Updated: Sep 12, 2022
As teachers and children (and parents) alike deal with the start of the new school year in September (in many countries at least), how many of us can honestly say, hand on heart, that school was the best time of our lives? Personally, I was privileged to attend schools with wonderful headmistresses, who had enlightened views about imparting knowledge to their pupils. Hopefully you too, dear reader, had some good teachers and learnt a few things that you’ve carried with you in the ensuing years but there may well be others whose experiences were less inspirational.
School can be tough for teachers and students
School can be a pressurized, even stressful environment. Teachers today may struggle to incorporate new information and guidance, handle unsettled children and teenagers, put workable timetables together, and more. Now too, budget cuts are all too common. There may be a shortage of teachers, equipment, or books, or all of the above; and too many children in a class to devote enough time to each of them. And most frequently, creative and/or sport activities are reduced or cancelled altogether leaving possibly no outlet for imagination, releasing energy, or team work – all of which are essential skills for life.
Children too, may feel pressurized and stressed. They may or may not have understood the lesson but unfortunately there may be very little help in the classroom. They can’t concentrate on the lesson. Their home environment is difficult for any number of reasons. There are too many tests and exams. And more. Truancy figures – when the statistics exist – show that disengagement starts in primary school and often increases in secondary school leading to ever higher numbers of children skipping school.
Enforced school shut-downs during the Covid pandemic added to these strains. Those who fell behind haven’t caught up or are battling to find a productive routine again. Plus, now there’s the possibly tedious journey again, the (seemingly) unfriendly teacher or bossy classmate, canteen lunches, and a dozen other reasons that some kids don’t like about school.
Teachers: Are your classes engaged throughout the day?
Occasionally we find schools that, despite all the adversity, have bright cheerful pupils and staff. Video clips on social media show young children greeting their teacher, each with an individual gesture. This is a simple technique that allows for creativity and a moment of recognition for both teacher and pupil that brings a smile to everyone’s face and a boost to the start of the day. But this type of initiative is not universal and as the day wears on, even the bright start to the day isn’t always easy to maintain and the exhilaration may begin to wane. And then there are the teenagers. Would they greet their teachers in this way?
How can spirits be revived to keep the motivation going throughout the day? And how can teenagers become sustainably engaged? The schedule is already full. Teachers are knowledgeable about their subjects but not necessarily equipped to find creative ways to engage all their students all the time. And movement or exercise belongs in the sports class or Physical Education, not in maths / geography / IT / French or other lessons.
Yet there is a way to literally shake off the afternoon fug, or divert the class disrupters’ unhelpful behaviour. It’s a technique called Swivel! and all it takes is 60 seconds (or less) to reset tired brains and better still, it can be done at any time, including during class.
One minute of creativity, once, twice, three times a day
On a basic level, Swivel! is a quick physical shake-up – a stretch or a movement, or a simple count to 10 while you hold your breath. We all need a break, not just schoolkids, and many of the most productive adults understand – and benefit from – a few minutes “downtime” every hour. Activities don’t have to be complicated or especially strenuous - just unexpected and not overly simplistic so that the brain engages and thus breaks the routine. For youngsters, this can be a swivel where you touch the floor, chair, desk, pencil, your nose! Or during afternoons that don’t seem to end: You’re tired? What is tired? – your head, toe, arm, backside? Stroke it gently and slowly, or tap it lightly to wake up, for 60 seconds or until teacher says “Stop”. Teenagers may prefer something more actively physical. If they want to punch something, make them do it in slow motion or as fast as they possibly can (“Faster!”).
Surprise is one of the most important elements of Swivel!. It grabs pupils’ attentions; they wake up, sit up, suddenly alert to the little thrill of something unexpected and possibly even exciting. Once an activity or technique becomes repetitive and known by everyone, it has lost the refresh or reset features. Any teacher who has tried clapping their hands or blowing a whistle knows that the action is unlikely to result in total silence and full attention after the first attempt. If the teacher had suddenly done a pirouette or jumped over the desk, the effect might have been different. Many years ago, before Swivel!, I learned the impact of the unexpected. I had lost my voice but my pre-school class of 4- to 6-year-olds was brilliant. The experience of a voice-less teacher was so novel that they were quiet and receptive throughout the lesson. Of course, it can’t be repeated with the same class, but it does demonstrate the power of surprise and reminds us that variation is essential in our lives.
Teachers: how will you keep your pupils engaged throughout this term?
Are you looking forward to the new school year or dreading it? One teacher I know was so fed up with the disruptive students that she wanted to give up her class. Then over the summer, we put together a series of 30 swivels, which are ideally suited to her students. Now she can’t wait to start!
While for many schools, budget and public health constraints remain in the control of national governments, individual schools can take up the initiative and Swivel! for the benefit of both teachers and pupils. Perhaps you already have some ideas but if you’d like to add Swivel! to your classes and need some help, please contact: email@example.com to discuss your requirements.
You can try Swivel! at any time – on the website: https://www.swiveloutofstress.org/swivel or join the Facebook community: https://www.facebook.com/groups/swiveloutofstress.