Back in October, we published an article about the importance of holistic teaching. When students are stressed, their capacity for learning is drastically reduced.
In psychology, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains in part why anxious and depressed students are much more likely to fail. Even if the situation is not catastrophic, a student’s mind and body “feel” that the situation is very serious. All their brainpower is fixated on dealing with the fight or flight response in the body, plus the repetitive thought patterns that affect daily activities like eating, sleeping, and relationships.
In this cycle, learning takes a backseat to the perceived “disaster” in front of them. For them, it’s about survival, not creativity or self-actualization. If you notice students in your class are stressed, it is vital that you work into your teaching ways to help them cope and reduce their anxiety.
The following 20 tips will give you some tools to create a relaxing learning environment and relationship.
1. Keep Communication Open
Communication is the single most important thing you can do for your students. Create open channels for them to come to you for support, advice, counsel, etc. In both group and individual settings, you can offer your wisdom and experience in dealing with daily stress in your own life. This mentorship approach will build safety in the classroom and help the students to feel like you are on their side.
2. Flexible Assignments
Instead of assigning homework every night, assign a packet of homework and let them decide when to complete the work. With extracurricular activities like sports and music, some nights it might be impossible to do homework without it impacting their sleep. This way they can catch up on the weekends or on a night with less to do.
3. Teach Time Management
If you follow the above advice, it is important to go over with your students how to manage their time. Some kids will be overwhelmed with trying to divide and conquer a big project so practice setting goals in the classroom so it’s more manageable for them at night.
4. Grade Effort As Well As Product
Effort is often the redheaded stepchild of product, but it shouldn’t be. Some kids will work diligently for hours and only be able to produce an average grade. Other students will work ¼ of the time and produce an A+ grade. This can be demoralizing for those students who are putting forth so much effort. Even if you work in a school where grades must reflect a certain level of aptitude (thus limiting your ability to assign an “effort” score), you can offer other awards for those who’ve worked hard.
5. Offer Five-Minute Meditation
At the beginning and end of the day, set aside five minutes for students to do a private meditation or imagery. Teach deep breathing exercises and give them time to relax their bodies and minds.
6. Help Them To See The Bigger Picture
It’s so easy to get pulled into the present so intensely that you forget the bigger picture. Kids who get stressed out easily forget that the assignment they are pulling their hair out about is really quite small in the grand scheme of things. Offer a lighthearted tale about your failures as a student and help them to see the bigger picture.
7. Take The Past Into Account
If a student flunks an exam or forgets an assignment but is normally quite reliable, take that into account. Everyone needs a “Get out of jail” free card once in a while. This may be tricky to execute fairly (especially if you have other students that consistently forget work) but you can create a system of passes. For example, every time a homework assignment is turned in on time, award the student a point. For every student that has banked 10+ points, they are given a free pass if they miss an assignment or do poorly on an exam.
8. Keep Your Students Moving
Sitting in a chair listening to one person’s voice is boring. Let’s face it; the mind can wander in this setting. Worries and fears easily creep in when the atmosphere isn’t requiring all of their attention. Keep the class moving through assignments, stations, and activities.
9. Let Them Chew Gum During Hard Exams
Okay, it sounds silly, but chewing gum works–gum and doodling on notepads are two ways excellent ways to relieve stress. You might find that students who are very nervous about an exam will do better if they have something like a piece of gum to chew on. Don’t discourage doodling during lectures. It is a way to relieve pent up energy and in some cases, can help with concentration.
10. Set Time In The Day For Organization Of Their Desks Or Work Areas
Once a week (perhaps on Fridays), create a block of time for students to clean out their desks and backpacks. Disorganized environments cause unnecessary stress. Have one person sharpen everyone’s pencils, clean out markers that don’t work, restock supplies, and refresh old notebooks. This can also be a great time to make lists of upcoming activities, assignments, and projects.
This piece was first seen on ‘Teach Thought‘, 29 August 2018.