Planning to boost health and performance

We berate pupils that fail to plan before launching into examination essays. We beseech them to read our comments on their work, to act upon our advice. Maybe we as teachers should also follow this logic, writes Tougher Minds’ Head of Education, Andrew Foster.

We are now into the final month of term, a time when “we’re all tired” becomes a common refrain around the common room. Mocks, reports, limited daylight and miserable weather, combined with the need to prepare for Christmas and all that comes with it, in and out of school, have some colleagues understandably counting down the days.

The DfE has drawn criticism for its Workload Challenge initiative as yet failing to result in changes to the experiences of teachers in UK schools. Many are sceptical that it will ever do so.

What then can the individual do in the meantime?

My experience is that the same planning and reflection routine that we advocate to our charges is one we should employ ourselves.

The Tougher Minds Performance Planner is broadly analogous with the writing scaffolds we give to our pupils, only it structures a day rather than an essay. It promotes a habit of self-watching that allows us to make small but important changes to what we do, reduces our tendency for procrastination and draws our attention to our sleep, diet and exercise on a regular basis that is hard to achieve otherwise.

Both teachers and parents at Colfe’s that have taken part in Tougher Minds training and built a habit of using the planner have reported a significant boost to their health, performance and general well-being. We imagine as adults that we have cracked how to live, and so we need to be prepared for a small blow to our self-esteem when we begin to notice how often our daily behaviour is directly contrary to our long-term, well-considered aims. The planner helps us deal with this too – positively-weighted reflection directs attention proportionally towards the successes, keeping the disappointments our brain is inclined to dwell on in proportion.

Some initially dismiss the planner as ‘just another thing to do’. I empathise with this but urge those that respond this way to reconsider. Watch the pupil that does not plan his or her essay in the exam hall. The ten minutes ‘saved’ are soon more than accounted for by the blocks of thirty seconds spent chewing the pen, staring around the room, not writing because a lack of a plan has resulted in a lack of direction. By getting into the habit of planning and reflection, we are spending minutes to buy hours.

I hope that at some point there is a successful centrally-led effort to rationalise what teachers are asked to do and so reduce the number of our colleagues that are left feeling close to breaking point by the demands of December. But while we wait, start filling in your planner. You may be surprised at the difference it makes.

You can download a free sample of the Tougher Minds performance planner here.

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