, and what we say to ourselves.
I got asked this question recently. And I didn’t have a clear, simple answer because I don't feel that there was one trigger. I think there were a number of small - and some pretty big - events that have led me to this point where I have set up my own business.
Also, what was the moment I started my business? There isn’t a clear moment where I didn't have it and the next moment I did. It's been evolving for quite some time. It's still evolving and it's still growing.
So whilst I couldn't give a straight simple answer, the question really made me think about what has brought me to this point.
One trigger was the moment I made the decision to leave teaching. So many events had brought me to that point – I won’t list all of those triggers here now (that could be a blog post in itself). But when I made that decision, it really came down to the fact that I wanted choice. I wanted to make a change for myself, and I wanted to do that by making a choice.
The importance of choice is reflected in the day to day of teaching - I didn't always have a choice about what I did in my role. I was told I had to do things in a certain way and I didn't always agree with that way.
It’s also reflected on a higher level. I wanted to have choice about how I lived my life, how I spent my time and ultimately how I could create an impact in the world. I didn’t feel that I had that choice when I felt stuck, out of control and disempowered in my teaching role.
So choosing to leave teaching was definitely a trigger for me setting up my own business, but I didn't know when I left teaching that’s what I was going to do. In fact, I didn't have a plan at all!
I just knew that I was making a choice to change and that was important to me.
I have also reflected a lot on how choice was a big part of my teaching ethos. I wanted to empower children to have a choice. Whether I was telling the children explicitly or modelling through my actions, I wanted them to believe that they could do whatever they put their minds to.
In the words of Henry Ford: 'Whether you think you can, or you think you can't - you're right.'
I felt for a long time in teaching that I was stuck. That I couldn't really do what I wanted to do and I definitely couldn't leave. What would I do? Teaching is what I do. It’s who I am. I couldn’t see another way.
I wanted to be teaching children that anything is possible but I wasn't truly embodying that. I wasn't the role model I wanted to be for them. I wasn't the role model I wanted to be for the adults in my life either. Importantly, I wasn't the role model I wanted to be for myself.
I made the choice to prove to myself that what I believed was true. You can do what you do put your mind to. So I can do what I put my mind to.
That realisation and the subsequent choice I made to change it were definitely triggers.
I made the decision to leave teaching, because I didn't feel empowered and I felt I didn't have choices. I felt stuck. I felt hopeless at points. I felt disempowered. But I sincerely believe that had I had the help that I provide now when I was teaching, things would be different for me. And not just in the lead up to making the decision to leave, but before I knew I was feeling disempowered, and before I felt stuck. If I had had support I genuinely think things would be different. And I can imagine being in the classroom feeling truly empowered and how much of a better teacher I would be because of it!
So after I made that decision to move away from teaching, the more I reflected on what was important to me, I've found myself coming back to education to now empower teachers. I want to empower teachers, because I know what it's like to be disempowered. And I want to empower teachers because that will empower children. And that's what was most important to me about teaching. Empowerment is not only what education is about for me. It’s life. If I can help others see they have a choice, that’s powerful.
If I can do what I put my mind to, so can you.
And by me doing that, I will help others do it.
The work I now do empowers teachers, it empowers children and it empowers me.
I know it’s not the most succinct answer to the original question, but by summing up the triggers that brought me to start my own business, I’ve told you how I ended up doing what I do now and why it's so important to me.
I'd love to know if my triggers resonate with you - even if your story is very different to mine.