life, Personal, self care, teaching

Building Relationships – Brick by Brick

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Relationships, good, bad, professional, peripheral, are at the heart of human existence. I’m not even talking about romantic relationships, but the connections between us as humans. It is what drives community, positive workplaces, and is (I believe) central is giving us a sense of belonging and wellbeing.


I build relationships pretty easily. I really like people and I’m mostly fairly confident (or at least I seem so). I like to think I am kind. I’ve really focused on building relationships with students over the last decade of teaching – our students have a really strong appreciation and need for relationships with teachers. They need to know that you care, and that they have become a part of your extended community. So here are some of my top ideas for building positive strong relationships


Learn Names:

This is huge. Every year I have to learn about 150 new names in the first week of Term 1. I do it pretty quickly and feel terrible if I get a name wrong or I blank. Knowing and using a person’s name tells them that you think they’re important enough to remember. I once helped a boy on the playground when he was trying to make the right decision to not retaliate against a bully. I asked him his name. Every time I saw him after that I addressed him by name and we would stop and chat. It’s been two years and he still looks delighted every time I see him and say hi.


If you forget someone’s name, just ask. I had fantastic neighbours a few years ago. One particular wonderful couple my ex-husband and I would often chat to. We’d met up at a bar and introduced ourselves and would often say hi to Gregor over the fence. One day I came straight out with it. “Gregor, I’m so sorry but we’ve forgotten your partner’s name.”  He looked intensely relieved: “Oh thank god because we’ve forgotten your husband’s name!”


Being honest about your forgetfulness and making a renewed effort to remember is appreciated. It builds relationships.


Be Welcoming:

I have always thought of myself as a friendly person, but I’ve become aware that in some situations I can appear quite intimidating or unwelcoming. I was at a writer’s conference and sat at a dinner table with a well known NYT bestseller of whom I am a MASSIVE fan. I watched her as she worked, very naturally, to put people at ease and ask them genuine questions about themselves, their writing, their lives. One of the women she was making feel welcome had sat next to me earlier and I’d only got as far as discussing her very fancy spectacles. Seeing how this author I admire so much put so much effort into connecting with this older woman made me question how much I had really tried to overcome my reserve and draw her out.


As a result, I try really hard with students to show a welcoming face when I see them around the school or they approach with a query. I don’t usually have to try hard, it’s more a case of remembering sometimes. None of us feel comfortable when people are (or appear to be) unwelcoming. It is hard to build relationships and connections when people are too nervous to talk to you.


Remember stuff about them:

The same top author whom I so admire remembered what I was writing about the next time she saw me. It made me feel like a million dollars.


When I remember what students do outside the classroom (sport, music, job) or even just remembering that they were doing a maths test that one time I relieved their class and making the time to ask them about it – that’s several bricks laid in the relationship build.


Showing people that you remember what is important to them shows them that they are important to you – such is the stuff that great relationships are made from.


It also gives you stuff to talk about!


As a teacher, it means when you’re in the playground and you need to move a group of boys on from playing ball where they shouldn’t, you can capitalise on the relationship you’ve made with a couple of them and they will get their mates to do what you’ve asked.


Listen to people:

I’m a talker. I always have been. My mother explained to me when I was young that if I was going to talk so much I had to become a good listener. Being a good listener to me means actively hearing what someone is saying. Letting go of the ‘waiting for my turn’ half tuned ear and giving someone your complete attention.


We all want to be heard.


Being a good listener also means noticing when people need you to stop talking.


Being a good listener also means noticing when people are trying to be heard or to speak and allowing them a space to do so.


Being a good listener means that you will become someone people feel comfortable opening up to. That openness and connection is integral to a good relationship.


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Laugh with People:

Sharing a joke with someone builds an instant rapport, an instant connection. It breaks the ice and shows that you have more in common than you do otherwise. Crowded trains are normally silent places full of people ignoring each other. When I was in London I was on a train that was getting stopped constantly on the way into Earl’s Court. The driver started making jokes, snarky comments on the delay, silly puns.  We all began laughing, and then we began chatting,  and we were still laughing and chatting about it when we finally drew into Earl’s Court. Some people left and others hopped on. The new people couldn’t quite understand why we were all so cheerful and relaxed. More than one looked as if they were wondering if they’d stumbled into a private carriage.  Humour builds connections.


I use humour a lot in the classroom. I do it without thinking, but it is something that I recommend to other teachers. I’ve often said that our boys in particular really need you to have a joke with them. This is not to say that you aren’t firm and hold to your boundaries –  they want you to be strict but they also want to know that you will laugh at their stupid jokes, that you will make stupid jokes and crack up yourself. Humour is a great equaliser.


Be an encourager:

Build people up. Support them. Encourage them and help them to reach their potential. Cheer them on. Don’t sabotage their goals. I think that’s fairly self explanatory.

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Be kind:

Those of you who have followed my blog will know that kindness is really important to me. We crave kindness. If you show consistent kindness to people that’s the majority of the battle to build and maintain a relationship won. It is the kindness that I showed to students that keeps them coming back year after year to say hi, even after they leave.

Be vulnerable:

It’s okay to show that you aren’t perfect. It’s okay to show that you don’t have all the answers. It’s okay to not have the amazing Instagram ready life. It’s okay to be vulnerable. My friends and my family know that I am not a perfect person. They know that I can have a temper, that I am disorganised, that I don’t always have the best self-esteem. They have seen me cry. Vulnerability is authentic. It is an equaliser. It allows for a completely honest relationship.


Relationships give us a lot but to get the most out of them we need to put the effort in.






life, Personal

Juggling Life Demands Isn’t Always Easy – aka oops I’ve been a bit quiet blogging…

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This past week I went back to school after the summer holidays. To teach, luckily, not as a student. I think it’s less stressful as a teacher, regardless of all the organising etc. Students, especially the little ones, are freaking out quietly that they’re going to do the wrong thing, they won’t know anyone, their teachers will be mean, all that stuff.

That said, teaching in that first week is hard work. Most of it is spent trying to remember 150 new kids names and, often, a whole lot of new staff members’ names too. Your classes have not met you before (except for those dreams of classes where you’ve taught nearly everyone and those are easy peasy) and a lot of the first weeks are spent convincing them that a) they made the right choice choosing this subject and b) you’re a great teacher. They need to learn how to behave in your classroom, what your personal expectations and boundaries are, and you need to learn 150 kids’ preferences, backgrounds, obstacles, strengths, attitudes, and social skills.

It’s tough.

This is all to say that this last week I’ve been quiet on the blog front because I’ve been back to work, beta reading two manuscripts for friends, and continuing with my own writing. It’s tough to juggle it all. It will get easier once school evens into a routine and everything becomes (mostly) what you expect.

I used to feel terrible when I sucked at juggling life, but now I give myself the same understanding I give others – juggling is pretty difficult. I think we can all agree on that! At the moment I’m trying to juggle chainsaws when I’m really only skilled enough to do tennis balls.

The thing about juggling is that, with all things, it gets better the more you have to do it. The more you practice. So my goal for this coming week is to get the balance a bit better so that all the things I want to do (oh, and the vacuuming too I guess. and dishes) get done, and the blog returns to a bit more of a rhythm. Thanks for sticking around!

How do you cope with juggling life demands? Let me know your handy tips in the comments!

Funny, life, Personal

The True Tale of the Possum and the Policeman in the Night-time.

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My old flat in Wellington had three bedrooms, one of which had an unused fireplace. One night, about 2 in the morning, I was woken by my flat mate screaming and the sound of slamming doors.


My other flat mate and I raced out of our rooms to see her, a trembling mess, cowering in the hallway in her pyjamas.


“A possum just fell down my chimney!”


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Half awake and trying to figure out how to get a terrified and feral possum out of her room I suggested that as her room had two doors, they could open the other one and I could try shooing it out from one end of the room to the other.


This was vetoed on the grounds that the possum might attack.


…I know. But now that I’ve shrieked and jumped and run out of the room when a mouse ran out of my cupboard I have more sympathy. Anyway…


We had a quandary. Who do you contact in the middle of the night to rid you of a possum problem? We looked in the yellow pages (this was well before smart phones and we had no access to YouTube tutorials on pest removal) but none of the pest removal companies were 24/7


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It was nearing 3am at this point. We didn’t want to call the fire service, no matter what they say about fire fighters getting cats out of trees, because this was at the time of the Wellington Arsonist and we didn’t like to burden them with possum trouble.


Suddenly I had a genius idea. “The police will be awake!”


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I know. It was 3am. I wasn’t thinking clearly. You will be happy to know we didn’t ring 111. We rang the local police station.


Police phone operator: how can I help?


Me *extremely embarrassed’: hello, okay, I’m sorry to bother you but a possum fell down my flat mate’s chimney and we don’t know how to get it out and we were hoping you could tell us who to call…


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Police phone operator: *uncontrollable laughing* just wait and I’ll see if I can find you a number


There was more laughter in the background and then she came back on the line


‘Some of the guys are here so I’m sending round a patrol car’


Me *dying from embarrassment and barely able to speak above a whisper*: omg. Thank you.


Now, it might have been 3am but all three of us made sure our hair was brushed and our jammies buttoned properly before we opened the door to a very handsome young policeman.


He went into the room and walked around for ages, we could hear furniture shuffling and some rustling. He came back out. Without possum.


‘There’s no possum’


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We stared at my flat mate who swore hand on heart it had been there.


The policeman laughed. ‘Yep, it was definitely there, you can see its sooty footprints everywhere. It must have gone back up the chimney’


He was right. On the floor, her white bedspread, and by the door were tiny little black footprints.


The policeman left with a smile, waving off our apologies. We went back to bed. We never saw the possum again.



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happiness, inspiration, life, Personal

Silly Play All Day – How silliness helps you adult


Do you remember how old you were when you stopped playing? Chances are it was about 13 or 14, the cusp of teenagerhood when you sometimes played with the little kids and mostly started hanging out with the adults or in your room. Playgrounds became places to hang out, rather than run around and play. Any play had to be done ‘ironically’, or online in video games. Kids come into High School and wonder where the adventure playgrounds are and six months later they are ‘hanging out’ with the best of them.


This is no bad thing. It’s a part of figuring out your growing identity.


What I think is a shame is how silly play is then often frowned on after a certain age.  “Act your age”. “Don’t be ridiculous”.  Every so often at school the boys (sometimes girls) start playing tag, or manhunt, or some other version of chase. Mostly this isn’t a problem (we have a big school) but when it’s the huge 17 and 18 year old guys crashing around wildly laughing and not noticing the little 12 year olds trampled underfoot then the silly police (us) have to step in.


“Aw Miss! we’re just having fun!”

“Sorry kids, not here. Take it out to the field.”


This is an age where we learn about appropriate times and places for fun. It’s a good lesson. But it is also a shame in some ways.


The playing adult steps sideways into another reality

– Erik H. Erikson


Play is really important. We know this and protect it in our children’s learning times in a way that many other historical eras didn’t, and in ways that places with less privilege can’t do to the same extent. Play does lots of good moral stuff like teaching you how to share, how to take turns, but imaginative play in particular can also teach you empathy. It can give you a chance to become someone else for a while and to explore different parts of your identity.


My youngest son likes to play on the computer a lot at the moment. I think it is something to do with the suddenly big age gap between him and the oldest, who is entering that teenagedom I spoke of before. I’ve noticed that when he gets really into whatever roblox game he’s playing (usually something to do with cars or a shop) he starts whispering to himself. I recognise this. I did it with dolls, or outside in the garden on my own. Even though the game is not a role playing game, he is creating his own world as he plays. This is the power of play for kids, but also for adults.


There are adult based play activities available – such as the escape room, paintball, laser tag. But play doesn’t have to be based around those things. Play can simply be being silly.


And silly is important.



We have a staff fun day out every year where we do fun activities – things like mini golf, beach cricket, caileigh dancing, and on one memorable occasion we did zorb soccer. I get claustrophobic and hated not being able to see people behind me knocking me down, but being part of a group and running around and (KEY THING) being ridiculously SILLY made me incredibly happy. You bounce off other people’s happiness (in this instance quite literally) and it forms stronger connections and boosts your own morale.


Silly helps.


One of the things I love most about my colleagues is their level of silly. I best say here that silly doesn’t interfere with professionalism, it doesn’t affect at all the way you do your job. In fact, if anything, I’d argue it makes you more able to do your job well.  Nerf gun battles. Ambushes. Kazoo duck quacking. Making posters of each other and ‘decorating’ desks. Singing. Dumb jokes. All this silliness creates an atmosphere where happiness happens and people feel positive about where they are. We become friends, not just workmates. Laughter releases stress. Students come in to hand in work and then say later ‘Your department always seems so happy. I like going in there.”


What matters to me is not that this helps people to be better workers (which I believe it does) but that it helps us to be happier people, it lifts our wellbeing.


When you’re a parent, or are around kids, and they want to play with you, sometimes it’s just not the right time, or you’re tired, or you just want to have time to yourself. But when you play, when you really play and unleash your silly, magic can happen. My sons recruited me to play in their nerf war. I wasn’t that keen but said yeah okay. Then a little tendril of silly came out. I became a double agent and ‘stabbed’ one boy in the back then stole his gun. The expression on my kids’ faces when they realised that mum was playing along with them was worth all the missed feet up coffee in hand time in the world. Being around kids does give you an excuse to be silly. You can start singing a screechy song and do silly actions and you’ve got an excuse. You can change every fourth word in a story book to ‘fart’ at bedtime reading and you’ve got an excuse (yes I did this, yes their reactions were everything you would most desire, and yes it went on waaay too long). The point is, when we can do that silly for ourselves and let other people be silly even if they are ‘grown up’ I reckon we can be happier.

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There’s a group of writers on Twitter with whom I have long hilarious gif filled conversations (you can find them on #WriteFightGifClub should you so desire). They are the epitome of silly. They’re also incredibly supportive and generous with knowledge and very talented people, but the reason people keep being drawn into their vortex is the silly. You can play act and take on roles and voices and it’s like a big improv or kids playground romp. It made me realise how important that silly is to me and how much it helps me with everything else in my life.


Adulting is hard. It is full of bills, cats who don’t like the cheap catfood, rushing, oh my goodness always rushing to school to work to home to appointments to gym to socialising.  It is full of chores. It is not full of sleep. It is not always full of fun. I know no-one said life had to be all about having fun but man, when you think about it – if we get 90 odd years to be on this planet and only in 12 of them do we get to be silly and have fun whenever, well that seems like a big waste to me.


Silly helps the adulting go down.  It’s a lot easier to cope with all the grown up demands if you get to have time to play as well, whatever form that play takes.


So this week, think about what you want to do to introduce some playtime into your life and let your silly out!

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life, Personal

Serendipity and a Very Happy Art Tale


There are times when life seems to just go your way. When chance magically eventuates to bring you a wonderful outcome. This is the story of one of those times.


I love art. I don’t have a lot, other than my grandmother’s paintings, because I can’t really afford it and I don’t always see things I like. I was talking with my friend Kellie on Twitter about buying a piece of art she’d seen out at lunch, and I told her something along the lines of  ‘You NEED to buy it if you can, because if you really love it you will always remember it and always be sad it isn’t with you.”  *spoiler – she’d already got the painting by the time I commented. That’s not the serendipitous bit*.


The reason I was so vehement about this is because I remember so vividly two pieces of art in particular that I loved and didn’t buy. Continue reading “Serendipity and a Very Happy Art Tale”