It’s one of those days…
Your students’ behavior is making you wonder if the moon really does control their actions. You just opened an email from a parent who is irate over the fact that her child has far more homework than you promised. She calls you unreasonable and would like to meet in person “ASAP.” Next, surprise! Your Assistant Principal wants to observe you during the last period of the day. (Did we mention it’s Friday?)
Your instinct to crawl under your desk and hide for a bit isn’t going to work, leaving you with two options:
Be honest, A sometimes looks like a good idea and we’ve all made that choice in the past. Let’s agree, however, that the better option, for both your students and you, is choice B… keep calm and teach on.
In a post by Paul Murphy, he explains why staying calm is so important for teachers’ overall well-being. Experiencing intense emotions, such as being very excited, stressed or angry, has physical and mental impacts. He writes, “High-intensity emotions wear you out because they activate your body’s fight-or-flight response system. Your heart rate rises, your sweat glands activate, you startle easier. This happens regardless of whether your high-intensity emotions are positive or negative.” Chronic exposure to high-intensity emotions and stress is not healthy for anyone.
In addition to being better for your physical well being, keeping calm amid chaos is vital to student success. When we are calm, cool and collected, we are able to focus on the most important aspects of teaching: engaging and developing relationships with students. When we have these strong, trusting relationships, we’re able to get more out of each student. According to the American Psychological Association, “Teachers who experience close relationships with students reported that their students were less likely to avoid school, appeared more self-directed, more cooperative and more engaged in learning. Teachers who use more learner-centered practices, (e.g. practices that show sensitivity to individual differences among students, student involvement in decision-making, and acknowledgment of students’ developmental, personal and relational needs), produced greater motivation in their students than those who used fewer of such practices.”
These reasons make sense, right? We didn’t go into teaching to feel stressed and out of control. Working to make an impact and getting the most out of students is the main mission. Sometimes, as we know, this is easier said than done. We offer some simple ways to keep it cool, model calm behavior and get more done.
Three ideas for your ‘Keep it Cool Tool Kit.’
This simple five-second strategy is a basic, yet powerful tool for when you feel that stress is bringing you to a boiling point. Take a long, deep 5-second breath in, hold it for five seconds, and release your breath in a 5 second exhale. Repeat this a couple of times and you will feel yourself immediately begin to feel calm and get your mind back on track. I am always amazed at how quickly I’m able to slow my heart rate and start to think through solutions more readily. (Oh breathing, you’re the best.)
Pump the brakes!
Rather than let your thoughts and emotions spiral out of control, talk yourself off the ledge. New Jersey Psychologist, Dr. Perry Bell, teaches patients to not let their emotion brain take control. Taking a second to identify the emotion we are really feeling allows our logical, more calm brain to take the wheel. This helps to stop thoughts, like an angry, “I can’t believe he chose TODAY to come and observe a lesson? He’s the worst!” Once you identify that you’re nervous and anxious about this observation, you can move in a positive direction. You will then be able to remember that you actually love what you have planned for this afternoon and you’re looking forward to showing off a little, possibly getting some solid feedback about it.
Let yourself off the hook.
Sure, today may not be the best day and your students’ behavior is not on point. This is the exact time to remind yourself that it’s ok to pivot a little. Something as simple as a quick water break can make a difference. Perhaps play a quick trivia game or move to what your students enjoy most. This break will take a few minutes away from the lesson, but part of leading a successful classroom is knowing when to be flexible. Flexibility allows you to give yourself and your students a break from time to time, opening the door for a little fun, developing positive relationships and reminding us that learning is a marathon, not a sprint.
Here’s the bottom line: feeling like chaotic days are the norm leads to stress. Stress is not good for your students and is not good for you. Taking time to keep these three simple tools available and a regular part of your ‘Keep it Cool Tool Kit’ will make a difference in how you feel at the end of the day. You don’t have to feel bad; in fact, you deserve to feel good about what happens in your class each day.
- Murphy, P. (2017). Why teachers should almost always be calm. Retrieved from http://teacherhabits.com/teachers-almost-always-calm/Rimm-Kaufman, S & Sandilos, L. (n.d.).
- Improving students’ relationships with teachers to provide essential supports for learning. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/education/k12/relationships