In my most recent post I shared tips for teachers to cope with their own stress. We know that teachers can carry a lot of stress and sometimes suffer from compassion fatigue. Taking care of yourself and coming to school feeling like you can handle the daily ups and downs helps you and it helps students.
Research shows that over 50% of children in the United States have experienced at least one traumatic event and 35% have experienced more than one. Imagine those students coming into a classroom trying to navigate the expectations we currently place on students. It is no wonder teachers are stressed – our students need a lot from us! Once you have taken care of yourself – you are ready to help those beautiful brains that come to the classroom every day. Wellness works for everyone! Here are some strategies to help students have successful days in school.
Get to Know Your Students
This sort of goes without saying but often times we can get caught up with all the tiny details of our day. Get to know the lives of the young people you see every day. You may have made assumptions about their lives and those may be right or wrong. Take a little time to find out their joys, their stresses, their confusions. A strong community can help everyone feel welcome. When they make mistakes or have a hard time making good decisions, come to those with understanding and curiosity. You may learn there is a reason why they are having a hard day.
A few years ago my school implemented a new mindfulness program. We used a program that led students through guided meditation, the amount of time varying by grade level. In kindergarten, students had a 5 minute meditation. In fourth grade it was 10 minutes with time to journal at the end. I’ve started my day with students using this meditation for the past 2 years and it makes a world of difference. Students can “restart” their day regardless of what happened before they came to school. It gives us all time to center and focus together. I can’t imagine starting our day any other way. The best part is that my students start to use the strategies we learn while meditating throughout the day – and independently! But you don’t have to pay for a subscription! (Although truth be told it makes it much easier to have it already done for me.) Set up time in the morning to sit and breath. Find some easy guided meditations online. There are plenty of resources available to help!
Color Your Emotions
We know that a consistent relationship with an adult is one of the best supports for students. When you get frustrated you have 20 (or more) sets of eyes watching to see what you do. When you model for students what you expect them to do, they trust that it works and will be more likely to use strategies for calming down. But not all children can identify emotions and it becomes even more challenging when they have experienced trauma or their emotions are already heightened. One way to help is to associate a color with an emotion. I have seen multiple versions of this online and in professional development. Red is associated with anger, frustration, etc. Green is associated with calm, peaceful…you get the picture. Once you have created a common language around how to identify emotions, you can use this to talk about strategies for handling those emotions. When students hear you say, “Man, I am feeling very red – I am frustrated with the noise level in this room. I think I’ll take some deep breaths,” then they see a model of what they can do. You might soon hear a student say, “I’m feeling blue – I miss my mom. Can I take a break in the Peace Corner?” The most important thing to note is that students need to be taught to identify emotions and strategies for handling those emotions.
About the Author:
Meg Howe is an elementary school teacher at a charter school in Boston, MA. She has been a teacher for 14 years spanning grades K – 5. Meg has spent time teaching in public, private, and charter schools in Bellingham, WA, Rome, Italy, Los Angeles, CA, Buffalo, NY, and Boston, MA. Meg also runs her own blog at AliceEverAfter.com that features her thoughts on children’s literature. She has a passion for picture books and middle grade books and hopes one day Kate DiCamillo can be her new best friend.