***[Ludo]Hi, my name is Ludo Millar, the host of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. A warm welcome today to the guest, who this episode is Karen Gibb. So, welcome Karen.
[Karen]Hi Ludo, thanks for having me on.
[Ludo]It’s an absolute privilege and a pleasure. As a brief introduction, Karen is the founder and director of Mind Marvels, which is an organisation that works with councils in Scotland to help neurodiverse students, many of whom present as autistic or ADHD, understand their own challenges, build their own resilience and really improve their own emotional wellbeing. And so these are skills that children will will take with them for life. I’m already so excited to see how Karen’s approach can help you, the listener, the educator, to change your students’ lives for the better. And if you’re lucky, you might even find out a bit more about the Animal Brain today, which is something that Karen may give us a little more insight into today. No promises but perhaps if you’re lucky … so thank you so much for joining us.
And I think we’ll dive straight in as we often do with our first question which is, Karen, what is your why as an educator?
[Karen]Oh it’s such a good question, you know, my why. I think for me it’s to have someone that I needed or I aspired to have when I was a youngster. So, when I was young, I was always very hyperactive, but underneath that sort of hyperactivity was a lot of anxiety and I don’t know if that ever was really recognised, or maybe understood by myself, never mind anyone else. So really what I aspire to be is just somebody that people, young people can look up to, in particular, and seek advice and guidance from.
[Ludo]That’s a really powerful way of approaching the work you do. Do you feel that you’ve been able to do that in the sector of work that you’re in?
[Karen]Absolutely. It’s so powerful that work that I do because straight away young people and children will say to me, ‘Karen, that really helped’ or ‘Last week, I felt like I was, you know, unhappy when I was out shopping with my mum for example. So what I did is I took three deep breaths, and then instantly felt better’. So it’s really small increments and just really helps young people to develop their emotional wellbeing and develop the skills that come along with that, such as resilience, and just having that same information about their own mental health that just was not available when I was young; it was very scripted. It was very like talk to an adult if you feel overwhelmed etc but there wasn’t, I don’t believe, strategies and things like mindfulness, yoga, meditation. It was weird.
It was perceived as weird, it was perceived as maybe like part of a cult or almost very spiritual, which of course it can be, but there’s so many different elements to how we can allow ourselves to feel calm and and have common strategies. That knowledge is not just the surface and so there’s so much more that we can spread and give guidance to young people, but also to adults as well and especially teachers and tutors who are finding themselves in really stressful, high-impact environments.
[Ludo]Yeah, exactly. I mean, being in touch with your mental health doesn’t make you a yogi, a spiritual leader. It may do, but it’s not equated to that, it’s certainly much more personal, much more every day than that. There doesn’t have to be that unattainable kind of special attributes. So absolutely.
So I gave a brief introduction just now but would you mind just going a little bit more into what the weekly schedule of Karen Gibb looks like?
[Karen]Sure, so I previously was a teacher. I taught politics in high school, and very early on, I thought mainstream education isn’t necessarily what I want to be.
So then I developed my- this is where my interest in wellbeing came from. I worked in social work and I worked on behavioural schools for teenage boys, that perhaps were expelled from mainstream school. And from there on, I really developed this interest in emotional wellbeing and a couple of years ago, I had this brain wave, when I was like, ‘I could just set up a business and went to schools and do this’ because, me as a teacher, I would sit and watch workshops and things happening, and they weren’t always that great, if I’m being honest. Some, and that’s not to discredit all workshops and schools, but I just had this feeling that I could do things better and I could add in stories from my own childhood. And that’s where Mind Marvels was born, so that was back in 2019. I then worked as a supply teacher for a couple of years, right up until Covid.
And then, I thought that’s it, I’ve just got to push this out there and I’m so, so glad I did. So my sort of average week can be visiting schools, visiting nurseries, talking with families online. It can be delivering talks to banks and places where families, you know people have families and they want to improve their own well being. I also develop resources at home. So it’s a real mixed bag every week, but I absolutely love it. I love to be my own boss and I love the freedom that it allows me. It is just been so rewarding, and actually now, I could never go back to employment. [LAUGHS]
I’ve totally just seen the other way and I know there’s so much more that Mind Marvels can do now but also in the future. We want to continually expand and just move the business and keep it going. It’s been such a strong brand. I’ve got this bright orange and purple car that I drive around that’s all fully branded and it’s a bit like the Pied Piper when you turn up at school because all the kids are like, ‘there’s Karen from Mind Marvels’.
[Ludo]I love the analogy, but you have to be wary of that one!
[Karen]Absolutely, positively. Of course, but it’s great. I just love it.
[Ludo]I’d love to see the bright car coming past, maybe an ice cream truck is a better analogy than the Pied Paper.
[Karen][LAUGHS] That’s true. We’ve turned that story around! But it’s it’s just so great. The kids love when Mind Marvels come into school, it’s the greatest escape and release for them, because they can just learn so many different things that can help them with feeling calm.
[Ludo]That’s such a key release for a child who’s struggling, isn’t it? Is to know that there’s something else coming into school, there’s someONE else coming into school to provide that escape.
[Karen]Absolutely. And I think for teachers and tutors, they’ve got that personal element with children that maybe when I go in, it’s not quite as direct in terms of that child is with that person every day at school. So when I came in, it can be a small release, someone different maybe somebody else they can sound off. Maybe it’s somebody that, because we don’t necessarily have that really strong relationship as a teacher and a pupil, that actually is a different dynamic. When I go in, schools always say, ‘Is it ‘Miss’? Is it ‘Miss Gibb’? No, it’s Karen’ because I want to set that apart straight away. I don’t want them to see me as somebody in authority. I want them to see me as somebody that was like them as a child, and now can provide ways for young people to feel calm and I think what’s really important is it’s not just children with ADHD or diagnoses, sort of- I guess things that they have. It’s more that young people have- we all suffer from anxiety, we all have stress, we all have things that happen to us, that are out of our control. It’s more what we do when we have those feelings, or when we have those thoughts or when those situations do happen, it’s how we react because that’s the only thing ultimately that we have control over. We can’t contr ol necessarily situations that are thrown at us, but we can control some things: our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviours after those situations happen or during. And that’s what’s really, really powerful.
[Ludo]So how do you support, how do you teach, children to be able to understand their emotions in situations that they’ve not experienced before?
[Karen]It’s true, so we base our sessions on the NHS 5 Steps to Mental Wellbeing. So every single session that I run has these five elements in it: learn, move, connect, mindful and be kind.
So what we’ll do is we teach a little bit about the brain, a little bit of mindful movement, a little bit of peer- or self-massage, breathing techniques, mindfulness and then gratitude and positive thinking. So although we’re not teaching for scenarios happening, when you feel stressed, what could you do? When you feel angry, what could you do? So they have this little toolbox, if you like, of different things that they can have when they do feel different emotions and I think that’s what’s powerful. It’s not necessarily that, when X Y Z happens, this is what you need to do. It’s more, ‘here’s your toolbox, choose which ones you like’. Because just like adults, there’s things that children love and there’s things that other children don’t like. So it’s here’s a variety, which ones work for you. Great, you’ve got 2, 3, 4 strategies. Remember them, and also practise some when things aren’t stressful, because there’s nothing worse than when you start feeling angry about something and someone’s like, ‘Remember that breathing? And you’re like, ‘what breathing? I’ve not been practising it? [LAUGHS]
So it’s all about embedding that daily or even weekly with young people so that actually, when that crisis happens, they are then able to go, ‘Ah yes, I remember about my hug button’ or it may have been a boat that’s a specific reason technique and that’s when it can really be powerful, when they’ve always had that kind of instilled in their life and it just becomes sort of normality to use it.
[Ludo]Yeah. And so this must mean that you work with students over quite a long period of time, doesn’t it? Because these are not things that can be taught or even improved overnight.
[Karen]No, and it’s always work and I always tell children they need to practice that as much as they possibly can as well because I can only be there to deliver a session. I’m not going to be there 24/7. So generally sessions in 4- to 8-week blocks in schools. When it’s one-to-one online, it can be a bit more impactful in terms of less sessions because it is that one-to-one interaction. But I think as long as they start to learn different strategies or ones at least they can pick up really easily and actually even one session can make a difference to that young person’s life.
[Ludo]Yeah, that’s a key thing to remember, isn’t it, is that, even if you feel a session or a series of sessions, there’s not a lot of progress being made, it’s pretty important to remember that even just one out of those series can have a really big impact and kids being kids, they’re not prone to giving- they’re not used to giving feedback so something might have really impacted them in a positive way without you- without them letting you know.
[Ludo]Now I’m gonna force this conversation the way of The Animal Brain because, although I said our listeners might want to hear it, what I actually meant was that I want to hear a little bit more about it, so being selfish here. [LAUGHS][Karen][LAUGHS] Oh that’s okay, I’ve left the animals in the car as well but I will explain it as best I can.
[Ludo]Well, the floor is yours. Tell us a little bit more about The Animal Brain.
[Karen]Sure. So we have the- in fact, I’ve got a little diagram, let me just go grab it for you if that’s okay.
Okay, so we have got our brain. And we have got these three animals that live inside our brain. So as I say to young people: it’s not real animals, it’s parts of our brain that act like animals.
So the first one we have is the hippocampus, which is an elephant, because elephants never forget. And this is all about our memory. So it’s what we remembered yesterday or what we remembered from our very first day at school. So the elephant never forgets.
Then we have our owl which is our prefrontal cortex, so owl is the part of our brain that makes all the wise decision, so all good choices.
And then we have the amygdala, which is our meerkat and this is our fight, flight or freeze response. So, how I explain it to young people is, when our brain perceives as danger, our meerkat starts to jump up and down to alert that there’s danger, and the wise owl that helps us make the good decisions, then flies away. So to bring back the wise animals so that all the animals can work together in the brain, we need to basically calm our meerkat. And the best way to calm our meerkat is to calm ourselves. So the meerkat then feels calm and all the animals work together really well in the brain. [LAUGHS]
That is it in a whistle-stop tour.
[Ludo]You did as well as you could have done in the short time frame I gave you. And also podcast listeners obviously won’t be able to see the map so if you’ve understood that there, then Karen’s done an amazing job. But you can find out more on on Karen’s website mindmarvels.co.uk.
[Karen]Yep there’s a little fancy diagram on there.
[Ludo]Yeah, there is. It’s the same fancy one that you had in your hand. So the link to that will be in the show notes below but I’m starting to see how those three parts of the brain work and obviously relating that to a way that kids can can understand that is, is essentially the essence of teaching, isn’t it? Is delivering content or learning in a way that your student understands, and that means both related to their age level but also related to them as a person, as an individual.
[Karen]Yeah, I’ve had three-year-olds, you know, three-year-olds in nurseries come up to me and say, ‘Karen, I felt my meerkat jumping last week’, and I’m just like, how a three-year-old and we shouldn’t be surprised at this but we are, but a three-year-old is able to recognise their feelings or thoughts or emotions and understand that, okay they might not know exactly what’s going on in their brain but they knew that a meerkat is jumping, therefore need to do their breathing. They need to, you know, feel calm, and I think, ‘Wow, that is just so incredible’ and if we were all taught that from a really young age, how different we might be as adults and adolescents.
[Ludo]Yeah, I can certainly see myself needing to understand what the meerkat’s doing at certain points, knowing that there’s a wise owl there as well is a pretty reassuring addition to that.
So, this is all in the field of giving students the opportunity to feel their emotions, to feel their emotional wellbeing as well, because obviously the calmer we feel, the better we’ll feel. And also, you’re almost arming students with these tools to build their resilience because if you’re able to calm yourself down in a moment of high pressure, then that will teach you next time, how to deal with that situation a little bit better which will therefore improve your resilience. So, you’re the expert on this guy, not me. So, resilience in young people and children: what does this really look like in, in practice? What does resilience really mean and how can we improve that in children?
[Karen]Absolutely. I think resilience- some people think that with resilience, it’s about bouncing back from situations. I don’t necessarily think it is always about bouncing back, it’s just about having the mechanisms or the coping strategies to maybe cope with what’s happening. I think when we say things like ‘bouncing back from situations’, it sounds like we flip-flop, we maybe- and we’re bouncing back, we have to go back to go forward and that’s not always the case. I think we’re always striving to be forward.
And I think with resilience, it’s just about having that moment that when you’re feeling that panic or that anger, it is just about thinking what’s next and playing that out in our heads. Because with resilience, you know, that can definitely be built up, but it’s how we approach that to start with. For me resilience is about situations, and just creating more and more- almost embedding how we can cope with situations to keep moving forward, to keep, keep, keep moving forward. So for me, I would say resilience is about how young people can adapt and continually strive, strive, strive to move forward. And actually sometimes, when we get things wrong or we don’t do things right, that’s where resilience is built. It’s not always about being perfect or about us trying to avoid situations when we do things wrong.
I’m always the first to say, ‘I made a mistake there’ or maybe ‘I should have done that a bit better’. And I think that’s where resilience starts, but it never ends. You can never be too resilient, I don’t think, I think you can always continue to build on your resilience because there will be times in your life where that resilience will drop, or you won’t be as resilient as you thought you were. And that’s okay as well, so it’s just about continually moving forward.
[Ludo]Yeah, exactly. You can’t achieve resilience.
[Karen]Yeah, could you imagine an exam in resilience? [LAUGHS][Ludo]No, that would be cruel. It’s like those exams, the kind of essay question: ‘What is courage?’ or something and someone’s written, ‘This is.’ at the end of their six-page answer. It ‘s very beneficial to look at resilience in a a way that isn’t just tied to, you know, exams and academics, but actually to see resilience as something that children can constantly practise and constantly live.
Now, I’m interested. Do you do talk about the word ‘resilience’ explicitly with the children you work with? Do they know that that’s what you’re working on at the time, for example?
[Karen]I think depending on the age- you know, I probably wouldn’t go into a nursery and talk about resilience in that form. Obviously there are stories and things you can use without necessarily saying, ‘Today, we’re going to learn about resilience’, but I think everything that Mind Marvels do encaptures resilience so it’s all about helping us to build up, I suppose our courage as well, isn’t it? Our emotions, identify them, situations how we cope with them. So I don’t necessarily always talk about resilience, but the outcome and especially when talking with teachers and headteachers, is that children will fuel enhanced resilience, and I think actually now in primary schools, resilience is spoken about quite a bit. I think a lot of young people are aware of what resilience is. So it’s not quite the complicated, educational word that it used to be, you know, where you think ‘Well I don’t really know what resilience is’, but actually now you’ll find young people talking about it a lot more without me necessarily prompting them.
[Ludo]… which is the sign of learning, isn’t it?
[Karen]And it’s a sign that children and young people are talking more about mental health and schools and it’s a sign that teachers and tutors are having that conversation and that open dialogue and I think that’s so, so refreshing and again so, so needed as well.
[Ludo]Yeah, that was sort of the reason for my question was to try and demonstrate to those tutors and educators listening about simple, practical things like, ‘Do you mention the word ‘resilience’ Or do you just build it into your session? And I think
the answer is, you know, probably don’t start too young, but being open about what you’re trying to help the child with or being open- not hiding from words like ‘resilience’ and ‘mental health’ I think is the key and I think that will help to break down those barriers of the taboo that it has been for so long.
[Karen]Absolutely. When I go in, as long as it’s deemed appropriate, I will talk about my own mental health journey if it’s older children. If it’s younger children, I will say, ‘I used to have that feeling in my tummy, that funny feeling in my stomach’. And I think sometimes when you do this, kids are like, ‘Wow, she’s real, because I don’t know how open teachers are and I think coming from a teaching background I was always a bit aware about that, you know talking about your own mental health journey. Whilst you should be able to, there’s always that professional boundary and you kind of feel like I don’t want to overstep, but, in my new role, I’m quite happy to go in because this is why I do this. I’m not going in saying I’ve had a great mental journey. No, there’s been some real rubbish times, especially as a teenager, there was times where I didn’t even know what anxiety was, but I felt that feeling in my stomach. I used to, you know- we call it like dogging off school up here. So, it’d be like taking- skipping school essentially because you thought you were so sick, you know, but actually it was just anxiety but nobody told you so you didn’t know. So I find that really refreshing how you can just go in, when appropriate, and talk about your own mental health journey.
[Ludo]Yeah, exactly. It confused me slightly there because in the transcription, the ongoing transcription, that’s happening on my Zoom screen right now, when you said ‘in my new role’, it came up as ‘in my noodle’. [LAUGHS] So I’m slightly confused.
[Karen]Yeah, it’s gonna be pretty funny watching these subtitles. [LAUGHS][Ludo]Karen and I were talking just before we started the conversation about how a Scottish accent and many popular transcription services, there’s not quite a synergy there. It’s actually been very- it’s been quite amusing reading what’s been coming up.
[Karen]That’s why I’ve turned it off … I don’t want to know what it says.
[Ludo]I might share the original transcription, as well as the correct transcription after this. Maybe send it to Zoom and just say, ‘This is not acceptable’.
Anyway, just to finish, Karen, because I hate bringing a conversation to an end. It just really felt that you were getting into something important and, you know, personal about your experience, your background and how that’s led you to where you are today, which is really the essence of why we bring guests onto the podcast, is to learn how successful people have gone from where they were before to where they are now and and how that can provide inspiration, so I don’t mean to cut it short but we must respect our listeners’ attention.
But what’s next for Mind Marvels? What’s does the next year look like?
[Karen]Really, really interesting. So we’re looking to now franchise the business out. So I’m looking to speak with fellow, and perhaps current, teachers and tutors that are looking to maybe embark on something. Somewhere where they are teaching young people about their own mental health, so I’d really love to see Mind Marvels all around the UK. I think it’s just so well needed and I’ve put so much work into the business with the lesson plans and developing the brand that actually it should be available to every council region in the UK.
I’m also looking to develop an online school resource so that young people can access Mind Marvels through their own teachers as well, and classroom teaching. And I think it’s just more about where are we gonna be in the next five years, it’s too exci ting. I’ve got so many plans, merchandise and ways to help young people at home as well, so it’s really about just expanding Mind Marvels into all areas of young people and adults’, of course, lives too, so really, really exciting times. Watch this space, as they say.
[Ludo]Right, who wants to stick with us for the next 30 minutes to unpack Karen’s business strategy? [LAUGHS] I feel like that was a hint there, to us.
[Karen]No, it’s really- I think, once you start this journey of, you know, being an entrepreneur it is just ‘Where does it stop?’ because you just get more- it’s like a snowball effect. You start off really small, and then things just escalate and escalate so I’m just- I’m so thrilled to be doing something that I don’t even consider a job, to be honest.
[Ludo]Well, there’s Karen’s call to action for you guys out there. If you are in the sphere of mindfulness and mental health and supporting students for neurodiverse students, then there’s a role for you, there’s an opportunity for you, there’s a partnership there for you with Mind Marvels, and especially as I was mentioning now that she’s looking to move into England as well from Scotland. So, thank you so much, Karen. That was a really fun, really enjoyable and really informative conversation as well I hope for those of you out there certainly for me, certainly learning about The Animal Brain and for the for the tutoring that I do with my own students. So, yeah, I hope you enjoyed that.
[Karen]Thank you very much for having me and also we’re on all social media just as MindMarvels, one word, and we put loads of free resources out there, so please feel free to like or follow and come and see what we do.
[Ludo]Keep up with Karen and Mind Marvels and we’ll see all you guys next time.