• Wellbeing for Educators and Leaders in Learning

Perspectives #13: "Little Boxes"

"Perspectives" is a series of blog posts written by people different to James, the usual writer of this blog: a white heterosexual non-disabled male. Through this series, we will hear from people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic, LGBT+, and faith communities, as well as women, people with disabilities, and people from a low socio-economic background. Each individual is speaking from their own experiences alone, not speaking on behalf of a group of people. The aim is for all of us to hear voices of those who are different to us, so we can understand and build a culture in our schools and organisations where the wellbeing of all is at the centre, not just the wellbeing of those who are the same as us.

Nic Owen is a primary trained teacher with over 20 years experience in education. She has recently left the teaching profession to follow her passion for wellbeing, working full time in her own wellbeing in education business. Nic supports students, teachers and parents using preventative techniques to support their mental health and wellbeing. She lives in Manchester, with her husband and two children.

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Little boxes on the hillside Little boxes made of ticky tacky Little boxes on the hillside Little boxes all the same

There's a pink one and a green one And a blue one and a yellow one And they're all made out of ticky tacky And they all look just the same.

Malvina Reynolds 1962

It is interesting, this song. I used to sing it at school never quite knowing what the lyrics meant. It was pulled out of the archives recently, by a colleague of mine, and I winced through every verse and chorus. Why? You see, we all have our own little box, our own unique gift to the world, and quite frankly we are all so very different that it would be hard to organise them if it wasn’t for the labels and stereotypes we have within society.

My box could be labelled with many stickers for identification purposes. Stickers of gender, sexuality, class, colour, faith, family role and profession. These labels define me as a human but not as a person. I prefer to label myself based on my values, moral compass, and humanity. Yet everything I do will always been seen as a white, middle class, educated woman doing or saying these things.

Labels rid us of our stories and journey of who we are in this moment. They rob us of our experiences. They don’t disclose the significant struggles we have gone through to be the people we are today. They don’t disclose the strength of character and the perseverance we have in order to use our voices and shape our lives. I often talk of comparing ourselves to others. We simply cannot and should not do this, for every single person who walks this beautiful Earth has a story of who they are, where they are at and how they got there.

My story is quite simple. I was born in 1978 in the North of England, to my parents: my dad, fresh out of the army and then a miner, and my mum who was a stay at home mum. Our house was council owned and my parents worked hard to keep that roof over our heads. They later got the opportunity to buy. When my younger brother and I started school, my mum worked part time in a shoe shop. The miners’ strike happened; times were very difficult. My dad switched jobs several times. Then the recession hit. My parents were crippled by the fear of losing their house. My dad set up his own business refurbishing car stereos. I worked each Sunday on a car boot selling them with him. I was 11. My mum carried on working, paying the full poll tax as her wage just fell short of the threshold for relief payments. Her pride in working stubbornly defying Mrs Thatcher, until she too was made redundant.

Then my mum volunteered her time in the care industry in the hope of getting enough experience to get an interview for a job. She did. She worked part time while my brother and I were in secondary school. She worked her way up and became the head of training for social care in our local council. My dad went and earned qualifications to become a health and safety officer. They worked hard in tough times and although money was scarce, I was loved and cared for. I didn’t have the same things my friends had, but I had what I needed, and I felt loved. Crucially, my background taught me the values of hard work, family, and security.

I left school at the age of 15 with good GCSE’s and a failed short relationship with a man, five years my senior, who abused me. I didn’t say a word. I buried it.

I went to college, and left by Christmas as I felt scared and upset at how the college dealt with racism. I made an appointment with the headteacher, to discuss my feelings. This was unprecedented but I felt the need to speak up about my experiences. I was listened to, my audacity commented upon, and I left. My parents were worried about my education, but I worked the remainder of the year, at a bakery: often being asked to work in the marketing repro-graphics department instead of serving pasties in the shop. I was flexible; I grafted and returned to my A levels at a new college and I also moved out of my family home. I wanted my independence. I was 17. I had met a boy (who later became my husband) and we had set up home together. I worked every weekend as a carer, looking after the elderly and each Thursday night as a shop assistant. I studied. I earned my own money and paid my own way. My values and moral compass firm in my mind, I secured a place at Lancaster University, got my degree in Theatre Studies and English Literature and then, after a few years working as a teaching assistant, trained to be a teacher.

So why am I telling you this? My early years? My struggles. This is my tapestry. The first half of my life and all those life experiences were life shaping. The good and the bad.

“If God brings you to it; He will bring you through it!" (Isaiah 58:11, The Bible) and as my Nana used to say, " God only gives you what you can handle". As a Christian, I believe that God will look after me. God guides me through the good and the bad, and although I question God along the way, my faith helps to ground me.

See, life gives you experiences, good and bad, and I quite simple draw on those experiences as I meet people. I can empathise and show compassion as I have experience of trauma, death, illness, and violence. I have seen first-hand the effects drugs have on those who are addicted and those who affected by those who take drugs. I have life experiences that give me perspective. That's not to say I know everything about everything that life throws at us, but - and this is the big "but" - I listen to the stories of others and their experiences. I will never know what it is like to be a young black man living in London, constantly stopped and searched by police, because I'm not a young, black man living in London constantly being stopped and searched by police. I will never know what it is like to experience direct homophobic slurs and violence, because I'm not gay nor have I been slurred or threatened with violence because of my sexuality. I will never experience what it is like to be a victim of domestic violence because I've never been beaten by my husband. That doesn't mean to say that I cannot stand up for these wrongs and cannot empathise or speak up. I can. I do.

I am a mum and a teacher, and my role is to educate, to care and to nurture. I use all my experiences to do this to the best of my ability. I can relate to parents and other agencies that work with schools. My new venture, as the owner of my own wellbeing business, uses all that I am as a person to ensure the children and adults I work with, use their own experiences as positives and can maintain good mental health and wellbeing. I love my work and I give it all of my effort.

My perspective of things is fundamentally driven by my life experiences, my knowledge, and education. I use these alongside my core values of kindness, empathy, respect, and authenticity. I want to learn about other people's lives; I want to be a good listener; I want to be kind. I don't want to be put in one of the little boxes on the hillside, limited by people's perception of my gender, sexuality, class, or colour, and this should be true for everyone else too: we are all unique individuals with our own stories to be shared and celebrated.

My three tips for how you can help your own wellbeing are:

1. Learn to love yourself, every bit of you.

2. Be kind to yourself. If you make a mistake, learn from it- they are there to teach you.

3. Believe in yourself and use your experiences to reinforce that belief.

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Blog: monologuesofaprimaryteacher.wordpress.com/ (A different version of Nicola's post was originally published here, on 7.7.20)

Website: https://www.zennicwellbeing.co.uk/

Twitter: @sphoenix78 / @ZennicW

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicola-owen-zennic-wellbeing/

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