Accountable Talk for Behavior Modification

The somewhat recent educational philosophy of accountable talk is rooted in the idea that, through discussion, students practice accountability for their learning and their contributions to others’ learning through discourse. To simplify, the word accountable means, “required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible.” Therefore, when students are using accountable talk in the classroom, they are maintaining responsibility for accurate, verifiable evidence, support, or reasoning, and are expanding their own thinking through rigor and collaboration.

 

Since this strategy is shown to boost engagement, communication skills, and cooperative learning, why not utilize the same philosophies to support behavioral modifications? The idea translates quite simply—if students are able to practice accountable talk regarding academic content, try applying those skills to discussions involving behavioral issues.

 

 

Accountable Talk
Standard/Expectation

For Instruction,
accountable talk requires that students:

For Behaviors,
accountable talk requires that students:

Listening

  • Practicing active/attentive listening
  • Be able to summarize what another student said
  • Be capable of building upon a peer’s thoughts by adding their own considerations
  • Turn and face the peer or adult who is speaking to them; this demonstrates respect and builds positive communication skills
  • Maintain eye contact; avoid straying, daydreaming, and eye-rolling
  • Nod when in agreement to show that they are engaged and/or are aware of the other speaker’s position and opinion

Knowledgeable

  • Be able to defend their position, opinion, stance, etc. with evidence or support
  • Make connections between prior knowledge, other content areas, or a peer’s comment to establish relevance
  • Be able to verify one’s point if challenged or questioned
  • Unpack their position with details and analysis of how they arrived at such a conclusion
  • Explain why they made the choice that they did; discuss their thought process for acting or speaking the way that they did in class
  • Be able to recap or summarize the events prior to the incident or observed behavior
  • Examine the cause and effect relationship between triggers and decisions or responses

Reflective

  • Have opportunities to consider another’s perspective
  • Be provided with wait-time, as to ensure that thoughts are processed and responses are worded precisely
  • Consider how they might approach the task, challenge, or problem differently if given another opportunity or different circumstances
  • Think carefully before speaking
  • Consider the other person’s feelings or reactions to the incident
  • Connect this experience to something they have encountered previously
  • Brainstorm and discuss how this problem, quarrel, or conflict could be ironed out in more productive ways next time
  • Take responsibility for their actions and consider solutions for moving forward or making amends

 

Again, the same principles and benefits that accompany accountable talk practices for critical thinking and rigor during instruction can prove to be just as beneficial for addressing behavior concerns. The more opportunities that students get to practice accountability, whether with regard to academic content, or their own behavioral impulses, the more responsible students will become. Through accountable talk, they must not only listen to others to develop communications skills, broaden their knowledge, and expand on the ability to reflect, but also they must gain a sense of ownership in what they say and how they say it.

American Heart Month—Teen Relationships Pt. II

In continuing our look at unhealthy teen relationships, we hope to not only educate families on the warning signs, but also equip parents with methods to intervene. It is important to recognize that an unhealthy relationship is built by manipulation, coercion, intimidation, and by chipping away at a person’s self-worth. Because the abuse can have such a stronghold, it is crucial that parents know how to get their children out when problems begin to arise with their child’s romantic partner.

 

If suspicions arise, it is probably a parent’s first instinct to either “forbid” the relationship, or criticize the boyfriend/girlfriend in an effort to get their child to open his/her eyes to the issues. Parents should stifle both of these urges. Forbidding a teen from doing anything, especially seeing a partner, has a tendency to have an adverse effect. Rather than pulling the two apart, the demand might actually drive the two closer together.

 

  1. Instead, encourage time apart or to spend more time with close friends. Help your teen plan an “all girls” or “all boys” excursion, activity, sleepover, or weekend trip. The key is to create subtle distance by reminding children of their other friends and family that may have gotten the boot when the toxic relationship began.
  2. Instead of outright bad-mouthing their partner, focus the conversation around your teen’s feelings. Ask questions like, “I see you’ve been down, anxious, depressed and short-tempered recently, do you know what might be causing this?” Or, “how do you feel when so-and-so yells at you, criticizes you, controls you, calls constantly, etc.?” Your goal is to highlight the concerning behaviors by examining the effects they have on your child, not by outwardly criticizing the partner or abuser. Use your own experiences with controlling or difficult relationships or friendships to create a space for dialogue that is free of judgment. In the simplest, non-threatening way, you want teens to recognize the negative effects that this unhealthy relationship is having on them.
  3. Monitor and limit phone use if necessary, including text messages, voicemails, email, etc. Frame the conversation as though it is in your child’s best interest to give the phone a break during certain times of day. Create family expectations that during and after dinner, phones should be used minimally, and only for important circumstances. However, parents themselves should follow suit as well—it is difficult to ask teenagers to part with their phones if the adults are not willing to follow the same expectations.
  4. Seek help from a third party. An expert with a neutral vantage point, such as a child psychologist or family therapist, may be the key. Oftentimes, teens feel that parental advice is meant to control them or persuade them to do whatever it is that the parent suggests. A neutral third party willing to listen and absorb the whole situation from multiple sides will be better equipped at getting through to your teen. He or she is trained to help mediate family strife. Therapists are also often able to shed light on an issue without casting judgment or blame, making teens more apt to listen.
  5. Expose your teen to new experiences, hobbies, or activities as a means of taking his or her mind off of the significant other. Set up a family movie marathon, visit a local museum or art studio, go indoor rock climbing, plan a spa day, try cooking a new recipe together, or go to the driving range. The list is limitless when it comes to finding new outings for the family. Whatever you decide, make sure that your teen enjoys the activity and that it doesn’t feel forced or contrived. The point is to create space between your teen and his or her significant other, while showing your teen that there are plenty more happy experiences to seek beyond this controlling relationship.

Dealing with School Drama at Home, Part II

Encourage honesty with themselves and their peers. Teach your teen the importance of giving and accepting genuine apologies. Remind them what an apology should look like and that it should never happen just for the sake of apologizing or out of obligation. If a friendship is truly over, encourage teens to have an honest conversation with the peer about their feelings, as opposed to just dropping or ignoring the other person. Mutual respect when ending a friendship means providing the other person with an explanation, no matter how uncomfortable that might be at first.

 

Provide an alternate perspective to encourage empathy. The teenage brain does not always allow for seeing the other side of the story. However, parents can help children mediate issues and deal with drama by respectfully playing devil’s advocate. Of course, you want your children to know that you hear their concern and that you support them. However, at the same time, it is imperative that teens begin to see how others may be affected by their words or actions. Parents can provide helpful insight by encouraging teens to think beyond themselves for a second. Consider what that other person might be going through at home. What issues could they be dealing with that your child knows nothing about? Is it possible that this drama began as a misunderstanding or came from some deeper level of hurt at home?

 

Teach them to exhibit maturity by walking away. This means that, when drama arises, teens should feel empowered to simply say, “I do not want to be part of this.” Remind children that, just because one of their friends is having an issue with someone, does not mean that they must automatically join in the drama or choose sides. The “mean girl” ages certainly see this pack mentality more often than male peer groups, but choosing sides can happen in any peer group. On that same topic, remind your child that she should avoid pitting friends against one another as well. Do not try to gain sympathy by spreading the drama or expecting friends to fight your battles.

 

Seek help from school. If your child or teen seems to be experiencing an unusual heaviness, but is hesitant to open up about the issue, parents have a responsibility to seek answers. This might mean phoning or emailing a teacher or counsellor about what he or she is seeing at school, both behaviorally and academically. It is helpful to know in advance which teachers, coaches, or mentors your child prefers, as these are the adults that they are most likely to open up to. Ask about noticeable moodiness, loss of appetite or avoidance of the cafeteria or recess, and any perceived changes in peer groups or social circles.

 

As a last resort, do your due diligence. If children simply are not opening up about the issue, parents should consider checking their child’s search histories, social media profiles, and any other digital platform that could provide insight. Of course, the issue of reasonable privacy and trust will arise, as no teen likes to be “spied on” or “checked up on”; however, parents must always err on the side of caution when something seems off. If your teen becomes upset by your actions, explain to him that your number one priority is always his safety and happiness—therefore, since you had reason to believe that a situation was causing him distress, you did what was necessary to help.

Do not, however, take matters into your own hands. If you find information about drama occurring on social media, do not react, respond, or step in online. Instead, speak with your child about the posts. A parent’s interference online can end up making issues worse. It can also cause a teen to be ostracized and/or further targeted. Instead, if you do find out that your child is dealing with peer drama online, use the information to initiate an honest conversation about what might be happening and how the situation can be handled appropriately.

Dealing with School Drama at Home, Part I

While the middle and high school years are most notably fraught with drama, elementary-aged children are also seeing their fair share of peer disputes and social squabbles. More often than not, drama that occurs during the school day makes its way home with students. Like gum on the bottom of a sneaker, a social issue with a peer tends to latch on and attract more dirt and grime throughout the day, only to become an even bigger issue later on. Since the prevalence of peer issues truly reaches all age groups, it is important that parents have plenty of strategies and tools to utilize when drama rears its ugly head.

 

Avoid fueling the fire or taking on the emotional burden. This is easier said than done because, of course, as a parent, your instinct is to defend and protect by immediately taking your child’s side. However, this instinctual defense mode could simply cause your child’s emotions to become even more dramatic. Instead, use these conversations as an opportunity to diffuse the situation simply by listening. Merely talking about the issue can bring about a level of comfort, so act as the sounding board, not the hype girl.

 

Try not to downplay your child’s feelings with phrases like, “Everyone deals with drama,” or “It’s not that serious.” Your perspective is helpful, but not when it serves to discredit or minimize your child’s feelings. As adults, we can easily forget how these moments in school felt like the end of the world.  Compared to our real world drama we get to experience in adulthood, these quarrels may seem like nothing, but to your child, they are a big deal. Therefore, it is important that they feel heard.

 

You want to be sure that you are not pressuring your child about maintaining or discontinuing a friendship one way or another. It is perfectly helpful for parents to give advice when it comes to friendships, but often times, you may find yourself saying things like, “You two have been friends for years, why let something like this ruin that?” Or, “Our families have known each other since before you were born, you should really try to work this out.” You must allow children to make their own judgement call when it comes to friendship drama; you also want to avoid minimizing their feelings by simply telling them to work it out for your own sake. Furthermore, just because the “close family friends” scenario is convenient, it does not mean that your children are naturally going to get along with your friends’ children.

 

Help them take their mind off of the drama by expanding their circle to include new peers and activities. Ask about neighborhood friends, after-school activities, weekend extracurricular opportunities, and clubs they may want to join. Sometimes a little “friendship break” is all it takes to breathe, regroup, and reset the relationship. In the interim, it is helpful for children and teens to have different options for socializing—casting a wider net ensures that drama can be avoided simply by socializing with other peer groups from time to time.

Lesser Known Facts about Bullying

Bullying and its effects on students are of major concern to parents, educators, counselors, administrators, and even lawmakers. Because of both the prevalence and dire consequences of bullying, communities are taking much-needed strides to overcome this growing problem. While much is known about bullying behaviors, effects, and overall statistics, there are some lesser known details about bullying that are helpful to parents and educators as we work to combat this serious issue.

 

While bullying can and does happen at any grade level, middle schools statistically see the most instances of bullying. There are several theories surrounding this research, including the increased need to fit in and/or follow the crowd, greater likelihood of peer pressure, the onset of puberty and hormones and lack of impulse control. What many middle school teachers are seeing is a combination of these factors, all of which create a pseudo-breeding ground for bullying behaviors.

“Social bullying” is one of the most common types of bullying. This is also sometimes referred to as “relational” or “relationship” bullying. Social bullying involves a group of peers, which can range from a large group, such as an entire classroom of peers, to a small gathering of only a few peers. The key distinction is this type of bullying involves a deliberate “pack mentality.” The bully or bullies will torment their target by means of intentional exclusion, spreading rumors that they know are false or hurtful, plotting to publicly embarrass the target, and manipulating others to turn against and/or join in the harmful behavior. This subcategory of bullying is especially hazardous because it aims to isolate the child, making him or her feel as though they have no one to turn to within their peer group.

 

Some effects of bullying, especially in severe cases, may last into adulthood. These include depression and anxiety, decreased achievement or motivation, and social avoidance or agoraphobia. Research also indicates that children and teens who do the bullying are more likely to suffer consequences of risky behavior later in life, such as alcohol and drug use, vandalism, sexual promiscuity and physical violence.

 

Adults who are not familiar with bullying prevention programs, adolescent behaviors, and school protocols may have a “blind spot” when it comes to instances of bullying. Children and teens often report that bullying has taken place when and where adults are present, but that the adult either did not recognize the behaviors or did not intervene.  Bystanders, especially adults and authority figures, are often looked upon by victims to de-escalate the problem. When adults fail to do this, the victim is often more intimidated and discouraged.

 

While legislation varies from state to state, bullying itself is not illegal. However, in Maryland, cases where bullying includes or results in further harassment, intimidation, hazing, misuse of electronic devices (cyberbullying), or civil rights violations could be in violation of the law. Cyberbullying, although it’s not face-to-face, is not any less harmful to the victim. In actuality, since most cyberbullying occurs via social media platforms, where adult presence is limited, the harm can be even more extensive or relentless.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Background

While oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) was added to the DSM in the 1980s, its existence and diagnosis is still hotly debated and somewhat misunderstood among families and educators. Surprisingly enough, ODD is one of the most common behavioral disorders to be diagnosed in children. Furthermore, researchers have also found that oppositional defiant disorder in both boys and girls is often accompanied by a previous ADHD diagnosis.

 

Symptoms

While ODD is a disorder that affects both boys and girls, symptoms are typically known to vary between the sexes. Though this is in no way absolute, researchers have found that boys with ODD display their opposition and defiance in more physically aggressive manners; their frustrations may escalate quickly and in more overtly explosive ways. While girls, on the other hand, are more likely to display oppositional or defiant behaviors in subtle, sneaky, or manipulative ways. For instance, girls with ODD may be deceitful or cunning and interact with others in intentionally uncooperative ways. Again, these are not hard and fast rules; they are simply some of the known observations experts have made between the genders.

 

It is also important to note that symptoms associated with ODD are typically misbehaviors that most children and teens will display at some point during their development. However, the difference between mere misbehaviors or teenage moodiness and ODD is the prevalence and severity of the behaviors. With regard to a diagnosis, ODD behaviors have likely become so frequent that they are deemed as the “norm” for that child.

 

Support in the Classroom

Behavior Support Additional Considerations
Disproportionate anger/frustration/

irritability

  • Provide student with flash pass to the counselor for when tempers flare
  • Allow student to take brief “brain breaks” throughout the day, especially when transitioning between activities or subject areas to alleviate stress
  • Provide student with preferential seating near the door for easy access to the hallway if frustration escalates
  • Provide student with fidget cube or stress ball to channel negative energy
  • Classrooms as a whole can benefit from stress-relieving or meditative practices, but these coping skills are especially beneficial to students with ODD; schools and counselling departments are beginning to focus students’ attention on mental self-care and coping methods to reduce anxiety and stress
Argumentative, uncooperative, defiant towards adults/authority figures
  • Present requests or directives in the form of an “either/or” question. For example, if a student throws paper off the desk, the teacher might say, “Would you like to either pick up the paper now, or pick up all scrap paper at the end of class?”
  • Remind student that his/her defiance is a choice that will result in a consequence; ask him/her if she would like to make a different choice to amend the tone/behavior/attitude
  • Stay calm; you cannot fight fire with fire. As difficult as it may be, teachers and other adults must remember that the ODD behaviors are stemming from a larger issue.
  • Deescalate the tone of the situation by maintaining a calm, understanding, yet firm demeanor. Act with care and be deliberate in your directives toward the student.
  • Remind students that you are there FOR THEM; everything you do is meant to ensure safety and success in the classroom. By reaffirming your desire to help him/her, a defiant student may soften the edge and be more receptive to your requests.
Physical aggression; vindictive, spiteful, or manipulative behavior
  • Physical altercations are never okay; remind students that verbal disagreements should never escalate to physical interactions
  • If something physical does transpire, adults must be sure to document the situation thoroughly. This includes all parties involved, what instigated the issue, and anyone who may have witnessed the altercation. Teachers should also note when and where the event took place so that administration and parents are made aware of the full situation.
  • Teachers can consider activities or brain breaks that either diffuse or expel aggression or anger.
  • Items such as Rubik’s cubes, coloring books, or sudoku challenges help students to come down off of the aggressive moment by occupying the mind
  • Consider creating a small, comfortable, secluded corner of the room where students can take a breath and collect themselves before re-entering the classroom environment
  • Teachers and guidance counselors can help to mediate aggression and manipulative behaviors by helping students to reflect on an incident. Prompt students to think about why they lied, cheated, manipulated, etc. Ask them what they could have done differently that would have resulted in a more positive outcome.

Motivating the Unmotivated

While motivation is often linked to academic achievement, the same is not necessarily true for motivation and intelligence. We are all familiar with the naturally gifted student who fails consistently, not for lack of intelligence, but because of his or her lack of motivation. These seemingly hopeless situations can be difficult for parents, especially when they know that their child has all the potential and wherewithal. But what can be done to boost motivation? How can we inspire and incite action when the foundation is nonexistent?

 

Investigate the root of the problem

Oftentimes, a lack of motivation is the result of a bigger issue. For unmotivated children, there is likely some sort of deterrent or impediment between the child and the task. Sometimes the issue stems from a learning obstacle, such as a disability or cognitive barrier. Other times, unmotivated students have had multiple or severely negative experiences in school that have caused them to be “turned off” or “checked out.” It is also possible that the child simply does not see the value in putting forth effort and exhibiting self-motivation. Whatever the case may be, parents can begin to establish motivation by examining the reason behind its absence. Talk to children about why they truly do not want to try something. Is there a reason that they are so opposed to showing effort or enthusiasm for learning? Pose the questions so that they do not sound interrogative, but instead seek to understand the child’s position.

 

Set longterm and shortterm goals

Even the most unmotivated child has some sort of goal or aspiration. Parents should tap into these interests as a means to foster motivation, both in the immediate and distant future. Ask your child what he or she would like to accomplish tomorrow. Allow that answer to span outside of the academic realm. For instance, if your child is lacking motivation in school, but shows an interest in making the club soccer team, encourage that level of interest first as a springboard. Perhaps tomorrow’s goal is to juggle the soccer ball 30 times without dropping it, but this year’s goal is to make the soccer team. Talk about how these short-term goals are essentially the building blocks towards reaching the long term goal. Hone in on the fact that practicing, strategizing, focusing, and modifying will be key for reaching that short-term goal. And that while failure and outside obstacles are going to occur, resilience and motivation are 100% controllable internal factors. Then, when the topic of academics arises, remind that unmotivated student of the steps and lengths that he went to in order to accomplish the juggling goal. Discuss how you can translate that motivation into effort towards schoolwork.

 

Express excitement and admiration when they do show motivation towards anything

Kids, especially young children, may not fully conceptualize the notion of intrinsic motivation—they don’t necessarily know why they care, they just do. To boost their understanding of building and maintaining motivation, praise their effort when they exhibit it. Acknowledge their focus and drive for whatever it may be that they’re working on—the more you point out this motivation, the more likely they are to internalize this concept of self-motivation and effort.

 

Lead by example

We all know that attitude is contagious; the same can be said for effort and motivation. When children see motivated parents with their own interests and passions, they begin to see that effort comes from a true desire to achieve, create, accomplish, and grow. Passionate people inspire those around them, so parents can certainly boost motivation at home by expressing their own efforts and motivation for their genuine interests.

 

Instruct with positive and negative consequences

Different from bribery, positive and negative consequences ensure that children learn how to take ownership for their actions and level of effort (or lack thereof). Of course, no child will be intrinsically motivated to make his bed. Instead, parents should remind children that failure to complete their chores will result in a consequence—essentially, children will recognize that they’re actually punishing themselves by choosing to neglect their tasks. Thus, they become motivated by the desire to avoid the negative consequence. Consequently, a positive outcome from doing one’s chores can boost motivation and the desire to accomplish tasks in the sense that the child connects his or her effort to the reward or positive result.

Kindness Matters Now More Than Ever


Schools can be seen as microcosms of society—often what we see in our schools mimics or represents what our society and communities are facing as a whole. With school leaders and students gaining a national platform to voice their opinions surrounding school violence, the yearning for kindness and peace among today’s youth has never been stronger. The success of March for Our Lives seems to have lit a fire in everyone, but our work has truly just begun.

Merriam-Webster defines kindness as, “the quality or state of being gentle and considerate.” One way that students can have a direct effect on the safety and security of their own schools is to spread kindness throughout the halls. This is much easier said than done, especially since hormones, egos, and problems at home end up permeating the school environment. However, schools today are putting a serious emphasis how students can take an active role in building a kind environment.

“Throw kindness like confetti” is a popular bulletin board message seen in many classrooms; however, the concept behind the go-to phrase is the real focus. The movement encourages students and teachers to write anonymous messages of praise, encouragement, or recognition to specific students on sticky notes. The goal is that each student finds an anonymous, personalized note that recognizes an important aspect of that student’s life. Notes should refer to a specific achievement, struggle, friendship, accomplishment, growth, difficulty, etc. The key is that children and teens are recognized for how they handle the highs and lows—that they are commended for positive actions large and small, even when they do not think that anyone is noticing their struggles or achievements. Whether you litter the classroom, hallway, or entire school with kind messages, the sentiment remains: it costs nothing to show kindness to others.

Lunch groups or the #wedinetogether movement is a student-created, student-centered action plan designed to ensure that no one has to be “that kid” eating alone in the cafeteria. The project seeks to reach out to children and teens that may feel alone, neglected, or cast aside by their peers. Simply put, an unofficial committee of students approaches peers sitting alone in the cafeteria and invites them to eat at their table. Instead of the outgoing or “popular” kids distinguishing themselves or furthering the divide between peer groups, students use the opportunity to reach out to peers that may need a little more coaxing or a subtle confidence boost to feel comfortable. Again, the idea behind the lunch bunch is to combat the “us versus them” mentality that plagues our schools. Students learn that reaching out to others in need is not only the right thing to do, but it can also land them with a new friend. The once lonely students gain a sense of belonging and appreciation, and no longer are made to feel that they are unseen or undeserving of friendship. A long term goal of the lunch group is to unify schools. It also shows students that putting others down or ignoring certain peers is not the way to lift ourselves up—we gain nothing by putting someone else down.

How to Discuss Current Events: Elementary School

To be quite honest, the news these days can be downright scary. Even for adults, the nightly news and breaking headlines have the potential to shift our entire mood and sense of security. If this is the case for a grown adult, what might a child think about the current events that splash across the screen? As impossible as it may seem, there are strategies that parents can employ to help their families navigate the current climate.

For young elementary schoolers, about age 6 and under, the negative news stories have very little to offer that can benefit young, impressionable minds. For the most part, unless the story is an inspirational piece, perhaps involving people overcoming obstacles, the younger kids should be shielded from the news.

If your child happens to hear, see, or come across the news during your absence, perhaps at school or a friend’s house, be open about answering their questions. Don’t discourage or downplay any concerns they might have by shutting down the conversation or glossing over their worries.

If they have already heard some troubling news, shift the conversation to a more positive route by providing reassurance that your family is not in danger. However, if the news happens to hit close to home, talk about how to stay safe and secure. Provide them with reassuring information about how to handle different emergency situations–severe weather, fire, separation in a public place, etc.

For the young ones, especially, wrap the conversation up by shifting to a happy, cheerful topic. Perhaps you read a silly book together or watch your favorite family show. The point is to move the conversation and potential negative thoughts out and replace them with more pleasant things.

For older elementary schoolers, it is likely that they will be exposed to more information, current events, and political topics. While you cannot shield them from everything, you should be careful to consider their level of maturity and sensitivity when allowing them to watch or search certain news topics. Parents should be especially careful to limit or filter information about news or events that relate to their child’s age group. For example, school violence or teen suicide are topics that hit way too close to home for older elementary schoolers. The more they can relate to the news story, the more traumatic or frightening it can be for children.

Consider setting filters and restrictions on certain channels or websites. Be open with your children about why certain material may be inappropriate. Emphasize that this is not about distrust or a punishment in any way, but an effort to do what is best for them emotionally. Again, respect what questions they may have, but be sure to highlight the good news going on in the world around them.

Be cognizant of your own opinions, as these are likely to become your child’s opinions. The trust and reliance that a child has in their parent’s point of view is undeniable. Children truly do absorb everything around them—including the belief systems that you voice in and out of the home.

Be careful when making statements that lump groups of people together, create a divide among certain groups, or portray others in a negative light. Phrases like “they always…” or “we would never…” are sweeping generalizations that can slowly mold your child’s beliefs about entire groups of people.

By meeting your children where they are, developmentally and emotionally, and keeping the lines of communication open, you can help them navigate the news they hear and come to terms with the world around them.

Stress Awareness Month: How to Lower Stress Levels in the Classroom

Stress in the classroom is all too familiar to a teacher. Someone once likened teaching to monitoring 30+ open, blinking tabs on a computer screen, while juggling and reciting Shakespeare. This comparison seems fairly accurate a lot of the time. So, if the adult in the room is feeling the stress, how do you think the students are feeling? Not so surprisingly, American children are sadly experiencing chronic stress in and out of the classroom. In fact, data indicates that pharmaceutical use for children with emotional disorders has risen to an alarming rate, as has the suicide rate for adolescents. We know from our own personal experiences that mounting stress has an enormous ripple effect on our day-to-day lives. Sleeping patterns, eating habits, productivity, concentration, academics, social/emotional well-being—all of these factors are very much correlated to stress levels. Seeing as teachers spend much of the day interacting closely with students, it then becomes our responsibility to not only teach, but also monitor the emotional well-being of our students.

The solution to stress in children should not begin by managing stressors once they have reached their peak, but rather helping students avoid getting to that point of eruption. Here are a few tips to help teachers take a proactive approach to stress:

Allow time for homework, large assignments, projects, or conferencing during class. Yes, this down time is likely not a central part of the scripted curriculum. However, with pockets of down time, students can not only practice multi-tasking, self-reflection, and peer conferencing, but they can also use this time as a moment to simply breathe. The typical middle schooler has anywhere from five to eight core classes during the day. With only a break for lunch and the rushed locker visits between classes, it is no wonder why middle schools are reporting an increase in stress levels, visits to the counseling office, and absenteeism. A simple 10-15 minutes of class every other day to pause, organize, reflect, or ponder could be a very necessary practice to employ if students are visibly stressed. Often times, adolescents’ stress levels mount when they feel incapable of maintaining the balancing act. To avoid this, allow class time every once in a while to simply have students get their bearings. These pockets of time can be used for anything—a school project, extra math practice, reading, or simply organizing. The key here is that the time is used to keep that overbooked sense of urgency at bay.

Encourage feedback on how your students are managing their schoolwork. Explicitly discuss what assignments, assessments, or projects are consuming the most time outside of school. Inquire about how long it took the average student to complete last weekend’s homework. Often times, what teachers consider to be “simply extra practice” can end up being a student’s sleepless night. Perhaps you may give anonymous monthly surveys to gauge how stressed your students are. But don’t just collect the data—use it to plan how you and other colleagues can minimize the impact that school stress is having on students.

Be flexible when a student is visibly struggling. If you know that a student is having a personal struggle at home, or if he has been out sick for several days, consider excusing the student from any assignments that are simply review items or filler homework. Of course, most assignments are (hopefully) central to the learning objectives of the class. For these tasks, provide extra help or one-on-one assistance so that your student does not feel burdened with the piles of make-up work. Similarly, be lenient with due dates—as teachers, we can easily tell the difference between a student who desperately needs more time and one that is milking absences.

Think of outlets for stress. In the same way that we hit the gym to expel the stress of the day, allow your students to explore options to clear their minds and bodies of any angst. If a walk to the water fountain before a big test keeps the jitters at bay, make that a routine. Or, have a stress ball or fidget collection to occupy nervous hands during class. When said task/test/lesson is over, acknowledge your students’ concentration, tenacity, and composure.