Open Letter to the Department of Education…

I have been thinking about posting this letter for a long time. I have always talked myself out of it, thinking how on earth can one person change something so large and important? But isn’t that where the best ideas start, with one little voice in the darkness?

So hear goes…

This is my open letter to the Department of Education, UK councillors, teachers and pupils alike,

I am writing to you as a concerned citizen about an issue that keeps appearing in the national press.

It breaks my heart every time I see another teenager has taken their own life. The Samaritans website states that suicide now accounts for 3 times more deaths than road accidents and the Office for National Statistics website has said that teen suicide is at an all-time high in the UK. To me, this is a massive problem that needs some attention, but the Government seems to be focusing their time on the Brexit arguments and how much we should be spending on plastic bags while people are quite literally dying around the country.

As a survivor of the high school bullies myself, I know how it feels to be picked on. I know the pressures of exams and keeping up with the latest trends and all the other things that teenagers have to deal with but the difference nowadays is how blatant the idea of suicide is. It now dominates soap storylines, teen TV series, social media, something that I never had to deal with.

I know that there is a big drive at the moment, through various channels, to reduce the stigma about mental health issues but I still can’t help but feel like everyone is missing the point. Although it is amazing to get the general public talking about mental health, we are still focusing on talking about it. The old saying goes: ‘What you focus your attention on will grow’. I really think it would be more beneficial to put this effort into the solution of helping teenagers, rather than the problem.

A few years ago, I heard the famous quote from a very young John Lennon. His teacher asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. John Lennon said he wanted to be happy. The teacher told him he had misunderstood the question. John said the teacher misunderstood life.

I wish I had heard this quote when I was still at school. There is so much focus on exam results and what job you are going to get when you leave education, that the thought of being happy in life is totally overlooked. It is not even discussed as an option. I always knew I wanted to work with children once I left school, but that is only a very small portion of my life now. I am a teacher, but I am also a sports fan, I like to sing, I do all sorts of creative hobbies, I love to cook. My job is a proportion of my life, so why is the whole of our school years geared towards getting qualifications for a job. Why isn’t it teaching us about other areas of life?

I feel that a good solution to this problem is how we use the Personal, Social and Emotional class that is taught in high schools currently. With all the knowledge we have about mindfulness and how stress affects us, I really feel like the Personal, Social and Emotional curriculum could be put to better use. There is no formal qualification to be gained from this class. A well rounded citizen that is ready to live in the real world is the qualification. Each student will carry it within their thoughts and actions rather than on a piece of paper.

In Canadian high schools, every pupil has to undertake a ‘Life Skills’ class, where they learn about how to budget their finances, the jargon used relating to bank accounts and mortgages, car maintenance etc. Real skills that every student will need at some point in their lives. It is these skills that will show British students that there is a whole world out there to be lived in. The bullies and stresses that surround them now will be for a finite time, but this type of learning would encourage students to think past this time and plan for the future, away from the stresses of needing certain grades in the class.

My vision is to create a curriculum for these classes that would involve all of the skills needed to survive in this new, technological, social media obsessed world. Things like mindfulness, stress management, the Mediterranean diet, finance budgeting, political party values, interview skills, workplace Human Resources, running a business would all be worthwhile skills that need to be encouraged to show students that they have the power to shape their lives, rather than be sucked in by thoughts that drive them to ending their lives prematurely. It is turning the focus, making students think about what they can achieve, rather than being focused on the negatives in their lives.

Between the ages of 4 and 16, a child will split the majority of their time between home and school. Therefore it is the responsibility of the Department of Education to get children ready to live in the world. Currently, too many children are opting out of living.

So something needs to change.

Thank you very much for your time.

Yours sincerely,

Sarah

Be Crayjust

This weekend I had the pleasure of exploring the Mind, Body and Soul exhibition at Event City, Manchester. I had never been before so I had no idea what to expect. The event was coupled with the Yoga show and Vegan Life Live so it was guaranteed to have something to interest everyone.

mind body soul programme

There was so much to see, I didn’t know where to start! So, obviously, I went methodically up and down the rows so no stall was missed! What can I say? I like order!

There was lots of different products and stall holders there but one lady was particularly interesting.

Sharon Corbett has set up a project called Picture This. She goes into schools and colleges using her love of photography and creative writing to get children to think about their life goals and things they want to achieve, while promoting self confidence and self identity. Sharon was so moved by the work being produced by these young individuals, she decided to make their affirmations and powerful messages into a book for all to read, named: BE CRAYJUST: REAL LIFE MOTIVATION BY REAL LIFE PEOPLE. It was amazing to read, especially when Sharon said that the children who contributed to the book were between 8 and 15 years old. The thoughts and positive messages these young people were wanting to share with the world were humorous, thought provoking, emotional but most of all, they were inspiring.

Sharon had some postcards made up for the Exhibition and I bought the selection below.

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The wording on these postcards really spoke to me and I think they have such important messages. There is a lot in the media about ‘loving yourself’ and retaliating against ‘body-shaming’ but it is quite often forgotten that you should be loving the life you are living too. In amongst the struggle of exams and homework, it is hard to feel like you have control over what your life looks like, but it is so true. You have the power to create a life that you love. Strive for a job you want to do. Work towards a qualification that enables you to have the best experiences and meet the best people. As said above, ‘Follow the path that makes you, YOU!’

‘When in darkness, seek out the light.’ resonates heavily with me. I know from experience that when life is getting you down, it is very hard to see the positive in any situation. But it is when you are at your weakest that you need to make the decision to change how you think. You have to ‘see the light’. You have to be brave enough to get yourself out of the darkness. And it is so possible. You can do it. To have a young person write such a powerful message was very moving to me.

This project is a non-profit organisation. Sharon said the money she makes from selling the books and postcards gets put back into the project, which will enable more books to be published in the future. What an honour it was to meet her.

Give the project a follow on Facebook at: @BeCrayjust

Thank you Sharon, for putting such time and effort and affection into teaching young people about self identity and positive thinking. Our school system is so focused on statistics and grades, they are not teaching young people to find themselves and work towards creating a positive life for themselves, even though currently, suicide is the biggest killer of teenagers, having overtaken road accidents, making projects like these so important.

Sarah x

 

Your life, Your vision

January is well known for being the month of setting resolutions, turning your life around, creating the ‘new you’.

From being little I knew how your life was supposed to be. You were expected to go to school, then to college, then to University, then get a job, then… what? I left University and was very lucky to walk into a full time job pretty much the next day. But then two years later, I woke up one morning and thought…’What am I supposed to do now?’ Like, is this it? Is this what my life is going to be like until I am ready for the grave?

It is said by pretty much every adult that the aim of school is to prepare you for life. My teachers made it very clear to me that only good exam results would do and my life would be over if I did not achieve them. I know now that teachers say this to scare the students who don’t work hard enough into action, but it had the opposite effect. It scared all of us hard working students into blind panic.

School had done very well preparing me for getting into college, how to pick my A Levels, how to handle interviews but they never prepared me for what happens after you have done all that. Do you get a job and then just wait until you are old enough to retire?  When do you get to do the fun stuff? Like travelling or go to a festival or learn how to make the perfect chocolate cupcakes?

There is a very famous story about John Lennon, the Beatles legend. John was at school one day and his teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he was older. John replied: ‘I want to be happy.’ The teacher laughed and said he had misunderstood the question. John told him that he misunderstood life.

John Lennon was right. What is the point of doing a job you hate, spending time with people who bring you down or wasting the days you have until you die?

I have never liked the idea of having a Bucket List. I thought about writing one but whenever I tried, it made me feel like I was trying to beat the clock. I always felt more focused on trying to get through the list before I kicked said ‘bucket’, rather than actually enjoying each once-in-a-lifetime activity, which kind of defeated the point of doing it!

But one day I came across something that I wish I had seen when I was about 14, when I was making my GCSE choices. I needed someone to tell me that if I made a wrong decision, my life would not be over! That something was a Vision Board. A picture plan, if you like, for what I want my life to look like. The idea is simple, you make a college of things you want to do in your life, things you want to achieve, skills you want to have, places you want to see. Anything and everything that would make your life complete. This is mine, it lives on my wall, right by my desk where I can see it every day:

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I want to be a children’s author, I want to own a house that is big enough for my relatives to stay in (I have a lot of family overseas), I want to be in a loving marriage, I want to have clear spot-less skin (that drama will be a whole other blog post!), I want to be involved with my favourite sports team, I want to be involved with my favourite charity.

How I am going to achieve all this is not clear at the moment, but that is not a problem. A vision board is a plan, not the finished product. Once you have made a board, it does not mean it is set in stone. I am always changing things on mine as more ideas come to me or I think to myself: ‘Actually, that is not important to me anymore.’ Making the vision board makes you focus on all the positive things you want to experience in your life, rather than worrying about the things that in the end, won’t actually matter.

The only golden rule for making the vision board is you must write the labels on it in the present tense: I am a successful author, I have clear skin, I have a nice car. Talking in the present tense will bring the experience to you. Saying statements like ‘I would like…’ or ‘In the future…’ keeps pushing it further and further away from you, meaning you never catch it. Sometimes I look at my vision board and say some of the notes I have written on there, to remind myself of where I am heading in my life, especially when I am having a rough day. As long as I have my plan, my vision, then I know which direction I am heading in.

I know a lot of the time during your teenage years, you can’t see past school, or past those girls who are making your life hell, or that feeling that you don’t fit in and you would rather be invisible, but this is the perfect time to start a vision board. Those days will end. You can turn those bad feelings into something positive and start deciding how you would like your life to be. You are in control of what you want your life to be like and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I am not for one minute saying do not try and get the best exam results you can. Obviously, getting good exam results does open doors for you. By law, you have to go to school so you may as well put your all into getting the best exam results you can to make the time spent there worthwhile. And yes you have to get a job so you can earn money to live off, money is not just going to fall out of the sky and land in your hand. Unless a real money tree has been discovered since I started writing this post… But what about all the things that give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside? Start planning those extra things that will make you happy. Because at the end of the day, that is the most important thing. That you are happy. 

So get planning!

Start making your vision.

And don’t forget to send me a picture when it is finished, either through the Facebook page: Positive Thinking and Not Falling Over or via Twitter: @notfallingover.

Sarah x