The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Putting the fizz into education

Speaking at the Portobello Learning Festival at Portobello High School in Edinburgh this summer, Nina Jackson received a standing ovation. She says she was “humbled and a bit emotional” by the experience, and felt “privileged to be among so many wonderful teachers”.

She started out as a music teacher in Hampshire in the early nineties before she became head of music at Ogmore School in Bridgend with a teacher research scholarship to study the effects of music on the way we think. Her book, The Little Book of Music for the Classroom, draws on her research and experience of using music for raising standards and improving grades, calming pupils, energising them for learning, helping with speech and language, personal reflection and realisation as well as using music for revision, study skills and “learning and living differences”. The research caught the eye of Ian Gilbert, CEO of Independent Thinking Ltd and she joined the Carmarthen-based education consultancy to train, motivate and inspire teachers.

Simple steps to save those smiles kidsAn Associate with Independent Thinking for around 20 years, and founder of Teach Learn Create Ltd, it is her speaker work as an emotional health and wellbeing ambassador for which she is in demand. Having travelled to schools as far afield as Madrid, Chile, Ghana, China, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Kuwait, she says she is known by her colleagues as “Nina the Ninja, who moves in mysterious ways”.

Through her evangelical approach to wellbeing in education, she is helping children, parents and teachers to achieve “mental wealth” – an incredible achievement when considering her own personal background, steeped in childhood depression, self-harm and the struggles of a stay in a mental hospital for quite some time.

Nina explains: “From serious trauma can come great strength. I rebuilt my life. It doesn’t matter how badly you have been scarred and broken, it is possible to put yourself back together.

“I am sad to see teachers struggle with ever-increasing workloads and the pressures of children who are suffering from trauma. We are asking a lot of teachers, and of the profession overall. What’s important is that teachers check in with every child and each other and make sure that they feel valued and that in their world – whatever world that might be – they are OK. Being kind to someone else is the greatest gift you can give them.”

Nina says she encourages teachers to spend time thinking about the simple things that make them feel better, whether that be running, breathing exercises, painting, reading or taking the dog for a walk. Even escapism with a good film or a series can help. “I call this Mind Medicine,” says Nina. “You collect the things that you can turn to on an off-day to make you feel good. We should work with the things that we know help us. It is natural to build up our own anxieties, so we need to recognise that, embrace it, and deal with it. I don’t want teachers to feel they aren’t good enough. They are human.”

She believes that teachers are becoming “bogged down in courses on mental health” when what children really need is kindness, understanding and empathy. “There is so much emphasis on training but I really think simple acts of kindness could do a lot to help prevent children from self-harming, depression and suicide, or to help them know it’s OK not to be OK and to know who to go to for help. She believes that most children’s ‘bad behaviour’ is the “right behaviour for the child at that time, when their world is not a happy place”.

Her book, Of Teaching, Learning and Sherbet Lemons: A Compendium of Careful Advice for Teachers, suggests education is like a sherbet lemon, requiring the structures and systems of the hard exterior but the teaching and learning is the fizz in the centre. “Every child has magical ingredients, and my work is to help parents and teachers find it and to make tomorrow better than it is today.”