Rainbow Reflections

Reflections on Isolation

I chose to use a rainbow for my reflections as it reminds us of all the key workers who have kept working through this isolation period. The rainbow is outlined with difficulty – the red of anxiety on the very outside and the black of atrocities in the centre.

But in between there are colourful positives and this depicts my overall reflection.

Helen Shakespeare



Red is for the anxiety that has encased and outlined this whole pandemic period.

Sometimes it leads the way and other times I can deep-breath-it away.

Red is for other people’s anger; for people that have found their temper explodes more easily.

Anger about the restrictions; about the changes; about the loss of control; about the loss of jobs.

Red is for the anger about not being able to see and hold those we love.


Orange is for the deepening of relationships; it’s for true connection.Orange is for the talking on line; on the phone and on the doorstep.

Orange is for the unusual – the unusual blessings;

it’s for all the talking in my head.

Orange is sociable; it’s for the connections – in my home, with my family, with my friends, in work conversations and with strangers.

Orange comes when you mix yellow and red.


Yellow is for the sun – we’ve been blessed to see so much of it during lockdown.It’s for the rays of light in dark times.

It’s for the smiles and connections we’ve had to make in the absence of touch.

Yellow is for the moon on clear nights;

it’s for the satellites and shooting stars;

it’s for the beautiful sunrise and sunset in unpolluted skies.


Green is for the planet recovering.We may have felt hemmed in and stuck with no planes, or trains and limited travel –

but we’ve helped to clear the air. Green is for nature being able to breathe again.

It’s the calm in the storm.

Green is the colour of the spaces we’ve been grateful for – parks, gardens and outside.


Blue is for the things that have made me sad – like families without food;families who have lost their loved ones;

people who have died alone;

people who couldn’t say goodbye;

people who are frail and alone.

Blue is for the increase in depression and it’s the colour of a lack of motivation.


Purple is for what I have learnt in isolation.I’ve learnt about the power of deep breathing.

I’ve learnt where I stand; who my friends are and what’s important to me.

I’ve learnt I’m positive, creative, resilient, generous in thought and time.

I love what I’ve learnt.


Black is for the killing of George Floyd;it’s for the stabbings –

it’s to remind us that black lives matter.

It’s for domestic violence and abuse;

it’s for the injustice in the world.

Black is for dark times, the colour of a hole;

for times when hope hides.

Creativity and Wellbeing

I believe an act of creativity each day can boost our wellbeing, especially at this time where we are experiencing the difficult feeling of uncertainty. The constant exposure of lockdown related information, news and social media posts is creating high levels of anxiety and worrying thoughts for many, and so I believe we should give ourselves time to play and escape through art and creativity.

64 Million Artists, a non-profit organisation, explore the relationship between creativity, mental health, and wellbeing. They set creative challenges each month and are setting daily challenges throughout May. The challenges are varied, such as, different types of art making, creative writing, collecting themed objects, mindfulness activities, photography and so on. Each challenge is set in collaboration with a partner such as artists, charities, museums, teachers, care homes etc. Choose which challenges to take part in and spend as little or as much time as you like on them before posting your creation on Instagram, Twitter or the Facebook 64 Million Artists group. Use the hashtags #CreateToConnect and #64millionartists. The challenges are great for anyone of any age to connect with others through creativity.


If you know any young people who are struggling with anxiety and panic, check out ‘Little box of calm’ activity set by YoungMindsUK to help them feel more grounded at this difficult time.


Thank you

Lucy Smith


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Finding Balance in an Upside Down World

The peak of unrest for school staff and parents – particularly those in the first tranche – came with the muddle of announcements and guidelines last week regarding schools reopening on the first of June. Friends from the category of ‘reception teachers’ and also, ‘parents of 5-year olds’ have inundated me with their fears and distress at the thought of returning before they are ready. The anxious reactions were not confined to the groups most directly involved; it seeped into the thoughts from other educators, partly in sympathy and outrage, but also in anticipation of what’s to come for them.

The peak of unrest for school staff and parents – particularly those in the first tranche – came with the muddle of announcements and guidelines last week regarding schools reopening on the first of June. Friends from the category of ‘reception teachers’ and also, ‘parents of 5-year olds’ have inundated me with their fears and distress at the thought of returning before they are ready. The anxious reactions were not confined to the groups most directly involved; it seeped into the thoughts from other educators, partly in sympathy and outrage, but also in anticipation of what’s to come for them.

There are many highly emotive and political arguments on social media, further fuelled by unhelpful, un-factual newspaper articles. I have been thinking of a way to explain or understand the enormous negative reaction in teachers that involves principles, as opposed to arguing about where the decisions have come from and the basis for them.

There is a principle I try to live by when it comes to wanting ‘happy’ students and a ‘happy’ staff team. It came from a Bucks writing project and it made so much sense to me that I have never forgotten it (and often am known to quote it!). What I can’t remember is who the idea came from so a) thank you and feel free to take credit and b) please know I may have put my own slant on it. It’s one of those triangle pictures where you aim for a balance between three things:
People have a greater chance of happiness and therefore success, when they have three things in equal measure: When they are valued, when they understand what’s happening and when they have an element of choice. In my experience it has acted like a magic formula both in terms of students’ happiness in class and adults’ happiness in leading. Happiness leads to success. And when there’s no success, I start to examine whether or not the ‘unhappy’ person is being valued, has a good understanding of what’s going on and also has some choice. I’ve always wondered why these triangles used to depict the balance between 3 things are produced in 2D… they should be 3D; a triangle lying flat on only one support in the middle. The only way not to tip is to equally balance all 3 elements.

This to me explains so well why teachers are understandably so ‘unhappy’ about the pressure to invite more students back into schools. There has been little or no element of choice. How much more successful would the re-opening be if school staff and leaders could make more choices that would suit their intake, staff, school genre and location? It’s not as simple as teachers disliking ‘being told what to do’, they are used to – and very experienced in – making bespoke choices that take into account a multitude of complex circumstances. We have all read the guidelines for businesses that stipulate some non-negotiables regarding distancing and PPE etc but leave them to make the main decisions, realising that each business will vary. It shows a huge lack of understanding and trust in the profession to be so imperious when it comes to the timing of schools opening.

This leads on to whether or not educators feel valued. I have joined in with the Thursday clapping and know for the NHS it is well-deserved. How much more would it have valued other workers – bus drivers, postal workers, teachers – to be clapping for all key workers who have continued to work since isolation? How rewarding and motivating would it be to read hero-headlines about teachers who not only have had to learn how to nurture and teach on-line, but also have risked their own safety delivering food to vulnerable families? As for understanding – the lack of involvement of the teaching profession in the decisions and the mixed political and economic agenda in which the opening of schools has been caught up in, has led to a huge amount of misunderstanding.

So, to policy and guideline makers I would say if you want happy and therefore a successful return to schools opening… let the profession know they are valued; give these skilled, experienced and articulate people some choice and make sure the reasoning is based on facts and projections such that people really understand.

In the meantime, what can we do about it?

Leaders…try to find ways to value your staff, involve them in choices and work at spotting and rectifying misunderstandings.

Educators…we can learn to value ourselves; to look for what we have control over and where we can have some choice. Finally, we can seek ways to examine and enrich our own understanding.

Helen Shakespeare


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A Message from Ros Wilson

A message to educators from Ros Wilson.

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VE Day - Bucks Schools Library Service

A blog by Gillian Polding, Area Manager, Children & Young Persons, Buckinghamshire Libraries.

Hi everyone,

With events that were planned for the 75th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day in May unable to go ahead, the importance of this day has been marked in other ways.

World War II was a pivotal time in British history. Bucks libraries have a collated a special collection of eBooks on stories set in World War 2 to commemorate VE Day. These page-turning reads will give your children a real insight into what life was like for both children and adults, on the battle field and on the Home Front.


Our School Library Service also has a number of other resources for schools to borrow, including a replica evacuee’s suitcase.

Three authors come to mind who have written enthralling accounts of wartime, based on actual events - Michael Foreman, Michael Morpurgo and Michael Rosen.

The missing: The True Story of My Family in World War11 by Michael Rosen is a personal, powerful and resonant account of the Holocaust by turns charming, shocking and heart-breaking, this is the true story of Michael Rosen’s search for his relatives who “went missing” during the Second World War – told through prose, poetry, maps and pictures.


Interestingly, each of these authors have expressed in interviews similar ideas about the importance of telling children stories about the war

 “Books are the most vital tool of education — they are more important than any other fancy resource. Stories give us knowledge and understanding. They teach us about our place in the world and we learn what happened in the past and how we can do better in the future.” Michael Morpurgo

In a recent interview about his book “After the War Was Over”, Michael Foreman explains

“I lived in a little village on the East Coast of England. Through that village came thousands and thousands of soldiers on their way to the war who would spend some time in our village training. At night they would come and play cards in our front room, my Mother would still be working in the shop and so they would take turns to sit by my bedside and tell me stories. Now we had no books at home, so they couldn't open a book but they could open a whole world of stories because they came from many different backgrounds, different cultures. I think that's the important thing of an adult reading with a child, is that it shouldn't be the adult reading the story and the child sort of just sucks it up, it should be a joint thing. That's where the real warmth comes in to it, what's special about sharing a story with a child and encouraging them to ask all kinds of questions.”

After the War Was Over by Michel Foreman. Pavilion Books, 1995


Buckinghamshire School Library Service 

Gillian Polding MCLIP

Area Manager Children and Young Persons

Buckinghamshire Council

01296 382273

Mobile no.07720207010


Walton Street Offices, Walton Street, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP20 1UA


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Online Meetings - Dos and Dont's

Mental note to self: Learn how to conduct myself in a professional manner whilst on camera and close-up, during an on-line meeting - a blog by Helen Shakespeare.

The first view my meeting participants had of me on their laptops was actually a close-up of my son pressing buttons and slating me (plus profanities) for having the video camera off and the microphone on silent. Unable to download the app on my laptop, I was holding my phone. I hadn’t realised that by swiping I would have been able to see other contributors and so when only the meeting’s host came into view, commenting generously on my make-up, I proceeded to announce to her that I wasn’t fully dressed as I had no bra on. The multiple, formal introductions with others that followed, made me feel uncomfortable, unprofessional and underprepared, not to mention, underclad.

I’d given careful thought to what might be in the background to my shot, particularly since tidying has not made it onto my isolation things to do list. However, within milliseconds, I gave everyone a virtual tour of my house, taking the phone with me to find my charger because the battery was diminishing as I spoke. I could only find the short charger. So, whilst everyone was sitting calmly upright, I was angled unflatteringly and panicking about the aforementioned lack of attire. Another trip to the front room to find the extension lead before I had clearly not learnt to sit still and make minimal movements. Perhaps by then my anxiety had kicked in because I do know how to behave in meetings. For the first time ever, I (a) waved when I wanted to speak and (b) on interrupting someone else, mimicked the speak no evil monkey emoji in a manner that suggested I still hadn’t grasped how on show I was.

I’d like to point out that since then my meeting persona has drastically improved, but it did get me thinking. I’ve compiled a little Ten Top Tips which I have found useful and thought you might too. Please don’t read them and despair, we are all on a learning curve.


Do - still send out a clear and well-communicated agenda and follow up with minutes. More than ever in this disconnected time do we need people to feel they can come to a virtual meeting prepared. The follow-up notes avoid people missing details; allow people a window of opportunity to check for understanding and help people like me for whom the main take-aways are what people were wearing or the style of their décor.

Don’t – allow the more confident to dominate or the conversation to digress. Consider some kind of a turn-taking system. Be aware of people less confident and invite their response. Better still, if someone just won’t shut up you can mute them. It’s important we look for the advantages of our new isolation habits.

Do – figure out which button to push to mute yourself. And then remember to un-mute before you make your point. The key to success is to get everyone engaged. Hopefully the meeting leader will ask questions and invite comment.

Don’t – spring surprise documents on people mid-meeting. Send documents out before to allow people to react or think about how they might be able to comment professionally ready for the meeting. We are all used to swallowing expletives and hiding shocked expressions in face-to-face meetings but it’s hard for our ‘home-behaviour’ not to seep into the on-line forum.

Do - prepare your system in advance. Make sure you have tested the system and have the correct link or invite. Check the sound level and have chargers at the ready because charge drains quickly it seems, particularly if you are on a smart phone. And definitely check your cleavage before bending down to plug it in.

Don’t have anything distracting around or behind you. Then when you speak, the message can be heard and understood. Think about the image you want to portray which may include the shelves behind you. You can also find a way in settings to blur the background or drop a photo from your camera roll into the back drop. I was not aware however that the backdrop acts like a ‘green screen’, and appeared as a body-less head in the middle of a Van Gogh painting.

Do – tell people in your household that you will be in a meeting so that no-one joins you on screen. Most people do not find other people’s kids and dogs cute... well maybe the dogs ;)

Don’t – multitask during the meeting. Remain present and be aware of your ‘listening’ body language. Making the contributors feel valued is important, again particularly at this extremely disconnected time. My confidence drained when I saw no-one making eye-contact as I was speaking until I realised it’s only when we look into the web cam that it looks as though we are meeting people’s gaze.

Do – try and sit still - avoid exaggerated gestures. You will make a point more clearly if you minimise your own fidgeting or movements. I already know I have ADHD but I could have sent the meeting video to further confirm my diagnosis.

Don’t Forget – that people are feeling extra disconnected; extra ‘out of the loop’ and extra sensitive in these challenging lockdown times.

Be patient with people and their reactions.

Give people the benefit of the doubt.

Be understanding.

Be kind.

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Bucks School Library Service

A blog by Gillian Polding, Area Manager, Children & Young Persons, Buckinghamshire Libraries.

Hi everyone,

I would like to introduce myself as I manage the young people’s library service for Buckinghamshire. This includes Bucks School Library Service.  I hope to be a regular contributor to your forum and am here to help in any way that I can.  In future blogs, I hope to be able to introduce new children’s book titles that you might find useful. One that comes to mind now is:

A free information book explaining the Coronavirus to children, illustrated by Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler. The book answers key questions in simple language appropriate for 5 to 9 year olds.

This is freely accessible to anyone, so please spread the word.

View Book

Published by Nosy Crow, and written by staff within the company, the book has had expert input: Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine acted as a consultant, and the company also had advice from two head teachers and a child psychologist.

The book answers key questions in simple language appropriate for 5 to 9 year olds:

  • What is the coronavirus?
  • How do you catch the coronavirus?
  • What happens if you catch the coronavirus?
  • Why are people worried about catching the coronavirus?
  • Is there a cure for the coronavirus?
  • Why are some places we normally go to closed?
  • What can I do to help?
  • What’s going to happen next?


Buckinghamshire School Library Service

Bucks School Library Service offers professional, friendly advice and practical support on all aspects of library resource provision. We offer the opportunity to hire books from us on an annual basis for your own library, saving you money and reducing the worry of books becoming worn, damaged or out of date. We also offer the termly hire of project collections. A project collection is a box of 20 books which support the teaching of the curriculum in the classroom. Each box is individually made up to the needs of the teachers and age range/ ability level of pupils. If you can’t find a package that meets your individual schools’ needs, we are happy to discuss your requirements with you and come up with a suitable alternative. The majority of our services are also available on a Pay as Used (PAU) basis which gives all schools the opportunity to make use of our resources.

Gillian Polding MCLIP

Area Manager Children and Young Persons

Buckinghamshire Council

01296 382273

Mobile 07720207010


Walton Street Offices, Walton Street, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP20 1UA


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Back to School

‘Twas the Night before Term – an ode to parents by Helen Shakespeare.

It’s the night before a new term starts and I’m remembering how I used to feel when my two were still in Primary school. As a procrastinator, the final Sunday was fraught with washing and ironing uniform, making packed lunches and discovering the PE kit was missing items that were too late to order. But the relief of dropping them off and knowing it was a temporary end to the frantic and seemingly endless activities that the holiday time contained. Despite being a teacher, I loved that feeling of, ‘over to you...’. In turn, I could have back, that feeling of being pleased to see them after school.

Now parents nationwide are not only having no break from their parenting but during school hours are having to switch from wearing a parent’s hat to a teacher’s for part of everyday. Aside from any teaching skills, it’s terribly confusing for both parties to have to adjust to the same person providing the teaching, the love, the discipline, the comfort, the food and so on. Many parents are also trying to juggle their own work as well as learn a new way of living in isolation with all the angst that brings. The excitement and relief of a new term starting has - this time - during lockdown, given parents a whole new Sunday night feeling.

With this in mind, I want to encourage you all in the great job you are doing:


‘Twas the Night before Term – an ode to parents by Helen Shakespeare


‘Twas the night before term, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The front doors were closed and the streets were all clear

The bins were all full of wine bottles and beer.


The children were playing on Playstations four

The parents on Netflix or Zoom rooms galore.

They all settled in with their daily routine

Protecting the nation from Covid 19.


When on their devices arose such a clatter,

They sprang from their chairs to see what was the matter.

Tonight was a Sunday, seen as a jewel

Until lockdown brought dread at the mention of school.


Farewell to the freedom and playground goodbyes,

Hello to the hell of the classroom online.

Tasks and assignments for feedback and ticks

And a rousing beginning with athlete Joe Wicks.


Some parents proudly announcing new skills

Others reportedly losing the will.

Would they emerge more fat or more fit?

Or had they decided they don’t give a sh*t?


Dreading the watchful eyes of the staff

As they take on the role, on their teacher’s behalf.

“How come we never learnt that way at school?

Grid methods, chunking and algebra rules?”


How come my child had such glowing reports

When all I get now is disdainful retorts?

Never again will I whinge at the school

When my little angel has broken a rule.


Sleepless and anxious to complete all the tasks

While remotely at work or sewing some masks.

Dressing the top half for meetings on line

While forcing the kids to learn as they whine.


And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the street

The clapping and cheering and pans with a beat,

As I opened the door to tumultuous exhort

Of NHS staff and key workers support.


Among these tough times of self-isolation

We’ve joined as a team, throughout the whole nation.

Sharing and giving not seen since the war

Epitomised in actions from Captain Tom Moore.


So, while we dig deep for our strength and true grit,

Dreading the weeks and trying not to quit,

Look for the blessings, be patient, take heart,

You are being amazing and doing your part.


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Choose to Feel Safe

A blog on our response to trauma from Helen Shakespeare.

Is anyone feeling tired even though your daily activity load has decreased? It’s most likely a response to trauma. It’s not possible to combat the virus actively (fight), it’s not possible to run away from it (flight), so the body goes into ‘play dead’ (freeze) mode. It’s an avoidance coping strategy. Isolation, together with the nature of the virus, has robbed us of our coping mechanisms. Added to and embedded in this traumatic situation we are facing is the fact that enforced lockdown has robbed us of choice. It’s one thing to choose to stay at home and tend to the house or garden, but quite another to feel it’s obligatory. Systems in the workplace sometimes cheat us of choices, but home is where we are meant to feel autonomy. It is well documented that an increase in freedom boosts morale. It is therefore safe to say that the removal of choice will lower morale. According to self-determination theory (Ryan and Deci), needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness must be met in order to enhance levels of self-motivation. Could this be adding to our feelings of fatigue?

So, faced with this new predicament my brain raced to find any history of coping mechanisms I had previously known. It led me back to a time when my daughter was seriously unwell and it was this connection that led to me creating the ‘SAFE’ resource  in the hope of helping; helping not just teenagers, but staff and parents, grandparents and children.

A few years ago, my daughter was self-isolated. I mean this in the strictest sense; she isolated herself due to mental health issues that were drowning her. She chose to self-isolate; she separated herself from friends; she saw no point in getting up; no point in dressing; in washing or in attending to the most basic self-care needs. I know from some friends that these symptoms are included in the list of things people are battling with at this time of lockdown. The part of recovery that has relevance here, was an activity which required her to plan for just four things in her day. One had to be purposeful; one relating to achievement; one to closeness with someone and one for enjoyment. It was based on neuroscience research and the brain being triggered into the production of chemicals that enhance our well-being; achievement triggers dopamine; purpose, serotonin; connection, oxytocin and exercise or enjoyment, endorphins. Choosing her own daily goals enabled her to feel autonomy and a boost to her morale. Not only did she feel as though she was achieving things of purpose, but her day began to have structure and by recording her chosen activities she could also measure an element of progress. I have adapted this to form a daily planning activity under the apt acronym of SAFE. Exercise is included on account of its raised importance at a time when none of us can go to the gym or park  - our usual places.

The SAFE activity ends with choosing three blessings. Research has shown that being thankful is beneficial to our well-being. At Aspire AP we practice this at our daily de-brief, even after the toughest of days. It takes some discipline to begin with, before a habit is formed. After a while, your brain becomes trained to look for the positives during the day itself.

Tired we may be - out of sorts – but we must be kind to ourselves. Read more about how the brain deals with trauma and use the knowledge to be understanding of how you are feeling. Find a way that suits you to plan in the positive ingredients to nurture yourself, give you purpose and help you to connect with others. Give yourself permission to rest. Despite our locked down situation, we have in fact got a lot of choice.

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Dress to Suppress (the Monotony)

To relish the decadence of spending the days in pyjamas or to get yourself brushed and dressed? Senior Education Psychologist, Jenny Feeney, of Bucks County Council, argues that what we choose to wear is more significant than we might realise.

I hate running. But I consider it a necessary evil as it is free and can fit around my schedule. My first attempts at running came when I was living in Camden. I found running around streets that were populated 24-7 entirely embarrassing… and I gave up quickly. Finally, I decided to buy myself some actual running gear. It seemed strange but the mere act of putting on my running clothes gave me the anonymity I needed. I suddenly felt that people probably didn’t assume I was crazy or wonder why I was running around the streets but assumed that I was in fact a ‘runner’. And I felt, for those 30 minutes twice a week, that just maybe, I was a ‘runner’.

Like it or not, clothes play an important role in our social interactions. Clothes provide our brain with cues to people’s behaviours – think, ‘Oh that man is walking up to the house because he is a postal worker’ versus ‘Why is that man walking up to the house?’ And research shows clothes may even influence our own behaviour. Those who know me at work may have spotted my adherence to this view. They may recognise the range of outfits I wear for different roles; the suited and booted leader outfits for big events; the gender neutral shirt and jacket for working with secondary schools; the softer, brighter jumpers and dresses for primary schools; and the dangly earrings and long skirts for when I just plain need to channel the airy fairy psychologist :). My clothes allow me to project myself into who or what I need to be each day.

And so, even in lockdown I continue to use clothing to help me navigate that ‘groundhog day’ feeling. My full running gear comes out to help me match Joe Wicks’ energy during his daily torture sessions. My work clothes go on to remind my brain that even though I am sitting on my bed, I am in fact at work. And on Saturday nights, myself and my two little girls get our glad rags on… because lockdown or not the Feeney girls enjoy a party at the weekend.

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