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Chika Okorafor Aneke, intentional about qualitative teaching

Chika Okorafor Aneke is re-defining what it means to be a teacher.

With over 23 years of teaching and 17 years of leadership experience under her belt, Chika, who is Nigerian-British, is an all-round education expert who has impacted the lives of thousands during the course of her career.

She holds a B.Sc honours in Applied Physiology from Sunderland University in the U.K, a P.G.C.E (Post-Graduate Certificate of Education) in Secondary Science, and the UK National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH), which is one of the highest qualifications in the world for Head Teachers.

For Chika, teaching is not merely a career; it is a genuine passion and her calling in life. As a result, she has dedicated her life to promoting the love of learning both in and out of the classroom. For over two decades and counting, she has been working with children from age 0-18 years, as well as their families.

Having started her teaching career in the UK in her early 20s and holding various lead teaching and administration roles at the prestigious Fulham Cross School for Girls (FCS) for over a decade, Chika’s career trajectory took an adventurous turn when she began her teaching career in Nigeria.

13 years ago, during a trying period in her life, after the death of her father, she was headhunted to work with a couple that was setting up a school in Port Harcourt. The project was part of a United Nations (UNDP) and AMSCO initiative and she was selected to be a Diplomatic Technical Educational Expert at the school.

In addition to her thriving career in the education sector, Chika is also an entrepreneur. She trains school personnel and, establishes sustainable systems to foster more efficient administration and systems that encourage better learning.

Chika’s love for education and learning extends far beyond the classroom. As an avid believer in the importance of the art of mindfulness, she is an advocate and coach for mental health wellness and awareness for children an area that is seldom catered for in Nigeria. She is trained to teach mindfulness practice to 7-18 year olds, as well as adults.

Aside from her passion for education, Chika showed leadership and business acumen from a young age. She has a vast experience and in-depth knowledge of entry level to management in a wide range of industries worldwide, some of which have been ultra-exclusive, high street chains and family businesses. In fact, a daily interaction with royal family members led to a comment that would spark Chika’s interest in teaching.

She has been recognized by platforms like Iro Lagos, Lagos Mums, and Nouva Couture Woman, for her outstanding track record in the education sector, and her passion for promoting the love of learning, and giving back to society.

Chika is a wife and mum of 2, and school mum of over 4000 children.

 Childhood memories

My childhood was happy and busy. I didn’t have a traditional upbringing. I come from a large mixed family. In total I have 4 sisters, 3 brothers, 2 step mums, and a lot of uncles, aunties and cousins from the UK and Nigeria.

My father was also a traditional ruler so many a holiday was spent in Nigeria in the village.

My parents were amazing role models and I am blessed that I get my creativity, work ethic and the important ability to work hard and play harder (work-life balance) from them.

Passion for promoting the love for learning both in and out of the classroom

Having been very mindfully parented as a child, this led me to finding many passions during my childhood.

I understood early, the importance of academics and also the many learning opportunities outside of the classroom and school environment.

This has ultimately led me to love learning and see it as a life long journey.

Why your target participants are within the age of 0-18

The nurturing of a child begins before birth, and pregnancy is a very important time in parents’ lives. This is when a mindful parenting learning journey began for me, as I used hypnobirthing when suffering anxiety in my 3rd trimester close to the birth of my first child. It was like a superpower.

Hypnobirthing is a method of learning to stay relaxed during pregnancy and birth. I read affirmations to myself and the baby, learnt birth breathing, worked with my husband on how he could help during labour, and pre-planned my birth experience. My pregnancy, birth and labour experience and information were really memorable because of this process.

After being a school mum to so many ‘tweens’ and teens, and with all I had seen, I was petrified of babies. But the mindful practice of hypnobirthing really changed that.

I have also had the amazing opportunity throughout my career, to be a teacher and leader at all stages of learning. Starting my career in Secondary Schools, and later in Primary Schools, all through schools and early years settings.

This has ensured I have a working knowledge and first hand experience of working with children 0-18 years old.

You started teaching at 20, what motivated this?

I chose to go into the teaching profession as a science teacher. It was a calling and passion that I was blessed to discover realising after starting training.

Working from an early age taught me responsibility. Teaching is a very disciplined profession. I can count on my hands the days off I have had over my whole career. You are shaping young minds and must be a role model.

It was a wonderful job to have. It was not easy. It is a lot of hard work. Certainly, not for the faint hearted.

When I first started my career, many people my age were still playing. But I had already found a career path that was so rewarding. I have never been one to follow the crowd.

From the outside looking in, many think that a teacher’s hours are seemingly short, as we finish in the afternoon, but the reality is that teachers work well into the evening, planning and preparing.

Our reward is working extremely hard for a total term time that totalled only six months of the year, and having paid school holidays to rest.

For me it was a dream job, and later, I was to find out my job was the envy of many. During holidays, I pursued my passions and traveled extensively.

It also meant I was able to become a property owner, in my twenties, that was a game changer. Financial independence is wonderfully empowering.

My birthday also fell on an annual school holiday so I can proudly say I have never worked on my birthday in 24 years.

It’s the little things that keep us teachers happy!

How did the death of your father help influence your career?

At first it stopped my career. He passed away after a long battle with cancer, actually 15 years ago last week. Over the years and months we talked a lot. I was in my early 30’s and my focus had been my career. I was at middle/senior leadership level but I wanted a family life and my father reinforced the fact that life doesn’t change unless you do. Maybe it was time to stop and re-evaluate and be kind to myself. Be mindful in my own personal learning journey.  Soon after this particular conversation, he passed way.

I left my job of 10 years and embarked on travelling. It was a year later, in Cuba, I found out I had been headhunted for a role in Nigeria, in my father’s favourite town. Life certainly took an amazing turn and the rest is history.

The school was Brookstone School Secondary School. This project was an AMSCO initiative and I became semi-diplomatic with the United Nations Development Project (UNDP), the IFC, World Bank and Schtling Foundation were also involved. We won West African project of 2006.

Learnomic entrepreneurial story

I have always built the visions and dreams of others, as would any entrepreneur. Now with Learnomic, I am building my own vision, financial risk and all. It is a wonderful experience, at times, but also, a hard mindful learning journey. At times I want to give up! But of course, that’s not an option.

In education settings, we deal with a range of children, families, local communities, businesses and professionals. Schools are a very intense community. We have to wear many hats.

Sustainable systems:

The training I received through AMSCO and UNDP shaped leadership methodology. To be the strategic driver of the vision, and guide strong strategic governance.

  • Continually enhancing teaching and learning, keeping up with newest developments and emerging technologies. Ensuring monitoring to maintain standards of excellence
  • Create opportunities for economic prosperity and areas of revenue
  • Talent development and training of staff
  • Foster environmental responsibility, often making schools more environmentally friendly and CSR, actually set up the first clean air Nursery in Lagos.
  • Excellent and innovative, broad, balanced and modern curricula
  • businesses as being in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. After all we are humans being not doing.
  • Demonstrate visionary leadership
  • Often planning with a future perspective 5,10,15 or even 20 years ahead with many in use years after leaving. Succession planning is always part of the systems early on.

As a leader, and with Learnomic, we train staff in innovative ways.

Life as Principal and consultant Principal

My journey has been divinely guided, that is for sure.

My Principal roles began in Nigeria. I was in my 30s, setting up a Secondary boarding school to international standards. I recall being told that I was the youngest principal in town. I was reporting to very important stakeholders and I was semi-diplomatic. It was a very special time for me.

On top of this in the first year, I was invited to join and train in school leadership on the coveted NPQH at the institute of education in the UK. I remember submitting my application on my dad’s anniversary.

This enabled me to have invaluable school leadership training. I was told by the trainers of leaders that my first year was like twenty years by UK leadership standards. I dealt with a lot, good, bad and at times absolutely terrifying.

My consequent roles have been so rewarding, and it is great to have made a difference in so many people’s lives over the years.

I have been blessed to be very selective in where I have worked.

 

As co-director of International Parent and Child Playgroup (IPCP), what is IPCP out to achieve?

IPCP was set up by parents for parents and children. Giving a place to play and a strong sense of community for international parents, some often new to Nigeria. Many lifelong friendships began at IPCP. When it needed a new venue we were asked to provide a space for it to continue. IPCP is having strategic downtime, to come back in the near future.

It led me to realise that so many families are enlightened and want more mindful learning services.

So in my 40s, having reached the top of my teaching and school leadership profession, still having so much educational knowledge and innovative insights, it was again time to make a change.

My personal passion for education, mindfulness, mindful learning and complementary therapy, led me on a training to teach mindfulness to children in UK schools. This was how Learnomic was founded.

 

Being an advocate and coach for mental health wellness and awareness for children

In my first teaching role in an inner London secondary school, working with local councils and UK government initiatives, training and always teaching personal, social and health education (PSHE and all the variants), it was clear and apparent that health and wellbeing were so vital before learning could even begin. This led me to become an advocate for children’s mental health. “Healthy mind and healthy body” is a mantra of mine.

So now through Learnomic, I can through my educational expertise and in depth experience of working in education for over 24 years, give back with all the insightful knowledge I have learnt.

Imagine, parents have been home with their children for 8 weeks. As a teacher and leader, this was my day for 24 years with 20-30 children all day every day!

Food for thought right? Learnomic may just know a thing or two.

I do say though, that parenting in the hardest yet most rewarding of my career roles to date. I even name it on my CV as “domestic engineer.”

Share on your love for dance

My mindful parents knew the value of academics and creativity. I was enrolled in many activities and my parents spent hours taking me to the best teachers, and waiting. So from the age of 4 I danced. It was my passion. It was a lot of hard work. Over the years I gained many Royal academy of dance and British Ballet Organisation examinations often with Distinction. That takes true dedication and drive. Prestigious accolades including All England dancing championships for tap dancing. My mum was a real life dance mum. It could have actually been my career.

So good was my training in tap and ballet, that when I could not find a class of standard for my daughter, I taught her myself and later my son.

Life led me back to my dance passion in my 40s and even those who had adjudicated my performances.

The saying that talents are gifts from God and your gift back to God is to discover and use them, springs to mind.

You learn so mindfully through talents and passions. It should not be taken lightly.

Being a school mum for over 4000 children and being mother and wife

Hahaa!! I can tell you definitely not all at the same time. After nearly two and a half decades, I have taught over 4000 children in loco parentis.

When I became a mum, I took career breaks. It wasn’t an easy decision and it was not easy to get back on the professional ladder each time.

But that is me. Whatever I do, I give it my absolute all.

When I lead a school, it’s with the vision, love and passion as if it were my own.

I am a tiger mum and a passionate wife. Family life was what I wanted. I became enlightened and brave. I changed and my world changed too, it meant leaving my world of over 30 years behind to find it, and boy, don’t I love it more and more every day.

I know my journey has been altruistic and instrumental in so many lives. To be blessed with my own wonderful family later in my life – that’s the biggest gift.

With the lockdown, what services are you currently rendering and how beneficial is it to families you intend or are already providing it for?

Learnomic was a service to help support learning even before lockdown.

During lockdown, it has been an important part of family life for those who are walking the walk of consciously and intentionally parenting, not just talking the talk.

We have special offers for mindful learning packages for individuals and groups available.

A free 45 minutes free consultation to find out all information and mini lesson trial is on offer during Mindful May.

It really is a learning game changer. The focus is on the foundation of learning.

Those who are most successful in life all have one thing in common: Self control. The ability to focus, pay attention and regulate emotions. Resilience and growth mindset become embedded as a result.

The Learnomic Mindful Learning programme as a regular part of learning, provides this learning with practical skills.

Learnomic is also trained to teach a ‘mindfulness in schools programme’ which is currently in use in schools all over the UK.

These programmes teach practical skills that will be used life-long to improve learning, health and wellbeing. It’s like training the brain muscle as it grows, rather than rebuilding when things fall apart. Best of all, it’s scientifically proven to work.

Not anyone can teach this. It is not a worksheet or posters put up around schools. It is a skill that has to be taught by those who also practice themselves. We have been practicing for over 24 years.

This is why Learnomic and the Mindful learning journeys we have are so unique.

Learnomic hopes that ALL schools in Nigeria will invest in a Learnomic Mindful Learning Journey and that parents also see the value.

Learnomic will be training educators and setting up mindful schools in the future, so watch this space.

Receiving and responding to the news of COVID 19

It is devastating that so many lives have been and will be lost due to the C word.

I cannot help but feel the world had really gotten out of hand. We lost our humanity for each other and the environment.

God often teaches us lessons and if we do not heed these lessons they keep returning. This is how I look at the ‘C’ word. It feels like a reset button.

Generally, I have treated the lockdown as a mindful retreat. Pre-lockdown, I had already begun working from home, planning with schools to begin mindful learning journeys.

It really just accelerated our provisions and plans we had already begun. Serendipity, or divinely guided, it has been a time of time inside your insides for my family and I.

As a parent, it has been invaluable to notice just how far my children developed and also some of the gaps in their basic, extension, enrichment and talent education. Now we have time to address all this and more mindfully too.

 

Advice for parents with children in the times we are in

Communication is vital. You cannot be with your children all the time or constantly be checking. The world is a different place and post C word even more different. I’m sure most parents have found out so much about their children during lockdown. Parents have certainly learnt how to navigate TikTok, I’ve never seen so many parents on there before now!

We have seen how technology cannot be stopped.We have seen how it has helped us.

Our children need to know themselves first and fast. They need to understand their own minds and their bodies. They need the skills to keep themselves safe and look after themselves as life long learners. They need a modern version of a moral compass. So they can make decisions that align with their values or values instilled in them. It is the only way to keep our children safe. Having fearful, sly children who hide and lie is a danger.

Learnomic Mindful Learning also makes provisions for adult coaching. It is delightful when you are present and aware, just how much better you parent without striving. How you and your family seem to psychologically and emotionally be in sync.

Having a Learnomic coach as part of your family’s weekly routine can help with a regular mindful learning and mental health and well-being check in. Just like you would a gym membership and coach/trainer for your body.

Staying mentally positive during this pandemic

Obviously, we are all changed due to C word. Life will be different. It has been a historical moment in time. It will be the year that no one forgets but many wish it to be forgotten.

However, if we have a strong sense of our inner self and a solid core foundation of values and beliefs, it may make it less likely that one will identify with and own the thoughts, feelings and emotions of worry, anxiety and stress. Being kind to yourselves when we can see how our thoughts effect of our body. Care of our mind and bodies is vital now even more than ever.

I have been spreading children and adult mental health awareness and volunteering on many mental health platforms to help others pre, and during these uncertain times, and will continue post C word.

The work will not stop when life goes back to some form of normality.

The adjustment period we dealt with for lockdown may need dealing with when lockdown ceases.

How can one make the best use of the present situation?

Be kind and compassionate to yourself. We are all in this together, but all in different boats. Be kind, it is not a time to be judgemental. “Wherever you go, there you are.”  by Jon Kabat Zinn

 

Final words

Stay Safe and well. Jon Kabat Zinn describes Mindfulness as “paying attention, in a particular way on purpose, in the present moment and non judgmentally, as though your life depended on it.” We can all find our brave one step at a time.

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