In my last post I wrote about the way in which our own anxieties can will into being the very behaviors we most dread in our students, through the process of emotional contagion.

In their book How to Talk So Little Kids Can Listen, Joanna Faber and Julie King write, “The point is that we can’t behave right when we don’t feel right. And kids can’t behave right when they don’t feel right. If we don’t take care of their feelings first, we have little chance of engaging their cooperation. All we’ll have left going for us is our ability to use greater force.”

The authors are talking about addressing kids’ feelings first before addressing their behavior. But once we understand the concept of emotional contagion, we also understand that addressing our own emotions and anxieties is equally important.

How do we do that?

There is no one universal fix, unfortunately. Each of us has our own “triggers” in the classroom, the situations that bring our anxieties to the surface. But in thinking about my own experiences and the experiences of teachers I’ve known and worked with, here are a couple of tips:

  1. Overplan. Novice teachers often have an understandably tenuous grip on classroom management. With a solid, engaging lesson, they can make it through, but the idea of unstructured time can set their hearts racing. By building extensions and challenges into the end of a lesson, you can eliminate the possibility of finishing a lesson too early. But make sure that if you’re adding, you’re adding on to the end, not the beginning or middle; fear of not finishing a lesson can be just as anxiety-provoking, and when students sense you’re rushing, they may become tense and agitated.
  2. Plan for struggles. little bit of frustration in a well-designed task can be productive; a task that asks for more than students can currently handle without the proper supports can lead to chaos in the classroom. Teachers feel like they are putting out fires as they address the same difficulty over and over with different students. Instead, think about any area where a student might struggle and create a pre-made resource that addresses it. When a student raises their hand and says, “I don’t get ____,” you can say, “Grab one of the blue slips from the center of the table.” Explain beforehand what resources are available for struggling students. You will now be able to relax knowing you have your bases covered and be more present for students who might genuinely need to work with you one on one.
  3. Have a system, stick to the system. Write down the top three (or five, or ten…) things that frustrate or annoy you (e.g., how students enter the room, students who call out, bathroom requests during a mini-lesson, etc.). Create a system or policy for each, and over time teach and stick to the system. Students will learn the systems and when they forget, you can use a simple cue to the remind them. Note: when creating your systems, choose the option that gives the students the most autonomy possible while still remaining appropriate or acceptable to you. Contrary to what you might think, students will not feel they are being “micro-managed”; in fact, they will prefer organized and clear expectations, as long as the systems are not overly restrictive and are age-appropriate.
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