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Teachers: 4 ways to pull yourself out of a Sats spiral

If the Sats are sending you into a panic, try these tips to get you out of the anxiety spiral

Sats anxiety

Sats week is often spoken of as a high-stress event for pupils, but more often than not it is the teachers who experience the anxiety more than the Year 6 pupils.

Whatever hand you were dealt in September, you’ve played it as well as you possibly could, but still the stress creeps in: guilt, worry, pressure from above, difficult questions, sudden realisations, parental expectations (or lack of them)…It can be a toxic mix.

Underpinning it all: a lack of control. Now, it’s down to the kids. Gulp.


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What if they forget the second step of the two-step problem? What if I didn’t cover tense types enough? What if they don’t read the questions properly? What if there’s a poem and it completely throws them?

Sats worry spiral

One worrisome thought leads to another, then another. Before you know it, you’re watching a movie in your head of your students forgetting everything you’ve ever taught them, bombing out in truly catastrophic fashion and obliterating your reputation in the process.  

If you find your thoughts spiralling this week (or any), the following techniques will help to pull you back into reality:

1. Thoughts pop

Send your attention to a place of your choice – your breath, your feet on the floor, your fingertips, whatever works for you. Whenever a thought enters your mind, squeeze your fist and return your attention to where it was before.

Remember that thoughts are just that: thoughts, passing through your mind like clouds in the sky. Even the stormiest of clouds passes eventually, revealing a sky clear, still and unchanged.  

2. Change the picture

If you’re prone to playing out catastrophic movies in your mind, take note that, as the director, you have the power to change a tragedy into a comedy.

This trusty old Paul McKenna technique has served me well over the years, simply because it shakes the seriousness out of the images being viewed.

Let’s use the example above in which you’re watching your class fail their Sats in all its gut-churning dreariness. Swap your power suit for a tutu and coconut shells; place some silly wigs on the heads of students you’re particularly worried about; have the usually stern headteacher can-can into the room to a soundtrack of Rage Against the Machine.

Bonus points for silliness and immaturity here.

3. Ask better questions

If you’re feeling increasingly overwhelmed the more that you question yourself, maybe it’s those very questions that are the cause of your anxiety.

When you hear a question like this, notice and replace.

Swap "What if little Jimmy misses two pages like he did in his mocks?" to "What if little Jimmy answers every single question?"

We can’t predict the future, but if we’re intent on trying to, we may as well use "what ifs" to empower rather than panic ourselves.

4. Distract yourself

With music, exercise, cooking, hobbies, teaching lessons that aren’t geared towards testing how children perform against specific questions one day of the year.  

Give some time back to the other parts of your life and character that you’ve most likely neglected in the run-up to Sats. You might just remember there’s more to you than your career; that Sats aren’t quite as life-or-death as they sometimes might seem; and that no matter what happens, you’ll still be OK.  

Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of special educational needs and disability interventions, as well as wellbeing strategies

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