20th February 1998 at 00:00
Skipping round the gym is a fairly common activity in most primary schools.But + when the skippers are the depute headteacher, school secretary, and a variety + of teachers, it's a sight not to be missed. And for four incredulous youngsters+ who are witnessing just such a sight - their noses squashed against the lower+ windows of Aberdeen's Westerton Primary School - the best is yet to come. For + through the fuzzy safety glass, for one unbelievable hour, the boys and girls + watch as their normally dignified teachers give each other "high fives", pummel+ each other on the back, fall backwards into each other's arms, take part in a + wild, whirling dance, wriggle together inside an enormous elastic band, and, + finally, lie, deathlike, on the floor.Those of us on the other side of the + glass take little notice of their hilarity (although I, as a guest, am secretly+ glad I won't be facing them in the classroom tomorrow). We're all too busy + enjoying the luxury of letting ourselves go, in our first exhilarating + experience of The Feel Good Factory - a relaxation and energising workshop for + teachers. Run by former local authority dance tutor and professional singer Val+ Munro and her friend Jenny Thomson, senior teacher of physical education for + Aberdeen, the wacky workshop is gaining popularity in Grampian for stimulating+ the feel-good factor among primary school staff. With its unique mix of dance,+ team-building activities, flexibility and fun, it provides stressed-out staff + with the ideal environment to let off steam and have a really good laugh at the+ end of a demanding day."I work with many schools in the city and see a lot of + people who are lacking in energy due to the demands of their job. Our workshop + aims to put back some of that energy by giving participants time to relax, + laugh together and feel part of a friendly, supportive team. In the long-term, + this should not only benefit the staff themselves, but also their pupils," says+ Jenny. "Positive thinking plays a large part in the process. We want people to+ go home feeling good about themselves and what they've achieved that day," + explains Val.The two have a knack of immediately putting people at their ease. + "No one is judging you here - do as much or as little as you want," they say, + anxious that no one is suffering agonies of silent embarrassment. Their + near-slapstick style of demonstrating the next move, while never missing the + opportunity to poke fun at each other, is a perfect antidote to + self-consciousness, and reassures us through all the interesting things we find+ ourselves doing during this unforgettable hour.One of the most challenging + demands for me as an outsider, is having to pummel, and be pummelled by, Anne + English, the depute headteacher . We both agree that doing the "chop suey" with+ your hands along a stranger's back, is not exactly an everyday occurrence. + Likewise, having to fall backwards into the arms of senior teacher Kathleen + Troup, who confesses she's "not someone who goes overboard touching other + people". Yet, it's clear for the group as a whole, that when the normal social + barriers are let down, a new closeness starts to creep in. We understand that + these activities are all about trust and support and any initial embarrassment + soon disappears. The giggling outside grows louder when the giant furry elastic+ band is produced, and a half-hearted attempt is made at drawing the curtains + against the young peeping toms. We squash inside the colourful rubber circle + and move outwards against the strain. Inevitably, rebound takes its toll and we+ each allow ourselves to be "pinged'' across to the other side, where we wait + for it to happen again. For a few glorious minutes, we're younger than the + children outside, flying across the room in an ecstasy of freedom. The + laughter produced by this simple activity is always a joy to listen to, Val + tells us, and it's easy to understand why. Finally, it's time to wind down. We + lie on the floor and Val talks us through a relaxation exercise, while Jenny + helps us position ourselves more comfortably. As we're brought back to reality,+ our young audience drifts away and we're reminded about the scrap of paper we + received at the start. We had to write down how we felt at that moment, and + we're asked to do the same again now.As the goodbyes are being said, I'm + allowed to see these before-and-after comments, which sum up the experience so + succinctly. "Exasperated and tired'' says she feels "soft and wobbly"; + "frustrated and annoyed'' has become "more relaxed"; "totally drained" is "a + lot more positive", and "scared" is now "at ease and relaxed - thank you!" So + successful are their workshops - which can be booked by schools as a one-off, + or as a series of three (open to mixed or single-sex groups) - that Val and + Jenny are now looking into the possibility of providing them on a regular basis+ for children with special educational needs and in mainstream. "We've carried + out a pilot with one special educational needs school in the area, and it went+ down very well. The activities are ideal for young people with learning + difficulties, they also have a calming effect. "We hope soon to be able to work+ in partnership with health and teaching professionals to help fill the gap in + provision of this kind," saysVal. The Feel Good Factory can be contacted on + telephonefax: 01224 732165.