Caution – Superficial blog alert!

She's devoted to her careerSometimes I like to shop. This doesn’t occur very often so I need to grab it when it happens and try to update my working wardrobe. I say ‘try’ because I am easily distracted by unsuitable-for-work shoes and anything in brown, which Barry insists is not professional.

So, having seen some other blogs giving advice on what to wear, I thought I’d offer my view…

First of all, the rules (there are always rules). On non-pupil days you can skip through the school in your pants for all I care, but when school is in session I have rules.

  1. Denim is for the weekend. I don’t want to see school staff in denim and those black denim jeans are going to have to be very fresh out of the shop to pass under my ‘scruffy’ radar.
  2. Men should wear a collar (sorry if that is sexist – but there it is). I can take or leave a tie but if you are going to wear one, it needs to be properly done up.
  3. Skirts – if I can see your pants, it is too short, if you trip on the stairs, it is too long.
  4. In my view, the demise of the ‘modesty panel’ is a sad loss, I don’t think the cleavage is an appropriate accessory in school workwear.

Now that is out of the way…what to wear? I do think men have it pretty easy anyway. They can go for the perfectly acceptable “smart casual” (see rule 2), or the suit. Women have it a little more tricky so read on.

The Suit – I like a suit. I feel in control, professional and smart, ready for anything the day might throw at me. I’ll wear a suit if I know I’ve got a sticky meeting. I quite like mis-matched (but complimentary) pieces and I like a proper shirt underneath. I don’t think you can go far wrong with M&S especially if you can throw it in the wash and then wave the iron over it for a return to good-as-new, all the better. (Link to the suit below)

Suit

The Dress – I am a bit of a sucker for the fitted dress. I have a few beautiful ones in my wardrobe, with a jacket or a cardigan you can feel smart and fabulous. I love Hobbs, which I know are a little more pricey but worth saving my pennies for I think. This one is gorgeous. (Link to the dress below) but I’m not sure I like the shoes, even if they are brown.

Dress

The Separates – OK, so most of my wardrobe is a mishmash of smart skirts and trousers, shirts and blouses, heels and flats, cardigans and jackets. This lets me ring the changes constantly depending on my mood and what I’ve got planned for the day. One find I’ve been pleased with recently is the shirtbody. I may be late to the party but all those female TV FBI agents must be keeping their shirts tucked in somehow, I thought. So I googled it and bought two. They have changed my life. (advice – go 2 sizes bigger than you normally would(Link to shirt below)

shirtbody

Finally, I have two more experiences to share on the working wardrobe;

  1. Clothes last much longer if you don’t wash them too often, you can either try not to break into a sweat at work if you can help it, or you can buy decent wicking underwear, which brings me to…
  2. In my experience of working in a school, you are going to need a vest. Yes, all year.

 

P.S. I’m just brazenly copying pictures of the clothing I like from websites, I have no links to anyone and I’m not getting anything in return. I’m practising for future funding linkage as, yes, I still need to work on earning that MUGA!

One of the most important policies you probably don’t have…

She was bleeding heavily that week. The changes taking place in her body were both expected and completely normal, but terrifying none the less. The worst of it was that it was just so unpredictable. The fear that accompanied the possibility of leaking all over her uniform effected her focus and ability to function at school. The abdominal cramps affected her appetite, as well as her desire to be active, and a myriad of other personal symptoms left her a walking bundle of stress and discomfort, just when she needed to be at her most attentive. Most difficult of all, she was experiencing waves of exhaustion and heat like never before. She wasn’t sure who to discuss the issues with or how the school could or should accommodate her needs, so she waded on through, knowing it would settle down eventually. 

I know everyone would join me in sympathy for this 14 year old girl going through puberty. As school leaders and teachers we can point her in the direction of pastoral care or a counsellor, we can understand if she needs to rush out of class to find a bathroom. We can reassure her. We can find her a skirt out of lost property or we can ring home if it all becomes too overwhelming. After all, it is a perfectly normal part of growing up. 

But what if I tell you the ‘she’ is actually me? What if tell you that, as I hit the menopause, I am beginning to experience these symptoms and I sometimes find them overwhelming, stressful and terrifying. 

Do you understand when I need to rush away to find a bathroom? Do you happily sit in a cooler atmosphere because I am a walking furnace today? Do you grasp why I’m snappy because I have other stuff going on in my life and, right now, it isn’t all about you?  

Are you, as my line manager, aware of, and sympathetic to my needs? Are you proactive in helping me cope? Do you, as a school, have a protocol in place to support and reassure me if I have to drop everything at very short notice – even a class full of pupils? And, if I talk about what is going on, can you promise you won’t think me unprofessional, lacking in capability or ready to be retired?

There are guidance papers online on ‘Working through the Menopause’ that everyone should read and, most importantly, use to promote an open culture for discussion and understanding. No one is asking for special treatment, unreasonable amounts of time out or even much in the way of attention, but with three quarters of the teaching population in the UK being female, (and a considerably higher ratio of support staff) it is an issue that is going to impact us all one way or another at some point in our career. 

After all, it is just a perfectly normal part of growing up. 

Should you write a blog when you’re feeling down?

This is my first. 

Of course, I know what the problem is. 

I’m tired. 

There is a lot that I’m worried about at work. I’m not sleeping well. I’m not eating properly so my stomach hurts and I become lethargic. I’m not moving about as much as I usually do, so my stomach hurts and I become even more lethargic. Housework gets neglected as life continues to sap every ounce of energy within me. 

Then…everyone is cleverer, prettier, thinner, fitter, wittier, more successful, (less superficial, I hear you think) than I could ever be.

My smile wavers, I feel cold and I sit and watch my ankles swell. The spiral heads downwards, encompassing an oppressive, bleakness that only I can drag myself away from…when I’m ready. 

I’m convinced that it is OK for us to embrace the whole rainbow of our emotions and use them to improve, inform and restore us back to health. 

I’m never going to be happy all the time but buried under my duvet with no one to see, I can clasp the despair for a few minutes, experiencing its negativity, before allowing it to flow through me and then out the other side.

My wellbeing is not served by my pretending that I don’t occasionally feel fear, grief, worry or self-doubt and I’m not helping myself if the effort involved in constantly projecting a smiling face outweighs the benefit. 

Only by allowing the emotions in, being gentle with myself and taking time for me, can I then work my way through them, enabling the transition back into me, the positive person with the catchy mantras and ‘solution-oriented-problem-solving’ skills that serve me so well 99.9 days out of 100. 

Is it OK to write a blog when you’re feeling down? I think so. Yes. 

Your body knows what it’s talking about. 

I’ve been putting this one off. I know I’ve got to include it in my blog at some point but I’m nervous about approaching the subject because I don’t want to totally gross you out. 

I have been open about a significant period of stress in my working life in previous blogs. The fact that I got through it all those years ago, that I’ve learned a considerable amount from the experience, and that I now feel ready to share some of it shows that there is always a positive corner to turn. Wellbeing is a big part of my daily life and it is turning into a recurring blog theme – I guess you never really know what is going to surface until you start writing.

So here goes. I now recognise that I had been going through a low level of continually rumbling stress (probably the most damaging kind because you think you are functioning normally) that was slowly rising in a crescendo for about 18 months. 

I can see that I had all kinds of symptoms. For example, I would sit in the weekly SLT meeting and literally itch all over. I’d buy nit shampoo on the way home because I was convinced that I must be totally infested. My body was screaming at me that there was a problem but I chose to be practical and stalwart, chin up and keep going. 

Eventually, in an effort to be heard, my body tried a different tack and decided to introduce IBS.

Before you can be handed a diagnosis of IBS you have to go through a whole raft of tests. Over the testing period I had 3 endoscopies, a cystoscopy and a CT scan, and I saw a lot of consultants. Eventually, probably because they hadn’t found anything tangible, I was told; “You have IBS, take these drugs for the rest of your life”.

By the time I was diagnosed, however, I was actually in a much better place emotionally. I had a new job, a supportive Head and colleagues, I fitted in and was happy (and there were no more skin issues). So I decided that there must be an alternative to a life of popping stomach calming pills after every meal and I hit Google. 

Basically I just stopped eating what my digestive system had decided it doesn’t like. That is gluten, dairy,  eggs, fresh grapes; and it is also much happier when I’m not eating sugar (real or synthetic – including fruit!)

Yes it can be rather limiting sometimes (I’m not popular in restaurants) but if I fall off the ‘wagon’, boy do I pay the price!

I guess in the back of my mind I thought that my digestive system would heal itself and I could go back to a normal diet eventually but I’m still waiting for that. The good news is that I’ve been referred to a specialist IBS clinic later this year so maybe they can help repair me on the inside.

So, in true blog fashion, from my experience I’d like to share two pieces of advice;

1. Listen to your body. It knows what it is doing. It will protest in a myriad of ways and just keep upping the ante until you stop and take notice. 

2. Take the time now to research ways to manage stress, build yourself a toolkit and use it all the time. Stress symptoms creep up slowly. If you get to the point, as I did, of being overwhelmed, you’re too late. 

Finally, I hope you’ll now understand my dislike of ‘cake culture’. I think it’s only because I can’t have it that I see how much my colleagues are eating and it’s taken my SLT 2 years to stop apologising that I can’t eat the cake they’ve made!